by Pastor Richard Dahlstrom (raincitypastor)
I recently read a survey that indicated 90% of American men self identify as being “above average fitness” compared to their peers. When you do the math (and even I can do this math) it becomes these men don’t have self image problems; but they are delusional. Their problem comes, I suspect, from one of the oldest tricks in the book: confusing intention with action. They want to exercise, want to eat right, want get enough sleep, want to cut back on coffee and alcohol. They watch bow-flex commercials, drink low carb beer, and declare themselves ‘fitter than average’. Intent gets confused with action. What’s actually needed are objective measures of health; things like body mass index, resting heart rate, and the good/bad cholesterol ratio. The harsh numbers tell the truth.
There’s a similar objective assessment, in my opinion at least, in matters of spiritual health. Many of us say that we live in a world where God is able to intervene in history, and does intervene in history. He changes hearts, heals bodies, brings the triumph of the cross to bear in lives that are wracked with self-loathing and guilt, sets people free. We say God does these things, and many of us even go a step further and say that, while God is able to do whatever he wants, he sometimes partners with us mere humans, “waiting” as it were, for us to get involved in God’s activities by our doing one simple thing: asking.
We who believe this can offer a boatload of evidence that this is true: God steps into history to deliver Israel from slavery because he ‘hears their cry’. Hannah prayed for a son and God gave her one. Elijah prayed for an offering to be consumed and it was. Jesus told us that we have not because we ask not. Later he said that ‘this kind’ (speaking of a certain demonic possession) can only come out by prayer and fasting. It’s all through the Bible – God steps into history in response to prayers. We believe it – or at least we say we do.
But saying we do is like watching bowflex commercials while eating popcorn and drinking low-carb beer. The real thermometer of our belief that God steps into history actively is our prayer life. I was reminded of this recently when some people at our church asked pastoral staff to come over to their house and pray through it because they were sensing ‘dark spirits.’ We don’t get these requests often (all right, never until now) but a team went and prayed. The family said that the effects were both immediate and dramatic.
Dramatic encounters with the forces of darkness are, in my opinion, easier that dealing with the day to day subtleties of life, because there’s so much noise telling us that we live in a purely material world, and because we’ve so many medical, and financial, and therapeutic tools at our disposal that we come to believe, practically speaking, that we can “do it on our own” in spite of what we say we believe. I mean, with a good marketing guy, a killer web site, and good sound and lights you can build a church.. right? Sadly… right.
Our prayer life, asking specific things of God, is a good indicator of the degree to which we believe God is at work in the world. We’re saturated in a materialistic culture that says, both overtly and covertly, that God isn’t active, that things just happen. We push back, maybe even pointing to the very verses I’ve quoted above.
Big deal. The real issue is this: Am I asking God to step into my world, or the world of another, to bring healing, faith, hope, provision, direction? Do I believe it when Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing?” Does the amount of my praying correlate to the amount of my talking about how great God is, how involved he is in history?
The house demons are gone, and I’m reminded through the event that, behind the veil of our material world, there’s a God able to intervene, and forces of darkness intent on destroying hope and life. We’ve a calling here folks, to be people of prayer. I’ve taken to writing my daily prayers in a journal, just like I do with exercise, so that I can look back and see if I’m being consistent. When there’s a gap of 13 days in the journal, I realize that I talk a good game, but have a long way to go in living what I say I believe. How about you?