Saying it doesn’t make it so
Did a parent or an adult ever say to you, “if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice…”? Or have you been told, “Do I need to tell you again?” The more distressful statement my father would use was, “Don’t make me tell you again.” So,too when something is repeated in Scripture, it usually is understood as being important.
There is a phrase that is found both in Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1. The phrase is, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” The passage of Scripture came to mind as I read a recent news article from which is the following quote.
Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2018 (The Smithfield Times)
“The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors is considering options when it comes to prayer before meetings and plans to address the issue again at its September work session. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that elected officials violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution when they lead a prayer before a government meeting. Since Virginia is in the 4th Circuit, the ruling applies to Isle of Wight County.“
“Donald Williams chastised the Board for ignoring last year’s court order, as well as questioned the effectiveness of prayer in the first place. “You all pretend that prayers matter,” he said. “Keep your prayers to yourself … Praying to an imaginary being does nothing. Stop it,” he said.”
Indeed! There are prayers that do not matter. Our Lord Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5) The passage goes on to say it would be better to pray alone to the one who is unseen in secret. In doing this one will discover their reward. Maybe our prayers of the present are imitating the failed prayers of Jesus’ day. A truth found in this passage is that prayer is not necessarily for the hearing of God. God already knows our needs.
Prayer is a means to reveal and clarify our needs in our own mind and in the minds around us so that the focus of our endeavors will be united. Whether one believes in the existence of God when public prayers are offered is of little consequence. If the individual offering the prayer is mindful of the intended purpose, the words will ring true and the setting for an open and respectful dialogue will be established. In honesty, some persons, including those who believe in God, do not let the prayerful words enter their mind and as a result, I have sat through some divisive church meetings.
It is important that our prayers fit the occasion and be mindful of purpose. For my 15th high school reunion banquet I was asked to give the blessing over the evening meal. My dinner table companion was a former classmate with whom during our high school years we had friends in common and were both musicians and had been involved in a few school clubs together. Unlike myself, she was Jewish. This was weighing heavily on my mind as I went to the microphone saying to myself, “do not end the prayer with in Jesus’ name.”
My sister with whom I graduated from high school the same year, was helpful reminding me, as I rose to leave the table, to omit the traditional ending of a prayer. She suggested I stick with the tried and true “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I should have prepared a written prayer in advance, as I have since. My prayer gave thanks to God for any number of things and requested our safety as we finished our weekend together and traveled back to our homes. Ending the prayer, I said, “This, O God, I pray.” Returning to my table, and feeling great about accomplishing my goal, my sister whispered, “You did well not to mention Jesus. However, you forgot to bless the meal.”
Prayer does not accomplish anything more than what we allow, or what we expect. Prayer is empowered when it connects the minds and hearts of the listeners. Prayer must be purposeful and pertinent to the moment. For persons who have no expectations, prayer has no power.
For those who say there is not God, their lack of belief in God does not hinder God’s belief in them. God has proved that in the re-emergence of the church in China and the former Soviet Socialist Republic. Realizing the existence of God is better than the alternative. Thanks be to God!
Your prayerful servant in Christ,
SAM ASKEW is the pastor of Windsor Congregational Christian Church. He can be contacted at 242-4794.