Dear Thoughtful Pastor:
We have several examples of the power of prayer and the direct influence it can have on our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet you, in a previous column, would discourage people from believing that prayer has any real power, and encourage them to think of prayer as little more than a way to “still and quiet” the mind. You are deliberately diluting God’s word and robbing prayer of its very real power – the power to change the world around us, versus your view of it simply changing our state-of-mind or our perspective – for reasons I do not quite understand. ~Defending Power of Prayer
Dear Defending, Thanks for writing your thoughts about my answer on prayer, and particularly about prayer for healing of others.
In your response, you reminded me of three passages in the Bible that speak of the power of prayer to get results: James 5:15-18, Mark 11:24 and Matthew 21:22.
Context is Key
Let’s look at the contexts. There is no question but that the Elijah situation spoken of in the James passage was all about sin: Elijah wanted Ahab, ancient King of Israel, to be severely punished for his evil leadership of the nation. The punishment Elijah asked God for, an extended drought, brought profound famine in the whole land and probably a lot of nasty, lingering deaths from starvation.
Both the Matthew and Mark passages revolve around the last week of Jesus’ life and the plots swirling about to kill him. Both statements about prayer come in response to the fact that Jesus cursed and killed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.
Jesus saw Israel, symbolized in the unfruitful fig tree, as unfaithful to the covenant they had made to be a holy people before God.
In Matthew, Jesus had just angrily chased the money changers out of the temple. They hindered the people from coming into that special meeting place.
In Mark, he’s shown as riding into the holy city while people made way for him as the coming Messiah. In both places, Jesus effectively says, “Time to get right with God.”
The authors are dealing with sin that needs to be squarely faced. In regular and disciplined prayer, we can be set free to ask for what we need in order to bring about God’s purposes on earth. We start to so align ourselves with the nature of God that God’s desires become our desires.
Look at the life of Jesus. There we gain insight about God’s will for humankind: lives of extraordinary generosity, self-sacrifice, and deliberate engagement with the outcasts of society.
In my many years of studying and honoring the Bible, I’ve learned the importance of not isolating texts from their larger contexts. In my opinion, these larger contexts support my original contention that the practice of prayer must first bring profound life change in us.
Prayer Brings Us Into the Light
Prayer brings us intentionally face-to-face with the Holy One. Here we might see ourselves, our darknesses, and our tendencies to mistreat the other more clearly. As we ourselves move into humble repentance before God and find our own healing, we are better able to bring holy change to the world around us.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I am not a church goer; nor can I respect any religion that doesn’t respect my sex. In an earlier column about churches you visited, you wrote “The majority relegate women in general to second-class status.” I would be interested in knowing which of the religions treat us [i.e., women] equally. Thank you for your consideration. ~First Class Woman
Dear First Class, I’m going to define a religion that treats women equally as one that honors both male and female voices and minds at the highest level of decision-making and uses both male and female in all roles of public leadership.
Please keep in mind that many places that deny such positions to females would insist that they both treat women well and that they are being biblical in their decisions. Women as well as men would vigorously debate my contention that the lack of female voice automatically relegates women to “second-class status.” Those debates should be taken into careful account when we speak about how religions treat women.
Nonetheless, going by my definition, here’s what I see in terms of female-friendly places of worship:
- Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist Judaism, but NOT Orthodox Judaism.
- Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church in England but NOT the Worldwide Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion has separated from the Episcopal Church USA partly over the issue of women’s roles in worship.
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) but NOT the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
- Presbyterian Church (USA), and Cumberland Presbyterian but NOT the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) or the recent even more restrictive break-off from them, the Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO) Presbyterians.
- The Evangelical Covenant Church but NOT the Evangelical Free Church.
- The United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ and Christian Science but NOT the Church of Christ.
- American Baptists but NOT Southern Baptists, independent Baptists, or Missionary Baptists, except a few which disagree because each Baptist church actually operates independently.
- All female-friendly by my definition: United Methodists, Free Methodists, the African Episcopal Methodist Church, Nazarene, Unitarian Universalists, Pentecostal Church of God, Assemblies of God
- Not at all female friendly by my definition: Islam, Mormon, either Latter Day Saints or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (although the latter allows polygamy), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholic, Orthodox (Greek, Russian, etc.), almost all independent Bible Churches, Independent Fundamentalist Church of America, Apostolic Church, Mennonite, Amish, Plymouth Brethren, and any church associated with the The Gospel Coalition or the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, which includes the fast growing Village Church and its various satellites.
- Interestingly, Seventh Day Adventists, a movement started by a young woman, recently voted yet once more to keep women out of clergy leadership.
I’m sure I’ve left out a few, but it is an interestingly unbalanced list, isn’t it?
All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to email@example.com, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.
[Note: a version of this column is slated to appear in the Friday, October 9, 2015, print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]