Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Free Exercise of Prayer

In the ongoing crusade to deny religious freedom for Christians across America, most recently we are inspired by a football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington State. His name is Joe Kennedy. And, under threat of lawsuit, he proceeded to fulfill his promise to lead an on-field post-game prayer for any who wish to join voluntarily. The result was glorious as many players and coaches from both teams joined him center field along with a group of families and friends. They all knelt and prayed to the glory of God. Of course, the easily offended used this as fodder to stir controversy resulting in hateful, bigoted and unconstitutional attacks … against Christians.

Regarding the law and Christian exercise of religion, the Constitution is explicitly clear. The first ten amendments to the Constitution are also known as the Bill of Rights. And, the first and most important in the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Sounds pretty clear doesn’t it? Well, not to those who wish to distort it into something entirely worthless. Those who align with the unconstitutional suppression of religious freedom pathetically argue that the First Amendment only applies to what happens inside church buildings on Sundays. And, further, when inside that church if you dare preach against homosexuality from the Bible, then they also want to suppress that as well characterizing it as hate speech. And the list goes on and on. In other words, they wish to “prohibit the free exercise” both outside and inside the church.

To the Christian, our religion, or what we believe defines us. It defines every moment of every day. Our religion is something that we exercise first outside the church and only secondly inside. True worship is how we exercise what we believe while non-Christians are observing. More importantly, the truest of worship is how we exercise what we believe when God is observing. And, by the way, God is always observing, every moment of every day, and especially outside the church walls. Therefore, it is outside the church walls where our exercise of what we believe is most vital and most exercising.

To that end, our first and constant exercise of religion is prayer. Prayer is what precedes our exercise, what sustains our exercise and what points our exercise to the One for whom we exercise. Every single mission, big and small, begins with prayer. Even when we are not praying Romans 8:26 reminds us that the Holy Spirit is praying for us. Everything provided for us in a Christian’s life is an answer to prayer. Prayer is our most central exercise of our religion. Prayer is what we do because it is what God does with Himself. When we pray for others we are imitating Him. And, it should never be restricted in a country that claims as its First Amendment in the Bill of Rights to not prohibit the free exercise of religion.

That might confuse those who point to Jesus’ words that seem to discourage public prayer. In Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” But, this passage is not saying to never pray in public, but rather it speaks to a false motive behind the prayers of some - self reward. This clarification is demonstrated by context when you read verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is restricting the motive of prayer not the exercise of prayer. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 says, “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That will be hard to do if we must restrict our prayers solely to a private room in our house.

There is only one right motive for prayer. But, there are two settings for prayer - public and private. There is a time for private prayer as well as for public prayer. For example, Jesus publicly prayed in John 17. And, He publicly prayed before and after His miracles (Matthew 14:13-21, for example). Jesus used private prayer many times as well (Luke 5:16, for example). But whether public or private, His motive was not to reward or glorify Himself, but strictly to glorify His father. Jesus even instructed us towards the single motive for prayer in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The motive must be “that the Father may be glorified.” Whenever the motive is that we be glorified, we should not be praying publicly, but should resist temptation by retreating privately to get right with God. If I openly offer to pray for someone’s need and for God’s glory by taking their request to God, regardless of being in public, God can be glorified.

Now, before you get excited and rise up in arms to defend this coach, I challenge you rather to channel that energy into following this coach. Make your life one of prayer both public and private. By the way, the example of Coach Kennedy sounds rather analogous to that of the prophet Daniel. Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den for praying through his open window overlooking Jerusalem in violation of the law. Does that sound familiar? More importantly, as Daniel 6 reminds us, Daniel’s publicly visible prayers were an immediate reaction to the public posting of the law criminalizing prayer. This is our model, Christian. Our model is bold, loving but public defiance of any law or any notion that seeks to prohibit prayer. Our model is certainly not a lifestyle void of constant prayer. Was that your lifestyle before reading this? Before you treat yourself too harshly, this describes the vast majority of us. Constant prayer should have characterized our lives before persecution. But, it is never too late to start. Please allow this to characterize your religious exercise today.

Everywhere we go should be preceded and accompanied by prayer. And, we should openly offer to pray for everyone that we can. We should be bold in our prayers. And, we should be loving in our prayers. We should pray blessings, hopes, and healings on all who are willing to be prayed for. In fact, there is nothing more resembling of unconditional love than to take someone else’s need to God while asking for nothing in return from either God or the person that you are praying for. Here are some exercises to try every day:

  • Ask your waiter or waitress if they have a prayer request and then take that request with blessings to God as you pray over your food. Follow that with prayer for them in the days that follow.
  • Ask your cashier if they have a prayer request you can pray for. And, if there is nobody in line that you are holding up, pray a short prayer of blessing for them.
  • When someone begs you for food or money, whether or not you give any, pray for them on the spot.
  • When your Christian brother or sister ask for prayer, pray right there and then.
  • Ask those at work if you can pray for anything for them. Inform co-workers that you are praying blessings for them. Even inform your boss of your prayers of blessings for them.
  • Ask your lost family members if they have a prayer request you can pray blessings over.
Prayer is the least we can do for others and it is the most we can do for others. We can do this. We should do this. We must do this. Free or prohibited, this is our exercise. This is love. This is true religion. This is worship. This is the Christian life. Now go live it!
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