Thursday, May 05, 2005

Observing the National Day of Prayer

Today's the national day of prayer so I decided to peruse our nation’s national day of prayer web site at

I found that the national observance will feature such luminaries as: Christian fluff writer Max Lucado, the ethical Tom Delay, the pharisaic Dr. James Dobson (thank you madam chairwoman).

Looking further I found everything a good Christian could want, from bulletin insiders, to a prayer guide! Yes! In the prayer guide I found the "Freedom Five", advice to pray for five different areas of our country. One of the areas is education. "Pray," the guide reads, "that your schools will get 'back to the basics' when it comes to educating our children, instilling the leaders of tomorrow with a respect for the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded."

I find it interesting that, of the five areas, government, and media received five lines, education received four. But the areas where Christians should be working the hardest, their own personal lives—church, and family--each received only two lines of prayer. What is more important? That a teacher in a school tells a student about Jesus, or that that student's own parent does the job? Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors."

Also, there is advice on how students can plan a "Freedom Student Rally!" And the advice is to find a location other than a church. "Somewhere like a school auditorium would be ideal. The high school auditorium is a lot better than middle school because high schoolers do not want to go to the middle school but middle schoolers love to go to the high school." Very savvy! "Give Away Donated Prizes!" it says. "Teenagers love free stuff!...Things like pizza, movie tickets, and clothing are enticing to teenagers. Have the drawing during the event and then finish up the night with the biggest prizes at the end to ensure everyone stays."

I don't remember Jesus using any gimmicks to get people to pay attention to him. In fact, he seemed to have a hard time keeping people away from him. Maybe this shows some of the fundamental differences between organized religion and Jesus? One is full of gimmicks and give-aways, the other used relationships and spoke truth. As far as I could tell, on this section of the web site devoted to the national day of prayer, two sentences were devoted to the topic of prayer.

Finally, I visited the NDP store. Max Lucado is wisely using his connections to the event to sell yet another book ($12.00). You can buy a lithograph for $94.00. Merchandise ranged from a $130.00 "Prayer at Valley Forge" painting to a $.50 commemorative pen. Everything a Christian needs to super-charge a relationship with God!

I am not against prayer. But I believe it is a private matter. Jesus gave so little advice about prayer that he had to be asked directly. Other than that he seems to have assumed that how or when people pray is between them and God. Do we really need a day of prayer? Do we need all the Christian merchandise that goes along with it?

If such things were so important and necessary, how would Christians in poor countries survive?
When I was 20 I took a trip to Haiti to help build a church. We arrived with our designer shirts, our Nikes, our Bibles. We landed like Europeans, all ready to bless and convert the population. We arrived at the village, driving past mud-huts and into the missionary's compound. Upon reflection, he lived like a king. Every day a member of the village outside died. The body would be carried through the streets in a solemn procession.

Their church services were intense two hour affairs and the people sang up-beat songs, loudly. It was much more like a workout than a passive service. They even prayed out-loud at the same time--their feverish prayers rising like incense into the sky. The voices of all those equals, asking God for some essential ingredient to life, mingled together to form a very sweet sound.

Occasionally someone would beseech God loudly. They spoke in rapid Creole and I didn’t understand. But I didn’t need to understand. One woman was asking God about her son. Another was praying for food. Another wanted his daughter to live. Their heads were bowed so low their foreheads touched the chair in front of them. And they got louder. One woman was on her feet, eyes closed, begging God for something. Another was crying. Hands were in the air. It was a wonderful and humbling thing to see so many people so sincerely talking to God.

Jesus once told a parable to the fundamentalists of his day. Maybe if he was here today he’d say it like this: “Two men went up to the church to pray, one was a fundamentalist and the other never went to church. The fundamentalist stood up, with his National Day of Prayer t-shirt on, and prayed, ‘God, I think you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this fellow I’ve never seen before. I go to church every Sunday and I give my tithe.’ But the other stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, haven mercy on me, a sinner!’ This man went home justified, rather than the other. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”

The Christians in Haiti did not need a national day of prayer, because prayer was their life. There was no need for any superficial forcing. They did not have the 10 commandments in their schools, they had no schools. They had no government, no organization, no Christian authors, no Focus On The Family. They had none of that to guide them, most of them didn’t even have Bibles, and yet they--rather than me—were justified before God. When I witnessed that, I realized that I knew nothing about God. I discovered that all the phoniness of organized religion, which I had sold myself to, had not led me any closer to God, but had kept me away. They needed no one to tell them how to go before God, why do we think we do?

Don’t be fooled. We are under no covenant with God that says “if you pray I will bless your nation.” Our covenant is one based on faith in Christ—a personal relationship. It is not bound by countries and governments. And we call ourselves a Christian country because we ecret a National Day of Prayer and sell t-shirts, CDs, and books around it? We have a lot to learn. Don't be fooled. These are no indication of a healthy relationship with God and in the end they will save no one.

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