Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

How NOT to Pray

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Communing with God is a reflective, contemplative activity, not a grasping, demanding one. Riverside Muse, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at ICanvasART and Amazon.com.

Prayer is one of those topics that is always in fashion. It doesn’t really matter whether or how you believe in God — even atheists these days aren’t amiss to tapping into the spiritual world, and in the name of science (or scientism), it’s acceptable to talk about human potential, Life Force Energy, Cosmic Consciousness, mind over matter, Nature, even Gaia the Earth Goddess.

Spiritualism is okay with a lot of people, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with God — THE God, that is, the one Who calls Himself I Am.

But if you’re a Christian, prayer has nothing to do with tapping into the life force of the universe, connecting with a collective consciousness, or commanding power from within. Unfortunately, however, these concepts — which are a trendy element of pop culture that have roots going back to the dawn of time — have crept into the Christian church, infiltrating and infecting the lives of believers.

Nag. Nag. Nag.

How many times have you been told: “You need a stronger faith. True belief will unleash the power of God,”

or

“God has a mighty plan for your life and He wants you to tap into His dynamism and vitality. If you only maintain a positive attitude of belief, you WILL move mountains!”

The essential message is that prayer is a means of unlocking blessings from God, prying open His tightly closed fist, and if you’re having money troubles or marital issues or health concerns, it’s because you don’t pray right. Because when you do pray right, God HAS to answer.

No Answer? Must Be Your Fault

You need to claim, declare, announce, demand, expect, and believe. You must never think a negative thought. You must “tap into” the power within you — because if the Holy Spirit is there, He’s a power, and He’s only waiting for you to learn how to use that power. The potential of your mind and imagination is such that if you only think hard enough, resolutely believe, and focus on what it is you really want, you’ll get it.

Perhaps you recognize the fallacy of these arguments: this is good. But I’m laying a bet that, despite your rejection of these deceptions, some of what they propound may have crept into your prayer life.

Fruits of the spirit do not include arrogance, insolence, presumption, brazenness, and cheek. The Fruit Vendor, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

How?

Have you ever prayed, quite specifically, for a particular answer? Like this:

“Father God: our brother needs this job. In Jesus’ name, we invoke your competence that his resume be blessed, that it will be on the top of the pile, and that the personnel manager will be impelled and compelled to hire him.” And you then picture, in your mind, this whole scenario happening. We convince ourselves that, praying “in the Spirit,” we are being given these images by the spirit/power within.

But let’s say that God has no desire for our brother to have this job, and actually has another job lined up, three months away. Would it not be better, and more trusting of our Father’s wisdom and grace, to pray,

“Father: our brother needs a job, and this opportunity has opened up. If it is to be, then lead him in what he should do. If it is not to be, then give him the grace to deal with the disappointment, anxiety, frustration and fear.”

Asking, Not Demanding

Many would say that this latter prayer sounds irresolute and negative, and by its very negativity, won’t “work,” but the purpose of prayer is not to compel, force, manipulate, push, prod, or demand that God “do” something. Prayer is communication with our Father, and those of us with experience of having, or being, earthly parents know that stubborn insistence never gets anybody very far. It’s always wiser to Ask.

Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to take an authoritative tone with God, and indeed, when words like “declare” or “proclaim” are used (and they are used quite often), they are overwhelmingly followed by the phrase, “by the Lord God.” He declares a lot of things to us; He does not invite us to declare back.

Rather, God instructs us to trust in Him, wait upon Him, delight in Him, hope in Him, run to Him as our refuge and strength. Psalm 37: 3, 5, 7, 8  tells us:

“Trust in the Lord and do good . . . Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him . . . Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . . do not fret — it leads only to evil.”

None of us has the power to command or create our next breath. And since we are unable to do this one very little thing (Luke 12: 26), what makes us think that we can take on the province of God, and control life — ours, or anyone else’s?

We are not little gods, but when we seek to wrest power from the One God, turn it around in our hands, and force Him to do our bidding, then we are falling for the same lie that Satan told Eve in Eden.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage you to be one of the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19: 18). This is not something that we can do on our own, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19: 26).

Read His word. Check everything you are told in light of it. Pray. Stay Awake.

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How to Pray

posted by Carolyn Henderson

As we navigate the sea of life, it helps to be under the aegis of an expert sailor. Golden Opportunity, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed open edition print available at Great Big Canvas, ICanvasART, and amazon.com.

For many years, I learned how to pray by watching and emulating other people.

Now frequently, learning from others is valuable: as a knitter, I have sat side by side with novices and walked them through what to do with two little sticks and a length of yarn. I guide, I suggest, they practice, we laugh gently at the initial efforts and rejoice as the novice gains experience.

But the key thing is this: I know how to knit. Quite well, actually, because I learned the basics from experts myself — people or books — and invested a lot of time practicing.

There’s One Expert

When it comes to prayer, the same caveats apply: you want to learn from an expert, and you get “better” the more you  do it, providing, of course, that the basics you learned are sound. Unfortunately, because most of us learn by watching other people, we haven’t learned from the true expert, and that expert is Jesus:

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11: 20)

Jesus answers with the Lord’s prayer, so familiar to all of us that we recite it from memory, but it’s worth looking up in Luke 11: 2-4 and Matthew 6: 9 – 13 and reviewing before we invest in yet another book, or seminar, from a prominent Christian — or pseudo-Christian — leader, speaker, evangelist, author, or teacher who tells us how to get what we want.

It’s More Than What We Want

Because that’s what prayer is all about, isn’t it? Getting what we want?

Let’s go back to the Lord’s prayer, which starts,

“Father, hallowed by your name.”

It’s intimate, it’s direct, and it’s addressed to a Person — not a force, not a field, not a power, not a collective consciousness — but God, the Father, who is holy, good, compassionate, and worthy of worshiping. Reflecting upon His holiness – “hallowed by your name” – gets us in a good place to start with: humbly acknowledging our Creator, Father, and God.

What He Wants, Trumps

“. . . your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10 adds, “your will be done.”)

His will, not ours. Many mis-guided Christians believe (because they are frequently told and taught this) that if they say the right words in the right way, then God, because He is obligated to follow specific spiritual laws that we have generally observed and rigidly identify, must answer. In effect, we are saying that God must obey our laws as opposed to it being the other way around. Proverbs 16: 4: 1-2, 4 says,

God’s Kingdom is beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. Last Light in Zion, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, ICanvasART, and amazon.com.

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

“The Lord works out everything for his own ends.”

I know that’s hard. We ask God for things because we want them, frequently desperately, and it’s agonizing to trust that He knows what we need more than we do. But Jesus Himself prayed,

” . . . not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22: 42). He wasn’t praying for a car.

God Knows, and Meets, Our Needs

“Give us each day our daily bread.”

God knows we need to eat — He created our bodies, after all — and He also knows about taxes, utility payments, shoes for the kids, mortgage or rent, and insurance. As much as we enjoy, and prefer, the security of all these things being taken care of easily, God seeks to teach us to depend upon Him, for everything. He can, will, and does provide.

Forgiveness

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”

Forgiving people is an important theme with God, and He sent His dearly beloved Son down to earth, among us, to do what we can’t do: pay the price for the damage and pain we inflict upon others, but more importantly, on God. We screw up, all the time, and it’s not such a bad thing to reflect upon our inabilities and compare them to the infinite ability of God: we can be mean, selfish, grasping, spiteful, jealous, bitter — go on, admit it, you can be a creep.

But mercifully, God loves us so much that He arranged for His own son, Jesus (who is both man and God) to pay for the evil we do, because He knows that we can’t possibly bear that charge ourselves. Reflecting upon this gift of grace enables us to give that grace to others: He forgave us: teach us, God, how to forgive others.

Not Done Yet

“And lead us not into temptation.”

Last but not least. Generally, when we get to this part, we run over it pretty fast to say the amen, but we are tempted by a lot of things — fear, anxiety, despair, discouragement, doubt, greed, a desire for power, control issues. The list is endless, but God’s strength and guidance are infinite, and the only way we will overcome our problems is to submit to the Person who has overcome them (John 16: 33).

Prayer is a conversation, not a technique. It’s not something you can fully explain in a blog article, a book, or a sermon, but it’s something that we all can do, right now, using Jesus’s words as our example.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek to separate God’s truth (the wheat) from the misinformation and disinformation with which we are regularly assaulted (the chaff). This is the constant call on all of us, and the only way we can successfully do it is to spend a lot of time reading and reflecting upon Scripture, and praying — simply and directly — to the Author of it.

Don’t believe everything you’re told or taught. Be a Berean (Acts 17: 10 -11), who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

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What Mom REALLY Wants for Mother’s Day

posted by Carolyn Henderson

1 Corinthians 13 talks about love, and that’s what mothers do — they love. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Amazon.com.

Mother’s Day is one of those holidays that sound good, but get so taken over by marketers and manufacturers that its true meaning gets lost. People are subtly, or not so subtly, nudged into buying the perfect gift, and celebration turns into obligation very quickly.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Any holiday can, and should, be customized to what works for us, and when you consider Mother’s Day an opportunity to express to some special women (and these moms will look different for each person, depending upon life’s circumstances) how much you love her, as opposed to flipping through ads and clicking pop-ups to buy what mass marketers tell you she wants, then you’re experiencing the true spirit of the day.

What Mom Wants

So what does Mom want? Well, for starters, you might ask her. Then listen to what she says. I did this for years with my own mother, but because I spent so much time ignoring her actual answer, it took awhile before I found some success.

Here are some of the things she said:

1) “Please don’t buy me anything. I know you don’t have much money, and I really don’t need anything.”

Mom said this from the time I was six-years old, and I never did believe her. When I was ten, I bought her an atrociously ugly pitcher that weighed 15 pounds, before you put anything into it. One of my tiny, five-foot-tall mom’s happiest days was when someone dropped the thing and it shattered.

If you do have more money than mom thinks, then feel free to ignore what she says, consider deeply what she would get pleasure or use from, and give thoughtfully to this difficult gift recipient. But don’t be surprised or offended if she scolds you.

In John 13: 1-17, Jesus washes His disciples feet. This is an image of what moms do in our lives until the end of our lives, or theirs. Through the humility of their love, they instruct us that “you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” One of the best gifts you can give to Mom is to learn the things she tried so hard to teach.

A Constant Reminder

2) “If you must buy me something, make it something simple that I use every day. That way, I am reminded of you regularly.”

It’s hard watching kids grow up and away, and even when you’re in the midst of the chaos of raising them, you know that they can’t live with you, always and forever, regardless of their plans as a three-year-old.

Romans 1: 20 tells us, “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

In the same way that we are comforted by seeing God’s presence in the beauty of the things He has created, Mom delights in a regular reminder of you.

Hand Made, from the Heart

3) “Make me something. Anything.”

I always felt that my childish, and even young adult efforts, to make my mother something were pathetic substitutions for “real” presents that are purchased in a store. Through the years, though, it is the cards, the notes, and the little projects that remain in my mother’s treasure trove.

No matter how old you get, or how old mom gets, you are always a child in her heart. Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Amazon.com.

My own treasure trove contains jewelry, pillows, cards, and crafts made by my progeny, from the time they were old enough to hold a crayon.

Matthew 6: 21 tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You, my friend, are Mom’s treasure. Her heart is always with you.

Communicate

4) “Call me. Write me. Visit me. Connect with me all year round. I want to be a part of your life.”

I never realized how meaningful a phone call to my mother was until my own adult children called me and apologized for doing “nothing more” than that.

Are you kidding? I inhaled their voice, drank up their laughter, closed my eyes and just enjoyed being with this terrific person who in a unique, special, irreplaceable way, is mine.

In the noted vine and branches teaching of John 15, Jesus tells His disciples in verse 9,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” All relationships flourish when we invest time in them.

Keep Her up to Date

5) Last, but not least: “Feel free to tell me about your sadness, pain, and hurt. I want to be there for you. BUT — don’t forget to let me know how things work out. Don’t leave me hanging.”

Moms give, and give, and give, but it takes it out of them, and nothing empties the smile from a Mom’s heart more than to know that her child is hurting. Don’t avoid communicating with Mom when things are going badly (she’ll probably guess something is up, anyway), but don’t leave her in a state of worry.

This is why it’s important to communicate often, and regularly, so that every call isn’t one of panic, every text one of angst.

Whether they stay at home or work in an office, Mothers . . . love. That’s their primary job. And while they’re human, and mess up, they do their best to be patient and kind, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering (1 Corinthians 13: 4, 7).

Mother’s Day is an opportunity to say, “Thanks, Mom.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am on a lifelong journey of reading the Bible and asking God, “What does this mean? How about that? Is this seriously true?”

All of us who seek truth are on this journey, and the only way we will find the answer is if we are walking on the path ourselves, and not allow ourselves to be carried along on the words, teachings, admonitions, directives, opinions, and beliefs of others.

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What’s So Bad about a Comfort Zone?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In your comfort zone, you feel safe, secure, loved, and treasured. And what is wrong with that? Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Amazon.com.

If you haven’t heard the term “comfort zone,” then you must never attend church. Or work in a cubicle. Or listen to politicians.

Comfort zones — that area of life where we operate, well, comfortably because we understand our circumstances, surroundings, and parameters, are bad places, we are told, and our primary goal is supposed to get out of them.

Before you listen to, or follow, this regulative and directorial advice, let’s review the concept of comfort zones, and figure out what ours look like, and whether or not we need to make any changes.

Good? or Bad?

1) There are two types of comfort zones, bad ones and good ones. For an example of the latter, think of your bedroom (years ago it would have been your boudoir), a favorite chair in the living room, your special table at a chosen restaurant — wherever this place is, you feel relaxed, secure, and happy there. You’re free to be who and what you are, and there are no inhibitions about expressing your thoughts or opinions.

What on earth is wrong with this?

Nothing. God Himself invites us into a comfort zone in Proverbs 18: 10:

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Safety, security, shelter, comfort, being cherished – if these are bad things, God wouldn’t describe Himself as the source of them.

Wrong Motivation

2) Most of the time, when people tell you to get out of your comfort zone, it’s because they want you to do something for them.

“You’re too shy! Get out of that comfort zone and teach a Sunday School class!”

“God will give you the money for this short-term mission trip. Get out of your comfort zone and ask people for it!”

Being young, small, insignificant, unimportant, weak, or defenseless — these aren’t sins; they’re realities. Child of Eden, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Amazon.com

“Anybody can identify a weed. Get out of that comfort zone and volunteer for Community Service Clean-up Day!”

The Apostle Paul recognized some people’s controlling tendencies over others when he encouraged Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4: 12)

You may not be young, but if you are not considered a “leader” in your church or office, you may be emotionally susceptible to manipulation by others  – don’t let your perceived unimportance pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do.

You’re Never Alone

3) God, through circumstances, will take you into, through, and out of areas you would never choose on your own.

Cancer, job loss, relationship break-ups — God doesn’t impose these on you to “get you out of your comfort zone.” Life happens to all of us – “(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 45) Anyone telling you that God is messing up your life because He loves you has a messed up view of God. Don’t add to your pain by trying to embrace perversity.

Instead, when everything you’ve held as secure is crumbling at your feet, find your true comfort zone in “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)

Denying Reality

4) Remember that bad comfort zone I mentioned in Point #1? A bad comfort zone is a denial of reality, which is something too many people are doing today, when it comes to the world we live in.

“We can trust our leaders.”

“The economy will pick up.”

“Bad things happen to other people because they deserve it. If you obey the law and are a good citizen, government will take care of you.”

Don’t believe everything you hear, or trust everything you read. Jeremiah 6: 13 warns us,

“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.”

It has been this way from the beginning, and it will be this way to the end: guard your own heart that you don’t practice deceit, and question the motives of others:

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118: 8-9)

Or the promises of politicians. Or “news” from the networks. Or endorsements from celebrities. Or the teachings of motivational speakers — pseudo-Christian or not. Spend time reading your Bible and praying — NOT because God will get you if you don’t, but because you can’t recognize a lie until you are steeped in the truth.

Comfort Zone: you won’t find the term in the Bible, it’s not a sin, and it’s not something you allow others to hem you into, or push you out of. Free yourself from being told how to live, think, act, hope, understand, and believe.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I question what we’re being told and taught, by whom, and why. This is something within the grasp, and responsibility, of all of us.

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