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"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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24/7 prayer

How I became a Right-Wing Evangelical

Years ago I had a dream. In the dream I was at a summer camp and everyone there was engaged in praying and fasting together. When I woke up from the dream I longed for it to be true; to that point in time in my religious experience, long hours of prayer or days of fasting was something only done in solitude. The idea of joining together with a group of people to do such a thing was something I had never had the opportunity to do, but the dream created a conscious longing for such an experience.

I was a young 20-something charismatic evangelical in 2004, when I got an email about a well-respected Christian leader who was inviting 50 people to Colorado Springs for 50 days starting in late July to pray, sing, and fast together for the 50 states of the USA. It was billed as something with rawness and intensity, appealing to my GenX hunger for such things; it would be held in a warehouse with sleeping accomodations being sleeping bags and the floor, and food for the non-fasting times would be rice and beans. I thought this was an amazing invitation and chance to “live the dream”, and as I had summers off, at least part of the 50 days would be doable for me.

As I drove to Colorado I thought about what I would pray for during 50 days of prayer for America. I thought about pollution and poisons in our air and water, the messed up foster care system, the need for more organic farming practices, what I perceived as the over-medicating of children and youth and even adults, addiction in general, poverty, inequity in education, corruption in big business, and so on. I had a burgeoning interest in the Middle East and the influx of muslims from all over the world into the USA, and how these people needed to be loved and received by Christians in the US and the overall US population. And of course there was ever-present need for all people to see the truth about Jesus and “get saved.”

I was not a politically interested person. I was not registered with any political party and if pressed, I had a certain allegiance to the idea of being independent. I actually didn’t even know what each of the parties stood for and couldn’t have told you if evangelical Christians generally preferred to vote for Democrats or Republicans; it was nothing I had paid much attention to and hadn’t really heard many pastors talking about it. That was all about to change.

During my weeks with “The Cause USA” as it was called, we had a generally open mic where people could pray what they wanted to, and it would get woven back into corporate prayer or song if people felt the Holy Spirit had underscored the importance of any particular theme that got mentioned. I found that everything I had originally thought needed to be prayed for in the country was generally brushed over or not given much airtime, as in, just generally not in step with what the group as a whole believed the Spirit was seeming to focus us all onto. Instead I was encouraged to defer more to and pay attention to what themes built together from everyone else’s prayers and spend time focusing my own prayers on those issues as well. This was initially a bit frustrating but not entirely unreasonable so I tried to just go with the flow.

The main issue of the prayers, hands down, was ending abortion. This wasn’t an obstacle for me to get behind because I indeed believed abortion was wrong. I had come to that conclusion earlier in life not from any church teaching but from investigating the topic and running across photos of aborted “fetal tissue” — “tissue” which while covered in blood also had identifiable human features such as heads, hands, and feet. This very visceral and visual encounter with the topic sealed my view on the subject long before I had even thought of it as a political issue. So, as the hours and days of praying for abortion to end unfolded, I ended up asking myself why I hadn’t been more active in caring about this issue. By the time our group was told in no uncertain terms that if we prayed for the ending of abortion then it was only right to “only vote for politicians who stood for ending abortion,” I accepted this imposed new allegiance to Republican politicians as my own new conviction.

The other main issue in our prayers was a bill before the Senate that would state that marriage was only possible between one man and one woman. This really was something that was off my radar completely, but in the super-charged environment of intensity where every dream we had during the night was brought forward for interpretation by the leaders, and the leaders would share dream interpretations daily of specific leadings all with political content and guidance about how we should pray about specific Senators in regards to this bill, it was easy to get excited that the Lord was leading us corporately and that He wanted the Senate to vote against any form of non-heterosexual marriage unions. Ultimately, the bill didn’t pass, but that was then understood that we were in a battle of spiritual forces and sometimes we didn’t always win right away. We just kept praying about abortion and LGBT marriage issues anyway.

In general, my view was not unlike most evangelicals at the time, in that I viewed homosexual sexual intercourse as aberrant and sinful; but at the same time I had up till then felt it was wrong to impose or legislate my view of Christian sexual morality on the general populace, as I would have viewed that as an unnecessary violation of the division of church and state. However, while participating in this prayer group we were taught that God indeed cared about making sure this bill passed, as it was essential to the moral fabric of our nation and God’s blessing on the USA — and that we should spend several days fasting together and praying specifically for this to occur. I joined in – after all, my dream was to fast and pray with others. And after giving up food for 3 days and singing nonstop spontaneously written songs about this issue, I allowed my viewpoint to be molded by the group-think — even when the bill failed to pass.

One of our group members in fact had a dream on his way to Colorado Springs about this two-issue political positioning. He said a tornado started chasing him and it kept saying, “AH-HA! AH-HA!” as it pursued him, as that was the tornado’s name. When he woke up he interpreted the letter A to mean abortion and the letter H to mean homosexuality, and shared the story with the group about the two big evils that we were confronting in our brave stand for the nation. Two-issue politics was embraced as vital for the sake of the morality of the country. Our group leader encouraged us to keep praying and fasting in this war for the moral soul of the country and said, “Never has so much been owed to so few,” with us being the few who would stand for days and days of the work of faithful prayer together.

After a few weeks of this I had to leave the group to return to my job. It had been a truly riveting time. I worked throughout the school year hoping and waiting for the following summer when I could again join my newfound friends and drink in the atmosphere of prayer and song again together, laboring spiritually for our nation. That November, I stood on an overpass on election day, jumping up and down with a ‘Bush 2004’ sign, and was told to find a new apartment by my non-religious Democratic housemate after she cried for several days when Bush actually won. Meanwhile, though, I eagerly gave money and assistance to my friends who had the ability to do things for the prayer group over the course of the year while I was stuck at my job. I had entrusted myself to the group culture and accepted that the shaping of my political positions was simply a part of coming into alignment with what God thought about politics and the nation.

However, today I no longer vote exclusively for “pro-life” politicians (nor hardly at all), and that story ought to be shared as well. While this post is the tale of “How I Became a Right-wing Evangelical,” stay tuned for part two as I share my journey of “Following Jesus Right out of Right-Wing Politics.”



6 Types of “Prayer-Engagement” with the World

I like to observe trends in the body of Christ and keep an eye out for what God is doing, and since I hang out in and around various “prayer movements” I have been intrigued by what I see happening with prayer when it comes to engaging with those outside the church.

I’m noticing what I think is something of a scale or range in how praying for people outside the body of Christ to know Jesus engages with those very “stake-holders.”  By stake-holders, I mean that “the people the prayers are aimed at reaching or helping know God better”, since they are ultimately the folks who have the greatest stake in how the prayer plays out!  🙂

So with no further intro, here is the scale that I think we are seeing:

(Type 1) Evangelism of some type or another, with little to no specific prayer

I hope this type is somewhat rare, but I know it is out there.    Taking a cue from verses such as, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for them that believe,” there are workers in the body of Christ who consider prayer to be a small trivial piece of their engagement with the world.    “All that matters is sharing the gospel – and since in and of itself, the gospel is powerful, there doesn’t NEED to be any prayer involved in sharing it with people” is the mindset this set brings to evangelism.

While in my experience, people proceeding on this basis often find evangelism to be a lot of effort for a tiny bit of headway, I can’t deny that there is a tiny itsy bitsy morsel of truth here.   I consider the verse to, “preach the Word!  Be ready in season and out of season…” to somewhat describe what is happening here.   Without prayer, it will almost always be something of an “out of season” activity to preach the Word, but hey, even that sometimes helps people.   (And if the ‘preaching’ is done without BEING preachy – with cultural sensitivity, and real engagement with people, and acts of kindness and justice – so much the better.)

(Type 2) Prayer for “workers to be sent” into the harvest field.

This type of prayer has a pretty explicit scriptural basis and takes many forms – whether it is praying for workers to be sent, or praying for workers to have strength or provision or an open door into a culture.   Prayer of all types involving workers comes into this category – praying for safety, praying for strategy, praying for workers to find spouses or ministry partners or have happy marriages so they can be their best while reaching a group of people evangelistically – there are all sorts of ways to pray for workers.   This prayer focuses on Jesus being the Lord of His own growth strategy – and honoring Him in that by asking Him to direct and provide for His body as they are led by Him in this endeavor.

Prayer for the body of Christ itself can often fall into this category – as praying for the body of Christ to be strengthened, equipped, strategic, obedience, unified, etc, is in some way a prayer for everyone who represents Christ in an area, when people who approach evangelism in a mostly category #1 sort of way may also engage in this type of prayer, as even a simple prayer to “help me find the person you want me to talk to today, Jesus” is, technically, this type of prayer – a prayer for the worker themselves as they are sent.  But this type of prayer is only in the beginning part of the range of the evangelism/prayer spectrum, because there is no direct engagement of prayer here with the actual stakeholders – those who are to be met with the gospel.

(Type 3) Prayer in a room somewhere for people but – mostly about peoples’ lifestyles, rather than their ability to believe in Christ.

Now the prayer starts to focus in on the stakeholders, as prayers are actually being aimed on their behalf, directly.   In this case, what does this look like?   Praying against crime in a city, praying for people to choose certain political candidates, praying for peoples’ minds to be changed to something “better” on a specific topic whether political or otherwise.

The word “repent” means to “change one’s mind” so essentially these are prayers for repentance.   It’s hard to find much explicit Biblical precedent for this, as there are not many clear examples of people praying for other people to act or think a certain way – although assumably, praying “for those in authority” per 1 Timothy 2:2 would include prayers for rulers to have divine wisdom to make good choices.   And there are other non-explicit rationales that can be gathered from Scripture that there might actually be some value to praying this way.  1 Timothy 2:1  simply says to “pray for all people” with petitions, prayers, and thanksgiving – which seems to open the door wide to pray for basically anything that might improve their lives.  2 Timothy 2:25 contains nothing whatsoever about prayer, but does mention the idea that God grants repentance – so if repentance comes from God, then it’s not a leap of logic to decide petitioning him to move over people in that way is not beyond reasonable.

Declaring the wisdom of God in the cross of Jesus in prayer and worship also has an effect on the spiritual powers over a region, too, so if a group of people know what they are doing there is some value in tackling the spiritual “winds” blowing over the minds of people in an area.  However, thankfully, most groups that pray in this way tend to mix other forms of prayer into the mix, which we’ll talk about next.

(Type 4) Prayer in a room somewhere – or sometimes at a specific strategic location – specifically for Christ to be made known to those who don’t know Him.

This probably makes up the bulk of prayer that intercessory prayer groups engage in for our non-believing “stakeholders.”   Surprisingly, however, there is again in this category not much ‘explicit’ command or example in Scripture about praying for people to know Jesus.   Most of the prayers about peoples’ minds being enlighted to see or know Jesus better in the New Testament, were not actually prayers for those outside the church, but were prayers for folks who already believed in Jesus to know and see Him better.

However I don’t believe there is no scriptural support whatsoever for praying for nonbelievers – it just doesn’t show up in the Bible with the intensity or frequency we might think it should, and this is worth considering.  Of course 1 Timothy 2:1, the verse we saw in Category 3 which talks about praying for all people, certainly still applies to praying for them to come to faith in Christ in some way or another.   Category 4 here would include prayers for “revival”, and Acts 3:9 talks about turning “to God” as being a step before he sends “refreshing,” there is some evidence here for the idea of believers “turning to God in prayer” being a precursor to something that might end up bigger than the initial “turning to God,” – in this case, “refreshing” – as a result.  Identificational repentance – where believers in God repent on behalf of those in their city or region – would seem to also be in this category.   And anecdotally – and historically – many, many believers testify that they have seen amazing outcomes when they have prayed specifically FOR the people they are trying to reach with the gospel.

Watchman Nee once made a list of all of his friends that he wanted to share Jesus with, and after being frustrated by seeing not one of them come to faith, his mentor advised him to start praying for that list daily.   In a short time after he began to pray, almost the entire list had come to faith in Christ.

(Type 5)  Encountering people and praying for them where you meet them.

This takes things up a notch in terms of interaction of the people doing the praying, with the actual stakeholders that are receiving prayer.  Instead of praying for people in a room somewhere, this is when believers offer to pray for people – nonbelievers included – wherever they have had a meaningful encounter with someone.

The newest prophetic evangelism approach called “Treasure Hunts” often involves people finding people on the street somewhere and striking up a conversation that results in praying for someone’s needs then and there.   This brings prayer TO the people who need it, as well as to God, and creates a bridge between someone who might not know how to pray for themselves, and God.  The people offering prayer are therefore doing a priestly function of ministering both to people and to God in prayer on behalf of those people.  This is where prayer first starts to directly turn into evangelism, as sharing the good news of Jesus with people and praying for them become in some ways one united action.

(Type 6) Creating opportunities where people who are foreign to prayer are invited and enabled to begin praying to Him themselves.

This is a trend that some groups have begun exploring and the beautiful thing in this is that it goes beyond all the other steps in that the medium really becomes the message – stakeholders are brought right into the adventure of engaging with God, and isn’t that right where things need to go at some point?  I was once with a group at the University of Pennsylvania who did something called “Prayer Week” where they set up a tent in the center of campus and posted signs around it inviting people to come inside and explore prayer.   Once inside, they were greeted with gentle worship music, drawing supplies, 3×5 cards and pens to write prayers on and post on the walls, and papers explaining ideas about how to engage with God, as well as other people who were praying or ready to help orient them in how to begin praying.  For a great example of what this can look like, read this story about a prayer space in a school in the Congo.  In some ways this is discipleship, prayer, and evangelism all tied into one – people are given an opportunity to come to God and thus develop a hunger to know Him better, which can sensitize them to a need for Jesus who is the one who provides direct access to the Father’s presence.

So there you have a it – a scale from Type 1 to Type 6 of how prayer and evangelism can intersect.

And even though Type 6 is the most engaged with the people who are the topic of the prayers – because they themselves do the praying – the reality is that all those have their place somewhere along the way as the body of Christ walks out its priestly role to make God and His Christ known to all the Earth.

Reflections on community

Fifteen years ago God birthed in my heart a desire for community….  and I went on a search.  I wanted to find a community that was calling me, or that I was being called to, or that I could at least join in good conscience feeling that I was getting involved in something I could relate to and that would embrace me as well. 

 I wasn’t really looking for a Sunday morning service deal – I was looking for believers who either lived together or almost lived together.  I used to say, “When I graduate college I’m going to join a christian commune.”  This might strike fear into the hearts of those for whom “commune” somehow conjours up Jim Jones or some other cultic picture, but for me, I figured since Jim Jones was dead and gone that he couldn’t be messing up all the good and decent communes out there at present…

And there is an old adage, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect any more.”  I found an amazing group of people after a decade of searching, and felt in my spirit the liberty and invitation to become part of them.  I did – I joined and gave my heart to them, and had a season in my life that I count as a precious gift from God.  But a year or so after I joined, they disbanded.   Was it the fault of the old adage about the perfect church being ruined by your presence?  I say that altogether in jest…  but the fact is that my community is scattered and gone, although forever in my heart and the hearts of those who I shared that experience with.

After Gemeinshaft scattered, I went on my search again.  And here is what I found –

I found a lot of “christian peacemaking communities.”  These communities exist to “create peace and end war.”  This is good.  I applaud them for their efforts.  The problem is, that I’m just not very highly dedicated to that topic.  I mean, I like peace…but the theme of war and peace doesn’t resound with me on a totally deep level.  It’s something I might donate to, or help out with here and there, but not something that I really feel called to give my whole life to pursuing.  And, doctrinally, I’m not really a believer that it is always wrong for a government to use military action.  Regrettable?  Yes.  Overused?  Definitely.  But just…not really my area of passion.  Perhaps I need to revisit this, and essentially repent. I dunno. 

But at any rate, that makes it hard for me to decide to join one of these groups….even though I’m a hippy at heart in many other ways (organic, environmental, free thinking, etc…) 

On the other hand, you have the monastic groups.  And I’ll break these in to two categories:

1) Charismatic monasticism (generally NOT called this) represented by places such as the International House of Prayer

2) New Monasticism.

Generally, the charismatic groups do not seem to actually live in community.  They tend to still live very individualistic lifestyles, except to come together regularly for extended periods of prayer.  And then, even then, it is more like a performance thing than a community thing – with a stage, and spectators.   I love the idea of praying 24/7.  But doing so in such a performance rather than organic way bugs me. 

It also gets old.  I can only pray in a room so long before I am dying to bust out of the room and tell someone about Jesus.  And these groups don’t usually have much of a grid for doing things like that together.  So I don’t think I’d fit.  Unless I live on donations and get them to send me off with YWAM or some other missionary organization.  I can’t see myself doing that.

On the other hand, there are the New Monastic communities.  These guys believe in “living it” as a community.  Reaching the poor, the hungry, the needy, the destitute.  There is no stage, performance, or spectators.  Life is together – life is happily messy, people rubbing each other the wrong way and learnign to work it out and so forth.  But here’s where I don’t mesh – I don’t relate to God through ritual.  And these communities readily embrace christian rituals, christian meditation, and tend to disregard or reject most forms of charismatic practice.  I really want to participate in charismatic gifts with any community I would be part of, and I just can’t see rituals fitting in real well with my spiritual practice, simply because I don’t seem to meet with the Lord in most rituals or liturgies.  It just doesn’t work for me..whereas singing in the spirit or praying in tongues, especially with others, is awesome. 

So how do I reconcile all these things? *sigh*  I wish I had a community.  I need to find my destiny, and I truly do believe that will only be walking side by side with others in Him.

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