Friday, December 21, 2007

Big picture? Small picture?

In response to this old post, someone called John said this in his comment:
The entire religion looks exactly as it would if no supreme interventionist being was behind it. It is obviously just another religion created by primitive man to explain the universe we inhabit.
I have a feeling I may already have made this point before, but I am kind of in agreement with that statement.

If you take the broad view and look at everything that calls itself Christianity, you cannot really see the hand of God in shaping this thing. It is fractured into more sects and denominations than I could name, bits of it more or less wage war on other bits of it. Looking back across the history of the religion, there are a great many unpleasant and certainly ungodly things there. That's the broad view.

But if you take the narrow view and look at individual people and groups of people, the opposite is true. Here you often see the hand of God at work. Prayers are answered, people are healed, people are transformed, worship works, amazing things happen.

Why is this?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh me of little faith...

Remember this post about 'Healing'?

Or this one about 'Healing (again)'?

Well, I'm not done with the subject yet! But maybe I'm a bit less skeptical this time...

A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, I woke up with a pain in my left shoulder. It worsened through the day. By the evening I couldn't pick up my three year old daughter or even look over my shoulder in the car without wincing. On Thursday it was much the same - couldn't look over my shoulder, couldn't pick things up without pain. Don't get me wrong here, it wasn't debilitating pain, just very inconvenient.

Thursday evening was the housegroup meeting. So I asked them to pray for healing. They did and nothing happened... immediately. Friday morning, however, my shoulder was a bit better. By Friday lunchtime it was totally back to normal.

Aaaargh! So I've experienced healing of a totally unverifiable ailment! How annoying is that for a skeptic?

Thank you Jesus!

I guess I get a bit of humility as well as healing here.

But its not all unverifiable. There was a lady at church yesterday who'd just been healed of something much more verifiable. She had been suffering with kidney stones and had had all the scans, etc., which had identified 'many' stones in her kidney. They were giving her a lot of pain. A few weeks ago, the pastor of the church had a specific 'word' for someone with a pain in their lower left back (I was there and remember him saying this). The lady went for prayer ministry at the end of the service. Following this, her pain went, and when she went back for more scans at the hospital and they found that there was only one stone left, which was much more manageable. They did whatever procedure it is they do to break down kidney stones. The nurse warned her that the procedure was going to be extremely painful... it wasn't. Indeed the nurse had never seen anyone suffer so little during the procedure. The next scan revealed that the stone was gone totally.

Healings do happen. I've experienced a minor one and met someone with a more major one.

So my questions now shift to the 'how', 'why' and 'when' questions, and I'll leave the 'if' question behind. I guess its a little step in the right direction.

The Presbyterian Prayer

I was back in the church that I grew up in again last night. Its a Presbyterian Church of Scotland. And it was particularly stereotypically Presbyterian last night (that's not necessarily a criticism, by the way. The sermon was quite interesting - if a bit hellfire - and the hymns were very rousing...).

The thing that struck me was the prayers.

Despite the fact that the minister has changed since I grew up there, and they have a 'band' playing the music for three of the songs, the format of the service has not changed since I was young:
  1. Hymn
  2. Prayer
  3. Hymn
  4. Bible reading
  5. Hymn
  6. Offering and notices
  7. Hymn
  8. Sermon
  9. Hymn
  10. Benediction
OK, so the third hymn was a 'modern hymn' - one of those wordy Stuart Townend ones - but aside from that, the content was pretty much as it would have been in the 70s.

Its only when you go away from a place like this and experience the wider church that you question things when you come back. What I found myself wondering last night was:

Who is the opening prayer for?

The opening prayer at this church, like a great many presbyterian churches I have attended, was a long and wordy thing. Must have been at least 7 or 8 minutes long, maybe more. In most of the churches I have attended since leaving home, the prayers have been shorter. Jesus said explicity that it is not because of long prayers that you are heard. So why is the presbyterian prayer so long?

I found myself thinking about the style and content of the prayer, and I began to question the history of this format of prayer. I'm not saying that the current minister believes this of his congregation, but I wonder if the original idea behind this kind of prayer was to pray on behalf of a congregation who didn't actually do any praying themselves. Faced with a congregation of folk who were just there on a Sunday because that was the done thing, the ministers of old felt the need to do all the praying for the congregation. The thing is, this is definitely not the case of the congregation who were there last night. I've known many of them since birth and they're a prayerful lot. Most of them are at the prayer meeting on Saturday night too. And yet the established pattern is to have this long prayer at the start, which more-or-less contains a second sermon, speaking of the great things of God.

But what does God get out of this? On reflection, I can't help but think that God would rather have more of his people involved in speaking to him, rather than one speaking and eighty sitting there nodding quietly. I'm all in favour of 'open prayer' in a church service setting (not just in the prayer meeting), yet I have rarely experinced this lately (in any church except this one). But I think open prayer in the main service is a long way off in this church, if they ever get there at all.

But of course, no church is perfect, and when we finally achieve perfection is won't be one denomination, but the entire universal church, prepared as a bride... Sometimes that still seems a long way off.