Monday, December 26, 2011

needless circles

The earth has circled the sun more than two thousand times since the day Honi drew his circle in the sand, but God is still looking for circle makers.
Mark Batterson, Zondervan, (2011-12-13). The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Kindle Locations 80-81). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

This is one of those statements that, biblically, makes no sense. The story of Honi's drawing a circles in the ground and praying while standing in it does not appear in the Bible at all. Honi seems to have lived in the time between the Testaments, and the stories about him seem to have a mythical element to them; for example, there is the story about falling asleep and waking up 70 years later. The story about him praying the circle also has a mythical flavor to it, as it has him having to correct God about the rain, as God seemed to having a klutzy day 'cause he kept making it rain either too softer or way too hard.

So, the idea that "...God is still looking for circle makers" seems rather strange, because there is no notion in the Bible that God ever looked for circle makers in the first place. The practice of drawing circles either while prayer or to pray within is nowhere commanded in Scripture, either Old Testament or New. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, there is no mention that they should kneel to ground and somehow ascribe a circle around themselves. When Paul went to a city to preach the Gospel, there is no mention of him awakening early each morning and hiking around the city as if such a practice should have somehow grown the church in that city and made his efforts at evangelism that much more effective.

And the timeless truth secreted within this ancient legend is as true now as it was then: Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. Why? Because they don’t require divine intervention. But ask God to part the Red Sea or make the sun stand still or float an iron axhead, and God is moved to omnipotent action.
The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Kindle Locations 81-84).

There are several statements in that excerpt written with an air of absolute certainty, yet to me they seem to lack any biblical support at all.

For example, if "Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers", then one would think it would be stated pretty plainly, in so many words, in the Bible. Yet there is no such thing stated; in fact, one could say that the New Testament teaches rather the opposite, with one exception. Jesus, for example, tells the disciples to pray for the rather mundane need of food to eat each day. When Jesus prayed before His death, his prayer was a petition that the cup should be passed from Him, but also an acceptance that the Father's will be done. When Christ in Revelation sends a message to the poor and persecuted church in Smyrna, He says nothing about them needing to engage in bold prayers that they should be delivered from their poverty and persecutions. When Paul addressed the many offenses of the Corinthians, he says nothing about them need to honor God by praying more boldly for whatever they would want. Rather, things like contentment are stressed and encouraged, and enduring to the end. Among the types of people whom Jesus called "Blessed", there were the meek, the persecuted because of righteousness, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the mourners, the poor in spirit. There is no mention of the bold in prayers.

As I said, there is one exception. In one of His parables, Jesus contrasts the prayer of a Pharisee and that of a publican. The Pharisee boldly praised God for his righteousness, but the publican humbly begged for mercy. But it was the publican, whose prayer was far from bold, who was justified. I will write more about this in a moment.

If "...God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less", then should we not expect such a thing to be fairly plainly stated in Scripture? We have a good idea of the things that are offensive to God, all the sins we commit, both plainly and secretly, things socially acceptable and socially rejected, things we know look bad and things that feed our self-righteousness by making us look good. The committing, for example, of blatant adultery, and the secret adulteries of lusting after another. But I have not seen anywhere that states that a lack of big dreams or bold prayers is anywhere considered offensive to Him.

If "...your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God", then where is such a thing stated in Scripture? Is having food for each day an impossible task for us? For some it may be, for others it really is almost routine. For the disciples, I must say that it doesn't seem like they were hurting on that front.

But I wonder what, really, Batterson means by praying for what is "impossible to you". In the book, he mentions things like his church acquiring a building for a coffee house, his church purchasing a whole city block, his church finding places to meet. But are these things really impossible? Those who do not worship God start up coffee shops, buy buildings, even find places places to hold religious ceremonies and worship whatever false gods they worship. Nothing in the book is necessarily impossible for a person with reasonable gifts and talents to do--maybe not easy, but not in itself impossible.

There is one impossible thing, though, that we can pray to God for. There is something impossible for any human to do, something only God can do. Christ came to earth to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins, for we could not rid ourselves of them. We can repent of sins and believe in Christ, and God will forgive us of our sins and give us eternal life, in much the same way as the publican was justified for his humble prayer for mercy on himself as a sinner.

There is a sense in which we may bodly approach the throne of grace, to receive help in time of need. But there is no guarantee that that help will be a new building, a larger church, a dream come true. Paul was right to pray to God concerning what he called a "thorn in the flesh", but God did not take it from him, but rather gave him the grace sufficient to endure it, and so Paul came to rejoice in his weakness. There is a sense in which we may pray for boldness, as the Apostles did early in Acts, praying that they should boldly proclaim the Gospel as the powers in Jerusalem began roughing them up some.

But there is no guarantee in Scripture that your dream of having a 10,000 member church will be honored, no matter how much you think it would honor God to have it and pray for it. There is no guarantee that you will prosper. There are guarantees that those who live godly in Christ will suffer persecutions. There are guarantees that just as the world hated Christ so will it hate those who love Him.

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