Us, God or what is changed?

‘Prayer is not for God it is for us’ is one explanation that has a lot going for it. Once we get beyond ‘do this for me’ kind of prayers there is a huge truth in the above. If we are serious about situations changing and begin to address them in prayer it is not normally too long before we discover that the same issues are present in us and need addressing – even if the same issues are not present to the same extent. This is the principle I see in Jesus’ teaching that murder is rooted in anger, adultery in lust, or Paul’s words that idolatry is rooted in greed. One of the principles in strategic prayer (and identificational repentance) is the genuine personal identification and personal repentance that comes through in the identification. It is rare for the prayer to be simply I stand here innocent but I stand in the gap, but more of a ‘we and our ancestors have sinned’.

Prayer changes us, for as we interact with God we find that once we are exposed to his presence we are impacted. Prayer then is certainly for our benefit.

I contend it is also for God’s benefit. Not so he can change (though there are many OT references to God changing his mind after human interaction and dialogue) but so as he can act. The key request / command that the will of God be done on earth as in heaven that we find in the pattern prayer surely indicates that at a very real level for the will of God to be done prayer by followers of Christ is essential. Without the request we can only assume there will be whole aspects where the will of God is not, and will not, be done. Something is released when we pray. We see this with Daniel who prayed fervently but there was a delay, the angel indicated that the prayer released him (her?) to move, but en route there was a necessary battle against opposing forces that took time to resolve. We also see how, in Revelation, that the prayers of the saints rise up to heaven and fill a bowl that once full can be released. No prayer and there is no move forward by the angelic in and through territory occupied by forces of darkness; no prayer and there is no bowl being filled that once outpoured can bring about change.

Prayer of course changes us but it has a major part to play in changing the environment where the prayer is focused. We do not need to adopt an extreme position of God’s mind being changed, as if we can move him from being a hard God to a kinder one (OT) but that he is enabled to do what he was unable to do before the prayer was offered up. This to me is in keeping with ‘the earth he has given to humanity’. This is our jurisdiction, and through wrong choices, both past and ongoing, we have given power to the prince of this world – who has been judged at the cross, and we are to press for that judgement to be visible.

I have many times written that we can never draw a straight line between we prayed this and this happened. To make those claims indicates that we are also claiming to have the full picture. There are so many things we do not know. I had the privilege of praying for a lady who had not walked unaided in 19 years, for 16 of those she had been confined to a wheel chair. The MS had by this stage taken her voice, and her eyesight had also been very badly affected. For whatever reason, I leaned over to the person next to me and said, ‘that woman will walk tonight’. Her story was subsequently written up in one of the national newspapers (sorry to say but it was ‘The Daily Mail’!!).

I visited her later to get the back story. She told me that someone suggested she went to the meeting, but she was very reluctant. She had been prayed for so many times over those many years and had had no improvement so was not looking to expose herself again to any prayer. She inwardly agreed to go only if someone came and directly offered to take her. This subsequently happened.

With regard to all the prayers that went before we might assume they were ineffective, howver in this situation the most likely scenario was that the last prayer was the least effective, but somehow tipped things over.

There are so many things we do not understand and I am certainly not saying that every situation will be resolved if we simply throw more prayer at it. That was the situation for Edith, but we cannot quote one example and make it applicable to every situation. Yet I am suggesting that prayer changes situations that would not change without it. Prayer is not simply for us and our benefit.

I know the frustration of the seeming ineffectiveness of prayer; of being (reluctantly) able to recount where what I have prayed has not received an answer, but in it all I am still pushing to move beyond the passivity of ‘God has everything in control, he knows what is best…’ God has entered our world and is walking with us. His activity might not be totally limited by our response, but it is certainly increased with our partnership. Prayers rise to heaven and one day we will see how it all fitted together.

(Disclaimer: I do not possess the prayer book in the image above the title. (Surprised?) Probably would do me some good to get a prayer book… but that is another story!!)

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But if he is not in control?

I have put up a few posts that have referred to Open Theology that suggested God not being in control. It has provoked a few comments and even an email or two so thought maybe I should explore it a little further in a post. I have always leaned toward what is known as Open Theology where the future is not fixed and that it is not known in an absolute sense by God. Arminianism holds to a future that is known and Calvninism a future that is fixed. The divergence is really over how foreknowledge and predestination interrelate. For Calvinism foreknowledge is because of predestination. God has set something in motion, the outworking is according to his will and divine purpose therefore foreknowledge follows as an absolute. Arminianism reverses those. God knows the future and so what is predestined is according to what he foreknows. If we add to that the possibility of God being outside of time suggesting that he sees the end and the beginning simultaneously. Outside of time gives me immense issues (so Greek and not Hebraic) as it means that everything that has taken place, is taking place and has not yet taken place is now at one given ‘moment’ taking place in God’s experience. Really? The God who thinks, responds, reacts, ‘repents’, waits to see what we will do is not presented as an ‘outside of time’ One. We can resort to those descriptions of God as being anthropomorphic (though I am not convinced by that) or that there are aspects of God we do not understand, and insist that we cannot say ‘man’ (sic) with a loud voice and result with the word ‘God’ – as Barth said. Yet this God is knowable so we cannot simply make him the wholly other to us.

I was first introduced to Open Theology through YWAM and one of their main teachers in their discipleship schools, Gordon Olson, then came the writings of Clark Pinnock, James Sanders, Greg Boyd and others. Perhaps then for me the book Uncontrolling Love by Thomas Jay Oord was one of the best I have read on it. Open Theology challenges the supposed core historic given that God is in control. Comforting as that is at a personal level, it opens up a huge charge against God in the face of natural calamities, human abuse and the tragedy of suffering. God in total control is a comfort to me when I don’t know which way to turn, and probably is of comfort for those displaced from their nation en route to the ‘safety’ of Europe, but for those whose ‘boat’ has just deflated on the Mediterranean and they cannot swim and there is no rescue at hand I am not sure they are comforted that what they are about to experience is the will of God.

At least the Arminian position is easier to sit with, though if God is all powerful and he knew certain events would happen why no intervention? For the Calvinist (and the Muslim) where the will of God is being fulfilled it is genuinely hugely more difficult to explain, other than resorting to the category of ‘mystery’.

Uncontrolling love does not mean:

  • everything is out of control. A parent or guardian who does not control their children in an absolute sense does not mean that without control all children run amok. Values and an inner conscience bring some measure of self-control.
  • that God is without power and can do nothing! However, it does put a far greater emphasis on the effect of prayer.
  • that God does not know us. He knows us better than anyone else ever could. He has been present with us from conception.
  • that he does not have a purpose for our lives. It does not mean that he cannot speeak prophetically to us about events yet to come (and bear in mind that prophecy is conditional).

Uncontrolling love begins with ‘God is love’ and that love is releasing, he travels with us, works for our good with whatever room we gives to him. It means that the tragedies in the world are tragedies to us and to him – there is no ‘mystery at work’ for some higher purpose, though God will work through all things and there can come incredible redemptive results. The redemptive results do not witness to how there was a higher purpose but to the everlasting, unchanging, redemptive love of God. Witness Joseph to see a God at work. Betrayed and sold into slavery, but at the end he more or less states ‘you did not do this, but God did it!’. I suggest that he is responding with a heartfelt emotionally healed statement rather than a theologically nuanced response!

Uncontrolling love means that to use the term ‘omnipotence’ in the sense that God can do anything (but does not seem to!) is meaningless. It is not to suggest that there are limitations to the power of God, but that love determines where that power is shown and that love is uncontrolling.

Uncontrolling love means that God looks for partnership (prayer / availability / faith) to intervene. The heavens ‘belong’ to God but the earth is in the hands of humanity (Ps. 115:16). This is the pattern from the beginning, with humanity as the stewards for God on earth. The situation is further compounded with the partnership between humanity and the fallen powers. To destroy the works of the devil as a human was the task set before the Son of Man. His mission was to see on earth as in heaven and he gave that prayer to the disciples.

To pray let your kingdom come, is to acknowledge that the manifest extent of God’s rule does not include creation. Creation itself sees it this way as it waits for a manifestation of the children of God. Hence prayer is vital. When we pray we do not know all that is involved. There are factors at times beyond ‘God come do this’ that we might not be aware of, yet it is that prayer and desire that releases the hand of God.

Unanswered prayer…!!!!!!! Sometimes it is that we were misguided and not clean in our motives, but there are times when prayer is not answered as we desired. Maybe we did not discern the resistance and remove it… and maybe a whole bunch of reasons that we don’t know why. Praying for healing and the result being premature death is a challenge. Scripture faces those things head on. Premature death is in Scripture and it is not expressed as the ‘will’ of God. One reason is the divisions and jealousies in the body of Christ – and it is not always the guilty ones who die!! Paul rebukes the Corinthians – ‘and some of you have died’ – no need to rebuke them if the guilty have already died. They seem still to be alive hence the rebuke.

For sure there are things we do not see clearly. There are disappointments in prayer, yet I do not see how we simply categorise all of them as the will of God. In and through all of them if we remain faithful he will pull through a higher purpose. He certainly works that way for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

The most positive aspect I find in the Open Theology field is that of partnering with heaven, of opening up a future that is good and healthy. I see nothing in it that minimises God, rather the opposite. A God who is never defeated, never depressed, always loving, always creatively calling, always longing for the partnership we can offer. There is no future that will take him by surprise, all possibilities and every permutation of it he knows. We are the ones who can create space for him, just as many throughout Scripture have before us.

However we work all this out God has us in his hands. ‘Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you… Be anxious about nothing, but in everything with thanksgiving make your requests known to him.’ So not controlling does not mean things are out of control and God can do nothing. He is with us and loves to hear us dialogue with him so that he can do those redemptive acts that do not cross the line of control. (The very real acts of judgement I consider have to nuance that limitation and there is an element to which judgement is an inbuilt result of behaviour.) He knows us intimately – from the mother’s womb and has been present throughout and will be.

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Essential Kenosis

I have always leaned toward ‘Open Theology’, ever since meeting Gordon Olson who taught in many YWAM schools in the 70s. I visited him in California in 1976, stayed in his house and used his library. He had in those days the best library on Charles Finney and many books on Open Theology. Clark Pinnock, who moved from being a Calvinist to being a key figure in articulating Open Theology likewise influenced my thoughts. However, for me, the best writings to date are from Thomas Jay Oord, and his articulation of God’s love as uncontrolling is both releasing and challenging (in what sense is ‘God in control?’).

Oord has made a short introductory video of ‘Essential Kenosis’. If it whets your appetite then his book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ you just know is the one you want for Christmas!

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