16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
Mom finally found a decent job, and she seems very excited about it. See, I told her God would be faithful.
I found out there’s tons of stuff by Finney, Wilkerson, Ravenhill, and Whitefield on the Internet. There’s also lots by Augustine, Tertullian, Barnabus, and many other early church leaders. I spent several hours printing sermons and essays and I think I finally scratched the surface!
I’ve also been reminded how incredibly important my prayer life is. I was thinking about Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 which say that if you pray and believe, you will receive. That night I decided to pray and try to truly believe my prayers would be answered, but I felt strong spiritual opposition. So I prayed very hard until I felt at peace.
The next day I was in a horrible mood. I was tired, angry, and lazy. The day after that, for the first time in months, I skipped my prayer time! And what’s funny is I felt much better that day. I guess demons don’t oppose you so much if you’re not praying. At first I felt guilty, but when it finally sank in that I was already forgiven and had a clean slate, I rejoiced.
I’m praying more again now and reading a great book called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. It says, “You can tell how popular a church is by how many show up Sunday morning, but you can tell how popular Jesus is by how many show up at a prayer meeting.”
As A.B. Simpson said, we’re not always supposed to be on the defensive against Satan. If we have the Holy Spirit of God then we have the power to be on the offensive! But we need to fervently pray and have faith.
— March 15th, 1999
Dear Former Self,
Just because your mom found a job doesn’t mean God had anything to do with it. This is a great example of what I meant in my letter about confirmation bias. When you assume God is behind everything, you’re bound to see him behind everything.
The overwhelming odds were that your mom would eventually find a job, whether she trusted God or not. And even though she’s the one who searched the papers, made calls, and went on interviews, you’re giving God the credit. That’s really not fair to your mom.
I see you’re discovering the the vastness of the Internet. You may think you’ve scratched the surface, but you haven’t. Not even close. So don’t bother printing every religious sermon or essay you come across because the amount of ink and paper you’d need would cost a fortune.
I’ve noticed prayer seems to be the central aspect of your faith, but why focus on prayer? I know the Bible exhorts people to pray, but it also exhorts people to give to the poor, volunteer their time, and share the gospel. Why are you always at home on your knees instead of out helping people and spreading the “good news” of Jesus Christ?
Although you don’t yet realize it, the reason you spend so much time praying is because it’s easy. On the one hand you love God and want to serve him, but on the other hand you don’t like interacting with strangers. So what are you to do? Prayer is the perfect solution because you get to feel like you’re doing something without actually doing anything. All you have to do is close your eyes and think. In fact, the only thing easier than praying is sleeping.
I believe this is the reason churches put so much emphasis on prayer (despite Jesus telling them not to pray in public). It makes church-goers feel like they’re doing something worthwhile. Meanwhile, millions of children around the world continue to starve. In a way, prayer is a harmful concept. Imagine how many more good things Christians would do for the less fortunate if they didn’t believe in the power of prayer!
Everyday you sit at home with your eyes closed and imagine that you are making a difference in the world. But in reality, you’re making about as much difference as an extra drop of water in the ocean. Maybe not even that much. When are you going to realize that prayer doesn’t work?
As you said, according to Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24, if you truly believe you will get what you pray for, you will. Well, you obviously believe in the power of prayer, so how come you rarely get what you pray for?
Most Christians say God won’t interfere with free will, he doesn’t answer a prayer if it isn’t part of his divine plan, he only helps those who help themselves, he doesn’t perform amazing miracles because then people wouldn’t need faith, etc. (By the way, none of these excuses are in the Bible.) But when you take all that into account, it becomes impossible to distinguish a god who answers prayers from a god who doesn’t even exist.
I think you at least sense there’s something wrong with the whole idea of prayer. But for now you’re interpreting the feeling as “spiritual opposition” from demons. The truth is, praying is a complete waste of time. But unfortunately it will be a few more years before you figure that out.
— Matt, March 15th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.