Alpha Course Day 5: How and Why Should I Pray?
Over the weekend, I came down with an annoying and persistent cold, so I ended up hunkering down on the couch watch TV the whole weekend…which was pretty much what I planned on doing the whole weekend anyway, so being sick was no real loss. However, I wasn’t fully healed and energetic by this Tuesday’s Alpha Course. I went, but was not my normal combative self. Then again, perhaps my lack of combativeness was due to the letdown from my frustrations last week. Regardless, here comes Day 5’s blog
Dinner: Surprisingly, they made fajitas. Not good fajitas, mind you – by far not enough meat – but still acceptable given the venue. Nice smoky beans and rice, too. Dessert: Personal angel food cakes with lots of fresh fruit and ice cream. Kudos to the cook for two weeks of enjoyable food.
Part 1: Sermon
No names were dropped this week, though Billy Graham was involved in one of Gumbel’s storys. Strangely, Gumbel used Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions” of stars comment (though he left it unattributed) to say how awesome God was. The gist was that God created all the stars and things in the heavens for us during a single day in Genesis, so, yes; God has time to deal with every single one of our prayers.
For the most part, the sermon just covered the basics of how to pray. Gumbel stated that it is important to pray because prayer is two-way communication with God. We should ensure our prayers deal with four topics (Gumbel calls it "A.C.T.S"): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
Gumbel said that we’re supposed to pray to God “through Jesus” whatever the hell that means. (Though didn’t Jesus say to pray using the Lord’s prayer, which doesn’t refer to Jesus himself at all?) He made this clear with a weird statement that we have "no right to speak directly to God." Huh?
He also tried to answer why God doesn’t appear to answer all prayers. Possibly you are praying for something that is morally wrong. Sometimes God has a different plan for you that is better than your plans (Gumbel assures that God always makes better plans than you). But often it is because you have a mental barrier in your faith, such as committing a sin that you fail to recognize and ask forgiveness for, or not trusting in God to answer your prayer in the best way.
Gumbel also stated how prayer was the most important thing you can do. Oh, how I wish more Christians lived like this (and just sat at home praying instead of screwing with science education, human rights, etc).
Part 2: Small Groups
I wasn’t very combative this day, as I was battling a cold, and for the most part the discussion stuck the plain prayer – what people like to pray for, what they were struggling with that could prevent them from having communications with God, etc – so I generally didn’t say much or challenge anything today. There are of course things I could have said, but I suspect they wouldn’t have much impact in the discussion we were having. For some good questions and comments about prayer, check out Ebon Musings.
We discussed the convolutedness of who we are supposed to pray to. Many group members didn't like what Gumbel said about not having a right to speak directly to God. Do we have to pray to Jesus, as the sermon stated? Or is it to both, either by simply interchanging “God” and “Jesus” at random, or via praying to God, but ending the prayer with “we pray this in Jesus’ name,” as many pastors do? Or is it just to God, as many of our worried group members pray, and how the Lord’s Prayer, as given by Jesus in the Gospels, says?
To end the discussion, the group leader lead a prayer according to what was talked about it the sermon.
Let me fill you in on one aspect of Christian prayer I have learned over the years that was reinforced here. To pray properly, you have to absolutely ensure that you say “God” or “Lord” or “Father” or “Lord God” or “Father God” or “Heavenly Father” or even “Lord Heavenly Father God” a lot. In general, every sentence should start with one of these, every sentence should end with one of these, and there should be one of these in the vicinity of most commas. It is really, really annoying.