When Prayer Becomes Heretical
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I watched Christian programming the other day and checked out different videos and teachings, mostly from TV preachers. Some of them were great and encouraged me, but I noticed a very deceptive theme in some programs. Specific ministers had somehow taken prayer to the receipt level with God; I demand you do this.
I have watched as pop culture prayer in our country has morphed into something that is, to be honest, heretical. I have watched it move through 3 stages which are normal and within Scriptural guidelines.
Stage One: When we learn to pray, we often begin with hope. Usually, it is a fragile hope but a hope that God is listening. In our zeal, it may even be a loud hope in volume and shallow in faith. After hearing my pastor preach about the mustard seed of faith moving mountains, I put it to the test. I was a young boy of about 11, but I figured I had a mustard seed. Now I didn’t want to damage the West Virginia mountains, so I set up a milk carton by the river and focused everything I had on that milk carton. I couldn’t move it. I had the faith of a child, but my faith and understanding were concentrated in the wrong direction. As we grow in Christ and understand the Bible better, we usually transition from hope to stage two.
Stage Two: We move from hope to a deeper trust in Christ. Often this is brought on by what I call the new believer’s salvation jitters. We have a hard time believing God forgave us. Or we have a hard time believing we can make it to heaven, or we even question Jesus himself. This is a growing stage in most of our Christian experience. Much like John the Baptist questioning from the dungeon whether Jesus was the one or not, of course, he became convinced, and not long after faced execution. But he died with trust in Jesus and confidence that Jesus was the Son of God.
Stage Three: So many of us grow in faith and prayer through hope and trust and finally to expectation: This is the foundation of prayer. The expectation is that God will accomplish what He has promised. Jesus tells us to pray with expectancy. He tells us to pray for our enemies. He outlines prayer in the Lord’s Prayer, The Our Father. He tells us to pray humbly in secret and not in the streets to be heard by men. He tells us to expect good things from the Father. He tells us to Ask, Seek, and Knock, to be persistent in prayer. He tells us to stay awake, pray, join together and pray, and make His house a house of prayer. This is Expectation, and this expectation can move up and down, but our desire is for it to grow. Stage four is the troubling heresy I heard from some.
Stage Four: God, I demand you do this; God, you must do this because you promised it, and I demand you keep your word. God, here is a list of the good things I have done, the tithes I have brought, the prayers I have made, the compassion I have shown to others—God, this is my receipt, and I demand you answer. I almost fear a lightning strike even repeating what they said. Our attitude toward God must be trust and expectancy, but never should we think we can go to the throne of God and demand. This is not faith; it is losing sight of to whom you speak. Yes, we can go to God and complain, cry, pour our souls out to Him, and tell Him we are disappointed and mad at him, but we dare not teach people to demand anything from God.
God can handle our prayers, but demands, not so much. You didn’t write the Ten Commandments; he did. You didn’t speak and create the universe; he did. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus’ name is above every name, whether in this world, the world to come, or in heaven. We must pray with trust and expectancy, but when I hear people shouting: God, I demand you do this because you promised! I understand they think they are speaking in some hyper-faith, but they are speaking heresy. It is not anointing but adrenaline. Our place is a place of confident expectancy but not arrogant demands. God does bless us, but many of the sermons heard from pulpits in America could not be preached in most of the world. Not among the villages I have visited in Africa, not the city where I lived in the Philippines. Not in the impoverished villages where I preached in Central and South America. This Gospel—the true Gospel, can be preached any place, and any humble heart can call on our God of mercy; however, don’t start demanding of God; it is heresy. It is He that is to demand of you. We are His servants. Pray in Expectancy, but don’t make demands of God.
Dr. James D Allen