A blog entry about prayer from an Evangelical Free/Acts 29 hybrid church in the Hawaii District of the EFCA creates today’s post. Matt Dirks from Harbor Church is an active blogger. These are my thoughts on praying for “stupid stuff.” This is also a look at some of the issues regarding evangelicals and prayer.
“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3 NLT
What the community at Harbor Church says about Matt Dirks (From Facebook)
This post is from an Acts 29/Evangelical Free in the Hawaii District of the EFCA. Harbor Church began in 2005 in a living room and slowly grew. Today it currently meets in Liholiho School in Kaimuki. Harbor Church is led by many pastors who are elders in this Neo-Calvinist theological model. DaShannon Higa, Justin Geer, Ethan Pien, Matt Dirks, John Lee, and Christian Siania run this Acts 29 church. Today the church is located in three locations – Honolulu, North Shore, and West Oahu. All three locations are on the island of Oahu.
This Acts 29 church has an active blog that I have been reading. From my perspective it is the only EFCA/Acts 29 church in the Hawaii District that has an active blog. You can see the list of all the EFCA blog in this resource page. I discovered it when I went through and analyzed the Hawaii District of the EFCA. In a quick scan through the blog it seems as if quite a majority of the articles come from Matt Dirks. Matt Dirks earned his Masters of Divinity at the Talbot School of Theology. He has been involved in Harbor Church since 2005. Matt has been working at rescuing women from the sex trade in the Hawaiian Islands. He also publishes at The Gospel Coalition and has written a book through Crossway. Matt along with Chris Bruno published “Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.” D.A. Carson wrote the forward for that book. To read more about D.A. Carson I would recommend another post I wrote at The Wondering Eagle called “From D.A. Carson to Steve Estes the Following Question Must be Asked: Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a Safe Place for Sexual Assault Victims?” In addition you can look at Tim Challies response to Matt’s book right here. There is a lot in the course of time that I want to write about Harbor Church. In reading and studying the main church blog there is a lot of material to use for future discussions. Today I want to use a recent post from Matt about prayer. The post in question is called “Why Don’t We Pray for Stupid Stuff More?” I am going to write comments below and then highlight them in red.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he told us to pray for bread. When’s the last time you thought to pray for bread?
We know our 12-grain whole wheat bread comes from a long chain of people.
- Some guy tills a field, and plants a whole bunch of seeds. Then he has to come back later with a big combine and harvest the wheat.
- Then someone has to drive it over to the grain elevator.
- Then someone else has to drive it over to the flour mill.
- Then some other guy has to run a machine that mills the wheat into flour.
- Then a guy drives the flour to the bakery.
- Then another guy mixes the flour with eggs and milk and 11 other grains, and puts it into the oven.
- Then another guy drives it to the supermarket.
- Then another guy puts it on the shelf.
- Then another guy scans it at the register, so you can finally take it home and make a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.
We depend on dozens of people to bring us our bread, but even with all of those people involved, Jesus says is there’s only one person responsible for supplying bread: God. So he says you need to pray for bread.
Maybe you’re like many Christians, and you think Jesus was just speaking metaphorically. God’s way too concerned with eternal things to think about something as insignificant as bread. I should be praying for more important things. Not stupid stuff like food. So why did Jesus tell us to pray for it?
Okay I wanted to ask a question here. The point of this is not to ask a metaphorical question, but look at that 9 point step by step process that Matt wrote about where 9 grain bread comes from the field to your peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. If you are going to be in Neo-Calvinist theology can’t you say that every step of the way is ordained by God? From driving flour to a flour mill to the stocker at the local grocery store who puts it on the shelf. In the Neo-Calvinist persuasion isn’t the Lord involved in every step? Maybe its me but I get the feeling that Matt kind of flies through that process without stopping and contemplating the other issues at play. But then again I am not into Neo-Calvinist theology at all.
It’s even more striking when you see the context of the full prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-11).
Doesn’t that seem like a really sharp turn? We’re starting out with this awe-inspiring reminder that God is our father, the sovereign omnipotent one in heaven. We’re praying for his name to be hallowed — for him to be glorified and worshiped. We’re praying for his kingdom to come — for his reign to expand, and for his will to be done in our lives, and in our islands, and in our nation, and across the world. We’re praying for God to come and bring heaven down to earth!
And then we say, “Oh, and could you stop and pick up some bread on your way?” It seems so out of place, doesn’t it? We went from the heights of heaven to Foodland aisle 4. You have to pass the aisle with the hemorrhoid cream to get there.
Why is Jesus teaching us to pray something that seems so boring? Here’s why: because if I pray for God to hallow his name through me, and his kingdom to come in me, and his will to be done by me, then I’m going to need to have energy to do all that. That’s why Jesus wants us pray for stupid stuff like bread.
According to Matt yes you are supposed to pray for stupid stuff like bread. So in Matt’s perspective this is to be applied to all small things? Do you pray explicitly for every act under the sun? If you are supposed to be literal and pray for bread, then you pray for other items of food? Do you pray for oranges, ground beef, and other items? Or should one just be very literal and pray for bread alone? If you are going to have a high view of scripture can’t one say that to apply Matt’s thinking trivializes the Bible and cheapens it? In that you are now merging all “stupid stuff” I am not trying to be hard just ask a few questions that popped out in my mind.
Jesus is showing us how to pray realistically. He’s not teaching us to go off on a mountaintop somewhere and find some kind of spiritual inner peace. He’s not teaching us to be totally detached from this world, and become monks who fast every day and take vows of poverty silence. He’s not saying that we need to be totally tranquil and serene, floating above the craziness of life. That’s eastern mysticism, not Christianity.
As Paul Miller wrote in his book A Praying Life, “The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love . . . and thus to be busy, which in turn drives us even more into a life of prayer.
Look at the life Jesus led, and you see someone who was crazy busy all the time. Going from one thing to the next, never getting a lot of sleep. Getting hungry, getting tired, getting thirsty. He had to depend on his Father through prayer, expecting God to supply him with everything he needed to keep going and keep ministering. Jesus showed us that physical things really matter.
A few years ago, we had an Athletic Director in our church lead a workshop at our men’s retreat, on the topic of developing a fitness plan. I loved how he framed it. He said, “Hey guys, you want to serve God, right? You want to have more energy so you can serve God more, yeah? You want to live longer so you can serve God longer, yeah? Then why aren’t you taking care of your body?”
Fitness helps us serve God. Food helps us serve God. A good car can help you serve God. Even a good parking space can help you serve God.
And that’s why we pray for stupid stuff.
There are a number of thoughts in my mind after reading that article. Here is one of them.
How do you Define “Stupid Stuff?”
You know if Matt Dirks and a few other people sat down in a room around a table would we be able to agree to a definition of “stupid stuff?” I am not trying to be difficult instead I am asking a serious question. What can be stupid for one person might be substantial for another. People look at things in a very different light and lens. Part of the problem with what Matt Dirks writes about above is that this can be so subjective in so many ways. For some people “stupid stuff” might be a parking space at the grocery store. For others it might be a needed grade on a school book report. For others it can be the hope that a person will say yes to going out on a date. “Stupid stuff” varies and that is one of the things that bothered me when I read Matt Dirks article. The other thing that was hovering in the back of my mind is the following issue. In getting down and praying for “stupid stuff” is Matt also flirting with prosperity theology in praying for things like parking spaces? I used to think like Matt did years ago, and now I don’t pray for lesser things because it opens the door to legalism, and difficulty. For example if I pray for a parking spot and I drive around a crowded parking lot and nothing opens up…do I lack faith in the end?
Critique on Evangelicals and Prayer
Prayer is a difficult topic and its one of those issues that I would suggest can give many people a lot of heartburn. For me it makes me deeply uncomfortable. One of the things that has happened in my life from time to time is the following. People who pry and ask “How is your prayer life?” For me that’s just as inappropriate as asking, “How is your sex life?” What has happened is that some people use that question to pry and inquire into a private area of your life. They often do so while portraying themselves to be very spiritual and pious. Then what can often happen is that you can be nitpicked and dismantled in so many ways. Just writing about this now gives me the chills in all honesty.
Another thing that is deeply troubling is how frequently and hap-hazard many evangelicals say “I’ll pray for you…” Now please note…I am not against prayer. After all I solicited prayer when my Mom was dealing with her illness in the hospital. What troubles me is that many evangelicals can be flippant in saying “I’ll pray for you.” Meaning that you could be “lost” or its the standard glib answer and many often walk away and then forget to pray for the person. This is part of the reason why I myself do not say “I’ll pray for you” often because knowing me I know that I will get busy and I fear that I will forget. And I do not want to treat a person in such a way. One of the problems in evangelicalism is that many can be condescending when they say “I’ll pray for you.” But one of the most difficult issues is the one I want to dive into next.
The Issue of Un-answered Prayer
The issue of un-answered prayer is one of the more difficult issues that I wish more churches and pastors would frankly address. As many of you know I am numb and grieving the loss of my Mom who died on April 1, 2017. I wrote a post not long ago about lessons that I learned from my Mom’s illness and death. You can read that in “What I Learned About Life From My Mom’s Illness and Death.” When I was in the hospital helping out when I left each night I went to the chapel, and every night I had one request. It was one request that I begged for from the Lord. That prayer is this. God please give my Mom another 5 or 10 years. Please may we have a few more Thanksgivings and Christmases with Mom. Lord please not know let’s have Mom for a few more years before she dies. My prayer centered around that topic and I would go to the chapel late at night and plead for a few more years. Now I am not someone who got pissed off at God when that didn’t happen. But I am someone who has questions and asks why? The issue of un-answered pray is incredibly hard. I just wish more churches and Christians can just speak to and about. My hope is that many do not feel defensive and feel lie they have to defend God. After all…can’t God speak for himself? Flippant or easy answers to hard un-answered prayers tend to leave more pain. I just wish that this could be discussed in a much more sensitive way than many people do so now.
Why I Don’t Really Pray for Myself
As I focus on the last section I wanted to spend time explaining why I often do not pray for myself. I honestly struggle with prayers. Some of the only times I have prayed is to resolve an unresolved relationship in my past. But I am often baffled….why is this prayer answered and yet another feel like its ignored? I am often confused on what to think. I also don’t pray for myself because I fear of going down the slippery slope of prosperity theology. And I believe that prosperity theology is a major problem in evangelicalism. I don’t pray for myself because I honestly struggle with it. When I do pray its for other people. That consists of my prayer life. I don’t really pray for myself, instead I pray for others. That’s about as how far I can go with prayer. This is a hard topic in all honesty.
I have been wanting to do a post about prayer for a while. So when I saw this post on the Harbor Church blog I wanted to write about it. So Matt and Harbor Church it was good meeting you. I look forward to writing about you in the future. Again I love you guys.