Portraits of Superstition: 7 Common Superstitions Christian Women Need to DitchThis seven article series paints seven portraits of superstition — common superstitions that have infiltrated our culture and even our Christianity. Some of these portraits are autobiographical. All of them are worthy of self-reflection.
To read Portrait One: The Obnoxious Knocker click here.
Portrait Two: The Pagan Prayer Warrior
This pagan prayer warrior, her heart is in the right place — mostly. She desires deep communion with God, which is good. However, in her quest for the spiritual experience, she borrows prayer practices from other religions. She may pray “Christian” mantras to calm herself. She may pray to saints for specific things when pressed, panicked, or scared — to Saint Anthony when she’s late for work and can’t find her keys (that was me). She may treat prayer like a magic spell, mindlessly repeating rote prayers in order to fulfill some temporal desire or gain favor from God. This woman may practice contemplative prayer, a growing trend among Christian women today, one that should be avoided (more here). She may even try to meld Yoga or other Eastern religion practices into her Christian prayer life (more here).
The question remains, Is any of this okay? We are told by popular teachers that these things are not only acceptable, but they are profitable. Is this true? Or are all of these just sneaky forms of superstition — practices that don’t bring us closer to God, but stunt our sanctification and reveal, dare I say feed, our idolatrous nature? I think you know what I would say, but let’s take a closer look at what Jesus had to say about all of this during His ministry on earth.
Read Matthew 6:5-14.
In this passage Jesus tells us how not to pray. He says, “you must not pray like the Gentiles [heathens, pagans] who heap up empty phrases, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them…”
Then Jesus tells us how to pray. This not that. Put off, put on. This command could not be more simple and straightforward, yet we think we know better. In our selfish pride and idolatry of the ecstatic experience, we think we have better ideas of prayer and worship than what God has commanded through His Son. Reminiscent of Moses, when he thought his ideas were better — Moses’ prideful disobedience angered God to such extremes that He denied Moses entrance into the Promise Land (Numbers 20). As for Nadab and Abihu, when they offered strange fire to God, different from what God commanded, God struck them down (Leviticus 10). Sister, please take this seriously. Christ is very specific with His instruction on prayer, and we would do well not to circumvent His teaching. So how does Christ tell us to pray?
Prayer includes Adoration
Adoring God – praising Him, for His glory and your enjoyment and good. “Holy is your name.”
In the underpinnings of this passage, Jesus informs us that we are to pray to God alone. We are not to pray to saints or talk to people who have passed away. Praying to someone or something other than God is idolatry, plain and simple. Friends, I know this is hard to hear. It was hard for me too, because it brought me such comfort to talk to my grandmother who had passed away. But here’s the thing — saints, Mary, dead people — they can’t hear you. Only God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (ever-present), and omnipotent (all-powerful). These attributes are God’s and God’s alone. He doesn’t share them with us when we die. 1 Further, trying to communicate with the deceased is an “abomination” to God (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
This goes for angels, demons, and Satan as well. They possess none of God’s omni-attributes, and can do nothing apart from His sovereign hand (Job 1:6-12). Regarding Satan, 1 Peter 5:8 states, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” indicating his limited presence and power.
We are to pray to God alone, to glorify Him alone. The blessing in this is that we can trust God alone for everything we need! He is the source of all joy, peace, hope, and love. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness, if we would go to Him (2 Peter 1:3). He wants us to draw near to Him (James 4:8) and abide in Him (John 15:7). Our adoration is to be for Him alone.
Prayer includes Confession
“Forgive us our sins” (Matthew 6:12; cf. 1 John 1:9).
I ponder this much when I think on yoga, meditation, and the contemplative prayer experience. The practice of emptying the mind, found in all three forms, excludes confession. It is self-focused and self-glorifying. As an Eastern practice, the goal of mind-emptying prayer is to achieve the “higher self,” your inner goddess. This is the exact opposite of going before the Throne of Grace with a contrite and confessing spirit. I implore you dear sister, please don’t play these games with God.
Prayer includes Thanksgiving
The natural outpouring of confession is thanksgiving, thanking God for His grace and mercy. As you are looking over the Lord’s Prayer in your Bible, you may be saying to yourself, where is “thanksgiving” in this prayer?
“Even though thanksgiving is not explicitly mentioned in the Lord’s prayer, I think it is implied in the petition: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matt.6:11). My reason for making this assertion is simple: we are to be alert not only to the need that we have daily food, but to the reality of God’s daily provision for our needs. That realization, of course, should induce us to an attitude of thanksgiving.” 2
Prayer includes Supplication
Supplication simply means asking. Even in the order of The Lord’s Prayer we receive a lesson in how to pray. We are to first spend some time marveling in the glory of God, in reverence, awe, and adoration. Then we are to confess our sins to Him. Since God can have no fellowship with sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2), this confession continually draws us closer to Him. This is one reason why we are to pray without ceasing, so we can always be in communion with God (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Once we have approached God with reverent adoration, confessed our sins, and thanked Him with specifics, then we can ask of God.
Prayer includes Submission
“Not my will but yours be done.” It is important to have a submissive heart in prayer. Though this is not explicit in the Matthew passage, Christ models this in the closing lines of His prayer in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:42). It reveals a heart of trust and faith in our Lord.
While a slavish devotion to rote prayer is dangerous (Matt. 6:7), remembering the A.C.T.S. model may prove to be a valuable tool, a series of prompts, to enrich your prayer life.
Please take a few moments to reflect on your own prayer life. Have you taken God off of His throne in any way? Have you failed to approach Him with the reverence and adoration to which He is owed? Have you pulled prayer practices from other religions and offered God a “strange fire” of your own invention?
Knowledge is power. Paul said, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7). Paul was thankful for the law because it revealed to him his sin and he was able to confess, repent, and reform. Please allow the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word to empower you to walk rightly — to pray rightly. Not as a pagan prayer warrior, but as God’s wise and discerning daughter.
Excellent Examples of Prayer in Scripture
- Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat — Luke 1:46-55
- Christ’s High Priestly Prayer — John 17
- Christ’s Prayer in Gethsemane — Matthew 26:36-56
- Paul’s Prayers — I really love Colossians 1:9-10, but there are many more. Check out D.A. Carson’s Book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. It will bless you!
The next article in the Portraits of Superstition series discusses the Portrait of the Deal-Maker. Check it out!
- Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. “Chapter 57: The New Heavens and New Earth,” Page 1162 discusses the believer’s finite nature in Heaven and ability to continue learning about God. ↩
- Sproul, R.C. “A Simple Acrostic for Prayer: A.C.T.S.” Ligonier. N.p., 10 Feb.2014. Web 21 Sept. 2016. ↩