Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Novus, Guilty Pleasures and Displeasures, and The Why of Prayer

An absolutely brilliant weekend.
National Museum of Singapore
The Celebratory One bought a celebratory dinner at Novus. In a wing of the National Museum of Singapore, there was a wonderful high ceiling marred by squares of blue lights (leftovers from someone's zhng-ed white Subaru WRX?), large room mirrors for gossiping about other patrons discretely, gazpacho topped with shredded crab meat, very good pan-fried foie gras and a crisp strip of prosciutto, and seared scallops with braised pork belly and chestnut puree, and slow-roasted veal cutlet with poached slipper lobster and potato gratin, and slabs of tender wagyu beef poached and then seared, with crisp bone marrow and braised lyonnaise potatoes.
Novus Novus Novus Novus
("What's so special about wagyu beef?"
"The cows drink milk and listen to classical music."
(Buying more than just dinner!)"Issit?"
"No lah, actually, they drink sake. To make their meat more tender."
"Oh, so they're like: MoooOOOoooOoo *hic* MmmmOOooooOOooo *hic*!" [This probably only makes sense to people who've heard the mad cow joke. But then again...]

Well, apparently, wagyu is none of the above.)

Having ascertained that Ang Song Ming's Guilty Pleasures (nothing to do with suburban Massive Attack, Dave.i.d, more like The Guardian's list) had been well and truly put to bed, we sat curbside, U2 and Bruce Springsteen (and a very poor cover of The Killers' Mr. Brightside) throbbing from Timbre, swigging and catching up some more.

(Farcical photo thing, with apologies to Trevor Nunn:

Cheap Wine
Not a sound from the pavement.

Moon Obscured By Cloud Cover
Has the moon lost her memory? She is obscured by cloud cover.

Withered Leaves Gathering at Feet
In the lamplight, the withered leaves collect at my feet.

And the wind, begins to moan (sound of Lamborghini contingent zipping into Fort Canning Tunnel).)

We discussed how evangelicals are given to talking about God as a concept, not a person; a wonderful abstraction, not a concrete entity. Then we said,"Ah, we must pray together!".

Prayer: Guilty Displeasure
A common (but guiltily unconfessed) view of prayer, especially congregational, combined prayer is that it is one of those good-to-do but really boring chores, akin to changing a senile old man's soiled diapers. "We'll have a short study today," says the DG leader,"and then we'll have more time to pray at the end." and the group looks distinctly uncomfortable. When it is time to share prayer requests, there is an awkward silence and everyone avoids eye-contact. Some excuse themselves and make a quick getaway. Finally, finally, as the closing prayer crawls to an end, the last "Amen" resounds like a collective sigh of relief, and shoulders unknot, fists unclench and everyone starts interacting happily.

If this is our discomfort in public prayer, what of our practice of private prayer? Do we pray at all?

None can answer this question but each of us, individually. Whether we go for weekly service or not, our pastors and friends know. Whether we pray in small groups or in prayer groups or as a family or not, our mates and relations know. But whether we pray in private or not, is a matter solely between ourselves and God.

Sometimes, snug under the covers at night, we think, wearily, that we really ought to say our prayers...then fall asleep without bothering.

It is a shame, we all say, that we think so poorly of prayer, or that we don't pray enough. Well, hey, at least we try, right? Haha.

But the horror of such a middle-finger-to-God deserves far harsher treatment.

Why pray?
David F Wells points out, simply, that theology without prayer is idolatry:
Theology without trusting, submissive prayer is no longer good theology; it is merely an academic exercise which may itself pose as a substitute for the process of knowing God. Where this happens, the means has become the end in a kind of perverse idolatry.
Trust the Puritans to be far more garrulous and slightly less polite:
It is the manner of hypocrites, after a while, in a great measure to leave off the practice of this duty. We are often taught, that the seeming goodness and piety of hypocrites is not of a lasting and persevering nature. It is so with respect to their practice of the duty of prayer in particular, and especially of secret prayer. They can omit this duty, and their omission of it not be taken notice of by others, who know what profession they have made. So that a regard to their own reputation doth not oblige them still to practice it. If others saw how they neglect it, it would exceedingly shock their charity towards them. But their neglect doth not fall under their observation; at least not under the observation of many. Therefore they may omit this duty, and still have the credit of being converted persons. (Jonathan Edwards, Hypocrites Deficient In The Duty Of Prayer)
Prayerless friend, I can only warn you; but I do warn you most solemnly. I warn you that you are in a position of fearful danger. If you die in your present state you are a lost soul. You will only rise again to be eternally miserable. I warn you that of all professing Christians you are most utterly without excuse. There is not a single good reason that you can show for living without prayer.

Oh, prayerless man, who and what are you that you will not ask anything of God? Have you made a covenant with death and hell? Are you at peace with the worm and the fire? Have you no sins to be pardoned? Have you no fear of eternal torment? Have you no desire after heaven? Oh, that you would awake from your present folly! Oh, that you would consider your latter end! Oh, that you would arise and call upon God! Alas, there is a day coming when men shall pray loudly, "Lord, Lord, open to us," but all too late;—when many shall cry to the rocks to fall on them, and the hills to cover them, who would never cry to God. In all affection I warn you. Beware lest this be the end of your soul. Salvation is very near you. Do not lose heaven for want of asking. (J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion - A Call to Prayer)
But J.C. Ryle is no Armenian:
I hold salvation by grace as strongly as any one. I would gladly offer a free and full pardon to the greatest sinner that ever lived. I would not hesitate to stand by his dying bed, and say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ even now, and you shall he saved." But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible. That a man will receive pardon of his sins, who will not so much as lift up his heart inwardly, and say, "Lord Jesus, give it to me," this I cannot find. I can find that nobody will be saved by his prayers, but I cannot find that without prayer anybody will be saved.
Prayerfulness as a mark of God's people
A habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian.

It is one of the common marks of all the elect of God; "They cry unto Him day and night." (Luke 18:1) The Holy Spirit, who makes them new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry, "Abba, Father." (Rom. 7:15) The Lord Jesus, when He quickens them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, "Be dumb no more." God has no dumb children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do otherwise than they do. They must pray.

I find it mentioned as a characteristic of the godly, that "they call on the Father," that "they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that "they call not upon the Lord." (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Cor. 1:2; Psalm 14:4)

And I say furthermore, that of all the evidences of real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is in earnest.

I know that the elect of God are chosen to salvation from all eternity. I do not forget that the Holy Spirit, who calls them in due time, in many instances leads them by very slow degrees to acquaintance with Christ. But the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call any one justified until he believes. I dare not say that any one believes until he prays.
A Christian by definition is one who knows that he is completely dependent on God for every aspect of his puny existence and so submits to God in everything (how can he not?). His natural expression of this dependence is prayer, communicating with God, out of the fullness of his heart, just as a baby naturally cries when it is hurt or a child laughs when it is happy. Prayerlessness, then, is an indication that something has gone horribly wrong.

(If it is out of our relationship with God and our understanding of our relationship with God that we pray to him, then Bible-reading/study and prayer cannot be parted. Without knowing God's word to us in the Scriptures, we would not have a relationship with him, nor will we know how he wants us to relate to him. So theology and prayer must walk together, hands clasped tightly, into the sunset. Or something.)
Botanic Gardens
The next day, we sat on the green grass of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, beyond Mr. Tumnus' Narnian lamppost, planning the next few months and praying. Later, the Fluey Ones cooked pasta and we sat around talking and rebuking and encouraging, late into the night. And it was good.

Yet while sermons, and Christian books, and ministry meetings, and praying together, and the company of men who love God, are all good in their way, they will never make up for the neglect of private prayer.

This week, an ennui of mendaciousness will descend when we are foisted onto fine private dining establishments, black-suited like the mafia, and lean against the starched white tablecloth, and swirl wine and talk earnestly about antique watch-collecting, the utter reasonableness of US$10,000 psf housing, yachting and marinas, sale-and-leaseback facilities for Cessna fetishes and the delightfulness of power and ruling countries and moving financial markets; things that will soon pass away.

Where we continue to be in danger of being tempted by the illusory playthings of this world, constant immersion in God's word will remind us of their valuelessness. And we will pray that God will lead us away from temptation to harden our consciences to such idolatry and keep us on his road to his kingdom.

To be continued...

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At February 08, 2007 2:50 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus set the perfect example of obedience in prayer. Although His day was filled from morning to night with many pressures and responsibilities -- addressing crowds, healing the sick, granting private interviews, traveling, and training His disciples -- He made prayer a top priority. If Jesus was so dependent upon His fellowship in prayer alone with His Father, how much more you and I should spend time alone with God. The lives of the disciples and other Christians who have been mightily used of God through the centuries to reach their world for Christ all testify to the necessity of prayer. They are examples of obedience to our Lord's command to pray.

Someone has wisely said, "Satan laughs at our toiling, mocks our wisdom, but trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his knees." Prayer is God's appointed way of doing God's work.


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