Friday, September 23, 2011

Faith and praying out loud

As a writer, I’ve learned that reading my work aloud helps me spot errors more readily. It is the same with prayer. For that reason, I pray aloud, sometimes intensely loud. In doing this, God has helped me see what I believe and what I only think that I believe.

This morning’s devotional reading is about a man whose son was afflicted with a demon that not only robbed him of the ability to speak, but also drove the boy to suicide attempts. This man brought his son to the disciples and they were unable to help him. Then Jesus appeared on the scene and began asking questions.

And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:21–23)
I love what Spurgeon did with this. He said, “Now there was an ‘if’ in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the ‘if’ in the wrong place. Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the ‘if,’ kindly puts it in its legitimate position.”

I immediately think of all the times I’ve put an ‘if’ in my prayers. Sometimes it is, “If You hear me . . .” or “If You care. . . .” But most often if is like this father, “If You can. . . .” Usually I don’t say those words, but I am thinking them in my heart. That is why praying out loud is important for me.

Even my rational mind apart from pure faith, reasons that God is unlimited. He can do anything or He could not be called God. That makes saying “If You can. . . .” out loud a total nonsense. If I heard myself say that, I would shake my head and maybe give myself a smack. What am I saying? Duh.

However, this man also said something that, for me, seems to come out more easily when I say it aloud.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
For me, mulling the issue in my mind and in silent prayers, makes it easier to skirt the real issues or to rationalize and deny what is going on in my heart. Out loud, it becomes clearer to me: God knows what I am thinking — I might as well say it. There is no pretending when the words come out. I cannot easily lie to myself when I hear myself talk.

This helps identify doubt, but praying out loud has an upside to it as well. For instance, when I say things like, “You are God, You can do anything,” I am reinforcing my own faith. This is a strong biblical principle. We need to speak what we believe. 

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9–10)
Verbal confession is vital in salvation. It cements faith, makes it concrete (pun intended) and gives it voice. Obviously, those who say they believe with their mouth, but do not believe in their heart are not saved. On the other hand, if someone thinks they believe, but refuses to say so, they could be holding back so they can change their mind. God wants us to say it, to tell others.

Speaking what I believe works in a similar way in prayer. It affirms and gives strength to what I know is true in my heart. It also battles the Liar, Satan, who whispers words of doubt and deception into my mind. Out-loud words drive away those temptations to unbelief. Singing spiritual songs has the same effect as we give expression to the truth.

Back to prayer. I love to go for long walks and pray, but praying out loud is a bit of a problem. I imagine a well-meaning observer calling for the little men wearing white coats to take me off to the psych ward. So I whisper and move my lips, which is almost as good, but not the same as talking with volume.

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Lord, the lessons of speaking my heart are important. Speaking out loud may not be for everyone, but the larger lesson here is for everyone, and for me today. I need to watch that I put any “ifs” in the right place. Prayer should firmly stand on the confidence that You keep Your promises and that You hear my prayers, aloud or silent. The “if’s” do not belong to who You are or what You can do. They always belong with my failings, fears and doubts. Forgive me for trying to project my own shortcomings on You, as if You are the doubtful side of this equation. How foolish of me. You are Almighty God, God who is unlimited in power, love, grace and mercy. Truly, all things are possible to those who believe. In my weakness and lack of faith, keep on giving me words that turn my focus away from supposing wrong things about You and that put the onus of my unbelief where it belongs.

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