Whenever we engage a particular topic, no matter what it is, its relevance to us is based on how it directly affects our day to day life. We tend not to be conversant on topics which don’t affect us much, and very conversant on topics which do. As we move along in our lives, we tend not to engage ideas that seem irrelevant until, at some point, they infringe on our lives.
In our modern day, one place many are observing this phenomenon is in politics. Many people don’t pay much attention to politics at all. They are too busy taking care of their own day to day activities. Others only pay attention during voting season, and then only enough to know who or what to vote for. There are others who have a keen interest in politics and recognize how it affects their lives, so they get deeply involved.
Occasionally, though, something happens in the political arena that captures the attention of the public in a way that causes those who don’t usually pay much attention do so. It seems that now is one of those times. There are things going on in the political world which are reflected in dramatic legislation which affects taxes, health care, illegal immigration, financial institutions, automobile companies and much more. Seemingly, a lot of people who had not really been paying much attention to politics are seeing it directly affect them and are taking the time and making the effort to get up to speed on political matters. They are doing it because politics is infringing on their lives in ways which is making them uncomfortable.
Your Worldview Affects Everything
The same kind of thing is happening now among Christians. Worldview is a subject which, in the past, most Christians have not paid much attention to. It is very easy for us to think of this topic in philosophical and academic terms which don’t seem to have much direct affect on our lives. That is changing somewhat because other worldviews are encroaching on our lives in ways that were unknown in the past. America used to be a rather homogenous nation both culturally and religiously, but that has dramatically changed. Now, as we work, shop, go to school and engage all of the other aspects of our lives, we are just as likely to encounter someone from a dramatically different belief system as we are someone from our own.
But it is not just the element of engaging people from other worldviews which makes an understanding of worldview so important. It is also critical for us as we seek to sort out our own personal beliefs. There is such a thing as a Christian worldview, and Christians ought to understand it and conform their lives to it as closely as possible. One of the critical problems we face in this is, that with so many other worldview beliefs bombarding our lives, we often allow various non-Christian beliefs to intrude into our own beliefs – often without even realizing it. This problem then affects how we practice our faith in many areas.
Worldview and Prayer
One of the areas that is often negatively affected by this problem relates to our prayer life. That is because the way we pray is determined by what we believe about the nature of God and the nature of man. When non-Christian views about these topics get injected into our lives, it cannot help but negatively affect the way we pray. To get a little background as to some of the possible beliefs that can creep in, let’s look at how the various worldviews consider prayer.
The Naturalistic worldview asserts that there is no such thing as an objective, transcendent God. As such, there is no one to pray to. Prayer, for a Naturalist, is a meaningless exercise.
An Animist believes in many Gods whom they must please or their lives will be negatively affected. Animists, then, pray to a lot of gods while seeking to use the right formulas and methods to keep the gods pleased.
Believers in Far Eastern Thought religions recognize a transcendent reality, but don’t understand it to be personal. As such, there is no one to pray to. Meditation is seen to be important to try and connect with the “impersonal life force,” but prayer is not meaningful.
For Theists, prayer is an important activity because they do believe in a transcendent God who has influence over their lives. Most Theistic belief systems, though, don’t recognize God as personal in the sense of desiring a personal relationship with individual human beings. So, the interaction tends to be rather impersonal and is reflected in prayers which focus on asking for personal needs, protection, and the like.
Of course, Christianity is a Theistic belief system so there is the common belief, with other Theists, in an objective, transcendent God. But there is one important distinction. Christians believe in a personal God who has an interest in engaging a personal relationship with individuals. In fact, the Christian faith asserts that this is the very reason for mankind’s existence in the first place.
That being said, non-Christian beliefs have filtered heavily into the beliefs of many Christians which cause them to pray in ways which don’t reflect who God really is. This is where what you believe about God affects how you interact with him. Let’s look for a moment at some of the more common understandings about God and how it affects the praying of Christians.
Spirit in the Sky
Some people don’t seem to be able to see God as a real objective person that we can know and interact with as we do physical persons. Rather, they see him as some kind of nebulous or impersonal spiritual force that we can “somehow” interact with. People who see God this way may pray, but the praying will tend to be sporadic and scattered. They believe there is something out there, but the nebulous conception of that “something” makes it difficult to truly focus on interacting with God as an actual person.
Cosmic Santa Clause
Many people only pray when there is something they want. The “want” may be some tangible item like a new car, lots of money, a new job or a promotion. Or, it may be help to overcome some problem – like a personal illness, financial problems or the impending death of a loved one. The prayers of people with this understanding consists only of asking God for stuff. There is never any giving of themselves to God.
Still others only know God as a fearsome judge who us up there waiting for us to do something wrong so he can throw down lightening bolts and punish us. Their primary concern in life is to not do anything that will make God mad. So, when they pray, they are focused on begging God to forgive and not harm them.
Loving Father Who Is King of Kings
While there are snippets of truth in the previous three understandings, none of them allow us to pray to God based on his actual existence. Sure God is a transcendent being who is beyond our complete understanding. Sure God loves us and wants to give us gifts. Sure God is the ultimate judge and punisher of sins. But none of these descriptions alone are the truth.
The truth is, God is our loving Father who is also the King of kings. He is the one who takes care of business using his transcendent power, but he has also revealed himself to us as personal. He does want to express his love to us by giving us gifts, but he is a person – not a cosmic vending machine. He does require justice to prevail, but he also provides a means for us to be forgiven for our unjust ways. When a person prays to God with a Biblical understanding, we are able have deep respect for him in his position as King of kings, but are also intimate with him as our loving Father.
Why We Can Connect with God
Putting all of this together in the correct way is very difficult for us because the fulness of understanding about God is quite beyond our natural thinking. God is, after all, a transcendent person. For that reason, he took the effort to reveal things about himself that we could not understand using natural means. That information is what we find in the Bible.
The most important truth we need to understand in order to effectively connect with God is that he is a person. Our natural tendency is to think of God in other terms. That is because we connect personhood with mortal humanity. But that is not the case. God is a person. In fact, God is the original person. The only reason human beings are persons is because God is a person and he created us in his image. What that means is that personhood is not dependent on having a physical body. The essence of our personhood is spiritual. Even when we interact with other human beings, the communication we pass back and forth between one other is not a function of our physical self. We use our physical bodies as platforms for communicating with one another, but the communication itself operates from our inner self – the spiritual essence of who we are.
As such, we communicate with God the same way we communicate with other human beings. That is, we pass meaning from ourselves to another. With this understanding, we need to recognize that we must interact with God as a person. The only difference is, with God we are interacting with a person who has manifested himself to us without a human body. As such, we must learn how to communicate with God directly – spirit to Spirit. That being said, the essential communication is the same. [You will find a deeper treatment of this topic in the book, Praying is not for Wimps available at www.marketfaith.org].
Worldview and Your Prayer Life
Everyone has a way of understanding who God is. The way you attempt to interact with him has a direct correlation with your understanding of who he is and what he is like. Just because your understanding is flawed doesn’t mean that you are not saved. You can have a partially wrong understanding and still be connected with God. But your interaction with him will be affected. If you believe he is a “spirit in the sky,” you will not even try to be personal with him. If you believe he is a cosmic Santa Clause, all you will ever do is ask him for stuff. If you believe he is the fearsome judge, you will always be cringing in fear. But if you have a Biblical understanding of God and recognize him for who he really is, you will be able to have both a healthy respect for his power and position while interacting with him in intimate fellowship.
Your worldview determines your understanding and your actions. It is essential to continually dig into Scripture to refine your understanding of reality as revealed by God himself. And when you get it right, your prayer life will soar and your intimacy with God will take on a new dimension that you have never before experienced.
© 2009 Freddy Davis