Praying with a Tampered Ephod
Honoring the Different Tribes of Prayer
By Fawn Parish
It might have turned into a serious reconciliation event, except for the obvious fact that God decided to throw a party. The whole crowd threw away their bulletins to join Him. People embraced each other like long lost relatives at a family reunion. All that was missing was the Macarana. People were thrilled to be together. God was definitely making His people joyful in His House of Prayer.
This particular Concert of Prayer featured Japanese, Korean, Samoans and Chinese congregations each singing a verse of Amazing Grace in their language. After each group sang, we broke into small prayer circles and we prayed for each country. The church was packed and many pastors from different denominations were present.
The night was going quite nicely, and then I heard her. She was a tall Asian lady in a prayer circle hundreds of people in front of me, and she started praying. She was incapable of praying demurely. Louder and louder the prayer rose, louder and higher than all other prayers in the room. And she was praying in tongues. I nearly broke out in hives. I stole a harried peek at the Southern Baptist pastors in the room. Were they scandalized, would they leave, their congregations trailing out behind them in offense?
I thought of going up and tapping the lady gently on the shoulder, mentioning because we had so many different prayer traditions present, we wanted everyone to be free to pray as they liked, but to please pray quietly. On the other hand, I didn't want anyone to leave feeling unwelcomed. So I did what most people do when confused- I did nothing. After what seemed like an eon or two, she mercifully stopped praying.
Later that evening I probed the non-charismatic pastors. "We just thought she was praying in her native language!" Maybe Concerts of Prayer would survive. After all it is easier to make cultural allowances than theological ones. But then again, God has been busy schooling us to walk together in prayer the past few decades. Thirty years ago we used to say "How many Presbyterians are there here tonight? How many Methodists? How many Catholics?" Now, it's not even an issue. God has done a beginning work of acceptance in our hearts, but He's calling us to something much deeper.
When it comes to prayer, I don't think acceptance, and an occasional date is what God ever had in mind. I think He's thinking marriage. I don't mean a marriage of convenience. No, no, no. I mean a marriage like all good marriages that learn the difficult art of laying down their lives for one another. A marriage where each prefers the other over themselves. A marriage where separate identities and personalities learn to value and yes, even cherish their differences. Because God's kingdom is not about tolerance, it's about embrace. God wants us to not just be patient with each other, but to see the beauty of each other, and our need of each other.
When the high priest entered the presence of the Lord he entered with all the tribes on his chest. There were 12 tribes and each of the twelve tribes names were engraved on separate stones and placed on the breastplate of judgement. Exodus 28:29 tells us "And Aaron will bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually." But we often enter the presence of the Lord with a tampered ephod. We don't have all the tribes engraved on our heart, because we don't like some of them. We don't value and cherish those tribes that are different from us. We tend to only want to carry and associate with those we like. So we gouge out the stones we don't enjoy.
Change metaphors with me for a minute. Imagine an orchestra where the Zither thinks the Tuba is too deep, and the cymbals think the violins are too soft. ("That Contemplative/Reflective tribe is just too quiet"). Can you hear the cello's whine about the drums being too loud? ("That Spiritual Warfare tribe is just too noisy."). And of course the viola's think the trumpets are too emphatic. ("Don't you wish that Scripture/Prophetic Proclamation tribe would wear a little humility?"). And who can help but notice that the Bassoons don't like the Timpani? (That Liturgical tribe is so repetitive.")
When it comes to prayer it all boils down to not so much doctrinal difference, as style and personality preference. And it condenses down even further to shades of comfort with volume and intensity. Whatever tribe disturbs you, you need to go into the presence of God with them and learn to love them, because you need them, and you'll never know God very well without them.
Jesus is the Treasure
You see Jesus is the treasure, the Word of God is the treasure map, and each of us are clues. If you're going into the presence of God with just your tribe, you're missing a lot of clues. Every prayer tribe has elements of God's personality wired into it's DNA. We miss vital clues when we refuse to go into the presence of God together. Your picture of God is incomplete without all the tribes. God made us to need each other. He made us for relationship, both with Himself and each other. The only thing Jesus said that would prove that the Father had sent him was that we'd love each other. If we're serious about the world knowing Jesus, unity must be a top priority, especially unity in prayer. And you can't have unity with just one. The very word unity means there are at least two uniting. Is God seeking some bland, homogenous prayer style? No, He is looking for a unity of heart that loves and treasures the uniqueness of each other. When I am with Hawaiians, Peruvians, Native American's, Israeli's and African American's, all worshipping with their own regalia and culture, it's the uniqueness of each tribe that is stunning...not the conformity. My heart has been stretched and my vision of heaven enhanced by worshipping with other cultures. Think of the heart expanding possibilities there are with different tribes in prayer!
Learning from Trader Joe's
There is a chain of stores in California called Trader Joe's. It's loyal customers look at shopping as an adventure. You don't go to Trader Joe's to get same-o, lame-o food. Trader Joe's is where you go for taste treks. The founder of Trader Joe's realized that as air travel increased, people's exposure to other cultures would increase, and their taste buds would be hankering for more variety in taste. So Trader Joe's specializes in unique combinations and flavors. Things like ginger granola, and orange bread, and dark chocolate dipped cashews. (Makes me hungry just thinking about it). Trader Joe's believe it or not, has something to teach us about prayer.
Is your prayer life expanding because you've tasted the goodness of God in other tribes and your taste buds are ruined for the ordinary? Or are you stuck in a rut, mouthing the same prayer regimen day after day? Increase your exposure. Find the heart enlarging, mind-expanding adventure of prayer experienced by other tribes. Learn to trek. Combine flavors and learn not to just appreciate distinctives, but to love them.
Every Tuesday morning I pray with a stellar group of friends. We meditate quietly on Scripture and then pray what God underscores to us through the Word. One of my friends, Fern, is a contemplative Catholic, and a Canadian Cree Native American. Praying with Fern for the past nine years has enlarged my heart.. She has taught me new ways of listening. Because I love her, I appreciate the heritage of the Catholic church in fresh new ways. Because she loves silence and stillness, I've learned to calm my racing heart. She has taught me the beauty of quiet and the hallowedness of the ordinary.
Recently at a Lydia National Prayer Conference in Seattle, God underscored my need of other tribes. I found myself embracing my Native American sisters saying "Oh I need you! Who you are and who you say He is, expands the borders of my being." Now, that's a lot different than saying to our First Nations sisters; "That was a nice presentation. Thank you for coming." If we are left to ourselves, our own tribe, our heart shrinks to the size of postage stamps. But if we are open to love, open to difference, open to otherness we allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge us.
The Clues Each Tribe Give Us
(A very partial list)
The Contemplative and Liturgical prayer tribes give us clues to Jesus and history. They teach us the art of holy reminisce. Because of them we realize we stand in a long line of Jesus lovers through the centuries. Because prayer is a timeless activity, we can join our hearts to much of what has already been prayed through the centuries. When I pray with Nicholas of Cusa who prayed over 400 years ago, "And what Lord is my life, save that embrace wherein thy delightsome presence doth so lovingly enfold me." I am joining my prayer life to the saints through eons, who burned with sacred fire in their devotion to God. I echo that great crowd of witnesses whose passion for God and whose prayers thundered across the centuries. I stand with them.
The Contemplative prayer movement teaches us to "Be still and know that I am God." For those of us addicted to activity, this is a priceless awareness. If I ignore this tribe, do not seek them out, do not nurture a prayer life together with them, I trap myself in my worker droid mentality, excelling as a human doing, rather than a human being. The Contemplative tribe clarifies for me the beauty of being.
The Spiritual Warfare and the Scripture Declarative prayer tribes teach us that Scripture is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.3. They teach us that God is a man of war. Through their eyes we see God as our Dread Champion who wraps Himself with zeal as a garment and girds His sword on His thigh. His arrows are sharp in the heart of His enemies. These tribes remind us that God is a God of action, a God of power and might and dominion. When I pray with my friends from this tribe, I am reminded that life is war, and that Jesus is the conqueror. These tribes remind me to strike my arrows on the ground many times and to contend for all that God has promised.
Without this tribe, I might end up a perpetual settler on the plains of satisfaction. The Spiritual Warfare and the Scripture Declarative tribes remind me that there is a wild wilderness to be tamed and occupied, tamed and claimed for the Kingdom of God. These two tribes emphasize that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever, and that what He did once, He will do again. I need their intensity because when left to myself, I tend toward pacifism. I came out of the womb with a peace pipe, not a sword. And the sword of the Lord is a very potent weapon we must know how to wield. The weapons of our warfare are mighty, and those of us who are ambassadors and diplomats need to remember that some things cannot be negotiated. They must be won.
The Evangelical prayer tribe teaches me the priceless freely given, gift of grace. Through them I learn the purity and solidity of faith's foundation. God's Word is forever settled in heaven. Through Scripture alone, faith alone, and Christ alone, I can rest in the certainty of God's reign. His purposes will not be thwarted. This tribe increases my hope. This tribe reminds me of the simplicity of devotion to Jesus. When I am tempted to be attracted to graduate levels of spirituality, the Evangelical prayer tribe brings me back to the reality of childlike trust, and the amazingly rich offer of salvation. This tribe keeps me honest. They are the 'just the facts, maa'm" branch of prayer. This tribe nurtures my heart with assurance. I feel safe in their praying.
I 've painted with broad brush just 5 of many obvious tribes, but you get the picture. Each tribe shows us aspects of God's personality and character, that we might miss if we ignored them. Each tribe has a particular view of God that enlarges, and expands our view. Because we love Jesus and want to know as much as we can, we need each other. Praying together helps us understand things about Jesus we can't know any other way.
The Great Divide
So with so much to learn from each other, what keeps apart? In a five letter word...pride. Spiritual pride is insidious. Ed Silvoso says pride is like bad breath, you're the last person to know you have it. Each tribe has it's own inherent arrogancies. The Contemplative and Liturgical Prayer tribes have history. The Spiritual Warfare and Scripture Declarative Prayer tribes have power. The Evangelical Prayer Tribe has the Word. Sadly, many of us use what we have against each other, to prove we are superior.
During a Pastor's Prayer Summit years ago, one tribe decided that the other facilitators were just not quite passionate enough. They were just too quiet. So they had another Prayer Summit in an adjacent chapel during the free time. God obviously has nothing against praying, but think of the relational possibilities that were missed, because one tribe thought the main sessions were too tame.
If we cannot learn to love one another, to be patient with our differences in prayer, we have nothing to say to the world. If we are more interested in our prayer freedom, than in another brother's sincere approach to God, our gospel is in vain. I've been in meetings where some criticized that there was too much passion in prayer. And I've been in meetings where the complaint was that there was not enough. Have we become prayer connoisseurs?
This wounds the heart of God. It's easy to criticize what you haven't given your life for. I once heard a man on the radio denouncing one tribe after another and I thought to myself..."he is cutting up the Body of Christ into little pieces and selling it." Is Christ's body something precious to us? Some people make their living telling other people how wrong other tribes are. They don't just gouge out the stones they don't like off their breastplate...they sell those gouged out stones to each other. It is an abomination to God to traffic in tribe bashing.
Gentle Humility of Heart
God has called us to a gentle humility of heart that esteems and honors each other. The Bible commands us in 1 Peter 2:17 to "Honor all." Can the hand say to the eye, "I have no need of you?" Can our heart say to our brains, "You're entirely too rational. Where's your compassion?" We are many members but one body. Can you picture a pile of livers all trying to function together and form a body? How about a heap of brains? Of course it's ludicrous to only want to effectively pray in clumps of likeness. "I couldn't possibly pray with you, I pray most perfectly with other spleens."
Of course I am not saying you can never pray or feel comfortable with your own tribe. Sometimes it's a huge relief to pray with people you know completely understand your style and perspective. God understands our need for similarities. What I am saying is that if all you ever pray with is people from your tribe, you're missing out on the wild, unfathomable, untamable richness of God.
So How Do We Pray Together?
- Seriously challenge your soul to live in humility. We need to ask the Lord to show us the repulsiveness of thinking we're "cutting edge", or "more orthodox", or "more devout", "more balanced", more anything. All of our prayers are just gathered smoke in a bowl. Prayer is not some magical incantation reserved for the mystical elite. Prayer is not about us, our style, our understanding, our discernment. It's about Jesus, His fame, His purposes, His desires. If you're in the frame, you've got the wrong picture. Continually ask for humility of heart.
- Seek out opportunities to pray with those who are different from you. Intentionally develop friendships with others and pray in contexts that are unfamiliar. Find a Benedictine monastery, a Spiritual Warfare Tribe, a Concert of Prayer, a Solemn Assembly, or a Lydia prayer group in your area. Give yourself time. Don't bail out when you get uncomfortable. These other tribes are actually bone of your bone. You're not complete without them. Learn to savor their perspective of God.
- Search for Jesus. When you are irritated, (and you will be), remember they are not praying to you. It's not about you at all. Look for clues that point to Jesus. Don't be a fussy editor with other people's prayer life. Set your heart on Him, not on how they are coming to Him.
- Simplify your focus. If I am praying with someone from a vastly different tribe, I look and listen to their heart, more than their words. If you look for their love for Jesus, you can pray wholeheartedly with any Christian.
There was a simple chorus we used to sing in the sixties that I hope we some day sing again. It was about being one in the Spirit. And it concluded by saying "They'll know we are Christian's by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love." May our love be the most obvious and remarkable thing about us, especially when we pray.
2Kings 13:18, 19
2 Corinthians 10:4
Psalm 119: 89
For an excellent treatment of the different tribes and their strengths I'd suggest Richard Foster's book Streams of Living Water, Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith.
You can contact Fawn Parish at: Fawn@gracebridge.org or
visit their web site at: http://www.gracebridge.org