Monday, October 5, 2009

When God's People Pray -- An Initial Review

I have been exposed to the six-part series When God's People Pray by Jim Cymbala. The following are impressions of what the author is teaching based on viewing two sessions and working through accompanying study material.

Positives
Prayer is needful. Brother Cymbala exhorts Christians to pray and enjoy the blessings of entering into this rich communication with our God and Father. Bravo! Christians do themselves a disservice by not going before the Lord.

Pray correctly. Prayer is not haphazard but a deliberate act of entering into worship, fellowship, and representation for others. Even Jesus' closest disciples saw the need to learn how to pray (Luke 11:1-13).

Lead by example. It has become clear that this series is meant to exhort people to pray based on what has been implemented at Brooklyn Tabernacle. Christians should be examples for others, assuming they are living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). Paul was continually asking believers to follow his example (Philippians 3:17; 2 Timothy 2:1-2) as well as looking to others (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

Negatives
Prayer causes God to act. This is a popular notion that Jim Cymbala echoes to the DVD listeners. Two specific cases are given.

  1. The Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians as a result of their prayer. The Bible does not give the prayer content of those first 120 men and women. For all we know, they were asking the Lord that their carryout Chinese dinner would not be cold by the time it arrived. Yes, it is facetious but no more so than the author's statement.
  2. Every revival in history started because people saw their shortcomings and prayed. Every example in Scripture says differently (2 Kings 22:8-23:25; Jonah 3; Nehemiah 8-9). There we find the word of God, whether written or spoken, as the instrument causing people to understand their need, then seek the Lord in prayer.
Truth is based on experience. Time and again the author relates Brooklyn Tabernacle's experience from the early beginnings of his ministry until the present. As mentioned above, these are good to know and heed, but then Scripture is brought in to support their theology of prayer and application of current meetings and format. Should this not be the other way around? Experience can never be the standard. It changes daily.

One disturbing comment was made by an interviewee. She said that her salvation experience was real because of what she felt. Feelings are also not our standard. The basis for salvation is the finished work of Christ on the cross. We know we are forgiven because the final work is done, not because we feel good.


Conclusion
As I stated in the beginning, there are good things being taught, but the viewer must heed Paul's instruction
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

4 comments:

Ruth said...

Thank you for this post. We are currently involved in this study in our small group. From the first week, my husband and I both knew things were just off, but the leaders both endorse this man and his book heartily. There are good things as you say, however, the good things can also be found studying for ourselves the Word!
Thanks again for the encouragement!
Ruth

Steve Bricker said...

Ruth, I appreciate your comments. Believers so desire to grow in grace that they will latch onto something that seems useful because it comes from a prominent Christian leader, and the idea had results in his church. I have seen this pragmatic approach of discernment hurt more than help. Sola Scriptura is not just a "catch-phrase."

Anonymous said...

Interesting review. I avoided this study when my small group chose to do it. I was concerned by the title. Anytime the word "when" is used it seems as though it's a manual for something. Kind of like "when you do this, that will happen". It appeared formulaic and I know that God does not give recipes or formulas for approaching Him or "getting" Him to move. Your review makes me glad that I didn't participate in this study. I prefer to study the Bible verse-by-verse and let the Bible teach me.

Steve Bricker said...

Thank you for your feedback, and I apologize for not responding earlier. (Busy, busy.)

Jim Cymbala's mission with the series seemed to be encouragement to pray rather than biblically defining the purpose of prayer, especially within the context of the gathered church. All we ended up with was: This works for us, so you should try the same.