Prayer rugs: the opposite of firm spiritual footing

I wonder how many people get suckered by the “church prayer rug” that shows up in the mailbox this time of year.

Have you seen these things?

St. Matthew’s Churches of Houston offers divine dividends to folks who receive a prayer rug and believe in its power.

The “rug” is actually a legal-size piece of paper with a picture of Jesus on one side. If you stare at the picture long enough, St. Matthew’s claims, Jesus will open his eyes and look right back at you!

Better yet, if you place a check mark next to a prayer you want answered – say, for money, health, a new car – your prayers will be answered.

This so-called “Bible ministry” is actually a spiritual fraud that’s been peddled since the 1950s. However extreme, its prevalence through mass mailing raises interesting questions about prayer: Why do we pray? How does it work? Does God promise to give us everything we ask for?

Prayer is something of a paradox for many Christians. We say we believe in its power, yet most agree it is an area of faith in which they struggle.

We tend to take prayer most seriously when our needs are most urgent. Absent a crisis, prayer often is neglected.

The Bible tells us that prayer is how we communicate with God, and one of the ways God communicates with us. Through prayer, we express praise and adoration to our creator and seek his forgiveness and his guidance for our lives. Of course, it is also through prayer that we petition God for our needs.

But a misunderstanding of prayer leads even many Christians to view God as a sort of cosmic Santa Claus who exists primarily to listen to what we want and give it to us. When he doesn’t do what we want, we’re bummed out or think that prayer doesn’t work.

That’s the false premise behind all self-centered prayer, such as the gibberish coming out of the St. Matthew’s Churches. Here’s what they claim:

“This prayer rug is soaked with the power of prayer for you. Use it immediately, then please return it with your prayer needs checked on our letter to you. It must be mailed to a second home that needs a blessing after you use it. Prayer works. Expect God’s blessing.”

Prayer has nothing to do with rugs that get soaked with God’s power, or checking little boxes, or communicating a selfish wish list to God and waiting for him to rain down what we’ve asked for. That’s absurd.

Jesus teaches us that prayer is first and foremost an act of worship toward God: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name’ ” (Matthew 6:9 – NAS).

Prayer is how we express to God our love and adoration for him, and it reminds us that he is holy and all-powerful – which we are not. Genuine prayer is inherently God-centered, not self-centered.

The Lord’s Prayer continues, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

One gauge of whether my prayers are God-centered, or self-centered, is my requests: Do I desire God’s will to be done? Is my passion to see his will reign in the hearts of people?

If I cannot answer yes, my requests might have more to do with myself than my God.

That’s why I get disgusted with the garbage taught by so many televangelists and so-called “ministries” such as St. Matthew’s Churches. The letter that accompanied my “prayer rug” also tells me of folks – who go only by their initials – who prayed for new cars, tens of thousands of dollars, miraculous healings, and got exactly what they asked for.

It is a terrible sham to regard God merely as a heavenly benefactor. At worst, such practices purvey false religion – worshipping a god created by man rather than the God who created man.

Only after our hearts are God-focused, not self-focused, should we humbly ask God to meet our needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

God promises to meet all of our needs according to His will: “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

That is a tremendous promise to believe. It gives us great liberty from worry and anxiety and places our reliance in God instead of ourselves.

That promise also frees us from the plastic prayers that reduce our loving, powerful Creator to a puppet on a string.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Spokesman-Review, USA
Mar. 18, 2006
Steve Massey

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday March 20, 2006.
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