Wednesday, 27 February 2013

How Prayer Works

A Thought Prompted by the Book of Tobit

Fairly recently someone asked me if I read the Bible and to my answer of 'Yes' they replied 'Including the Apocrypha?'  Now they were teasing me but it did make me think about why I hadn't read it.  For those of you who don't know the Apocrypha is the bit of the Bible written between the Jewish exile and birth of Jesus which isn't in the Jewish scriptures and was removed from the Bible by the protestant reformers because it appeared have been written in Greek and not Hebrew - although they may have just disagreed with its theology.  I had owned a copy of the Bible with the Apocrypha since the early 1960's when my grandparents bought us all a copy of the brand new translation - The New English Bible - although I suspect this has had something to do with my not reading the Apocrypha as I find the NEB even harder to read than the KJV.

Having armed myself with a more readable translation and an introduction to the Apocrypha I started reading it with no clue to what I would make of it.  So far I have read Tobit and for a story about a devout man blinded by sleeping under a nest of sparrows, a woman who is haunted by a devil that has killed 7 men who married her as soon as they got into the wedding bedroom and the angel Raphael I found at least one thing that made it worth reading.  Raphael has been acting in disguise and towards the end of the story he reveals who is and says:

So now when you (Tobit) and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, ... God sent me to heal you and Sarah your daughter-in-law. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.
(I've left part out or I'd have to include most of the preceding 11 Chapters)

What I want you to notice is that when Raphael brings their prayers before God the only thing God does is to tell Raphael to go and sort it out.  This made me wonder about how often we pray to God about situations when what we should be doing is sorting it out.  I know this isn't always the case, e.g. when praying for a sick friend, but I suspect it is true more than we would like to admit.

So there you have it, a lesson from the Apocrypha.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Dancing Gorilla

When you go to a service in a church with a very different background to your own do you see the dancing gorilla?  Yes I know that sounds mad but let me explain.  In an experiment radiologists were asked to look for cancer cells in lung scans that had the added bonus of a picture of a dancing gorilla but 80% of radiologists and 100% of unskilled observers failed to see it. (see here for more details

This got me thinking how often do we only see things the way we expect them to be and how often when faced with something strange do we look at it through the lens of our experience and fail to see what is really there?  If, like me, you were brought up in a church that had plain walls you may find a church that is highly decorated with statues rather discordant and possibly idolatrous.  However to someone used to that church it helps them see God's Glory and they would wonder what type of God you worshipped if they came to your plain church. Similarly someone used to a worship band style of worship may find a liturgical service over organised and stifling whilst the person who is used to a liturgical service may find a modern service chaotic.  In both these cases instead of not liking it why not ask the people who go there why things are done that way.  The liturgical service may help remind people of God's constancy whilst the freer style of service may give room for the Holy Spirit to work. No matter what the service you may just find your preconceptions being stripped away until you see the dancing gorilla that you missed at first sight.  Of course the answer may be "I don't know, we've always done it like that." which could be the spark that church needs to start looking at itself.
So next time you go to a strange place of worship just stop and ask yourself "Where is the dancing gorilla?" you may be surprised at what is right in front of you.