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Prayer’s Purpose


For many people prayer is a what you do when the situation is out of your control. If you can’t stop your child from using drugs or you can’t seem to get out from under a mountain of debt or you can’t seem to attract the admiration of that cute girl in your history class, then you go to God and ask for help. You may just ask, or if you are really desperate, you may try bargaining. “I’ll never tell another lie if I can just have this one thing”—as if you could somehow benefit God by not sinning. Behind these kinds of prayers lurks a misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer and what God is like.

If God really is all that Christians have claimed: all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present; then prayer as an attempt to manipulate him makes no sense. How can you or I expect to alter the Unalterable? Can our petitions move God to consider circumstances he didn’t know about? Can we appeal to his compassion on the basis of his ignorance? Ridiculous! “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:8) So why pray?

If prayer has no effect on God, what good is it?

Troops going into battle take a radio with them so they can maintain contact with their headquarters. They don’t use the radio to plead with their commander to stop the war and get them out of the battle. They don’t try to change their commander’s objectives at all. Instead they use the radio to get detailed instructions on how to pursue the commander’s objectives and to request whatever they need to press the battle forward. If they are low on ammunition, they ask for more. If they have captured a town, they wait to learn what their next objective should be. The radio was not given to them for their comfort or so they could listen to their favorite shows. It is not designed to further their pursuits at all but to help win the war.

Prayer is like the combat radio. If we approach it as a means to our own ends, it will disappoint us. But if we abandon our own ends and pray unceasingly for God’s will to be done in this world, then we will not only see miracles, we will do them.


Bad Memory


James Frey ( The Trouble With Memoirs — Jan. 23, 2006 — Page 1) appears to have lied in his memoirs. I think the publisher must bear some responsibility when he shopped his book first as fiction, then changed it to a memoir before it was published. I can just hear the publisher’s lackey telling him, “It’s a great book, but it’ll never sell as fiction. It would make a dynamite memoir though.” Maybe no one had to say it, but he appears to have gotten the message.


Harry Potter


Should a Christian read Harry Potter? Some say Harry Potter is filled with occult and pagan influences and that Christians have no business reading such things. Others say that the Harry Potter books are entertaining stories about good and evil and that Christians have as much right to read them as anyone else.

The Harry Potter books certainly contain occult and pagan influences. Anyone who feels an unhealthy interest in the occult probably should not read them. Harry Potter is a wizard. All his friends are wizards or witches. Those who are not magical (called Muggles), are portrayed as stupid or dull. Characters use magic wands, cast spells, use hexes to cause harm, drink magic potions, and fly on broomsticks. Harry and his friends are dishonest and conniving. They disregard rules, ignore the admonitions of their teachers, and cheat when they think they can get away with it. The characters are also thoroughly secular as are most characters in most modern fiction. If they believe in God at all, he is a distant Creator who set the world in motion but no longer bothers about it. Neither Jesus nor Satan is ever mentioned, despite references to Christmas in each book.

The books are also well-written and very entertaining. The stories contain elements of adventure and mystery. Each book builds to climactic scenes in which Harry confronts evil and overcomes it. Harry is told repeatedly that what really separates him from the likes of Voldemort—the evil wizard who repeatedly tries to kill Harry—is his capacity to love. Again and again he risks his life to save his friends. Despite his flaws, Harry is a noble and self-sacrificing character. You can’t help admiring him.

The question of whether Christians ought to read Harry Potter is like the first century concern with eating food offered to idols. Some considered eating such food a disgrace to the true God. Others considered it a participation in the worship of devils. Still others saw nothing wrong with it; it was just food. Paul makes clear that the focus of our attention should not be on the food. Our proper concern is with people. If my eating causes someone weak in the faith to fall into sin, then I ought not to eat. Better that I should encourage the weak and build them up rather than fight with them and tear them down. In the same way, it seems to me, that I should not argue with those who oppose reading Harry Potter. I should instead encourage them and build them up, so that they will stand firm in their faith.

When my daughter was in fifth grade, her teacher started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the entire class. Jane found the book disturbing. She did not like to hear about wizards and witches and magic. She asked to be excused from class during the readings. I supported her, and she went to the library while the rest of the class listened to the book. I also told her teacher that the Harry Potter books were controversial among evangelical Christians. She thanked me because she hadn’t heard anything but praise for them. Jane is now in the eighth grade and an avid reader, but she still has not read any Harry Potter books, and I will not press her to do so.

When my son, Noah, was in fifth grade, he was hardly reading at all. He had outgrown Captain Underpants, for which I was thankful, but he seemed not to enjoy reading anything. To his mind, reading was one of those boring things you had to do at school. Only a nerd or a dork would read without having to. I decided to try to interest him in reading with Harry Potter. To peak his interest, I told him that Jane did not like it and couldn’t stand to hear it read. By the time he made his way through the first book, he was hooked on reading and on Harry Potter. I know some people will censure me for putting books “inspired by Satan” into my son’s hands. However, I do not think they are inspired by Satan, and the books have actually provided many useful opportunities for Noah and me to talk about the difference between the magic in the books and the kind of magic practiced by modern pagans and Wiccans. He knows the difference between the fictional world of Harry Potter and the real world. He has not become obsessed with magic. In fact he has a heart that hungers and thirsts after righteouness. He loves the worship of God.

There are some Christians who do not know that Satan has been defeated. They seem to think that he has great power still in this world and that he can afflict Christians who try to mess with him. But Jesus showed us how to deal with Satan. He never backed down. He always made Satan crawl. He gave his followers the same authority and told them to use it. “Cast out devils,” he said. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Freely you have received; freely give.” The only power Satan retains is the power of deceit. Like Saruman in The Lord of the Rings he may charm the unwary with lies and do some damage through trickery and smooth talk, but he has no real power of his own. When his lies are exposed and he is confronted in the name of Jesus, he flees. So too, Harry Potter holds no terrors for those who read warily, discerning the truth.