Organising Jesus – Part 2

Let me tell you how it was that I came to start writing novels (you know those stories that aren’t true).

Back when I was newly married, my husband and I worked in youth ministry. In the 1980s, church leaders were encouraged to phone up their parishioners and try to help them out of any trouble they may be facing. Following this model closely, I was often aware of drama that was going on in different people’s lives. I was quite young and not as mature as I thought I was. When I would learn of a certain situation, I would think about it all day, but I wasn’t actually aware I was thinking about it. As I would work around the house—vacuuming, ironing, washing dishes, whatever—I would start imagining how the pastoral situation was going to work out. I would imagine one person doing this, and the other responding with that. The trouble would escalate, and there would be tears and major crisis before I would slowly bring them around to some sort of joyful resolution. I used dialogue for the people, and had them speaking backward and forward to one another. This was an exercise that I used to do regularly. Then one day, I caught myself at it, after my poor people had been taken through a particularly torrid time.

I thought, ‘Wow, that got really tense.’ And then I thought, ‘and these poor people have no idea where I have just taken them. What an imagination!’ And then I thought, ‘if I can do that with real people and real problems, then surely I can do that with fictional characters. I know! I could write a novel!’

What an imagination?

‘If I can do that with real people and real problems, then surely I can do the same with fictional characters…I could write a novel.’

And I did. I took to writing plot and characters like a duck to water. It was so much fun, but the thing I have learned after twenty years being published as a writer of fiction: If you want to control the world, write a novel. In la la land, you can do what you want with your characters. You can plot and plan their lives, you can allow trauma and crisis, and then you can fix it all up just how you like it! Perfect.

In the real world, with real people, controlling people and situations is somewhat frowned upon. And to make it worse, not even God seems to have any interest in the scripts I’ve written. He’s not following my plot-lines at all. If only he would cooperate … sigh.

If you want to control the world, write a novel.

How many times in real life, have I been in the middle of organising some great plan, I turn around and He’s not there—gone off to pray, I suppose.

That’s the thing about making plans for Jesus to do what I think ought to be done. He has His own plans, and He always has.

So what about prayer? Should we pray?

Certainly Jesus was a big prayer, always sneaking away to spend time alone with His Father. He also gave clear direction as how to pray.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The Apostle Paul encourages us to pray at all times, and having come through the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s, as an enthusiastic Pentecostal, I have sure done some praying over the time. But sometimes I fear I might have turned my prayer time into a spiritual exercise designed to get God to do what I’ve already planned for Him to do. It is not only Christians who pray. There are plenty of spiritual cultures who pray, and some who have used prayer as some sort of spiritual magic to manipulate people.

‘Paul encourages us to pray…but sometimes I fear I might have turned my prayer into a spiritual exercise designed to get God to do what I’ve already planned for Him to do…’

So, considering what Jesus said in the Scripture above, about not being like the hypocrites, loving to be seen by others while they pray, it begs the question: is it OK to pray in public. I believe, if we understand what Jesus is saying in verse five, it is not being in public that is the problem.

There is praying and there is putting on a public performance that looks and sounds spiritual. Who are you trying to impress? Fancy words and fancy moves are not going to manipulate God in any way. It is as Jesus says, your reward will be that others have seen you, and they may think you’re impressive in your spirituality.

This is not to say that praying in public is wrong, more than it is to say that what you have pondered and mediated on in your heart, before God at home, should be what comes out in times of corporate prayer—not just a performance.

The other thing Jesus said in this piece of Scripture is ‘… do not keep on babbling like pagans …’

In my many years experience of public prayer meetings, it is amazing how often a person praying will begin to outline the problem, and how God might respond to it, listing exactly what things need attention—as if God doesn’t know. This kind of long-winded telling may be therapeutic for us who pray, but Jesus was clear. ‘… your Father knows what you need before you ask.’

I have used certain tones and words in the mistaken belief that this would get God moving. Hallelujah is a good word, but it’s not a magic word.

When Jesus says, ‘… like the pagans …’ it might be interesting to know what he meant by that. We have record of the pagan prayer in 1 Kings 18:28 where the prophets of Baal were trying to prove that Baal was more powerful than the God of Elijah. ‘… they shouted louder … and they continued their frantic prophesying …’ Does any of this sound familiar?  The priests of Baal appealed to their god in rites of wild abandon which included loud, ecstatic cries and self-inflicted injury. [1]

Now far be it for me to let you believe I have not been in a prayer meeting where we have done some shouting and busy prophesying. As I told you, I was brought up in the Pentecostal tradition. I’m not against loud and enthusiastic per say. It is more that I recognise when I was younger that I would use certain tones, actions and words—praise the Lord, Hallelujah—in the mistaken belief that this would get God moving.

Hallelujah is a good word, but it’s not a magic word. I’ve marched up and down during a prayer meeting. I like marching while I pray. I don’t know why. But it’s not the marching that God is after. He is after a heart that is yielded to him in the quiet and private places. A heart that trusts him. As I wrote earlier, God won’t hear you any more or any less than if you knelt at an altar and lit a candle, or took a deep breath in mediation.

The key is that your heart is inclined to Him, and that you have your listening ears on.

So when it comes to family crisis and need, bring it to him, but listen to Him. Trust Him. Obey Him when he speaks to you. Sometimes what he asks you to do is not in the script you have written.

I remember a number of years ago, my husband (the pastor) and our assistant pastors were stressing over the need to find a building to house our rapidly growing congregation. We had been thrown out of two schools and had outgrown the one premises that were prepared to have us. A building became available for lease but there were complications involved. It was a perfect size, and had a heap of extra office space, much more than we required. My husband felt God say we should go around the outside of the building and pray. I said we’d best be careful—remember what happened with Jericho. Anyway, in obedience to this crazy notion, the four of us went around the premises praying. And guess what? We didn’t get the building. We got another building (but that’s another story).

However, fast-forward eight years. We were now pastoring another growing church who were bursting at the seams of their small building, and who should join us after so many years being away in Queensland, but those same two assistant pastors. The hunt for buildings was on again, and lo and behold, that same building we didn’t get eight years previous came up for lease. This time, it didn’t have the superfluous office space that would cost us too much, and another church had renovated it ready to use for church purposes in the ensuing years. We all laughed about how we’d claimed this building for God’s purposes eight years before, but it needed renovation, and it needed to be cheaper. And now it was.

Sometimes God does tell you to do something that doesn’t make sense, and sometimes you don’t see the answer as you would expect.

So, I am not saying we shouldn’t come to prayer meetings, but I am saying we must incline our heart towards God in our private meditations.

We shouldn’t spend a whole heap of time telling Him what he needs to do, but should listen to Him so he can tell us what we need to do. What He might tell you is, wait. He might tell you to shout aloud with a voice of triumph. He might tell you to speak in tongues for half an hour. Or He might just tell you to stop, be quiet and trust Him.

When we don’t know what to pray, there is always the bottom line stuff—Jesus’ heart for people to be saved; healed; restored; reconciled; delivered from life controlling situations.

Psalm 106:13 (NIV) ‘But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.’

Organising Jesus is not a great plan, but waiting for His plan to unfold is.

[1] Got Questions Ministries –

[2] Photo by No Revisions