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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Prayerful Equations: How God Works?

Written by: on May 31, 2018

Living among people in a non-Western setting, I learned early on that I couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) put God in a box. That is, as we mature in our faith, we understand more about God and the way God works, but when we begin to pattern our expectations in order to “make” God work in a certain way, God is often inclined to not show up. As I read Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, I found myself pulled in two seemingly opposite directions, but in the end, I believe they both point to the same theme: our attempted control of God.

Pullinger, a charismatic Christian from Britain who took a boat to Hong Kong in the 1960s, began working among members of gangs and organized crime, with prostitutes and drug addicts. Heroin addicts came to her, looking for relief from the addiction. She (and eventually, other former addicts) would convince the addict to pray “in the Spirit” for relief and the addict would experience peace and no painful withdrawal effects from the drugs. The protocol was certainly not what we would consider scientific, and yet it seemed to follow very specific scientific criteria: if you pray (in this particular way) then God would heal you from your addiction without pain. That patterned response—if this then this—was very effective in providing relief for the addicts, as well as convincing them of the power of Jesus and the benefits to them in following Him. The challenge with this method—it is indeed, a method—is that it really fits the category of magic much more than religion or relationship. Within an anthropological framework, magic is what we do ritually or mechanically to bring about a specific result; when approaching a deity, it is, in essence, our actions that cause God to work in a specific and expected way. Controlling God.[1]

Pullinger describes it this way: “Word quickly spread along the addict grapevine that if they were willing to believe in Jesus, they would receive some kind of power that enabled them to kick drugs painlessly.”[2] And “as each boy arrived, the miracle was repeated: He came to Christ and came off drugs painlessly when he praying in the language of the Spirit.”[3] And finally, “Some of the boys who were smart enough to pray immediately never had the slightest twinge. Others, like Siu Ming, waited until they were in extremis before learning that God did not want them to suffer at all.”[4]

Now for the second direction I am pulled as I read Pullinger’s story: as Westerners steeped in Enlightenment rationalism, we have certain expectations of how God responds and doesn’t respond. When we suggest that God isn’t involved in miraculous healing of these addicts, we also box God into our own assumptions. I’ve shared in blog posts before about Kenyan church leaders praying for a dead person who returns to life, and our (missionary) skepticism about it. This week, we received an update from a Kenyan church leader, Peter Losuru, as dictated to an American family serving on our former team in Turkana:

“One day I was driving on my motorbike when a woman ran out to the road to meet me. She told me that her son had been very sick for some time and was not getting better. He had tested positive for malaria and was given medicine, but he was not getting better, and he was going to die. She asked me to come and pray for her son to be healed but I told her the story of Jesus, who said “because of your faith your son/daughter will be healed”. I explained that I didn’t need to go, God would heal her son because of her faith. We prayed right there and then she insisted I come with her. We went back to her house and found the boy sleeping. When I walked in I told the boy to get up and he immediately got up and was healthy. We took him back to the doctor and all tests were negative. He was healed. The doctors and his family could not believe it.”

Our Western skepticism says more about us and our beliefs about God, than it does about God. I read through the book of Acts and see people coming to faith in all sorts of ways; in fact, no two stories in Acts follow the same pattern—the only evident pattern is that God shows up and a person’s life is changed.[5] I am resistant to both our Western suspicion and Pullinger’s prayerful equation because they both seek to limit and expect God to work according to our assumptions. We all seem to cling to order—I know I do (even Jesus did when calming the storm and healing the possessed Gadarene), but I think we would do well to be open to the chaos of the Spirit and recognize that, like wind, we “hear the sound of it, but [we] do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[6]

[1] I am not referring to her motives—which seem honest—nor the validity of praying when in turmoil; only to the calculated assumptions. Her ultimate goal—opening the eyes of the hopeless to the hope they have in Jesus—was not only successful, but continues to be ongoing.

[2] Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, Minneapolis: Chosen, 1980, 2001, 154.

[3] Ibid., 157.

[4] Ibid., 168.

[5] Acts 2:41—3000 baptized at one time. Acts 3:6—Peter touches and heals man who is lame, in the name of Jesus. Acts 8:35-36—Ethiopian hears of Jesus in Hebrew Bible and Philip baptizes him. Acts 9—Paul falls off his horse, is blinded, Jesus speaks directly to him, he is discipled by Ananias. Acts 10:44-48—Peter preaches, the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius’ household and then they were baptized. Acts 13:12—Cyprian proconsul saw Saul curing the magician and believed because of the teaching about the Lord. Acts 13:48— Gentiles destined for eternal life heard Paul’s words and believed. Acts 16:15—the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to Paul’s words; she and her household were baptized. Etc.

[6] John 3:8

About the Author

mm

Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

7 responses to “Prayerful Equations: How God Works?”

  1. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Katy,

    Thank you for this post which is both thought provoking and theologically sound.

    As someone who has never spoken in tongues, I feel like an outsider around friends who feel that it is the normative state of the Christian. Fortunately, there is no record of Jesus ever speaking in tongues so I guess that I am in good company.

    But I am very aware that in remote places on this planet, God seems more apt to work in a First Century manner. For example, I have an American friend who was a witness to a little girl in Laos who was killed in a truck accident.. only to come back to life after the Christians prayed over her dead body. That is certainly biblical, but it confounds our modern Christian worldview.

    My only theory is that, try as we can, our Western culture is so filled with so much skepticism that it is extremely difficult to have the faith that God WILL do the impossible. In theory, we know that He can, but WILL HE?

    Some of the most faith filled believers I have ever met do not have a college degree. They do not have a good handle on philosophy or science. Yet, their trust in God is remarkable.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Thank you for this really thoughtful post, Katie. African students in my seminary classes were always telling us stories of miraculous healings. To add to what you and Stu said, I’ve often wondered if our materialistic outlook causes us to look for scientific reasons for a healing. “She really wasn’t that sick.” “The medicine was very effective.” Or on the other hand, “God didn’t answer my prayer because He doesn’t do that anymore.” That’s one of the things I really like about our LGP program; we get a larger perspective than just our Western one!

  3. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great reminder Katy to not put God in a box. I can see how this is especially important to remember for mission work. One can be disappointed and frustrated with God when He doesn’t respond as expected. It reminds me of a great read, “Disappointed with God” by Phillip Yancy that I read years ago when I was disappointed with church and ministers. It was so refreshing to be validated with feeling disappointment with God and be given steps forward to developing a more mature relationship with Him. I realized how I was putting Him in a box and I was creating the inevitable disappointment with God. Incidentally, I heard his publisher was not keen on the title, but that Yancy insisted on it as it would resonate with many Christians. He was right.

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    Katy

    Thanks for your post. I find in myself that people that don’t look like or act like I think to speak about miracles, I quickly go ‘hmmm’ but then I immediate rebuke myself and say I don’t know the motives of God, he says my thoughts are not equal to his.
    Until I personally experienced his miracles have I become a better listener and believer, and I trust God’s power and not the power of the person.

    Thank for bringing up those points on putting God in a box.

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Yes, Katy! I seem to be the queen of disparaging other people’s boxes for God while carefully constructing my own super cool box for God myself.
    I love that you point out the tension between skepticism of the miraculous and our desire for the power of the Spirit, as well as the formulaic assumptions. I wonder if God ever said, No.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Katy well said. I think we do place limits on God with our skeptisicm. God is not limited by healing in patterns nor is he limited by moving in a variety of ways. That is what makes God God! My prayer is like yours that we would be open to movement of the Spirit of God and allow Him to have His way! 🙂

  7. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your post, Katy. Yes to…”Our Western skepticism says more about us and our beliefs about God, than it does about God.” That is an excellent point and analysis. The impacts of culture and society should be a consideration in everyone’s journey, but that’s not always the case. Thank you for highlighting that important point. I appreciate your thoughtful post.

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