The history of humanity is punctuated by prayerful people. There is some energy that drives people to remain in prayerful mode. But God advised the Israelites to be wary of idolatry, found in glorifying physical objects. Without worshipping some deity, in the physical form, ordinary humans feel vulnerable.
Such prayerful people carry no logical understanding of the deity they pray to. Yet it is impossible to remove them from such idolatrous prayerful commitments. Elijah contended with the Israelites, enticed into such idolatrous conditions. This made it impossible to persuade the majority of them, against such idolatrous behaviour. Nothing has significantly changed, up to this time.
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given to them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.”With the stones, he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time.The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD; answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”(1 Kings 18:21-39 (NIV)
The most fascinating thing about the above episode is that the entire Israelite community had been led astray through King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. Their deterioration into idolatry is premised on those people’s failure to maintain their integrity. Seven thousand of them knew that Baal worship was against God’s Law. But they lacked the courage to stand up to their conviction to obey the true God. Nevertheless, the general populace believed that God ought to be obeyed through King Ahab. They assumed that whatever, was uttered by the King carried substance—hence, putting the King in God’s position.
They assumed that God was impressed by such idolatrous conduct. The Bible shows a group of people, committed to prayer. But they were unaware of there being no other god, deserving to be obeyed and prayed to. They assumed that they were praying to the God of Israel, who had led them out of Egypt when submitting to King Ahab’s wife. The passage reveals that there was some motivating energy, coming from a people committed to prayer.
But what was the substance that led those people to be committed to such unhelpful objects? There was no tangible reality of such inanimate objects. The Israelites’ behaviour distinctly portrayed human failure to distinguish between the Spiritual God from physical objects. Prophet Elijah was assumed to have been the only one left, as most had been killed. Jezebel’s voice, representing the majority, was intimidating to Elijah.
There had been people who secretly supported Elijah, but, were unable to come out openly. The consequences of doing so were dire. The story of Elijah can be considered typical of Zimbabweans. There is no doubt that the majority are dedicated to prayer and worshipping God. Like Baal worshippers, such people may be totally oblivious to being not in sync with God.
The people led astray by Jezebel knew the Torah, whose communication instructed them to avoid idolatry. Yet, idolatry was more appealing, than the lone voice of Elijah, representing truth. This lack of support from ordinary people caused Elijah to become despaired. Although, at one stage, God told Elijah that there had been seven thousand people who did not worship Baal.
In fear of death, those seven thousand people could not publicly denounce idolatry, to avoid crossing against the majority. That is common, even in our time. The only difference is that the repercussions are more calamitous, after Jesus’ appearance, on this planet. The Israelites relied on prophets, more than evaluating God’s word, in written form. The availability of God’s word makes it impossible for anyone to have any excuse for disobeying God.
“But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For, if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you. ”At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do”(Matthew 11:22-26 NIV).
The Holy Bible is generally available to every household, including none church-goers. The voice of Jesus needs adoption without alteration. Unlike those influenced to worship Baal, Jesus’ appearance in person makes disobedience more calamitous. There has never been anyone representing God more than Jesus in this world. However, the syndrome of idolatry remains. On the question of prayer, Jesus instructed avoiding behaving like pagan worshippers. There is nothing fancy about Jesus’ recommended prayer.
“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.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.(Matthew 6:5-13).
Jesus also prayed to God, but definitely not in the pattern of the above recommendation. What was the significance of the prayer pattern, anyway? Jesus knew the babbling ways of prayer by pagans. Those pagans were assumed to be true worshippers, of course. When Jesus prayed, He knew the deity to whom He directed prayer. However, most of those prayer lovers, known in Christianity, may have no idea of the God they pray to.
The majority would declare being Spiritual. But they would be unable to describe what they would mean by that. Hence, you have God being described as three in one. This was erroneously taken from Jesus’ instruction to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three are assumed to represent the deity. This goes against the voice of God through Moses:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”(Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV). The fact that the Israelites did not comprehend God’s statement does not mean those professing to be Jesus’ followers should similarly misunderstand. A true Christian is one having been granted mysteries of God’s Kingdom. They know God, just as Jesus knew God.
With all honesty, in a considered Christian country like Zimbabwe, how many people subscribe to Jesus’ teachings? The prayer, described as the “Lord’s Prayer”, carries no relevance to most people claiming to believe in God. Their prayers seek to impress the god they do not even know. Like the Baal worshippers, they seek to be electrified in their prayers.
It may not be exaggerating to assume that the significance of the words in recommended prayer is not even considered. Those religious people seek to be electrified, more than informed. A person can feel satisfied and comfortable having had an all-night prayer. But this would be in contravention of what Jesus said. God knows our needs, even before we pray. Therefore, what could be the purpose of prayer?
The most appraised statement in that rendition is: “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”(Mathew 6:10) One cannot go after his own will, the whole night and feel justified, assuming to have prayed to God, without considering Jesus’ instruction. The Baal worshippers, recorded for our benefit, did the same. It is futile for Christians to blatantly ignore what Jesus said and assume being loved by the same Jesus.
There is energy, generated by prayerful people. But that does not translate into being connected to God. One Pharisee who prayed to thank God for His righteous conduct had energy (Luke 18:10-14). He had a zeal that could be considered admirable. But he was unaware that he was not connected to God.
However, rather than focus on the Pharisees who were castigated by Jesus, one does well thinking about the modern-day Pharisees. The starting point is to know the God that one prays to. Jesus said anyone having seen Him had seen His Father. It follows that anyone following every word of Jesus heeded the Father. But, was Jesus the Father?
Of significance is that a Christian becomes Jesus’ brother so that anyone seeing a Christian sees God. This does not invite the aspect of being worshipped by others, in consideration that God dwells in Christians. If Jesus was never worshipped, it follows that the same Christians should never be worshipped.
But those Christians are not different from Jesus. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”(Matthew 25:45 NIV). The most illustrative Scripture that can be used to remove idolization of Jesus, or any of His followers is as follow:
“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”(Matthew 12:31-32 NIV).
The above Scripture shows that abusing the Son of Man carries no Spiritual effect. But abusing the Holy Spirit carries consequences that are perfectly in agreement with the Third Commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name”(Exodus 20:7 NIV).
Nothing, in this world, is as important as effectively knowing the Father, to whom a Christian is praying. That prayer is done secretly. While observed praying, Jesus never asked anyone to pray like Him, except according to His instruction in the so-called “Lord’s Prayer”. When we say Jesus is Lord, it is in consideration that whatever Jesus said represented God. Hence Jesus was the Son of Man and the Son of God, at the same time.
His status of being God’s child was not known by the majority, who recognized Him as the Son of Man, hence they killed Him. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body”(John 2:19-21 NIV).
Ordinary humans dealt with the temple of Jesus. They never dealt with Jesus, as the Son of God. Hence, after Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus told them to keep the secret to themselves (Matthew 16:13-20). The pagans pray to physical objects, seen or touched, including their fellow human beings. However, God’s children know God in Spirit and in truth.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”(John 4:23-24 NIV).
The physical people, still entertaining physical existence, cannot pray to the living God who is Spiritual. It is impossible to see God and still live. However, through Jesus, the disciples were given a precise procedure to pray to God. One assumes that they prayed according to Jesus’ instruction. But, after receiving the Holy Spirit, thereby having become God’s children, they prayed as the Spirit led them.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with; that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”(Romans 6:4-8 NIV).
The only symbol designating God’s children is the absence of falsehood among them. Pagan prayers are based on falsehoods, as characterized in hypnotism. Interestingly, it is possible that God’s children, other than Jesus, can still be contaminated with falsehoods. The only differentiating factor between them and the charlatans is that God’s Children are willing to change when proven wrong. They do not take correction with rancour, because there is no pride in them.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99