"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt 6:5-8 RSV)
One of the "anti-Catholic" teachings I received was the belief that praying the rosary was "vain repetition," using Matthew 6:7 as proof. But notice in that verse that Jesus said "empty phrases." The Greek word used is battalogeō from the root word Battos, meaning a proverbial stammerer. I have written about my new found delight in praying the rosary and how it has helped orient my day. When I pray it early in the morning, it reminds me of several things: 1) I am wholly dependent upon God's grace and 2) Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, went through an extraordinary effort to bring salvation to me.
I would say those two revelations would sit well with any Protestant. It may be that for some, praying a prayer over and over again seems senseless. It's not. I'm not sure of the details, but I do know that when praying, my mind gets easily distracted. It can be all over the place. But when I pray the rosary, my mind has in a sense, "train rails" to keep me on track. As I pray the "Our Father," the "Hail Mary," the "Glory Be" and the Fatima prayer, my mind also is focusing on the mysteries. There are four: The Joyful Mysteries, The Glorious Mysteries, The Sorrowful Mysteries, and The Luminous Mysteries. Each mystery focuses on Jesus Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. It also includes meditation upon the role of Mary, the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit.
I've given some thought about what I was involved with during those years in non-denominational churches. I have made mention of this before but will delve a little deeper with this entry.
One of the first things I wanted to do after I left the Catholic church and entered into a Presbyterian church was learn more about prayer. For reasons familiar with many of us who left the Catholic church, the prayers within the liturgy weren't "enough" for me. At the time, those prayers seemed "rote" or "mechanical." So, I was off and running to learn what I could about prayer.
I studied prayer extensively, especially focusing on famous intercessors like Rees Howell and the many historical figures who were part of great revivals in the United States, which were preceded by earnest, heartfelt prayer. I joined prayer groups, eventually learning enough to teach others. When I switched my church membership to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, I immediately joined a small group who prayed with the pastor early Sunday morning before the service. I branched out into two areas of prayer: intercession (praying for the spiritual needs of our community, city, state, nation, and world) and prayer ministry (praying for the specific needs of an individual).
During my final years of involvement with a non-denominational church (at this time, it was not the Vineyard but a 'prophetic movement' church), I noticed something that concerned me regarding intercession. My role at the time was to organize intercessory teams for our conferences. These teams were predominately made up of women. The process for preparing these teams and the actual time of interceding was getting more and more complicated.
Before, we would gather in rooms before the conference and intercede, praying for God's direction in guiding the speakers and worship. We prayed for protection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit, seeking God's will in all things. But we slowly moved from that to other activities. Activities, that, interestingly enough - were all about being "seen by men."
The intercessors wanted special badges to distinguish themselves from the attendees of the conference. Then, they wanted special seating, to be in the front row so their prayers could truly "cover" the worship and teaching. I started to notice pride entering in as some women relished being on the front row and would pout if they they were somehow overlooked. I had to juggle the names and rotate the teams since there were many "breakout" sessions that 'needed' the intercessory team present.
So. Which scenario best fits the passage above from St. Matthew? Praying the rosary or the intercession teams I facilitated? I know my answer.
What we must always guard against (and believe me, I put myself through the same examination) is a desire to be seen and praised by men. Many women who get caught up in the race for recognition, often forget Jesus' words when it comes to prayer. We are not to make a show out of it, or seek admiration. In fact, Jesus Himself would find a quiet place to be alone with His Father and pray. Does this mean there is no value in corporate prayer? Of course not. We are strengthened when we gather with others to pray. But it is the attitude of our hearts that will let us know if we are really there to pray, or there to look good because we're praying.
I both witnessed and was a part (to a degree) of some crazy intercessory stuff when I was away from the Catholic church. But being involved with heavy-duty spiritual warfare has its consequences. One of them is an understanding of a believer's authority in this area. Many intercessors have suffered physically or experienced hardship in their life because they didn't understand that there are some areas we do not have the authority to confront in the spirit realm.
This is when I learned about St. Michael the Archangel, and Jude 1:9:
But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."
Even St. Michael, as high up as he is in the Angel Army - did not judge the devil but said, "The Lord rebuke you." It is a powerful reminder to us that although we can boldly approach the throne of grace with our needs, we must remember our place and ask for the intercession of St. Michael in such spiritual battles.
I am slowly entering into intercession again, but with much more sobriety and awareness than ever before. Praying devotions is powerful. I am looking forward to learning more and hopefully, will avoid true "vain repetitions."
(5/8/09 9:30 PM) Note: Shirley just commented that today is the Feast Day of the Apparition of St. Michael. I had no idea, but appreciate her letting me know. I had intended on blogging about this topic earlier but had a very busy week with a work-related conference. What timing, eh? St. Michael, pray for us, for we need your sword more than ever.