David Sorrell continues his series:
Sun Stand Still Chapter 14: Pray Like A Juggernaut (But Not Like Jesus)
When last we left off, Furtick was trying to explain why some prayers don’t get answered. Well this week, he’s going to pick up by complaining about how Christians usually pray.
Disliked Prayer #1 is “Lord, be with me today.” While he rightly recognizes that this is a prayer to be made aware of God’s presence and activity, he dismisses it because it appears to be ‘filler’ and meaningless. And for many Christians, perhaps it is. Except this seems to be a rather strange objection, considering he just got done trying to boil systematic theology down for his readers.
Disliked Prayer #2 is what gets him into the most trouble of anything he says in the book. He actually says:
“[…]How about this one? I used to always prequalify my big prayers with this introduction: ‘God, if it be thy will…’
So, does God need an opt-out clause in the contract before he’s willing to sign on the line and cut a deal with Steven Furtick? Or with you? […]On the whole this idea seems very humble.
[…]Over time, though, I realized I wasn’t buffering my prayers with this condition because I was humble. I was doing it because I was scared. […]it was a cop-out. What I was really saying was, ‘God, I’m asking you to do this, but I’m not really expecting that you will. So, just in case you don’t, let me acknowledge up front that you might not.’”
He really said it. Don’t take my word for it, go read it for yourself.
This is a critical mistake on Furtick’s part for at least three reasons. First: had he been doing his exegetical dunking practice, he would have avoided this blunder. Second, it seriously distorts the Biblical teaching of the will of God, and when the teaching of the Bible about the will of God is examined, the whole SSS model is undermined. Third, as a result of the first two, it introduces a level of hubris into the mindset of the believer that is nowhere authorized in Scripture that sets up a dangerous disillusionment should those audacious prayers not pay off.
So what does Scripture teach about the will of God? In attempting to say that praying that God’s will be accomplished gives God an ‘out’ of sorts from answering your prayer the way you want, Furtick flat-out ignores the numerous, and really-tough-to-brush-aside passages that do talk positively about praying for the Will of God. Praying “Lord, if it be thy will” is not a sign of fear or doubt, it is a sign of trust that Furtick does not show an understanding of from his treatment of Scripture.
Like the Lord’s prayer. (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—was Jesus giving his Father a cop-out to not do that? If Furtick wants to be consistent, he will have to say yes.)
Or Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. (And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”—hey, Furtick, had Jesus prayed a Sun Stand Still prayer, could the crucifixion have been avoided? Did Jesus not pray audaciously enough, and as a result give God a cop-out that resulted in the death of the Son of God?)
Perhaps Furtick is just ignorant about what the will of God actually is. Looking at the whole of Scripture, the composite picture of God’s will is that we be redeemed from our sins by trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, and that we be conformed to the image of Jesus now and forever. (Romans 12:1-2, Acts 2:22-40, Hebrews 10:1-17, Revelation 4:11, among many others)
Suffice it to say that this understanding of the will of God conflicts drastically with Furtick’s. Furtick has presented an understanding of God’s will that ignores the very vast majority of what Scripture actually says about it, and as a result gives people a false hope that if they pray right, that God will do what they ask.
Which reminds me of something else that needs to be discussed. Jesus himself says repeatedly in the Gospels (John 14:13-14 in this quote) that “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
This is repeated several times through the Gospels and is referenced in the New Testament. It is not a blank check for a PlayStation 3, a fast car, and a billion dollars; as Gary Habermas has pointedly said, “Ask in Jesus’ name, but remember that Jesus suffered, was rejected by men, and died a horrible death on a cross. And he was the Son of God; do you really expect better than what He got?”
Ignore Furtick. If praying expressly for the will of God was good enough for Jesus and the Apostles, it’s good enough for you and me.
But Furtick goes on; he spends a few pages showing some ‘audacious’ prayers that people prayed in the Bible that resulted in miracles. He then twists James 5:17 (“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”) and then says, “We are just like Elijah. We are just like Joshua.” The irony is that this follows James 4:13-17, which reads, “ Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
If you’re thinking this is starting to sound like word-faith teaching, you’d be right. Yes, James does say that the prayers of the righteous accomplishes much, and he is right—but not because the righteous man, or Joshua, or Elijah, prays audaciously. It’s that the prayers they pray are in accord with the will of God; in both OT examples, their prayers have a direct effect on the history of Israel that culminated in the birth of the Messiah.
The darker problem with this whole chapter is that there is the very real possibility that God desires to conform us to the image of Jesus through trials and tribulation (hello, Uganda story from the first chapter)…and that there is a very real possibility that success and audacity may not be from God.
There is a certain irony about Furtick’s prayer he recounts in this chapter: “And each time, I spoke these words of faith: ‘Father, I thank you that our church will have worship services in that warehouse and we will reach thousands of people for Jesus Christ, according to your perfect plan, in your perfect timing.”
Is Furtick going to admit that he ended his prayer by giving God a cop-out to not give them the warehouse (which is itself a notable incident in Elevation’s history)? If not, why did he end it by appealing to God’s planning and timing? Those things directly concern the will of God.
In perhaps the biggest flip-flop of the book, he quotes 1 John 5:14-15, which talks about…asking God for things according to His will.
And he gets it right.
He says, “Notice that it doesn’t say ‘if we ask anything we desire’ or ‘if we ask anything audaciously,’ but ‘if we ask anything according to his will.’
So why rant about “if it be Thy will” prayers? He gets most of it right regarding this passage; but he drops the ball at the end and reveals that word-faith strain running through the book: “Every time you kneel before the Father to pray with audacity, you must have his Word in your mind and in your heart. Otherwise, you risk confusing your agenda with his, praying gigantic prayers that bring microscopic returns.”
Microscopic returns are the result of asking God for anything outside of God’s will? If you’re confusing your agenda with God’s, is there any guarantee at all that your prayers will be answered at all? And even if you do pray in God’s will, as Jesus instructed us to do, why do we expect better than what Jesus got?
Furtick is right when he says that Scripture is very clear about the will of God, and that we don’t have to go hunting and pecking to find it. And that’s exactly why we can say that Sun Stand Still ignores the complete will of God, ignores the greater theme of the Bible, and suffers from cultural tunnel vision. It ignores a more sophisticated understanding of Biblical faith and a Biblical understanding of God’s nature and how we relate to him through Jesus (more on that later).
God desires that we conform to Christ in every situation. This is why Paul writes:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)
That same attitude is available for us today through faith in Christ and faithful study of God’s Word in the fellowship of other believers, no matter our circumstances. True faith, hope, and love shine even if our audacious prayers don’t get answered; our Godly virtue shines in the understanding that God is still in charge.