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I’ve Resorted to Magic (And You Have, Too)

May 14, 2012

As Christians, we don’t do magic, do we?

Sure, you might enjoy the Harry Potter books and movies (or vehemently protest them). But you yourself don’t engage in tarot readings, spells, potions, or incantations – do you?

I think you do.

But I think you (and I) use different words to mask it.

We call it “faith.” We call it “prayer.” But we mean “magic.”

We use our faith as the great manipulator of God. That’s what magic is – using means to control and manipulate the spirits or gods to give us good crops, better health, great marriages, longer life, or more wealth. It manifests in different societies in different ways – through witch doctors or shamans, Evil Eyes or amulets, incantations or spells. And sometimes, like with Christians, it can be more subtle.

We repeat passages like, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt 17:20). So we “claim” this verse, muster up all the belief we can, and through the power of positive thinking, we seek to manipulate God to do what we ask. And they may very well be good requests – to keep a mother alive, for provision of rain for survival, to protect a child from harm.

And if God does not provide, we wonder if we have asked wrong – if we messed up one of the elements of the formula. Should we have added the phrase (incantation), “In Jesus’ name”? Perhaps I did not read my Bible that day that I asked. Maybe I forgot to do this thing that God wanted me to do first. We know we have stepped into magic when we obsess over the rituals of asking rather than focusing on the Giver.

So what is prayer, if not a way to get something from God?

What is faith, if we cannot muster up enough to make God do what we want?

True prayer, in Jesus’ name, is about obedience and submission. It’s saying, “Your will be done.” It’s trusting Him when our will isn’t done – which can be the most difficult thing we ever do.

I have spent many years chasing magic. I have begged God to heal my mother. He healed her of cancer but allows the dementia to ravage her life. I was broken when God did no miracle to keep my brother alive 4 years ago. How do I know I was seeking magic, rather than running to my Father and asking for the good gifts He gives His children?

By my response when He didn’t give them.

I have given up my future career, my family, my life’s focus for the Gospel. Why aren’t You honoring that?

I read my Bible daily, God! I flee from sin! I seek the truth!

I did all the right things. I asked in Your name!

If prayer doesn’t even work, then why bother?

Friends, I am slowly learning that a life of faith and prayer are radically different from what I once believed. I cannot control God. I cannot manipulate Him. I can only come to Him with my deepest hurts, my ugliest scars, my greatest fears, and ask Him to do something about them. And as I pray, I need to ask for the faith to trust Him to be for me.  If I think I can ever have enough faith, or pray the right way, to get God to do whatever I want, then I am not worshiping the God of the Bible. He cannot be controlled. He will not be manipulated. Such a lifestyle will only leave us frustrated that God doesn’t care enough to do everything we ask, and we will become prayerless.

We sit in this middle period between the Cross and the Coming. We see the Kingdom in glimpses and bursts, but not fully. God heals some bodies, but He allows others to become sick and die. He protects some people, but allows harm to come to some. So we wait. We pray, “How long, O Lord?” with all the saints of history. We trust that His activity or apparently inactivity is not due to indifference. And we wait for every tear to be wiped away. 

Do you see the subtle work of magic in your life?

In the life of the Church?

Will you repent with me?

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2012 8:23 am

    Interesting take on magic and prayer :D I like how you have brought the two together. And I agree with you, prayer is magic in a way, it may not turn out the way we want it to, but God has a way of giving us the best in each prayer.

  2. Bernard Shuford permalink
    May 14, 2012 8:38 am

    Ummm, just in case you ever have those feelings that your blog is a waste of time, that you should just quit? Please don’t. You have no idea how much good your writings have done for me. Just in case you need encouragement to do this – be encouraged. Christians need people to say things like this. Thanks.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 14, 2012 9:36 am

      Oh gosh, thanks Bernard. I appreciate the encouragement so much.

  3. jbyas permalink
    May 14, 2012 10:20 am

    Good post! I talk about this in my classes when we go through Jeremiah. There is a lot of magic (as you’ve defined it) going on in Jeremiah 7 & 26 (the Temple sermon/s) as the pre-exilic Jews trusted in their incantations and the physical Temple to save them from attack.

    I tell my classes that at the root of the “magic” is exactly what you said: control. It is to misunderstand God, to misunderstand that he is free and cannot be contained or manipulated. Thanks again.

  4. Tammy permalink
    May 14, 2012 11:15 am

    Never thought of magic as control! Control issues are so insidious aren’t they? (Even in prayer!) I’m starting to see them more and more. I never used to see myself as controlling/untrusting – now, with many valleys in my life, I see myself just a bit more clearly. Humility helps us see.

    Thanks, as Bernard said, for daring to ask these questions and put them out there for others. I believe God is using (not causing) your hurts to draw you into more understanding of Him because you dare to Ask, Seek, Knock with stuff like this and don’t stop with a flippant attitude, resignation, or a pat answer. (Though, in fact, the true answer may be simple in statement – large in action.) People need other people who have wrestled with this stuff and come out with the faith, conviction, and wisdom you are gaining. I have benefited from your thoughts so much. I wish I knew more people in my life who do this too! It encourages me to know that you do! Prayers for you as you continue to wrestle.

  5. May 14, 2012 12:36 pm

    I like the premise…and perhaps I have missed the purpose of the article…but there are several instances in both the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament that seems to point to prayer as something that actually has a profound effect on God’s action. Just look at a few for instance.

    Gen 18
    20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
    - Notice that it is the outcry that has caused to act (not to say that He wouldn’t have otherwise, but an interesting thought) It is also important to note in the story contrary to Abraham’s response…God never actually stated He was going to destroy them.

    Exod 2
    23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
    - Again here the language seems to speak of the human role in the covenant relationship

    Here are the passages I think are the most interesting though

    Exod 32
    9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

    - In the midst of the Sinai narrative, the Israelites create a golden calf in Moses’ absence, and notice how God desires Moses to leave because he knows that if Moses stays he will talk him out of what he plans to do (not the first mention of intercession during the Sinai event), and guess what? Moses does talk him out of it!!!

    God changes because his desire to love a broken creation necessitates it. Our actions cause God pain (Gen. 6:6), and in being love incarnate he kept his end of the covenant and became man (change) and gave himself as a sin offering (intercession, change) for all of creation.

    Romans 8
    3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in human flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

    - See…because the law was unable to change, God himself changed (rather transformed) into that which was necessary to fulfill it.

    You have written an absolutely beautiful piece, but I feel as though a God willing to listen to our cries, and waiting to respond speaks well of scripture and the Christian narrative.

    It surely puts a different spin on Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, especially if he really thought there was a chance his cry might be answered.

    Please do not assume that I see God as a genie, far from it…much of prayer is weak, commercial, and self interested…but I truly believe if the saints all cry out desperately longing for “thy kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”…the creator of the universe…as he did throughout scripture…will listen…and maybe even be willing to change.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 14, 2012 1:10 pm

      D- this is a fantastic point that I 100% agree with. I do believe prayer changes things. I believe God listens to our prayers – because they are based on a relationship. But I think any relationship where a child tries to control a parent (or thinks they can) is obviously disordered. That’s what I was focusing on, and I was wondering if I was inadvertently conveying that we should not pray because it doesn’t matter. It DOES matter! But we cannot judge the efficacy of prayer by whether we got God to do what we wanted or not – but on whether we have communicated with our Father who loves and hears us. Thanks for clarifying where I was weak! Great thoughts.

      • May 14, 2012 2:24 pm

        I wouldn’t say that any of your article was weak…it was just directed at a specific issue (one in which I felt it covered extremely well), and I wanted to put something out there that prevented anyone from interpreting your writing to the extreme

  6. Tim permalink
    May 14, 2012 12:37 pm

    Aubry, you brought back to mind a horrible kids video I saw long ago. This bear puppet was teaching a kid about prayer and how to pray. Toward the end of the story the kid prayed a very nice prayer and ended with “Amen.” The bear prompted “In jesus’ name, amen” and the kid parroted that back to the bear. I was disgusted with the incantational use of the Lord’s name.

    Thanks for helping us all to think about this today, Aubry.

    Tim

  7. May 14, 2012 12:38 pm

    Again I want to reiterate…a marvelous piece…just thought my notes could add another dimension.

  8. May 14, 2012 4:30 pm

    This mess about trying to take things from God is really the story of us in the Garden of Eden. The Church Fathers had a teaching about the differences between being made in God’s image and being made after his likeness. They taught that God first made Adam in his image and was going to continue his work until he had made Adam after his likeness (that is, until he had made Adam ‘like God’).
    The serpent’s lie was that God did not want us to be like God: this likeness was something that we had to take from him (like Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods…). Adam’s sin, then, was in trying to steal something that God was trying to give him.
    The natural result of this attempted usurpation was disharmony in the natural world: typified by God’s statement about male/female relations “your desire (for dominance, see Gen. 4:7) shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This disharmony between wives and husbands mirrors that between God and creation. This began to be unravelled when Mary responded to God in submission, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your word.” The result of her submission– receiving from God rather than attempting to manipulate him– was the union of Creator and creation.
    Thanks again for your blog post. It’s a message that needs to be heard again and again.
    Peace be with you,
    -Fr. Marcus

  9. JR. Forasteros permalink
    May 14, 2012 5:06 pm

    Great observation. I was at a church once where at the end of the worship gathering, they had an open-altar prayer time (okay so far).

    One guy brought up a rock with him. He proceeded to tell me that this was a rock he’d brought back from an area campground where a men’s retreat would soon be held. His plan was to super-charge the rock with prayer, then take it back to the retreat.

    As far as I could tell, he believed that the presence of the prayer-rock would positively affect the outcome of the retreat.

    That was the first time prayer-as-sympathetic-magic was really obvious to me, and I’ve been seeing it everywhere since.

    Great post!!

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 14, 2012 5:19 pm

      My jaw dropped at that one. Infusing a rock with prayer?? Bizarre!

      • Tim permalink
        May 14, 2012 5:39 pm

        The Wittenberg Door did a parody of a prayer box once. Apparently somebody was marketing a prayer box, where whenever you prayed you wrote down your prayer on a piece of paper and put it in this fancy decorated box and it was sure to be answered.

        The editors at the Door said they thought it was a nifty idea but their budget wouldn’t cover buying the special box so they took an old shoebox, wrote the word prayer on it, and cut a hole in the lid to slide the written prayers through. After a while they go tired of sliding the prayers in, so they just left them on top. Then they couldn’t be bothered to walk across the room to the shoebox, so they just threw the papers in the general direction. Then they got to where they just forgot to write down the prayers and prayed without paper.

        They discovered these unwritten prayers were just as effective as the ones that first wound up in the shoebox, and they were very glad they had not spent money ordering the fancy decorated box.

        Tim

      • July 11, 2012 11:25 am

        Obviously they took it from this verse: “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11-12, KJV). so they thought a rock could be prayed over. Jesus said don’t worry about anything but pray about everything…then we do have to just trust. But pray about everything….He wants us to depend on Him.

  10. May 15, 2012 5:30 pm

    Such a good post, Aubry. It’s something that has been on my mind a LOT recently and you said it so well. I’m thankful for “D”‘s comment as well, because the flip-side is also on my mind about prayer being purposeful. I believe God can be moved to response by our prayers, we see that plenty in Scripture. I’m in such an odd place, seeking to trust God and be at peace in his steadfast love no matter what he chooses to give or not to give me in this earthly life. And yet, I still want to know that prayer *works*! We Christians are always celebrating that our God is powerful and able to do wonders and that he loves us enough to intervene. I believe those things and I love that about him. He is real and he is FOR US, mindful of our lives and involved enough to be “affected” by us, in a way.

    But you are so right that we walk a dangerous line between affecting God and controlling him. YES, we want him to intervene, of course we do! But there is no standard formula for getting him to act in any certain way. I still don’t really get it. And I could go on too long about it!

    My only real hope is that God desires to be known; he is not hiding his character from me or anyone else. We can have confidence that he will continue to “be found” as we seek him, and that he will continually reveal himself and his ways. I think he wants to be worshiped in Spirit and in TRUTH, and that’s the only way I want to worship him too. So we’re on the same team in this whole thing :)

  11. May 18, 2012 8:14 pm

    Prayer is not magic. But sometimes it sure can be magical ;)

  12. May 22, 2012 11:53 am

    I hadn’t thought of the connection with magic, but have seen the formulaic approach to prayer, the “if we say this then God will do what we ask” and the “where did we go wrong” attitude if God didn’t, and I have yelled and ranted: God isn’t our poodle, he doesn’t have to perform for us. As you say, it’s not about trusting that he will do what we ask, it’s about trusting that he is for us, trusting that he loves us and knows what’s best even when it really really doesn’t look like it – not telling him how to run the show, just bringing everything to him and trusting him to do what’s best in the long run. It can be really hard to do, like when you’re watching someone you love suffer – but no, we can’t wave the magic wand of prayer and make everything okay.

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  1. God’s Unfair Fight « Aubry Smith
  2. So… If I were God « So… Another Blog

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