An insidiously influential worldview
One of the most troubling questions for a Christian, whether it takes shape in her own mind or is posed to her by another is, If God is real and cares about us, why don’t we see more direct evidence of his activity in our lives? If he knows and loves us and is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” why doesn’t he? Why are our lives so “natural” if a supernatural being is involved in them?
I’ve recently come across an answer to those questions that rings true to me, though when I first read it I thought, No…this doesn’t sound right. This can’t be why someone like me who truly believes in God and virtually always has doesn’t experience more of his supernatural activity. I was reading the book Fearless Prayer by Craig Hazen in which he argues that even solid Christians are being subtly influenced by a worldview which we consciously confidently reject. We dismiss it as inaccurate but its pervasiveness in our culture gives it a legitimacy that we unconsciously accept.
The worldview is naturalism, the belief that all of reality is physical or material. Only the natural world exists…the supernatural world is only in our minds (which is not how a naturalist would put it because the mind is immaterial). Hazen calls naturalism “the mother of all barriers” to the supernatural activity of God in our lives because we are so immersed in a naturalistic environment that an expectation of a supernatural answer to prayer seems unrealistic. Despite our genuine belief that God exists and that the supernatural world is as real as the natural, the natural and naturalism are so predominant that they impact our mindset and diminish our presence, if you will, in the supernatural world. We live in the natural world; the supernatural is real but we don’t consider ourselves to reside there so don’t expect to see evidences of it around us.
The focus of Hazen’s book is John 15:7 where Jesus tells his disciples, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Hazen explains that in context the verse is specific to requests related to bearing fruit for God. It is not a promise to come through with a Jaguar, a cushy job, or even physical healing. But since a true follower of Christ will be looking for ways to do good and make other disciples in the normal course of his or her life, there are many ordinary things we might want to ask for that would impact our fruitfulness. It is not frivolous to pray for a parking spot if you’re running late and need to catch a flight taking you to an old friend who is hurting. Nor for a reliable and affordable vehicle to park there and the funds to pay for the flight.
Yet despite Jesus’s apparently clear promise in John 15:7, we don’t ask or ask without the faith that he will actually grant our requests because we have been “naturalized” by the secular culture we live in. After my initial dubious reaction to the author’s premise I began examining my own mindset and concluded that, yes, I too have allowed the naturalism that I have opined against to hinder my faith. But if naturalism is false, then supernaturalism is true and I should be just as comfortable engaging with the supernatural world as I am with what I can see and touch. Hazen relates stories of miraculous interventions of God in areas of the world lacking the powerful influence of a naturalistic worldview. Calling on God to provide is “second nature” to believers there and God powerfully answers their prayers.
Fearless Prayer does not promote a “name it and claim it” theology that says if you don’t get everything you pray for it’s because you don’t have enough faith. No good parent gives his child everything she asks for even if it would be harmful to her or others, or if withholding it would actually benefit her. Similarly, our heavenly Father has good reasons for sometimes denying our requests, even when we are completely trusting in him. And even when we are asking with the goal of a more bountiful harvest for him.
What it does promote is the very reasonable conclusion that if we believe God exists and is active in the world, we should expect to see some of that activity in our own lives. The author recognized the insidious influence of naturalism in his own life and wants the rest of us to recognize it too so that we will pray more boldly, more confidently, and for more things. And become completely at home in the supernatural world we do live in.