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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Charnock

Our Lack of Prayer Shows our Practical Atheism

The great Puritan theologian Stephen Charnock wrote about what he called practical atheism.  While Charnock was clear that atheism is foolish (Psalm 14:1), he was quick to point out that many claimed to be theists but they live as atheists.  They don’t seek God, refuse to obey His laws or His Word, fail to acknowledge Him as Lord over all.  They claim with their mouths that they believe in God’s existence but their lives reflect that they live as if God does not exist.

Atheists often are quick to say that they do not believe in God or any deity but they turn around and often pray (“Oh God!”) when they face trials or pain.  Yet the practical atheist says that they believe in God but they never seek Him either until, like the atheist, they need Him.  Trials often make us believers when we have not been seeking God at all until we come face to face with our immortality and finiteness.

I believe our practical atheism is best seen in prayer.  One can read the Bible, talk theology, blog on theology, fellowship with other believers, but they do not seek God in prayer and show their own practical atheism.  They don’t need God.  They trust themselves or the creations of mankind to help them get through.  They don’t pray for much of anything at all if they pray at all.  They ignore the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8 where we read:

5 “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 others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 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.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Notice that Jesus says that His followers would pray.  He assumes prayer.  Jesus says, “When you pray.”  Not “if you pray.”  Furthermore, our prayers are to be focused not for others to notice us but instead we are to pray in secret to our Father who is in secret (a point the atheist cannot fathom).  Jesus says that our Father will then reward us.

Jesus goes on in verses 7-8 to show us that prayer is not to be like the pagans who used “empty phrases” thinking that their false gods would hear them.  They could not.  Jesus reminds us in verse 8 that our Father knows what we need before we ask Him.  The true God of the Bible is absolutely sovereign and He is not hidden.  God is able not just to hear my prayers but He is involved in every facet of my being.  His divine providence watches over all of His creation (Matthew 6:25-33).

Yet the practical atheist ignores all of this and seeks the world or his own wisdom.  His prayer life (if he has one) proves that he doesn’t really believe in the promises of God.  He doesn’t believe in the promise of Jesus either here in Matthew 6:8 or Matthew 7:7-11 or Matthew 21:22.  If he did, he would pray but because he doesn’t pray, he shows his practical atheism.

How often have we first turned to the doctors of this world when we are sick (and we should not abandon seeking medical attention) but fail to go the Lord in prayer first.  We don’t believe in His providence or we would have been on our knees in holy prayer when we first felt ill or received the word that we were not well.  Our Father, says Jesus in Matthew 6:8, knows all of this by His sovereignty and care yet we ignore this and fail to seek His face.

How often have we ignored the promise of God in His Word to care for our needs (Matthew 6:11)?  How often have we shown our practical atheism because we fail to trust God and not be anxious for anything (Philippians 4:6) or about anything (Matthew 6:31-34)?  How often have we shown our practical atheism even in evangelism because we don’t pray for the lost (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6) or even pray for laborers in the harvest fields (Matthew 9:37-38)?

Surely our prayer lives (or lack thereof) shows our practical atheism.  We claim we believe in the sovereignty of God but our actions show that we do not.  We testify to the truthfulness of Scripture yet how often do we ignore its precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).  We say that we trust in God but we go about as if we don’t trust Him at all.  We don’t believe in His providence in our lives.  We give Him no glory for all that He does for us even the smallest things like breathing, my heart beating, the ability to read and think, to be thankful that I can type this blog post.  We don’t acknowledge that God is over us in all things and that we need Him daily to simply survive.  This shows our practical atheism.

The true nature of the child of God is to be thankful.  Thankfulness in prayer is the mark of the disciple.  We acknowledge in prayer that God is sovereign, that He is in full control.  When we seek God, we are praising Him who made all things.  I love 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 in regard to prayer:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul says here that we are to rejoice always which would lead to praying without ceasing which would lead to giving thanks in all circumstances.  And why?  Because of God.  This is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (v. 18).  God’s will is for us to trust Him, to rely on Him, to seek Him in prayer, and to be thankful for His rule over all.

Don’t allow this day to pass without prayer.  Prayer will turn your heart away from practical atheism toward trusting Him who is sovereign over all.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/22/2014 at 10:23 AM

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