To say that “prayer works” is absolute nonsense. While it’s right to emphasize the importance of prayer or scripture, it’s also possible – easy! – to talk about them in an idolatrous manner. Prayer, in and of itself, is nothing. It is the divine Subject that makes this frail and fallible human action into something powerful. God is the One who works and is powerful, but His ways are so often not our ways.

Whenever we treat prayer, scripture, or any other spiritual discipline as though they are important in and of themselves, we disconnect them from God and make them into abstractions! Remember that satan doesn’t really care if we are spiritual or not as long as we are not connected to God.  If spiritual things distract us from God while deluding us to feel as though we are close to Him, so much the better.

“satan doesn’t really care if we are spiritual or not – as long as we are not connected to God”

In the end, grace or even the gospel can be made into an abstract idea. Once that happens, we can lord over it and use it for our purposes.  That’s why it’s possible for even grace-oriented, gospel-centered ministries to seem godless and oppressive at times. The way to avoid this kind of abstraction is to make sure that all these things lead us to a deeper communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, not just giving us some sort of a spiritual experience.

“The last word I have to say… is not a concept like ‘grace’ but a name: Jesus Christ. He is grace, and he is the final thing, beyond the world, the Church and also beyond theology. We cannot capture him, but we have to do with him, and what I have sought to do in my long life is… to highlight this name and say: there…!”

-Karl Barth on his last radio interview

Daniel D. Lee is a minister, husband, and father of three daughters. He directs the Asian American Center at Fuller Seminary and teaches theology and Asian American ministry.


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