Pastor David B. Curtis

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Media #1059 MP3 Audio File Video File

Prayer and Cynicism

Delivered 4/11/21

Prayer is a topic that plagues many of us. We know we should do it more, yet it always seems in today's hustle and bustle world, most of us struggle with doing it at all with any consistency. Of sure, when we're in desperate times, we will be quick to bow the head, but we tend to fall very short of the "pray without ceasing" mentality.

It is not like we do not know it is important, for we often read, and of course are probably convicted by, what the Scriptures tell us. For it is not like the Scripture is vague on the topic, it seems pretty clear when we're told things like:

Don't worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God's peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7 KNT)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ) (ESV)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:1 ESV)
Devote yourself to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2 KNT)

Surely, we all know that the Christian life should be a life filled with prayer. As Paul stated in Colossians above, we should be devoted to it. It is our lifeline – our direct connect with our Father. We use it always - in all situations – to seek all that we need while here on Earth.

We should engage in it to give thanks and praise to the most-high God – to show our appreciation for all he has done for us – our family – and everything around us. In times of trouble, we can pray for strength – in times of suffering we can pray for relief – and in all times we should give thanks.

If we stop to ponder for ever so slight of a moment, and recall all the blessings we have, and all that the Lord has provided for us in life, the giving of thanks to Him should be easily a daily event in the lives of His people. And the Scripture provides clear examples for us on the topic too, from the Son Himself:

At that time Jesus turned to God with this prayer: "I give you my praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You hid these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to children! (Mt 11:25 KNT)
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." (John 11:41-42 ESV)

Example after example could be given from Jesus and the Apostles of a thankful tongue. And even though we know in our heads that this should be our daily desire, it can be like pulling teeth to get most people to slow down and do so.

Unfortunately, for many in these modern times, a steady time of prayer, like Bible reading, can be a struggle to maintain. Is it the fast-paced way of living that hinders us from slowing down for a quiet time with God, or are there other reasons we neglect this?

Are our minds so filled with distractions that we have a hard time even being quiet and concentrating on God? I wish to explore a little of what might be hindering us.

STRUGGLING WITH PRAYER

For many people it may be a simple matter of struggling with prayer because of a feeling of not knowing HOW to pray correctly. Sometimes, we may start off having an active prayer life, but quickly become discouraged as though praying is making no difference in our lives.

Is God listening? Why am I getting no relief? Why are my prayers not being answered as I hoped? These struggles lead to a lifeless prayer life, or no prayer life at all. Today, I would like to explore one of the root causes for a weak prayer life, and some ways to break free from the cycle of cynicism.

But first, stop and consider this. You would imagine that there were times when the disciples of Jesus had the opportunity to ask their master pretty much any question their heart desired, and we find some examples of those times.

If you had such an opportunity, what might you ask him? They had been through so much and had seen so much - so many miracles. You would think they might ask how to turn water into wine, or how to walk on the water, or raise the dead, or any of the other amazing things they had experienced along the way.

Instead, what we do find recorded in Scripture, is what they did inquire of him. In Luke 11:1b they simply asked:

"Lord, teach us to pray."

I can't help but imagine that they had seen so many wonderous things, the many times that Jesus prayed, followed by the wonderful responses and workings that flowed in response to those prayers, that they understood the power of prayer. They wanted to be able to tap into that kind of relationship with the Father too, so they wanted to know how to pray.

If we find that we are struggling to pray, do we use that as an excuse to just give up having a prayer life? Or do we search out ways to learn how to have a deeper, connecting prayer life? Are we making an effort, seeking to learn and get past our insecurities?

Let us look at some of what we know about how NOT to pray.

HOW NOT TO PRAY

After the disciples had asked their master to instruct them how to pray, we find an account in Matthew, where Jesus explains some instructions on what not to do, and these are good to keep in mind:

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. 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. (Matt. 6:5-6 ESV)

So, Jesus first condemns the prayers that are done "like the hypocrites." The term hypocrisy in the New Testament is taken from a cultural understanding of the time. A hypocrite was one who was in the theater, one who was just "play acting."

Today we tend to think of it more as someone who lives contrary to their beliefs – or acts contrary to their words. However, at that time, it was referring to someone who was basically acting – or just faking it. So, to be a hypocrite was to be fake or phony, something that the Pharisees had made a fine art form out of.

They would stand in public and get attention and admiration through their lofty prayers, but they were only offering empty and fraudulent prayers. Do not be concerned with whether your prayers are eloquent, wordy, finely tuned, or worthy of attention. You do not want your prayers to be fake.

I know when praying publicly, we may wish to see deeply sound theologically, and super spiritual, in order to appear more spiritual than we really are. For a lot of people, this is why being asked to pray in public is a great fear. The feeling of being inadequate and unable to impress those around us with a great spiritual prayer.

Public prayer is not a time to show off – it should be just as personal, just as real, just as full of life as it would be in your private prayers. Remember the parable of the two men praying that we read at the opening of the service:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luk 18:10-14 ESV)

You are speaking to God, and NOT just for the benefit and show of those around you. God is not interested in public displays of wisdom, piety or other outward shows of religion – he wants true faithful prayer and outward - true godliness. Be real, and pour out your heart to your Father.

Returning to our section in Matthew where Jesus was instructing how not to pray, He continues, saying

And — praying — ye may not use vain repetitions like the nations, for they think that in their much speaking they shall be heard, be ye not therefore like to them, for your Father doth know those things that ye have need of before your asking him (Matt. 6:7-8) (YLT)

Jesus warns against praying like the Gentiles do – with prayers of "vain repetitions." I switched translations when quoting this verse, because I think the term "vain repetitions" better captures the feel here.

Some translations, like the ESV, state it as "do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do" which is similar, but I feel lacks the punch that "vain repetitions" has. You can heap up empty phrases without ever repeating the same phrase, so it loses the repetition aspect in that case.

The Greek word here is bat-tol-og-eh'-o, and is the only place in Scripture where this term is used — it means to "to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to babble."

The pagans of the day believed that the repetition of words was like some kind of special incantation, and the more words used, the better the chances of being heard. Now when I read this warning as a new Christian – and this is also the story of my wife - it brought to mind the practice of at least one influential religious body that frequently practice the repetition of prayers. Can anyone guess who that might be?

The Roman Catholic church is notorious for repetitious prayers, assigning to their followers as penance, the repeating multiple times of things like the "Hail Mary" and "Our Fathers." Of course, one might say that this act is not really praying at all. It is merely a type of punishment to assist in paying for your sin.

Even so, the outcome is not much different that what Scripture speaks out against. When said like this, these words which in themselves are not bad, end up becoming nothing but a chore, having no meaning or influence on one's spiritual life. This kind of lifeless, repetitiveness is not pleasing to the Father at all.

You do not need to keep repeating things like a mantra, to get God to respond. You do not need to heap up more and more words in order to get through. God does not require, as a form of punishment for your sin, the repeating of large amounts of words like this.

As Scripture says, he knows what you want before you ask – so just ask and quit thinking there is some magic mixture of words required.

Now, there are many churches, especially of the Reformed branch, that follow the practice of having the whole congregation recite the Lord 's Prayer each week during the worship service – should we consider that a vain repetition?

Not necessarily, because hopefully you see a vast difference between saying it weekly as a part of the worship service – verses saying it multiple times, over and over, in one sitting. Most of the churches that use it in the worship service weekly do so as a teaching tool.

A practice such as this would be very beneficial at a time when not everyone had a copy of the Scripture. It was also beneficial for those who couldn't read, adult and children alike. As this was a way for them to learn, and memorize a portion of Scripture. As the congregation repeat it frequently, it builds a pattern of prayer and memorization in their minds as a foundation.

However, if it becomes just an empty blurting of words by someone in the congregation, with no real thought to what is being said, then yes, it can become as vain and useless as the way it is used by the Roman church.

We are not given the Lord's prayer to use it as a mindless chant, but it can be viewed as a kind of outline for prayer. Each section outlines a portion of thought that can be the header for additional prayer of that category.

Historically, many protestant denominations held to the singing of Psalms frequently, if not exclusively, in the worship service. This served two main purposes – it was seen as using the actual singing of God's inspired song book — but as with the Lord's Prayer just mentioned, it also helped to teach and engrain Scripture into the mind of people from childhood up.

I know I have used this example many times in messages before, but it holds true in the way our mind works, especially when it comes to music. A song may come on the radio – one you knew well as a kid, but hadn't really heard very much since then - and yet you still know most all of the words? Church songs, based strongly on Scripture, are used for similar reasons.

So, when the ancient church practiced a week after week singing of the Psalms for instance - those words, actual Scripture verses put to music basically, become engrained in the mind - and it becomes a way to almost effortlessly memorize Scripture passage.

And since so many of the Psalms are prayers themselves – the added benefit would to now have an entire system of prayer examples to draw from when needed in their prayers.

Similarly, the Lord's prayer is working in the same manner, and once it is part of the fabric of our being, it, like the Psalms, can be used as a launching pad for prayer in those times when we might be at a loss for what to pray.

As I mentioned, many people use the Lord's prayer as an sort of outline, to assist them to go through a prayer time – breaking down each segment into a topic, and then praying accordingly.

For instance, the first segment – "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." – is about praising God and honoring his name – so you start your prayer time by spending some time in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for all He is and has done. Pray that His name continues to be declared holy by more and more people, and that in your own life, you would live so as to cause it to be praised, and not cursed.

You could find yourself parking there for a long enough prayer in and of itself. But, when done, you move to the next segment – "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" – this would launch you into praying for things that would advance the kingdom and God's purposes.

Step by step, working through the whole Lord's prayer like that can be a great help if you ever find yourself at a loss for words or things to pray for specifically at prayer time.

Now, there are many issues that can affect a Christian's prayer life, but time will only allow us to take a look at just one of the big things that can cause a lifeless prayer life, or no prayer life at all in this day and age.

CYNICISM

Cynicism is unfortunately very predominant in this day and age, and Christians are not immune to it. While Jesus said to have more of a child like faith, cynicism is pretty much the opposite. And many Christians can easily find themselves standing on the edge of cynicism as they struggle with defeat and spiritual weariness.

While we indeed may have a true foundation and hope unlike a true cynic, it is still possible for the weariness to steal much of our spiritual well-being away when it comes to faith and prayer. This weariness becomes cynicism as we question the active goodness of God towards us. And if left alone, it will grow to swing the door open to bigger and bigger doubts. One person stated it this way:

"I think we have built up scar tissue from our frustrations, and we don't want to expose ourselves anymore. Fear constrains us."

And another person:

"I know that I am not alone in my struggle with cynicism. But most of us are not aware that it is a problem, or that it is taking hold in our hearts. It just feels like we can't find the joy in things, like we are too aware to trust or hope."

Cynicism creates numbness towards life, and we begin to slowly adjust our passions to live within those confines. We begin being skeptical of everything – looking for the hidden angle – trying to find the cloud behind the silver lining. We are suspect of things, and we critique everything, rather than being engaging - and loving - and hopeful.

It may protect us from disappointment at times, but it is also actually paralyzing us from doing much of anything. And it tends to lead to bitterness, frustration, and eventually it deadens our spirit.

It causes us to be distant, and it destroys the intimacy we should have with our heavenly Father and those around us. This is essentially the opposite of abiding with Christ and the Father – of drawing close and letting that relationship change us to be more of an image bearer. Instead, we turn to a form of self-protection, based on our own strength and judgment, to determine how we live out lives with others.

A praying life, a true praying life is just the opposite. It is engaging, not defeated. It doesn't take no for an answer and is not pessimistic – it stands up against evil and fights back – it offers hope to us and those around us. It is not building a protective and cynical bubble around our lives.

HOW IT BEGINS

In the beginning, cynicism will tend to come about out of a wrong type of faith – a naïve optimism or foolish confidence. Naïve optimism can appear to be very similar to true faith, in that both produce confidence and hope, but that similarity is only on the surface.

Genuine faith comes from a knowledge and relationship, knowing that the Father indeed cares and loves you, and is there for you. Naïve optimism tends to be groundless, and more like a childlike trust, but without the necessary inclusion of a loving Father in the equation.

A naïve optimism may tell us that we do not need to pray, because, after all, God is in control, and everything will be fine regardless of our actions. In true cynicism, we cannot pray, because everything is out of control and nothing we do will really change it.

In America's early days, the goodness of God was something a large majority knew and lived. It was this knowledge that gave them the can-do attitude - giving them the courage and boldness that led to establishing the hallmarks of Western civilization.

Unfortunately, at we entered into the 19th century, the optimism shifted from knowledge of the goodness's of God, to relying on the goodness of man. Faith itself started becoming the object in and of itself – but faith in WHAT?

More and more, culture pushes into a belief in one's self, and less a trust and belief in the goodness of God. It is all around us, and as Christians it can even seep in and find a foothold in an already weary spirit, and slowly turn us more and more towards cynicism.

American culture has become a culture of striving for "perfection" – the perfect relationship, perfect family, perfect kids, perfect body, etc. and as we fail to gain that expected perfection, we are setting ourselves up for a spirit of cynicism.

We then begin to go through life daily by just putting on a good face, and acting the part. We attempt to fool others into believing that we are all well and perfect, and we hide the true condition within. In essence we can end up creating multiple public versions of ourselves, each to fit a different group of people around us.

We cease to be real – we cease to open up to others – we retreat from community and become more and more individualistic as a way of hiding our true selves. More and more we find ourselves within the valley of the shadow of death – but more and more we retreat or give in to it. We begin to distance ourselves from the fight, because the fight seems too big or too hard.

We have forgotten the true goodness and care of our loving Father who is always there, and instead, we often feel as though we are walking alone. We often do not always expect an answer to our prayers, or strength in times of trouble, and so we often do not receive – or we do not even ask.

While the Scriptures may be full of promises regarding prayer, we have forgotten what it tells us, such as:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (Joh 15:7 ESV)
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. (Joh 16:23 ESV)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mar 11:24 ESV)
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. (Mat 21:22 ESV)

What do we see here in these verses though? In John, receiving is tied to abiding. If you need a refresher on what it means to abide, got back to Dave's messages on John that we recently finished. It implies and requires a close, intimate connection with the Father, which a cynic will not have.

I think Scripture is clear that such an intimate relationship is needed in order have these kinds of results, not only in prayer, but in many other aspects of the Christian walk that we read about, but many do not experience. It can become a vicious circle where we don't have what we see Scripture promises, and so we become cynical, moving away from the relationship needed to gain the promises.

Another issue stems from where we stand in history and education. On this side of the great enlightenment period of history, and the booming age of science, our logical 21st century mind "knows" there is no way we could ever do any of these things with our faith, like withering a fig tree?

Because of that, we never consider them possibilities – and…. we never ask – and… we thus sit in our skepticism rather than expect the goodness that our Father has to offer. And the vicious circle continues.

So, we must identify those places in life where we let skepticism and cynicism eat away at our faith, and we must work to overcome those things. Let us now take a look at some of the ways we can combat, and hopefully cure, any underlying cynicism.

SIX CURES FOR CYNICISM

1. Be Warm and Wary – When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Mat 10:16 ESV)

When we are faced with the evils in this world, instead of letting our reaction be wise and innocent, many of us feel the desire to strike back as a wolf. We want to push back, to fight fire with fire, and this can lead to becoming more cynical. Jesus tells us to be warm, yet wary - warm like a dove, but wary like a serpent.

Then after other warnings about some of the obstacles the Apostle will run up against, he tells them not to fear those who can only kill the body, and then comforts them by telling them:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Mat 10:29-31 ESV)

We must never forget that we are valued and loved by our heavenly Father. He is there to take care of us. When we live in a state where fear takes hold of us, and robs us of the peace and comfort of the Father, we have lost that intimate relationship, and have become self-sufficient.

So why do we fear? Why do we turn when faced with evil, when we should boldly engage it? Why do we not ask and seek daily blessings from our Father? When it comes to prayer, is any topic or desire too small or trivial? Are we thinking God is too far "out there" and too busy to worry about the little things we desire? We are letting cynicism break the intimate relationship we are supposed to have.

We are to stand confident in our heavenly Father's love, knowing He is there for us. Instead of a naïve optimism, we should be wary, yet confident, in that love. We have to take that intimate love, combined with vigilance through faith and prayer, and tackle the evil that resides in our own heart, and the hearts of others.

We should follow after the example of Jesus, who hung on the cross, being mocked by the religious leaders. They cynically mocked his for what they might have perceived was his childlike faith –

He trusts in God; let God deliver him now… (Mat 27:43 ESV)

They were mocking him and his claims to be in touch with His Father. They thought him basically naïve in his trust of the Father's goodness – for see where it got him? Jesus however, does not answer to them, but keeps his eyes turned to the Father – saying nothing, and doing nothing.

Remember in John 18:6, when Judas brought the soldiers and Pharisees to get Jesus, we are told that when they asked if he was Jesus, he said "I am he" and they fell back and down on the ground. So, surely he had the power to do something if he had so desired while on the cross.

Instead, he trusted in the Father's love, and in three days he was raised – He trusted in God, and God delivered Him. Evil men did not win, and true hope was born forth.

2. Learn to Hope Again

If we give in and let cynicism take over, it will kill hope. It may not be a quick, noticeable change, but just a slow creeping progress away from the Father. When we are faced with great troubles and issues around us, and we see no immediate action on God's part, we may start doubting.

We could slowly start thinking that God is basically powerless to stop the forces around us from their evil ways. When we go down that path, we will have squashed hope and trust. Without true hope – taking risks seem useless – dreaming seems foolish – and prayer seems pointless.

Yeah, we might pray for some things, but if we do not truly trust that all things can come about - that the Father is truly interested in our situation - or that He is interested in helping us in the smallest details of life - then we have let a spirit of cynicism in.

As Christians, we tend to maintain our hope in the ultimate, final consummative act of our redemption, and our eternal place in a heavenly realm. But sometimes we get lost in a sea of doubt along the way. We see our temporal earthly life as just the trouble to go suffer through, but we cease from asking and hoping for things in our daily life.

Again, history and education play a big part for many of us, especially due to our upbringing, as well as the majority view of the modern church. A pessimistic eschatology plays a big factor. The popular view that the world is to become worse and be destroyed adds to the issue. While God may hold the ultimate win, this world is not part of His plan, so we just have to deal with it's evil until it ends.

With the "why polish the brass on a sinking ship" mentality, most people do not ask for God's work or victory in general life. We focus strictly on the end goal —our making it to heaven— and ignore so much along the way. We can lose hope in this life and must be reminded from Scripture:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13 ESV)

Because God is all powerful, and continues to act within the world around us – there still can be happy endings in life. When you pray to your Father in heaven, from within an intimate, abiding relationship, you are reaching out to the heart of a God that cares for you. When you truly grasp that – prayer becomes an adventure.

3. Regaining a Childlike Spirit

I know many of us will quite often ignore praying for the "little things" in life, figuring we can handle those in our own strength and wisdom. Many times, we do not ask, because we over think things, and begin to debate with ourselves over whether we should ask, or is it just a selfish want, or is it in his will, etc.

Instead, we are to let all requests be known to God. Yes, He knows our hearts already, so share with him the desires and struggles we have. Like a little hungry child, cry out for grace. As has been said before from this pulpit, prayer is a declaration of our dependence upon God. Do you need God in your life? Then pray for things.

Once we begin simply asking for help in all things, we stop being cynical and begin returning to a child-like faith. Instead of critiquing others' stories, ask for all things like a child, and watch the story our Father is weaving before us. Prayer is our openly admitting we can do nothing without God. Living in such a manner forms that close, intimate relationship that we need.

Prayer is humility in action. Little children often tend to have a humbler approach, because they know they need help. As we grow older, we often become more self-dependent even in our spiritual walk. There may be times in life when you become weary and beaten down in spirit and it starts to affect your prayer life. not knowing what to say.

Instead of stopping, and in humility and a spirit of dependence, cry out to the Father, we may start to either avoid prayer altogether, or stumble through prayer with increased skepticism. We need to regain a childlike spirit in these things.

In the early centuries of the church, a practice call Lectio Divina, which is Latin for divine reading, was an established way of learning and praying. You can use it to pray the Scriptures, kind of like using the Lord's prayer as mentioned early, but in this case praying with actual Scripture.

For instance, in those times you are unsure what to say – try praying through the 23rd Psalm, and make it your own for your own situation. Use it directly, or as a launch pad like the Lord's prayer was used. As you pray through Psalm 23, reflect on previous days and look for the Shepherd's presence – the ways he provided, cared and loved you. The way he worked in those around you too.

Everyone walks through the valley of the shadow of death – the cynic will concentrate on the darkness, the child will focus on the Shepherd leading. Clinging to and focusing on the Shepherd as you fight for your life in the valley, will dispel the fog of cynicism. Looking for and focusing on his presence in life, will remove all doubt and restore faith and hope.

Now, what would happen if we went back and examined Psalm 23 - through the lens of cynicism - and removed every sign and evidence of anything relating to the good Shepherd's involvement, what would we be left with?

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death - I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

We're left with a pretty different scenario when we do that. That is essentially what we are doing when we seek to go it alone in life. As a Christian, in a real relationship with our Father, we are to keep your eye on the Father in all instances. In doing so, we watch Him work, and we trust in Him like a child trusts their parents.

Also, part of true childlike faith and dependence would include trust. As a child trusts that their parent would no intentionally deceive, mislead, or trick them, so we must have peace knowing God is not going to do so either. I will say, there have been times of struggle in the past, where I personally may have gone astray in this area.

Now, I attribute the following madness to the great influence that Hollywood and the movies can have on our way of thinking. The general story line is this – someone has the power to grant wishes – say a genie in a lamp. So, the person states their wish, and while technically the wish is fulfilled – the results are not quite as they had expected and usually end up including some horrible consequences.

When we approach prayer with this type of subconscious scenario in our mind, we may find ourselves sitting down to pray – and then wording our prayers to be very, very specific and detailed – in order to leave no room for God to "trick" us somehow. This shows a lack of trust on our part.

A prayer like – "Father, please help with our finances – but please do not kill someone in my family as a means of getting me money through a life insurance policy." That is an extreme case, but the idea is, that while God was there ready to answer our prayer - He would use means in doing so that would cause further undesirable and unpleasant consequences upon us to achieve it.

Acknowledging that not everything in life or in God's plan may be totally pleasant to us, approaching God with this type of initial untrusting attitude just leads us further down a path of cynicism. It stems from a faulty assumption that while God is there to help, it is not always in a way we would want or expect. It is a complete ignoring of verses like Matt. 7:11:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mat 7:11 ESV)

Once we truly grasp not only the real presence – but also the real goodness of God, can we begin to clear the thoughts of doubt. Once we return to approaching him with a childlike faith and trust – and not a horror movie faith of distrust – we can begin to reverse the cynicism we hold on to.

4. Cultivate a Thankful Spirit

A thankful spirit will undercut cynicism like nothing else. As you begin to pray each day, stop and look back over the previous day, and as mentioned, look for the hand of the Lord in the little things throughout the day. Take nothing for granted. There may be things that are not always as noticeable at the time, but when you stop and think about it, these things can become more evident when viewed in hindsight.

As you reflect on the previous day - and you find evidence of the love of the Father acting within it - it should more easily stir up the spirit of thankfulness. Remember what Paul said in Romans 1:21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:21 ESV)

Just look at how prevalent the idea of thankfulness is in the writings of Paul:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Rom. 1:8)
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; (1 Cor. 1:4)
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Eph. 1:16)
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy (Phil. 1:3-4)
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you (Col. 1:3)
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (1 Thes. 1:2)
And we also thank God constantly… (1 Thes. 2:13)
For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you… (1 Thes. 3:9)
We ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 1:3)
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 2:13)
I thank God … as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. (2 Tim. 1:3)
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers… (Philemon 4)

And looking back at some of our opening Scriptures, Paul exhorts the church to follow such a thankful pattern:

Don't worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God's peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7 KNT)
Devote yourself to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2 KNT)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ESV)

Maintaining a thankful heart is a most powerful way to stay drawn into the fellowship of the Father as well as those around you. The more you notice His hand in your life, the more thankful you'll be. And the more thankful you are, will draw you closer and closer in dependence and intimacy to Him.

While cynicism looks at the world around us and calls it phony - then pulls back from it - a heart filled with thanksgiving can look reality in the face - and rejoice to see God's hand and care in all things, and pull us closer to Him and His world. That should also cause us to be both more thankful - and generous.

5. Cultivating Repentance

The cynical heart thinks it is just a disinterested observer, looking for authenticity around it, while thinking it is humble because it actually offers nothing. It also feels great pride in thinking that it can see through everything around it.

C.S. Lewis keenly observed the problem with thinking you could see through everything when he said:

You cannot go on "explaining away" for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on "seeing through" things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To "see through" all things is the same as not to see. (CS Lewis - The Abolition of Man)

In order to see all the wonder and hope around us, we must restore the innocent eye of a child. Cynicism, in supposedly "seeing through" everything, is actually lacking a purity of heart. When Christians fall into cynicism, their heart gets out of sync with God. There is a fracture between what is actually going on in the heart, and what is showing in the outward behavior.

Life continues, and we continue to act, speak and perform like a Christian - speaking about Jesus, yet lacking any true presence of Jesus in our life. This is, in fact, a disconnect between what we present on the outside, and what we are on the inside. Not only do the words of those around us sound phony, but our words sound phony. Our empty religion makes everything around us seem just as empty and phony. James tells us:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (Jas 4:8 ESV)

This term double minded, only appears twice in Scripture, both times by James, and it carries a meaning of being wavering, doubting, and divided in interest. We become double-minded when we live in this phony manner, and it usually leads to a split personality type scenario. We begin to create the public us and the private us.

I spoke early of how we may create multiple public versions of ourselves – different "faces" for different groups. This continues that process, but involves the darker, hidden private us, that few if any know about. If you are loving to your friends to their face, but then talk bad about them behind their back – you have created two personalities.

Repentance is needed to bring these two sides back together – to bring reality and balance back to life. Cynicism sees this need of repentance in everyone else, but lacks the humility to get the beam out of its own eye.

While church should be the one safe-haven where we can be ourselves and be loved by others – that becomes rarely the case. For many, church becomes a big smoke and mirrors effort too. Remember the story of David, as he shows up at the battlefield to hear the ridicule and cursing spewing from the mouth of Goliath?

The people of God were acting cowardly – not relying on their God as they should. David saw the split between their outward profession and their lack of action, and he took action as they should have - and God gave him the day. David intimately knew and was in contact with the good Shepherd, and in His strength, he took comfort and confidence which lead to him taking action.

How often do we, as the church, let cynicism cause us to shrink back, rather than charge the battlefield in the strength of the Lord? We need to seek to bring our professed faith into harmony with our actual practice.

The pure in heart begin by seeing through themselves, having already dealt with the bears and lions in their own valley of the shadow of death. That allows them to see with more clarity the ridiculousness of the cursing "Goliaths" in their lives. By cultivating a lifestyle of repentance, we deal with our own impurity, and avoid the negative position that cynicism takes, and it leads to purity in heart and spiritual healing.

We need to have the faith and courage in our Father just like David, and in our individual battles, as well as alongside our church body, stand up and proclaim with David:

This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand…that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hand. (1 Sam 17:46-47)

And the last point is:

6. Looking for Jesus

Instead of just looking for the evil around you, how often do you just stop and look and think about ways you may be seeing Jesus in the world around us? This is similar to what I spoke of back in point four, but instead of looking back at previous days to find events that showed the Father's hands around you, this is more of a right here, right now looking in your daily walk.

More often than not, we have been influenced by the cynicism of the world around us, and we are quick to look for - and find - all of the injustices around us. It causes us to focus on other people's lack of integrity - on their split personalities.

Instead, we should be looking around us, searching for that spark of truth instead. That underlying spark of Jesus that the cynicism might cause us to otherwise miss. Remember what we are told in Hebrews:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb 13:2 ESV)

In his book "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller, he relates a story on this topic. He explains how he and his wife managed a part-time, seasonal tax business. On one occasion, he arrives at the office at 8:00am. He had been struggling bouts of cynicism and unbelief in his Christian walk.

While accessing the work computer, he noticed the hard drive was getting full, so he deleted an old program. In his haste, he clicked yes to "delete all shared files" and yes, he got the blue screen of death. He had killed his computer.

He noticed his first appointment was not until 11:30, so he spent the next few hours scrambling to fix the computer, calling help desks, looking for backup disks, etc. When the customer walked in, things were still not fixed. He told the preparer to tell the customer they'd be ready any minutes now.

He then had to sneak by the customer so he could leave, run home, and get a disk. He slunk past her. Avoiding eye contact. It was almost noon when he slipped back by her again on his way in to get a backup computer. He took a quick glance, and noticed her sitting quietly without a hint of impatience.

When he returned with the computer at 1:00, she was still waiting serenely. By the time he finally called her in to do her tax return, it was 3:00. She had sat three and a half hours without a single question or complaint. Because she had taken the bus there, he asked her if he could offer her a ride home. He then explains:

Depressed and frustrated, I blurted out, "Does Jesus make a difference in your life?" (I thought she might be Catholic). Please understand, I was not witnessing—I wanted to be witnessed to. She replied, "Jesus is everything to me. I talk to him all of the time."

I was floored, partly by the freshness and simplicity of her faith but mainly by the unusual patience that displayed her faith. My frantic busyness was a sharp contrast to her quiet waiting in prayer. She reflected the spirit of prayer. I reflected the spirit of human self-sufficiency.

I'd begun the day depressed, partly struggling with the relevance of Jesus. Now I was overwhelmed by the irony of my unbelief. Jesus had been sitting in our waiting room, right in front of me, as obvious as the daylight. I walked by him all day. I had wondered Jesus was around, and he had been silently waiting all day, saying nothing. It was a stunning display of patience. ("A Praying Life" – Paul Miller)

Cynicism makes us look in the wrong direction. It will make us look for all of the cracks in the people around us, even those in the church. Our heart gets into the habit of viewing the world this way, and that will easily get brought over into the church. I think our knowledge of Scripture can cause a problem in this area too.

We think we have a deeper understanding, and an inside view of doctrine that other around us do not. It can easily cause us to doubt the faith and knowledge of others. Instead of seeing others as a work in progress, through the eyes of grace and beauty, watching as the Father's hands are molding out the rough edges, we only seem to "see" the roughness.

We need to be more like Paul, who though dealing with the highly corrupt practices of the church in Corinth, still had the ability to say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— (1 Cor. 1:4-5)

Think about it – and recall just how bad the church at Corinth seemed to be. They were bad off, yes, but he saw the good work being performed in them by Jesus. Rather than simply focusing on the corruptness, he saw Jesus, and that is something we need to focus on doing more in life.

Once we get a grip on the ways that cynicism has crept into our life and heart, we can begin to change our ways, and focus our hearts on being thankful, and in so doing, begin a better, healthier prayer life. And now I end right where we began:

Don't worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God's peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7 KNT)

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322