From the earliest age I was taught to pray. As a child I prayed, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Bless Mommy, Daddy, Bobby and Robin, and the pastor and the church, Amen.
As I got older I learned to pray extemporaneously. Prayer was God and me conversing with each other. As I matured in the faith I came to believe that the divine purpose of prayer was to conform my will to God’s will. I believed it was proper and right to pray, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Lord, not my will but thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.
As a married man with six children, and as I pastor, I spent much time in prayer. Hours and hours a week were devoted to praying. I started and ended each day with prayer. I prayed throughout the day. I prayed over every meal. (though I exempted praying over dessert at Mason’s Dairy Freeze after church) I prayed before and after every sermon I preached. (and I preached thousands of sermons) I prayed before, during, and after every time I preached on the street. I spent countless hours in church prayer meetings. Needless to say, I have a good bit of experience when it comes to praying.
I believed God answered every prayer I prayed. He said:
It was not until I had left the ministry that I began to seriously look at praying in general and specifically the prayers that I had prayed over the course of 50 years in the Christian church.
I know that many people benefit from praying. They find it soothing and comforting to pray to a God. They find strength taking their troubles and burdens to a God. Even if said God does not exist there is still a benefit gained from praying. I don’t criticize people for praying and I certainly don’t ridicule them. If praying helps get them through the night who am I to condemn them or mock them?
That said, I didn’t get the same benefit from praying. Several years ago, I sat down and carefully considered all the prayers that I had prayed. There were some big prayers I prayed asking God to deliver people, save people, keep them from dying, restore marriages, elect certain people to office, end abortion, etc. I prayed for my personal needs, financial needs, physical needs, and the needs of my wife and children. I prayed for the church I pastored. I prayed it would grow and that we would see many souls saved. I prayed God would send us new members, people with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to get busy for God.
Did God answer my prayers? How could I know? Since God could say yes, no, or not now to every prayer I prayed, or get me to modify my request so my will lined up with his, how could I ever know if God ever, actually, one time answered a prayer of mine? I came to see that my prayers fell on the deaf ears of a God that did not exist. God was silent because he could be nothing else.
Christians tend to think that proof of God answering prayer is when something they perceive as good happens to them. They get sick and they pray that God will make them well……and poof……they are well. God healed them. Money is tight and they ask God to get their employer to give them a raise……and poof……they get a raise. God gave them a raise. Since God is good all the time, when good things happen it is God’s doing.
What about when bad things happen? Is God behind bad things happening? (take the case of Job) Should God not get credit for everything that happens to the Christian? Since God is sovereign and in control of the universe, shouldn’t the placard on God’s desk say, The buck stops here?
This is a thorny, troublesome issue for Christians. They don’t like blaming God for the bad things of life so they come up with different ways to make excuse for God.
- The Romans 8:28 excuse And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
- The James 1:12-15 excuse Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
- The Romans 9 excuse So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
- The Hebrews 12 excuse And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
What do these four excuses tell us about bad things and their relationship to God?
- There are no bad things. God means everything for the good of the Christian. Things perceived as bad are really good since their objective is to make you a better Christian.
- That God chastens (spanks, whips, disciplines, corrects) Christians so that they might be better Christians. Once again, bad things happening are really just God getting the Christian’s attention.
- Enduring perceived bad things from the hand of God will result in a reward from God when the Christian gets to heaven.
- Questioning God’s dealings with us is not permitted. God can do what he wants. He is, after all, God. He created us and he can do whatever he wants with us. So what if it seems God is being evil and malicious towards someone. He has the power, authority and right, to do so. Besides, God is good all the time and he means it for their…..let the circular reasoning continue.
Now back to my own prayers. I never was a person of great faith. WHY always lurked in the background. WHY is this happening? What is God trying to say to me? Is God judging me, teaching me, chastising me, building me up, tearing me down…….you know the drill.
Why did God lead me and tell two-hundred people the same thing…..that I should leave a church I pastored for eleven years and move to Texas? Why did God then change his mind after seven months?
Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?
These are but two of a number of stories I could share about God, through prayer, leading me to do this or that, only to change his mind a few days, weeks, or months later. God was not so same yesterday, today, and forever as I might have thought.
When I took a big step back and began to look at my prayers and their connection to God I came to see there was no connection at all. Good and bad things happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether a person prays. Shit happens and that shit is called life. Praying changes nothing. It may help a person feel better or give them peace, but in the morning whatever they are praying about is still there for them to face.
Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life. Making a decision can be offloaded to God and that way whatever happens is God’s will. Instead of owning the decision, God gets all the credit, that is unless something bad happens, and then the Devil might get a bit of credit. (even though, according to the Bible, the Devil operates under the control of God)
It seems quite maddening to me. I like my current view of life much better. Good and bad things happens. Good and bad decisions are made every day. Luck plays a big part in life. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I am responsible for the decisions I make. I can not control the decisions other people make.
My new perspective on life has forced me to reevaluate the leading of God in the past. If it wasn’t God leading me or God answering my prayer who was it?
Me. That’s right, me. I did what I wanted to do. I may have couched my decisions in Christian-speak, but I was the one making the decisions. There is no imaginary God to blame and no imaginary God to praise. The only God in the equation is of human form.
Take the two illustrations I gave about eight paragraphs ago.
I left a church I started and pastored for eleven years and moved to Texas. I became the co-pastor of a young, exciting, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. I saw this as my once-in-a-lifetime move. My wife and I were excited about God “leading” us to this church.
Yet, seven months later we were back in Ohio……..bruised, battered, and abused. We had our hearts ripped out. The church even went so far as to excommunicate me and to this day they consider me a “publican and heathen.” (Matthew 18)
What went wrong? Did I “mishear” God? Did God just want to move me to Texas so he could give me an ass-whipping?
The truth is we never should have moved. The new church offered me a pay increase that doubled what I was making in Ohio. They offered us a new mobile home to live in, rent, utility free. I saw it as a golden opportunity, a chance to get out of the financial hole we were in. I also saw the move as an opportunity to put my evangelism skills to good use. (and in seven months I started two new churches and established several evangelism ministries in the church) Everything about this move said…..YES! YES YES!
However, I ignored the man I was going to work with. He started the church. While I was going to be co-pastor, there was no doubt who was the REAL pastor. This man was just like me. Driven. Strong-willed. Bull-headed. Arrogant. Temperamental. Prone to anger. Certain of his beliefs.
It took me all of a few weeks to realize that the church wasn’t big enough for both of us, and over the course over the next six months I lived just this side of hell. It was the worst experience I have ever had in my life. In the end we fought and bickered like an old married couple. We had no love or respect for each other. It was ugly and I am just as guilty in all of this as the other man. So much for a Christianity of love, peace, joy and understanding.
We moved. As we drove out of the church drive the church was meeting to consider “the Bruce Gerencser problem.” They excommunicated me but not my wife or children. They determined they were under my evil influence and not responsible for leaving the church.
Take the other illustration I gave. Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?
This one is easier to parse. You see, this family was part of the church I was excommunicated from. (though they had left it a short time after we moved away) Since God was “leading” them to move to Ohio and I felt “led” to help them, I did everything in my power to help them move. I spent two-thousand dollars helping them move, including going to Texas to help them make the move. I had to sell several prized possessions I had to get the money to help them with. One item I sold was a bolt-action Mossberg .410 shotgun. I bought it new when I was twelve years old for twenty-two dollars. That gun had a lot of special meaning for me, BUT God had a work for me to do so I sold it. (along with several high-powered rifles, shotguns, and a handgun)
Those of you on the outside looking in can see what was going on in this story. This wasn’t God “leading”…it was me getting back at the pastor I had a falling out with and the church that excommunicated me.
So they moved and they lasted all of three months. Why didn’t they stay? Simple. They were Hispanic and they had just moved from San Antonio to Anglo rural NW Ohio. The culture shock was overwhelming. I had talked to them about this before they moved and they were sure they could handle it…
I never knew what happened after they moved back. I heard they went back to the church and pleaded for forgiveness. Perhaps they repented of following after the evil Bruce Gerencser. I wonder how things are for them…
I tell these stories to illustrate the fact that in each of these stories I was certain God was answering my prayer, that God was leading me. How could it be otherwise?
I have come to see that throughout my Christian life that it wasn’t God leading the way at all. It was me. Was God leading me to go to a Christian college or was it that I wanted to be a pastor and I needed a college education to do that? Did God lead my wife and I to get married or did we get married because we were physically and emotionally attracted to each other? Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. Souls were saved. Was that God’s doing? Was God answering my prayers for power from on high? Or did the churches grow because I worked hard, was a friendly pastor, and a pretty darn-good public speaker?
As I look at every major decision I ever made that I attributed to God I can see the hand of Bruce. (and the influence of other people) If it is God answering prayer then I have finally figured out who God is……I am.
I am sure my critics will take this post as the best proof yet that I never was a Christian. They have their proof now……I had a man powered, man centered, ministry and life. I even said I was God! What they blindly can not or will not see is that their life, their pastor’s life, and their church is likely no different. I am not some special case…I am, in every way…a normal example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus who one day woke up and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.
repost, revised and updated