Is Halloween bad?

Many Christian churches offer an alternative evening for children and their parents on Halloween, without all the monster costumes, devil outfits and trick or treating. But what do you do if your children and grandchildren love Halloween? They love dressing up, scouring the neighbourhood for treats with friends and family, bumping into neighbours who welcome them, and counting the loot back home. To them it’s fun. There’s nothing sinister going on.

With my own children, however, I thought there was a sinister undertone to Halloween, so I took them off to a Mall that evening, or closed the curtains at home and turned up the TV. But then grandchildren came along, and not only did they love Halloween, so did my children who now had the chance to make up for lost time and go trick or treating with them. And then we all counted the loot back home and shared the spoils. And for all of us it was fun.

Fortunately, Halloween today is completely meaningless. It has no sinister agenda and no purpose whatsoever beyond making children smile. Halloween is a lot like sugar – no nutritional value whatsoever, but it makes things taste good. And in a world with so much real ugliness going on and much of life being a boring routine, life could do with a little spice.

But isn’t that falling into the hands of a cunning devil, who’d like nothing better than people thinking evil and devil outfits are just a bit of harmless fun? Yes, it would be if Halloween causes evil or preserves it, but for most people today it’s just an excuse for silliness, with no evil intent. Halloween has lost the power it had in past centuries to scare people. People, at one time, really believed Halloween was about warding off spirits seeking revenge, but today it’s been reduced to a joke. It’s not a joke in the best of taste, but instead of preserving some really scary superstitions, it’s taken the power right out of them.

And that’s exactly what’s happened to the devil – he’s had the power taken out of him too. Ever since Jesus came the devil’s powers over us have been severely reduced. He can still blind and deceive people the world over, but not forever. He’s a defeated foe and a spent force. Jesus has already triumphed over him, and for “anyone born of God….the evil one does not touch him,” 1 John 5:18.

We are wary of the devil, therefore, but we don’t live in fear of him. And if Halloween reminded us of that, it could even be classed as ‘good’, not bad.

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Another way of looking at “pray without ceasing”

I believe “pray without ceasing” is not a “should” it’s a “realize.” It’s realizing we have unceasing contact with our Father, because of Jesus Christ.

As our brother, the ascended Jesus now represents us in the presence of the Father, so that we can share the same kind of relationship with the Father that he has. And because we trust Jesus to be doing that for us, we can experience that relationship right now. Prayer without ceasing, then, is acknowledging we always have contact with God because of Jesus, and simply making the most of it!

There isn’t a moment in our lives when we’re out of contact with God: “Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him,” 1 Thessalonians 5:10. Asleep or awake, Jesus has us with him, and since he’s in the presence of the Father at all times, so are we. And if that isn’t real to us yet, the Holy Spirit fills in for us, keeping our connection unceasingly intact, Romans 8:26-27.

So our contact with God never ceases at any point in our lives. To pray without ceasing, then, is simply our way of participating in what Jesus and the Holy Spirit are constantly making possible. It’s our way of saying, “I understand what God sent Jesus to die for, that nothing in my life passes God by. I therefore pray what I am, a child of God, with a Father who’s always listening, and I’m exploiting it to the full!”

That’s what Jesus did when he was human. He said he “lived because of his Father,” John 6:57. His life never felt empty or useless because he knew his Father was interested and concerned every second of every day in what Jesus was doing or going through. Not a moment passed when his Father wasn’t intimately involved in his life. And because of that relationship with his Father, Jesus survived whatever life threw at him.

And Jesus now offers that same life to us, same verse – “SO the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” We now live because of Christ, meaning OUR lives too are never empty or useless, because there isn’t a moment when Christ isn’t involved in our lives, either. HIS love for us too is unceasing, Romans 8:38-39.

So now we have Father, Son and Spirit always listening, always interested, always concerned, and forever unceasing in their love for us. Their door is always open, and the welcome sign is never removed. In return, we are unceasing in our belief that we can pray to them at any time and we have their ear.

“Pray without ceasing” – really? How?

A teenage girl gave up on prayer because she didn’t get a good grade on a school test after she asked God to help her. A footballer was miffed because God didn’t help their team win the championship after they’d all done a group prayer in the locker room before the game. A child began to wonder if God really existed after she asked God to heal Grandma, but Grandma died anyway. A soldier got angry at God for not answering the prayers of the chaplain for a bloodless victory. Instead many men died.

In situations like these it’s understandable if people cease praying, because why pray if what is prayed for doesn’t happen? A quick answer might be, “But you can’t just pray for anything you want and expect an answer. You have to pray for what you know is God’s will to give.” But try and explain that to a child, or to a football player who knows far more about football than the Bible.

So what do you say instead? Well, Jesus quite simply said, “Just keep on praying and don’t lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Which is easy to say but the toughest thing to do, as Jesus himself discovered just before his death. He’d prayed desperately for God to help him, but at the last, just when Jesus needed him most, God ditched him. Or at least that’s what it felt like, just like the teenage girl who felt ditched when God didn’t help her with her exam. “My God,” Jesus cried, “why have you forsaken me?” So Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to pray and feel abandoned.

But at that moment of utter desolation, Jesus then cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). So at the very point when there was every reason to throw up his hands and give up on God, Jesus did what he’d told his disciples to do in Luke 18:1 – he prayed anyway, “Father, I trust my life to you.” He did not lose heart. He did not give up on God. He did not cease praying.

And now he encourages us to do the same, with a heartfelt plea in Luke 18:8 – “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” It was his concluding statement to a story he told his disciples about a widow who felt forsaken by an unjust judge, but she never lost heart, she kept asking. And that’s what Jesus so deeply hopes we’ll do when it feels like God isn’t answering us. He hopes we’ll pray without ceasing, keep on trusting, and never lose heart.

Prayer – a love language of the simplest proportions

A marriage counsellor on TV gave 7 points on how to keep a marriage going. It was all the usual kindergarten stuff for an old battle-scarred veteran of marriage, but I admit one point hit me.

She, the counsellor, was rattling on about understanding each other’s “love language,” which in non-soppy terms simply meant understanding how husband and wife communicate their love to each other, because it could be very different. A wife, for instance, thinks her husband should communicate his love to her by lots of hugs and endless laughs, but he sees love in far more practical terms, like keeping the car functioning and cleaning out the garage. He, meanwhile, wishes his wife would communicate her love to him by curbing her spending on restaurant lunches and take-out lattes, rather than laughing off her habits and giving him a kiss.

They love each other but they have wildly different expectations of the love language they’d appreciate from each other. And that made me think of prayer, because prayer is like a “love language” too, so is our relationship with God ALSO affected by the love language he expects from us, and the love language we expect from him?

But God has only one expectation in our love language to him, that when praying we keep within the obvious bounds of his will. Other than that he says he loves whatever prayers come his way. They’re like perfume to him, in whatever form they take – short, long, well thought out, or short and desperate. They’re all the same to him – perfectly lovely. And we can ask him for anything and it will be given to us (John 14:14 and 15:7). Everything he has on offer is ours in full (Colossians 1:9) – and it’s already ours as we’re asking (Mark 11:24)! God’s love language with us is of the simplest proportions.

And our love language to him in return? As simple as talking our hearts out. For some people that may be lengthy and intimate, while for others it’s brief and to the point. For some it’s emotional, for others very practical. It doesn’t matter to God. Every child of his is unique, with his or her very own love language, and it’s all fine with him.

Like any husband and wife getting to know each other’s love language, God’s love language really takes some getting used to, though, because it’s so utterly simple. Just talk, God listens. Just ask, God answers. And it doesn’t matter how we talk or how we ask, because he’s already listening and ready in an instant to answer. If only love language in marriage was that simple!

Our prayers can change God’s mind?

God’s will is like a circle. The circle’s circumference is fixed, but inside the circle it’s a free-for-all!

Think of the request that Jesus’ Mother made to him at the wedding in Cana. The wine was running out, so Jesus’ Mother decides this is a great opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his power – and in a loving way too – by coming up with a miracle to produce more wine.

Jesus’ first reaction is, “No, Mother, my hour is not yet come” – it was much too soon to be going public with miracles, but then he grants her wish. He changes his mind! He made room in his plans for what his Mother desired. And since Jesus only does what he sees his Father do, then clearly the Father can change his plans on our behalf too, when our request is still within the circumference of his fixed will and it spoils nothing.

This is the God who calls himself “Father.” He loves us so much our requests move him to adjust his plans, especially when our request is within the circle of his will or we wouldn’t be asking in the first place. Or, if we’re not quite sure it IS within his will, we readily admit it to him and pray anyway, because this is the Father we’re coming to see. He’s given us all kinds of wiggle-room to reason with him, speak our mind freely to him, babble on about things we probably have no real clue about, but he loves every bit of it. What father wouldn’t? When we were Dads with young children, it didn’t matter what they babbled on about. They were our kids and that’s all that mattered.

And they were always pleading with us – begging, bargaining, coming up with every persuasive reason they could think of – to get us to rethink a situation and agree to their idea instead. And think what it did to the relationship when Dad relented and even praised his child for a really great idea, especially when the idea made a situation better for everyone involved. This isn’t selfish whining we’re talking about, it’s about a child thinking things through – on behalf of others too – because he knows his Dad loves it when he does that. And any good idea the child comes up with Dad’s onto it immediately, or as quickly as he can.

And if Dad CAN’T change his plans, he’ll try and do something – anything – to keep the door wide open, and the child’s ideas flowing. So does God, because HIS children come up with great ideas too – so good, in fact, they can change HIS mind as well!

God already knows our needs, so why pray?

God knows our needs before we ask him for help (Matthew 6:8). So did my Mother when I was young. She could tell when I needed comfort, when I needed a jolly good talking to, and when I needed encouragement. She could read my moods, suss out what was bothering me, distract my attention from something harmful, and know when a storm was brewing in my head.

I learnt from her that there were people who knew me better than I did, which at times was embarrassing, but it was also reassuring that someone knew you inside out – and cared. You weren’t alone and helpless. Someone was looking out for you, who always had your best interests in mind.

It was simply knowing that such a person existed that helped. Because that was my real need. It was a person. I needed someone I could go to at any time to share my troubles with, express my frustrations, longings and dreams to, who could also calm my passions, help me put the past behind me and give me practical advice for the future. It was the one-on-one contact with that person that was so important. It wasn’t so much my actual needs being met that got me through my childhood, it was knowing there was a person who would drop everything to help me.

And God the Father wants to be that person too (Matthew 6:33), the importance of which is huge because he knows our parents’ help is limited. They can’t always drop everything to help, or talk every day for hours, and as they age they get tired and need help themselves! Friends may partly fill the gap, but they have their own troubles and busy lives.

So who else can we turn to? But that’s the point. With the kinds of needs we have, there isn’t anyone else who can totally provide for us. And certainly not someone who can answer our need with a good and perfect gift every time (James 1:17). So why does God want us to lean on him with our needs? Because he’s our Dad, and we’re his children, and children need their Dad. Because that’s our deepest need, and always has been – it’s our longing for a real Father who holds out his arms to us when we come running, who proves to us again and again that he’s real, he’s there, his door is wide open and we can call on him any time for anything.

And when we cry out, “Father,” he loves it, because now his children have cottoned on TO HIM as their greatest need, at last.

Why pray if God has already made up his mind?

“Please, Dad, the sun’s come out, can we go to the park?” “No, son,” Dad replies, “I already decided to make today clean-up-the-garden day.” And the son shuffles away disheartened, because when Dad’s made up his mind, that’s it, he’s not open to any ideas but his own, and there’s no room for appeal. The answer to every request is, “Whatever Dad has decided.”

So why bother asking for anything, when it’s already been decided what’s going to be done? And is that how it works with God too? – because in 1 John 5:14, God listens to prayers “according to his will.” It sounds like our requests are limited to what God has already fixed as his will, and there’s no point in asking for anything else.

But in 1 John 3:22, we “receive from God anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” Think what that would do to the relationship between a child and his Dad. Dad’s got a son who loves him, and Dad is so moved by that he tells his kid, “Anything you want, son, it’s yours.” This doesn’t sound like God has made up his mind at all. He hasn’t decided ahead of time what he’s going to do. Instead, he ‘s open to all kinds of ideas from his children. He wants to hear what we have in mind, and he’s willing to answer all of it.

And that’s God’s will for those who “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” and “love one another,” verse 23. To believe in God’s Son is to believe we are God’s children as much as Jesus is, because his Father is our Father too. And because we’re God’s children, we take on the nature of God’s children. Can you imagine what that then does to our prayers? – because as God’s growing children, our requests in prayer are more and more for other people and their needs, just as Jesus’ prayers were. And according to John, God loves listening to us, and he’s open to all our thoughts and ideas. We can appeal to him on behalf of others (just as Jesus appealed on behalf of Peter – Luke 22:32), and we can reason with God as to the best course of action in a difficult situation (just as Moses did in Numbers 11:1-2), and we can even change God’s mind (Exodus 32:9-14).

God is open to whatever we ask, because what we ask for has the Spirit behind it (1 John 3:24). As a child of God, then, we can ask and God’s response may well be, “Sounds good to me; let’s go with it.”