Do you want to learn how to pray effectively?
Of course, there are so many ways to pray. And believe it or not, I learned a very important lesson from Halloween about how to pray effectively.
Now this is not supposed to be a controversial topic, but I know some Christians who get very concerned about Halloween and the way it’s celebrated. They feel it’s a pagan holiday that emphasizes witchcraft and all sorts of evil things which are condemned in the Bible.
I know other Christians who simply have fun with the holiday.
This podcast episode is not about whether Halloween is evil or not. You have to follow your conscience on that. I’ll simply say that your motives are important in how you participate or don’t participate in any Halloween festivities. I’ll leave that to you to think about.
How to pray effectively
What I really want to focus on is a very important lesson I learned from Halloween about how to pray more effectively.
This is one of the Captain Obvious moments, but stay with me.
Several years ago, I was talking to a friend who had issues with his brother, half-brother actually. As a child, my friend looked up to his brother. But as they both went their separate ways and life styles, my friend had become very put out with his brother for some of the life choices he’d made. And today, he has as little to do with his brother as possible.
Way down deep, my friend would still really like to have a true relationship with his brother. But he just can’t get past the all the bad and hurtful things he has done over the years and his brother isn’t interested at all in getting back together.
After listening quietly for a bit I simply asked if he had forgiven his bother and if he loved him. My friend shot back, “Am I supposed to love the bad things he did? Am I supposed to condone all the mistakes he made and all the people he’s hurt?!!!”
“No, of course not,” I assured him.
Imagine it’s Halloween…
Here’s basically what popped out of my mouth. “Imagine it’s Halloween and the trick-or-treaters are at your door. Do you really believe that there are ghosts and witches and monsters asking for candy?”
“No,” he said. “Sometimes I pretend to be fooled and scared but I know that behind those masks, they’re just fun-loving kids out to have a good time.”
“Exactly,” I said. “All the bad things your brother has done or is still doing is like a Halloween mask. It’s not part of what God created him to be.
Well, he got the point, and it was easier to think about forgiving his brother, and at least try to love him.
Now, if you’re reading this the day it was published, it’s Halloween in the United States, October 31. Kids dress up in costumes and go trick or treating, asking for candy.
When I think about all those costumes and masks and the kids behind them, it makes me think of something Jesus said,
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. John 7:24 NIV
In other words, don’t be fooled by the mask someone or something or some issue is wearing.
Look past the mask
Look deeper, beneath the surface.
Now, it’s easy to do this on Halloween. Everyone knows it’s a game we play.
Over the years, I’ve had neighborhood kids dressed up as ghosts, witches, pumpkins, super heroes, and I got pretty creative when I made costumes for my kids. The year we studied ancient Egypt, our oldest daughter went as a pyramid and my son went as a Pharaoh. I’m pretty sure no one thought they were an actual stone structure or an Egyptian king.
I’ve even seen kids smear ketchup or fake blood all over themselves to make it look like they have been mortally wounded. But however good their disguise is, it’s always obvious that they are not really bleeding.
So, in talking to my friend about Halloween costumes, I realized that his brother, in a way, had on a more subtle costume or disguise of a troubled man who had made some bad life choices and was not very loving to his family.
Now normally, when someone is like this, you don’t usually think of it as a mask or costume. It’s who they really are, right?
But this is where I got the insight about how to pray more effectively.
Jesus saw people with his spiritual senses
Think about all the people who came to Jesus for help. When he healed them and forgave their sins, he was not naïve as to what was going on or what the situation was. He took in the scene. But he looked at people with much more than just his material eyeballs.
The Bible says more than once, how Jesus responded to people. This example is from Matthew.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 NIV
Jesus looked at people through a lens of love. Everyone around him was using the five material senses to decide what was going on. They saw only the “outward appearances” of hopeless cripples, blindness, leprosy, miserable sinners, etc.
Jesus saw people from a spiritual perspective. He used his spiritual eyes or spiritual senses and looked way beyond the material picture or “outward appearance” to the original child of God’s creating. This is what the first chapter in Genesis tells us
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27 KJV
Don’t believe the outward appearance
So I said to my friend: “You’ve got to look further than the material picture, the ‘outward appearance’ and try to see what Jesus saw with his spiritual vision. Jesus didn’t just pretend there was no sin or sickness to deal with. He saw what needed to be healed in someone’s thinking.
“But he didn’t psycho-analyze the human mind to solve someone’s problems. He saw deeper into the spiritual reality of their original God-created nature, created in the image of God. He saw beneath the outward appearance.”
My friend started to get the idea.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When a leper or a blind person came to Jesus for healing, or when he talked to people who were sinning, he could see that the problem was not part of who the person really was, way down deep spiritually.
He could see this just as easily as you and I can see that the kids coming to the door on Halloween aren’t monsters or super heroes. Beneath all the layers of disease and deformity, sin and guilt, he saw their original, God-created innocence, wholeness, and purity.
So I said to my friend that he needed to love his brother the way God originally made him, in God’s own image and likeness and to cherish him in this light. To forgive him is to see that all the bad things he’s done are not really part of who God made him to be. I said. “Love his original God-created manhood.”
I told him, “It doesn’t mean the bad things he did are okay or that you approve of them. It simply means you are loving his original purity, innocence, and, goodness created by God.”
This was a big paradigm shift for my friend but he realized he had to change his perspective: quit looking just at the material surface of things and look deeper into the spiritual picture.
The “costume” of disability and disease
I love the story in Luke about the woman who was bent over for eighteen years because it really illustrates what I’m talking about.
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Luke 13:10-16 NIV
Jesus removed the crippled-lady “costume”
Look at how Jesus described the woman’s problem. He called it being tied up by Satan. All he did, to use this metaphor of a rope, was untie her from how Satan had bound her.
So let’s take this a step further. Since the woman had been bound by Satan, she and everyone else saw her as a cripple. Not only did Satan tie her up, he gave her a costume of a bent-over-lady. It was such a good disguise everyone thought it was real. Everyone except Jesus.
Jesus knew that was not the true identity of this woman.
And look at what he said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In the original Greek, this is the perfect tense, which means it has already been accomplished. He declared what he saw to be her true identity, freedom from this debilitating condition. He saw her free from it before he declared it to be so, and before he actually healed her.
What she saw as her identity, a crippled woman, Jesus saw as nothing more than a mask, a disguise, a lie about her told by Satan for eighteen years. And because Jesus saw this lie about her for what it was, a lie, it completely dissolved and the woman was healed.
The “costume” of sin
Here’s another example of how Jesus saw past the surface appearance of people and was able to bring healing and reformation to their lives.
It’s the story of Zacchaeus. One day Jesus was in Jericho
A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:2-10 NIV
On the surface, Zacchaeus was seen by the people as a tax collector who charged too much for their taxes. They saw him as a traitor to the nation of Israel because he was working for the Romans collecting these taxes. Going along with my metaphor here, Zacchaeus had on a very convincing dishonest tax collector costume.
Jesus saw through the mask
But Jesus saw way beyond that outward appearance of things. He saw that this man was a descendant of Abraham, in effect a child of God, and deserved, as much as anyone else, to find moral freedom in his life.
Everyone else was wondering why Jesus would go to a sinner’s house. I love the fact that Jesus actually invited himself over to Zacchaeus’s house. He wanted to see, and help, him that much. He wanted to take off this terrible costume and show Zacchaeus who he really was underneath it.
And that’s exactly what happened.
How to pray effectively
So how does this apply to you and me? How does this help us pray more effectively?
Think about a challenge you’re facing right now, or a person who is giving you some trouble in one way or another. Or maybe you’re praying for someone who is sick. Instead of identifying this person or situation as the problem, think about whatever it is as Halloween costume. Okay, it may be a very convincing disguise. So much so, that the person actually thinks they are that type of person or has that particular problem.
But when you can see this outward appearance of things as just a mask, a costume, that’s not part of who they are as a child of God, but is trying to hide or cover up their true identity as a child of God, your prayers will be more effective. Because you’re not trying to change a child of God, but you’re praying to remove the costume.
Don’t be fooled by the costume
If this seems impossible, it might mean you have been fooled by the costume, which is only a lie Satan is telling about someone.
Here’s where Jesus’s way of seeing things with compassion comes to the rescue. Look at people, and yourself when needed, through the lens of love. Looking at someone with God’s love is like spiritual x-ray vision. You can see right to the heart of who they are as a child of God.
This Halloween, if trick-or-treaters come to your door, no one will have to remind you that there are cute little kids behind those masks.
But the next time someone is mean to you, tries to harm you or is sinning in a way that affects your life, take a moment to remember this is only a mask. Look beyond this outward appearance of things. See what Jesus would have seen. See them with compassion. Love the original child of God’s creation. God will take care of the rest.
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
John 7:24 NIV
24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
Matthew 9:36 NIV
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Genesis 1:27 KJV
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Luke 13:10-16 NIV
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,
11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?
16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
Luke 19:2-10 NIV
2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.
4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”