Thursday, February 7, 2013
Prayer Soup For the LGBT Soul
Why do we pray? Are we praying to alive our fears, thinking that we have to pray a certain prayer in a certain way and that if we don’t then something bad will happen? Do we pray because it’s a cultural pattern, like saying “grace” before a meal? Do we pray only when we want something or when we have tried everything else and use prayer as a last resort? A lot of people pray as a sort of ritual that makes them feel peace, and that they fulfill some kind of religious duty in order to find relief from some guilt.
How about when we don’t pray? Do we feel shame that we don’t pray enough? Have you ever given up because you got frustrated, or feel so inferior spiritually that you don’t seem worthy enough to approach God?
From "Via Crucis", the stations of the cross CD, original art by Jason T. Ingram
My Personal Quest For Authentic Faith and Answered Prayer
When I finished high school in 1991, I was a miserable mess. Most kids my age seemed ready for the world and eager to begin their adult lives but I was terrified. I created outrageous goals that I knew that I could not reach and tried just about everything to relieve my mental and emotional torment. Although I experimented a little with drugs, I had bad experiences and was convinced that I could have profound experiences simply through spirituality. I was also on a passionate quest to find results. In fact it was an obsession for me. I came from a family line of intellectuals that seemed to demand proof for everything, and I was not willing to adapt any religion that did not meet my desperate needs.
Being disappointed with psychology and not finding the help I needed for my untreated mental illness, I dove into just about every religious idea I could. Most of what I sought was a part of the New Age movement, taking most of the ideas from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. I also had exposure to Judaism and forms of Christian mysticism. Later, I got involved with earth-based religions like Paganism and Native American spirituality and even attempted to create my own conglomerate of all these ideas into my own personal dogma. It was a lot like what I saw others do having been raised in the Unitarian Universalist church and eight years being exposed to a lot of occult practices and forms of Spiritism.
"His Hands", original art by Jason T. Ingram
My meditation was based on emptying myself, yet noting was filling me but spirits and endless vain philosophies that only produced more questions. I wanted a Person. I wanted the highest love to fill me. I was fortunate to not only have found a relationship with God through Jesus, but I happened to find Christians who got results, and this drew me deeper into the faith. My journey through Christianity has allowed me to be a part of most forms of the faith. I have been exposed to a lot of Catholic ideas, some Orthodox, several mainline denominations and a lot of modern sects. With all this study, and asking many questions to various clergy, I seemed to have in the back of my mind in this nearly twenty-year journey “does their faith work?” Most followers of their particular camp believed their group was the right one, but why did they come to that conclusion? It it because they grew up in that kind of church? Did someone convince them to join? Did their doctrine make sense more than others?
I have seen ministers go from Evangelical to Orthodox, and Orthodox to Evangelical. I have met believers that went from Protestant to Catholic and the other way around. It has been entertaining to try to figure out why people change religions. Many times it is because they are hurt and offended by one, and go to another. There are those like me who went from Unitarian to Pentecostal, and then again, Unitarian Universalists churches are full of former Pentecostals. Some change because they are looking for the “one true church”, and base many of those ideas on which sect is the most historical while others try to find a church that most emulates the Book of Acts (the story of the early Christian church) and other New Testament traditions. What I have found is that no one can follow the New Testament exactly in this modern age (although many claim to) and so all we do is pick and choose practices from the Bible that we do not see others do. It’s a sort of pride to say things like, “the Bible says to worship on this day, and we are one of the only churches that do” and, “we make sure our followers are worthy to take communion before they do”, “we worship with voices only because we can’t find any musical instruments in the New Testament”, as well as trying to claim to have the “true biblical baptism experience” that others do not have.
"The Transfiguration of the Believer", original art by Jason T. Ingram
My criteria for choosing a particular church is simple: do they love people, and do they get prayers answered? Why go to a church where they pray for things that don’t happen. It’s a good way to create atheists. A better way to produce non-believers, even if your church is flowing in signs, wonders, healings and miracles; is to have your love grow cold. Children know when they are loved, but as adults, we so easily settle for counterfeits. As folks in the LGBT community, it is good to find out a church’s views on lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered, queer etc... We can see churches as either being “affirming” or “anti-gay”, but I think it’s more complicated than that. Without going into much detail, there are various degrees of how groups deal with the gay issue, and I admit that some of these grey areas I can handle at times. If I find a congregation that is very welcoming and affirming to the LGBT community, yet I am not getting “fed” or challenged spiritually, I am willing to make that compromise as long as it does not harm my faith. Right now, one of my most important values of joining a spiritual community for me is if it reflects my idea of community. The internet has replaced “community” so much that when I am involved in church projects, it’s all about being task oriented and communicating via text and not having actual discussions. When I was in Russia, I was told that this culture was more relationally oriented, and at first I hated it because we were not as productive; however I see now that I miss that human element.
There are also Christians who don’t go to church regularly. I wish there was unity between those who are proud to be regular church goers and those who limit their involvement. What I do see is that Christians pray whether they go to church or not. It’s great to pray together and to pray alone. Practicing your faith can be very diverse and can change throughout your life. So, whatever your form of Christianity is, if you don’t feel that your prayers are being answered, perhaps it’s time to have more of an open mind, and see if there are things you can do, or not do, that may help your life of prayer and devotion grow deeper.
"A Time For Everything", original art by Jason T. Ingram
“Words spoken in prayer that are not connected to our hearts are words without power”
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Nice to see my blog get such exposure. Having been in radio at times in my life, it's very strange to speak live behind a mic and not know if anyone is listening. It feels that way when I publish so much original content on the web unless there is a 'stats' page I can check. I rarely hear from my international readers and I am always curious about my friends in places where it is wrong to be Christian, and also wrong to be gay. I can't imagine it being illegal to be a homosexual, and I also can't imagine it being against the law to be a Christian. What an enormous challenge it must be to be both Christian and gay in some places around the globe, like my readers in the Middle East. I wish I could go and visit you, give you a big bear hug, pray with you and dress you up in rainbows! But you have to be yourself as well as surviving in your culture, which in my free country (of the United States of America) I don't have to worry much about. I can relate a little bit because I spent a dozen years in anti-gay churches and I hid myself in church work and conservative culture.
One thing I do understand is depression. In fact I am disabled because of living with a form of depression. I have been big into mental health since coming out and spending less time in churches. For years I was not treated for this illness and relied purely on faith many times. I do not recommend a "faith only" approach to any illness, even mental illness, but I can tell you that prayer can sure be amazing to lift a black cloud of depression. For long term care, I highly recommend a holistic approach to treating any chemical mood disorder, and add your spirituality to your blend of cures and therapies. When it comes to what I call "situational depression", for instance grief or acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), medication may not be a good idea, but prayer can sure bring joy, relief, hope and even healing. One cure for situational depression is emotional healing. There are some wonderful forms of prayer that can bring much healing to our fragile feelings. This note, I hope to inspire my readers who are in oppressive cultures that I mentioned before to come to Christ, lay down those burdens and find peace (Matthew 11:28).
While in prayer this weekend, I felt like something I was doing was being a "light" to nations. I wonder if some of that could be this blog. I don't travel well, and don't go overseas often, so it's hard for someone like me to reach other countries. I never really know what kind of an effect these articles have on people's faith. I know that before I came out in 2006, I would have loved to see not only a blog for LGBT people, but prayer writings that went beyond written liturgy to talking about hearing from God. I thought for years that someone who was openly gay and okay with it would be shut off from divine communion with God. As someone who has a "spirit filled" faith background since 1994, I would have not been impressed with much of the "gay" religion, especially the extremely theologically liberal denomination I grew up with. I am a guy who likes experiential faith, proof that God exists, results and answers; especially answers to prayers. Some folks pray just because it brings them comfort. Well, bless their hearts. I'm not like that. I want the time in prayer I invest to mean something, change things and have positive results. I rolled with the Holy Rollers and there was a lot of reality with that aside from all the phony stuff I saw over the years. So, when I found out that there were Spirit Filled lesbian, gay, bi and even transgendered ministers, I was thrilled. LGBT people that were flowing in Apostolic fervor, prophetic unction and healing anointing; it gave me hope that it was acceptable to be who I was: Christian and gay.
I am so grateful to people like: Apostle Naomi Harvey, Susan and Debbie George, Apostle Dale Jarrett and his wonderful partner; and the many Holy Spirit anointed pastors I have met that are to many to mention. Another thing I want to mention is a site that linked to my blog...
I was thrilled to see your article on prayer and depression and your link to my prayer blog. I want to thank you folks so much for linking to my site (under the word prayer) - I hope to see more sites about prayer for the LGBT community! As someone living with depression, I am glad to see you cover these issues.
Blessings and gay bear hugs
(photo thanks to Malcolm - me, drumming with Metropolitan Community Church, Gay Pride March, Portland, Ore.)
Secrets Are Not Kept From Us, They Are Kept For Us
This article is directed at devoted Christian believers who wish to hear clearly from God. It's a subject that is near to my heart and I hope my readers take a balanced and practical approach to these principals I have learned over the years.
While in some cutting edge Bible lessons in the 1990's, I heard this statement about God keeping secrets FOR us, not FROM us; and it changed my view about hearing from the Spirit. There are believers that can get so close to God, that folks can function in this "Mind of Christ", which is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 2:16, Christians can "…hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart".
While in "Prayer School" one week at the Bible Training Center, the dean of the school taught on hearing from God. He said that if there was only one subject that one can teach on, it would be about being led by the Spirit, because if you are truly being led, you will be led to all truth. That sounds nice, however I have gotten into error with too much teaching on being Spirit led. I also know one teacher who says that Christians can be able to daily hear the audible voice of God. This borders on insanity in my opinion, and extremes like this can cause a lot of messes. The most effective Spirit led people I know are ones that don't seem to act spiritual much at all. In fact they have a lot of natural wisdom. I don't think any human being, no matter how super-spiritual, can hear from God exactly 100% of the time. I also think that God can speak to people clearly who have a lot of common sense, as long as they have a willing heart surrendered to God.
A passage I stumbled on today really made me think a lot about secrets, and how they are stored up for believers: Colossians 2:2-3 [For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed One).
In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom (comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.
Another passage a roommate in Bible school showed me, also in the Amplified version is really intense: Proverbs 3:32b …His confidential communion and secret counsel are with the [uncompromisingly] righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with Him).
Also, this passage (among others) is good to declare when praying about divine secrets… Jeremiah 33:3 Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, fenced in and hidden, which you do not know (do not distinguish and recognize, have knowledge of and understand).
(drawing by Jason T. Ingram, 2005)
The Prophetic Realm
This may be some heavy stuff (especially to my readers who are very theologically liberal) and I mention these things hoping that people do not get confused and be led astray in the sensational. However, there are those of us that when our devotional life reaches a deep richness that we can flow in this realm of the seer. As Christians, we must be very careful not to be led by spirits or even angels. There is so much in the invisible spirit world that is out there to deceive us that it can be very frustrating to hear from God.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not put faith in every spirit, but prove (test) the spirits to discover whether they proceed from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world.
There are many spirits and voices in this world, and many of them are simply our own thoughts and ideas. If we do make mistakes and get led astray, and believe me, I have many times, I can be restored and get back on track and often things can come back together for the good, however, when someone is spiritually deceived, it can be a disaster. If you feel like you entered this Prophetic Realm in prayer and not sure if your experience is valid, wait to see if positive fruit comes out of it. If you end up making unwise choices that cause problems, and especially if you feel superior than others and not teachable, those could be indicators that your experience may be based on falsehoods. It's tough to discern because there can be a lot of God in your experience, but if you have too much self in the way, it can be tainted like when a little something bitter gets into your recipe and ruins the taste of your meal.
With that being said, prophetic prayer can be one of the most powerful tools in your devotional life. You can do some serious business in the invisible, binding and loosing, speaking to mountains, declaring and proclaiming peace, commanding healing; and speaking truth to situations and into the lives of others you are praying for. It may take some fasting and extended times of worship, praying in the Spirit and other sacrifices, but it will be well worth it. Allow Christ to baptize you in His Holy Spirit and Fire like John the Baptist prophesied, and be open to the Gifts of the Spirit (Matthew 3:11, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
(most scriptures sited here are quoted from the Ampliphied version)
(most scriptures sited here are quoted from the Ampliphied version)
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I am all in favor of praying for the sick and at the same time, there are times we need to not pray. Most of the times that I say we should not pray is that we are not prepared to pray, either by the one doing the praying, or the one receiving. Even though I was educated from a Word of Faith perspective, I will try to give a practical and balanced view of healing prayer.
The Word of Faith movement, also known as "name it and claim it" by those who like to poke fun at "faith" people, believes that God wants and wills to heal all people. I love that concept, and there are plenty of scriptures that back that up. It seems to define the God that I know: One who does not make people sick to teach them lessons or keep them humble. There are a few issues about those that heavily push this doctrine though: the extreme of this perspective is that if someone is not healed after this kind of faith prayer, that is is all our fault. Either there is not enough faith, or "sin" lingering in the lives of the believers doing the praying, but it typically puts the guilt on the sick person. I have seen a lot of people give up on their faith because of this. Some leave their religion entirely while others can go into a sort of denial. Many feel ashamed that there is some kind of sin and doubt that they can't seem to figure out what it is.
On the other hand, these "faith" preachers can also get a lot of results if they sincerely practice this perspective. Sometimes even if the person receiving prayer doesn't even believe, the strong faith and anointing (the Holy Spirit resting on the believer, and through the believer to be a sort of "channel" to God's power) and spiritual gifts can be enough to allow God to do wonderful things.
Another misconception is the difference between a healing and a miracle. This idea will probably not get in the way of someone's prayer, but it's interesting to study. To put it simply: a healing is to fix something that is ill and a miracle is to create something that is not there. One way this concept can come in handy is that if someone knows they have healing faith but not miracle faith, they may want to consider working on what they believe.
Healings and miracles can demonstrate God's love, draw those who do not believe, and help us to live better lives. At the same time, we can get distracted by the sensational and miss the simple fellowship with God.
What do we do when we don't receive our healing? This is a very tough subject, and I would love to go over more of this some time. All I can say now is that we need to find peace in our life which ever road we take. If we find peace accepting this sickness as part of our life and we can still love and believe God; I can't argue with that way of life, especially if trying to fight the illness would cause strife. If we find peace in holding on to the hope that we have our healing whether we feel it, see it or have received its manifestation; fighting the "good fight of faith" can be a challenging but rewarding way of life. The important thing is to find out where you are at in your heart and what you believe, and not let sickness get in the way between you and God.
Then there is the principal that these patterns can sometimes surprise me when things seem to work in contrary to everything I have learned about faith and answered prayer. We need to always understand that we don't have all the answers. I have heard stories of ministers who are very gifted in the areas of healing and miracles and yet they suffer themselves. There is the principle of child-like faith which folks can get healings and miracles without being at all educated in these matters. People get answered prayer all the time without knowing what they are doing, even people that don't read my blog (LOL!). There are people that don't even believe, or folks that have things in their life that hurt themselves and others; and they get all kinds of prayer answered. No fair... But I love this about God. We really can't put God in a box. My philosophy has been that we need to get in God's box.
It has been said that prayer does not change God, it changes you. That is a very true statement and at the same time, when it comes to the prayer of Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33, it looks as if God changed His mind. (I must add because this blog is LGBT friendly, God did not want to destroy Sodom because they were gay. That's another discussion…)
Yes, God does not change, and God is not a man. At the same time, God has a lot of human traits, male and female. Contrary to most LBGT theologies, I don't refer to God as "He" AND "She". I view God as having a bit more male attributes than female, and when I have to chose one, I prefer to use "He". I do know a lot of sincere folks in LGBT circles that it helps their faith to view God as a she/he and I am not entirely opposed to that idea. That's also another discussion...
(rainbow pray-er design by Jason T. Ingram)
Anyway, sometimes God gives us what we want, even if it's not the best for us, just to show us what it's like. There are very few instances of this, and the one I think of is about how the early Israelites wanted a king when the Lord wanted to be King while there was a mediator (a judge) to stand in between God and people. The message was basically that a king will do bad things, but if you would rather want a man to rule over you then God, go ahead and see what happens.
Then there was the time when king Hezekiah was destined to die but pleaded to live longer. He got his request (in 2 Kings 20) when the prophet Isaiah heard God seem to change His mind. As a result, Hezekiah lived another fifteen years, and had a kid that caused a lot of messes.
Be careful what you ask for - you just might get it! One time when I was really into the prosperity movement, I thought God wanted to bless me with a big black SUV. Within weeks, I knew a guy that was getting rid of one and I thought it was a miracle blessing. It turned out to be a curse! It took me a long time to get the title, the giver wanted it back and was harassing me, it sat while I was at "straight camp" and I had to pay insurance on it for over a year without being able to drive it and I borrowed money against it that I could not afford to pay off. It was also hard to get rid of and had to put a lot of money into it to get it to sell while I was living out of state.
There is a New Testament principal that if we "ask amiss" like in James 4:3, we will not get our prayers answered. I am glad that a lot of the stuff I asked for I did not get! Sometimes I ask for something that is not God's will or that I ask with wrong motives. Another way at looking at John 14:14 where it says that if we ask anything in Jesus' name, we can see His name as being His will.
Ask the Father in Jesus name, and if it's not God's will, don't go banging on the gates of heaven, pleading for it because you just might get it and it will not make you happy. In fact it could really make a mess out of your life.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
This online prayer ministry (featuring the LGBT Prayer Blog) was one of the first outreach projects I have done since I became a part of the LGBT community. There has been something in my heart for quite a while that it looks like I may be able to start. It began back in 2006 when I was working at a little Metropolitan Community Church in the Midwest part of the United States. They had a ministry called "prayer bears", it was their version of prayer cloths which is a New Testament tradition used in many churches today. Instead of a piece of fabric that has been prayed over, the church would buy several teddy bear Beanie Babies and give them to people that have prayer needs. A congregant would get one for a loved one or church member who was in the hospital or one who was suffering with AIDS, and it brought comfort and a point of contact in their faith and their recovery.
(photo is all the bags and boxes of bears that sort-of filled half of my living room)
(photo is all the bags and boxes of bears that sort-of filled half of my living room)
I always thought of the "Bear" community (a sub-group of gay culture) when I thought of prayer bears and how neat that would be to have gay bears be prayer bears. We could make ourselves available at bear events or other LGBT type gatherings and pray for people. Then I came across a marvelous opportunity. I have a friend that I have known nearly three years who lives just in the next state who had a vast collection of teddy bears. She mentioned for months that she wanted to get rid of them and I bugged her for a few years that I could be the one to have them. Then in January 2012, I inherited over twenty large kitchen bags and boxes of plush toys and other bear items. Most of them are in new condition and can be great gifts. So now I am ready to have a Prayer Bear ministry and have a handful of folks that are supportive of me. All I need is some faithful saints gifted in prayer to weekly pray for those we reach and a person or two to go out with me to events. I also hope to get favor with the local bear community and that they don't think we are some kind of cult, or that we may have some hidden anti-gay agenda. I know some of the guys in charge but still not sure how we will be received because there is so much anti-church attitudes in our community.
I should add more updates on how this project goes, and always, I appreciate your prayers and encouragement.
Big gay bear hugz!
Saturday, December 3, 2011
"I am just not into spiritual stuff right now"
Have you ever thought or said something like this? It's one of many signs that you may need some spiritual hunger. If this is the case, so often it drives us further away from things of the Spirit, out of shame and guilt. We may recall sermons or passages from the Bible condemning states like this, feeling as if we are so complacent or "lukewarm" that God will somehow spew us out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). "Yikes, I am God's spit, God's reject, I might as well give up…" may be one of many ideas that come to mind. I believe states like this are great opportunities to pray for spiritual hunger.
Don't be afraid of having no or little interest in spiritual activities. If Bible scriptures seem uninspiring or uninteresting; or prayer feels empty and unheard, this is simply a normal human response to heaven. Its amazing when spiritual things do in fact happen! We have a strong earthly nature that will always try to get in the way of anything truly spiritual. When we ask God to give us spiritual hunger, it may be a time when we sense no or little faith and feel nothing spiritual at all. This is a great time to pray! When I think of something like, "I am just not into spiritual stuff right now", I want to get excited and know that its not up to me to be all spiritual all the time, but God can give me those desires.
One way to regularly check your "spiritual barometer" is to keep a daily devotional book or devote yourself to daily scripture reading. If you sense a few days or more of loosing interest, having your mind wander or getting nothing out of what you are doing, this is a great time to ask God to stir in you spiritual hunger. I can't think of a time when prayers like this were unanswered, and I am amazed how my desires change when I do pray like this. Other things you can do is to clear your mind, like make a "to do" list so your mind does not dwell on all the things you think you have to do (this is another opportunity to even pray about your to do list and ask for help, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed). There are other things that could be getting in the way of your spiritual hunger, and I believe that most of it has to do with things in our hearts that take more importance then God. There are a lot of simple prayers of consecration and sanctification, allowing the Lord to be first in our desires and being willing to let go of everything on earth.
If these things do not work, you can ask the Holy Spirit to show you why you lost your spiritual hunger. You may find great breakthroughs while you discover what may be hindering you. This may be a great opportunity for growth and a way to draw nearer to the Good Shepherd, Jesus.