Today I experienced an interesting sign of the zealous but misguided religious culture of where I live. Apparently when kids misbehave, it is a demon or spiritual affliction that must be prayed out immediately. I’ll try and fill this out for you……….

 

A couple young boys were at the local McDonalds playground with what appeared to be a grandfather, playing for what had probably been a couple hours. No doubt they had had their fill of sugar and fun and were probably tiring themselves out like my own sons do. Well, when one of the boys got “out of hand” and was trying to bring a drink into the playground equipment despite his grandfather (I presume) repeatedly telling him not to, he was yanked up. And spanked.

What followed was hard to ignore, and most likely made many people there uncomfortable as myself- The boy screamed like he’d just received a beating with a 2×4 and sobbed to the point that now the grandfather is desperately trying to calm him down. He refused to be touched, refused to be talked to, resisted having his shoes put on by crying that it hurt (he was old enough to put them on himself anyway). By all appearances, he was ashamed that he got in trouble, and probably needed a nap.

 

What surprised me, is that a woman eating there with her son, proceeded to walk over and lay hands on him and pray, most of which I could not hear but heard her many times saying “in Jesus name, in Jesus name”, and “every knee will bow, every tongue shall confess”. No introduction, no small talk, just unexpectedly launching into verbal prayer. This went on for several minutes. Eventually the man had to carry his son out because he refused to walk, and had begun sucking his thumb. I overheard the woman talking to the man about her pastor down at her “Spiritual Guidance Church”.

 

I sat in disbelief. This boy wasn’t trashing on the floor, or a menace to himself or others, or speaking in a voice not his own. It seemed his only affliction was poor behavior.  What was obviously gross misbehavior from my vantage point, and an unwillingness to accept consequences for the behavior on the boy’s part, is seen as some kind of demonic attack by this woman, and she sees the need to pray “in the name of Jesus” over him. I had several questions in my mind:

  • If the boy truly needed intercession, could it have been accomplished from across the room, and silently?
  • Are there limits to the effectiveness of our own prayers for others when we don’t “speak it” over them, or neglect the “laying hands” on them?
  • If this person believed it was necessary to prayer verbally over him, then I wonder why that is. Is it for the benefit of God hearing it? Or is it the person that needs to hear the prayer? I wonder if thats the theory at work here, because I’m sure the boy did not understand what this lady was saying.
  • Or did this person believe that there was a demon present that needed to be verbally addressed and that was the reason for such outspoken prayer?

 

Sadly, I don’t think I would like the answers to any of these questions. I’m well familiar with some of the dogma and superstition that surrounds certain Pentecostal practices, and I’ve witnessed many of them firsthand. My wife has told me she was taught as a child to “prayer in tongues so Satan can’t understand your prayers” (and possibly thwart them, I suppose). I’ve repeatedly heard people espouse a doctrine of praying in “tongues” for people they don’t even know about, because the Spirit directs them to pray for them and reveals information pertinent to that person’s ailments. I’ve heard people “prophecy” publicly in church things that no human should have any business claiming to know. And keep in mind, these experiences were in a middle-class community of many well-educated people. I can’t imagine what its like in smaller, typically less-educated rural communities…..well, the movie “Jesus Camp” comes to mind I guess.

 

Sadly, in the situation I saw today, all this spiritual mumbo jumbo and superstition seems to miss the whole point. That boy, even if it was a result of being tired, still has serious discipline issues. I wonder, what his home situation like? Is his home a healthy household if he breaks down and acts the way he did just for getting in trouble? Maybe his household has problems that only Grace and the knowledge of God can cure. Maybe there are voids and needs in his family that could be emotionally and spiritually met through a local church. So rather than walking out of there thinking something had been accomplished by her prayers over that boy, I would think that his breakdown would display to that Charismatic lady (as it did to myself) how important it is to pray for our children regularly, and see them in some type of Godly instruction, of how important it is to recognize that there are homes where the parents have no desire for God which leads to children growing up in ignorance, which I hope would encourage churches to seek ways to reach such children. There are many ways both small and large, but some typical ones are through a bus ministry, maybe “sidewalk Sunday schools” or Vacation Bible Schools in the summer. Maybe private prayer on a regular basis for our communities would focus our minds on them and ways to minister. Praying words over a person that they have no capacity to understand is nonsensical.

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