By Femi Aribisala
I was reviewing this article, initially titled “Ungodly Prayers,” when the Lord suddenly spoke. He said: “Femi, it is written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but they have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (Matthew 21:13; John 10:10).
Immediately, I understood him. Thieves and robbers now attend prayer-meetings where they steal, kill and destroy.
At these prayer-meetings, you are likely to see “ogbologbo” Christians firing “return-to-sender missiles” with great alacrity. They might shout with “holy anger:” “Let my killer begin to kill himself now, in Jesus’ name.” Or they might make a decree: “I command the baptism of madness to fall on my stubborn enemies, in Jesus’ name.”
These thieves pray with passion borne out of pure “sanctified” hatred: “Every lying tongue against me; be destroyed now, in the name of Jesus.” “The people who say I will not prosper, Holy Ghost fire; consume them.” “Those who have taken my name to the witchdoctor, Holy Ghost fire; destroy them.” “Those firing arrows at me, Holy Ghost; return to sender.”
You can get to one meeting and find one thousand thieves chanting “die; die; die” with alarming frenzy. Who do they want consumed suddenly by Holy Ghost fire? “Every enemy of my marriage; every enemy of my destiny; every power planning to wage war against my divine vision; what are you waiting for, die in the name of Jesus.”
Like the biblical Amalekites, these enemies are destroyed with fanfare every night vigil, only for them to resurrect again and again. Christians spend a lifetime engaged in this outrage, conveniently forgetting Jesus’ injunction which says: “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45).
In January 2008, armed robbers attacked a church on the outskirts of Lagos and raided some banks on the premises. The bishop took offence and cursed them. He directed his church-members to pray that the wrath of God would be visited on the criminals. He also cursed kidnappers operating in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. He asked God to kill them all. He said: “We place curse on their roots wherever they are and we pray that thunders of heaven will strike and the judgment of God will come upon them.”
Is this bishop a follower of Jesus? I seriously doubt it. According to Jesus, sons of God love their enemies and repay evil for good. They don’t swear or curse. They don’t go to prayer-meetings and chant “die; die; die.” It is those who are of the devil that insist on killing and destroying.
However, the doctrine of sacrifices, whereby people inherit land that is not theirs; kill off the rightful owners, and destroy entire tribes and races, has brought a devious spirit into the heart of Christianity. Jesus warned us against this tendency. When the Zebedee brothers wanted Jesus to emulate Elijah by sending fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that denied them free passage to Jerusalem, Jesus he rebuked them. He told them: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Luke 9:55-56).
Way back when, there was a House Fellowship meeting in my flat every Sunday evening. One day, someone came with a prayer request that was nothing short of amazing. The boy was taking his WAEC (West African Examinations Council) exams. Not sure how well he would do, he decided to pay someone to have the exam questions leaked to him beforehand. But after having paid the required sum, the man failed to provide the exam papers. Furthermore, he refused to refund the money. In distress, this Christian “thief” came to the fellowship to tell us about his predicament. He wanted the members to pray to God so that he can “possess his possession.” “After all,” he maintained, “I have paid for the exam papers.”
What was most pathetic about this incident was that it was clear he did not know right from wrong. The purchasing of leaked exam papers was something he had seen his Christian colleagues engaged in. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with the practice.
But how can we pray to the God of righteousness to fulfil ungodly petitions? The psalmist asks: “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” (Psalm 14:4). Christians need to know that God does not attend the prayer-meetings of thieves and robbers. If we are not careful, our prayers and prayer-meetings may become repugnant to God; if this has not happened already. Thus, Asaph pleads: “O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry against the prayer of your people?” (Psalm 80:4). Isaiah goes even further. He maintains God is not only angry at our sins; he is equally disgusted with our acts of righteousness: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6). What are our righteous acts? They are when we pray, fast or go to church.
A friend attended a service where “baba isale” thieves were encouraged to ask God for just about anything. They were told to write prayer-requests on pieces of paper which were then forwarded to the pastor for more effectual fervent prayers. As usual, many allowed their imagination to run riot, asking God to give them what rightfully belonged to others. Some asked for all the properties in Lekki, a high-brow area of Lagos. Others asked for choice local industries and companies, including those where they were currently employed.
A major area of interest seemed to have been the airlines. In this spiritual free for all, many of the local airlines became up for grabs. Nevertheless, a problem soon arose. A poor and unemployed member of the church asked for British Airways. His prayer request was that God should give him the company lock stock and barrel. The Pastor was not amused. He brought it to the attention of the whole congregation. That “thief” had gone too far. How could he expect God to give him British Airways?
But why not? If God can give some the local Bellview Airlines or Albarka Airlines, why can’t he give others the foreign British Airways? Is anything too difficult for God? Once we encourage covetousness in the name of religion, how can we then insist on some arbitrary limitations? But if I can covet the property of others, what stops others from coveting mine? This is what happens when thieves and robbers pastor churches and are charged with preaching the gospel. We only end up by teaching men the tricks of our trade.
Jesus says: “All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). Those who came after are no better. Indeed, we are worse