December 4, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: January 25, 2015


Pharisee and Publican, engraving printed by Emile Petithenry, Bonne Presse

Note from CM: 2015 will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Today, we continue our “Sundays with Michael” series with an excerpt from post that was originally published in January 2008.

Folks did not always respond with words of sweetness and light when Michael wrote. Here is an example of how he used what might be called “prophetic sarcasm” to answer them. He tagged this with a “laugh or else” category designation back in the day. I think you’ll agree, however, that the humor here has more of a bite than some of the lighter comedic posts he wrote.

• • •

Several years ago, when a major reformed blog decided to make me their feature attraction, I first heard “I’m praying for Michael Spencer” from somebody who 1) didn’t know me at all and 2) didn’t like me based on what they did know. (See first comment.)

Since that time, not a month goes by without some blogger somewhere giving some version of this little speech: “I can’t say what I think about Michael Spencer. It’s just not appropriate for a Christian, so I’ll just pray for him.” This generally follows after I’ve 1) disagreed with a favorite preacher or 2) distanced myself from some theological position they believe is equal to true Christianity, like reading A.W. Pink.

For 16 years, I’ve work with about 150 Christians on the staff of a large ministry. I’ve worked in large churches for years before that. I’ve been listening to Christian-ese — the special dialect of Christians — for half a century. I speak it fluently in several versions: Charismatic, Baptist, Calvinist, Youth Worker. I’m studying Emerging. And I am certified to translate.

Based on extensive research, let me say with all the smarmy spiritual phoniness I can muster, that this kind of pious prayer announcement is bovine manure.

Inspired by my recent pilgrimage to sit at the feet of a curmudgeon hero, I’d like to finally get off my chest what I’ve wanted to say to these prayer posers for a long time. Bail out now if you are the sensitive type.

436px-Pharisee_and_Tax_Collector_0031) If you really do love me, and you genuinely want to pray for me, then by all means do so. Write me and I’ll give you the prayer need of the day. I never run short. If you don’t want to do the email, just pray I’ll be less of what I am by nature and more what Jesus gave himself for me to be. Pray I love my wife like Christ loves the church. Pray for the fact that I’m a coward. Pray for my laziness. Pray for my preaching. Pray for my teaching. Pray for my counseling. Pray for my leadership. Pray for my writing. Pray for my besetting sins and struggles. Pray for my daily devotions. Pray I’ll love God, love his word, and follow his Son. Pray I’ll hate sin’s influence and be busy killing it. Pray I’ll be useful, joyful and filled with the Spirit. That should cover the next five minutes.

2) If you have a problem with me where you are the one who is angry, you don’t like me at all, and you want do bad things to me, pray for yourself, not me. Don’t say you’re praying for me when you’re obviously the one with the problem. (I’ve got plenty of problems, but yours is what you should be talking about. Not mine.)

3) Listen carefully: If it really makes you angry that someone in the world actually typed — IN PRINT!! — something critical of a preacher or a denomination or theology you like, then pray for yourself. You’ve got the issue. Everyone doesn’t agree with you and never will. Get out of your hole and wake up. Do you actually believe in a God who wants you to pray that I’ll become a good ________________. (Fill in the blank with your team.)

4) If you don’t think I’m a Christian, then please say so, and invite other Christians to pray for my conversion. If you don’t know if I am a Christian or not, then say you are praying for that. If you believe I need to be evangelized, then evangelize me. It’s your duty, unless you’re a hyper-Calvinist or have some insight into my reprobation. If you think I’m an apostate, then say so and say why. Others deserve to know. Whatever the case, quit hiding behind the generic prayer request. If you think I’m going to hell or I’m an instrument of Satan, it’s serious and you should say so.

At least Ken Silva said I was “the spirit of the antichrist.” Attaboy. Let’s get some spine here people. I once had a woman pray that God would “remove me” if we didn’t stop singing hymns in chapel and go to all contemporary choruses. There’s someone who should get a “What would Luther do?” bracelet.

5) If you believe I am spiritual poison, don’t just pray for me, and quit mumbling. Pray for those who read me. Be specific that refusing to use the word “inerrant” or whatever your concern happens to be isn’t just a difference among brothers and sisters, but it is a soul-endangering error and heresy. The modest “I’ll pray for Michael Spencer” bit is not the right response if I’m the equivalent of a spiritual contagion.

6) If that prayer request was put forward to make you look ________________ (fill in the blank), then it’s a show, not a prayer. It’s just another version of prayers said for an audience, similar to “I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men . . . such as Spencer over there.”

7) I’m a big fan of the Psalms. Consider the imprecatory Psalms if you are at a loss for words. Who can object to “Lord, I hate and detest those you hate?”

8) If you are one of those people who say “Well, at least it’s a prayer,” I’m sorry to say I don’t believe in that kind of superstitious idea of accumulating words directed toward the ceiling and calling it prayer. A prayer is sincere. It’s real. Even if it’s one word, or if it’s angry words or grieving words. Prayer is honest and it’s not playing games with God or those we pray for.

As I said, if you care about me, then please pray for me.

But if you don’t — if you dislike me and everything I’m doing on here — then find an honest place and pray what you really believe.


  1. Anyone know (or remember) what the “major reformed blog” was?

  2. I can empathize with Michael’s sentiments. After my divorce, more than once I was approached by a Pharisee who thought they were being magnanimous by mouthing the mantra…”I hate the sin, but ‘love’ the sinner…leaving no doubt which role was mine. As Michael said, it was tantamount to raising one’s eyes to the heavens, and starting out with…”Oh Lord, I thank you I am not as other men…”.

    • David Cornwell says

      “mouthing the mantra…”I hate the sin, but ‘love’ the sinner…”

      Somehow I always have the feeling that they actually mean “I love the sin, and hate the sinner.” When so fixated on certain sins, and constantly show this attitude toward those considered to be such sinners, this is a reversal. And more — it is fear based. Faith and fear seem to me to be opposites.

  3. Sadly, Michael just needed to be patient. The Internet has taken the natural course of devolution and now most commentors will gladly call you heretic, liberal, divisive, whatever. Just for the lulz.

    • Fortunately that doesn’t happen around here very much. We’re, for the most part, pretty well behaved (at least in what we post).

      • Quoting Jim Bouton in Ball Four, “yeah, sure”

        • Never underestimate the ability of Christians to assume the worst in the words of fellow believers. It is barely better here than it is elsewhere. After all, none of us has achieved perfection as yet, nor have any of us been mistaken for Christ.

  4. IMHO, Michael is able to smile ruefully at his many detractors, now that he is in a position to understand their fears and insecurities as much as the Lord does. He will likely be first in line to welcome some of his former detractors to Heaven, and help them get over the shock of seeing him there!

    • I was shocked, confused, bewildered
      As I entered Heaven’s door,
      Not by the beauty of it all,
      Nor the lights or its décor.

      But it was the folks in Heaven
      Who made me sputter and gasp—
      The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
      The alcoholics and the trash.

      There stood the kid from seventh grade
      Who swiped my lunch money – twice.
      Next to him was my old neighbor
      Who never said anything nice.

      Bob who I always thought
      Was rotting away in hell,
      Was ‘sitting pretty on cloud nine’,
      Looking incredibly well.

      I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?
      I would love to hear Your take.
      How’d all these sinners get up here?
      God must’ve made a mistake.
      “And why is everyone so quiet,
      So somber – give me a clue.”
      “Hush, child,” He said,
      “they’re all in shock.
      No one thought they’d be seeing you.”


      • Love it!

      • I’ve got one that says

        I dreamt death came, the other night
        And Heaven’s gate swung wide,
        An Angel with a halo bright
        Ushered me inside.
        And there! To my astonishment,
        Stood folks I’d judged and labeled
        As quite unfit, of little worth,
        And spiritually disabled.
        Indignant words rose to my lips
        But never were set free,
        For every face showed stunned surprise–
        No one expected me.

  5. When Michael said, ” . . .pray I’ll be less of what I am by nature and more what Jesus gave himself for me to be.”, I choked up. Truly, a very good prayer.

  6. That Other Jean says

    Politely, sincerely, more thoughtfully and honestly than many of his detractors, Michael could give as good as he got
    I do miss his writing, and I’m grateful for “Sundays with Michael Spencer.”

    • +1. Oh, heck… +1,000.

    • Christiane says

      to spend time on Sundays reading Michael’s blogs again is a fitting way of remembering him;
      it brings his voice back to the community he formed out of diverse, often ‘separated brethren’.

      This community is, in itself, a memorial to Michael Spencer, whose honesty fostered a way for people who were estranged from one another in their beliefs to come and to talk and to listen and to learn from one another.

  7. Hmm…this re-post has me re-thinking some of the stuff we’ve seen and written here at Internet Monk over the past year or two or three (and in which I’ve participated).

    Haven’t some of here said, at some point, “Pray for Mark Driscoll”? Didn’t many of us feel, a year or two ago, “Mark Driscoll is a man who’s going off the rails”?

    Now I’m not saying Driscoll wasn’t deserving of the critique, and it certainly played out that he was deserving, but as I read Michael’s points closely, especially 2-5, I can flip it around on myself and see how I’ve been (and can be) just the sort of person Michael is ranting against. And as I reflect further, I guess I see how we all at Internet Monk have that tendency to drift toward that which we dislike in others, without even realizing it.

  8. Thank you for resharing this post. It was this “laugh or else” writing that I appreciated so much.

  9. Not exactly parallel, but I have formed a new habit about people who ask for prayer be email or by social media post. I have taken to actually composing a prayer in writing as an immediate response. So my response is not “I will pray.” but rather, “here is my prayer.” It forces me to stop and pray with intention as I form the sentences, and to invite others to join with me in the same prayer.

    I have found it helpful to me and I think it is also helpful to those for whom I pray. It is a more concrete and manifest prayer response than a vague promise. I agree with Michael that we should spend less time hiding behind our prayers but instead we should put more of our prayers out front.

    • Dave…thanks for sharing this. I’ve also done the periodic actual prayer in lieu of “I will pray,” but not often enough. This is confirmation that I should do it more frequently!