Five Ways our Generation has gone Completely Sideways Where Prayer is Concerned-

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I enjoyed a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed like all youthful idiots that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen when those with a few years on me start talking.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages much to the chagrin of my poor children is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, Christians admit to spending an average of three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or routinely pray for fewer than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 Seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 We have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about convincing God to do what we want or getting a blessing from God. Prayer is about becoming spiritually aware, getting our purposes aligned with His and receiving the spiritual power we need to do the things that really matter to God.

More Church Peeves

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 

I am not new to the church world.

 My husband and I have been Christians for the better part of three decades and I have been privileged to teach the Bible in enough settings to understand that even the most capable Pastor or Bible teacher is going to have an off message or poor delivery every now and again. For that reason, we have endeavored to give all but the weirdest churches (like the one where folks would spontaneously jump up and dash around the sanctuary during the service) a fair shake and have tried most at least twice. We understand that churches are made up of people— and people are by their very nature flawed, imperfect beings.

 We do not demand perfection from people in churches or from the pastors in the pulpit.

 That said, over the course of our recent church search we have had enough identical experiences enough times, in enough churches to know there are some developments in the church world that qualify as trends. Some trends are of little eternal consequence and my exasperation with those particular trends is doubtless at least a bit petty (e.g. peeves 1, 4 and possibly 5).

 Other trends are worrisome. Churches are the primary sources of biblical teaching in our culture. Churches are also the first place many unbelievers go to learn about God and salvation. How churches present truth can either cloud or enhance our ability to understand and receive the truth of the Bible. I chronicled some of our experiences in a blog post entitled “Church Peeves”, and in recent weeks I have come up with a few new peeves for you, beginning with:

 1. Long instrumentals in the middle of a song-

 I get that it’s rewarding for a musician to have the opportunity to showcase his or her skills. If I possessed musical talent of any kind I would probably be inclined to showcase my skills too. However, long keyboard or guitar solos create nothing but awkwardness for the worshipers in attendance. It’s impossible to know what to do when it’s over. Does one clap or cheer, or simply smile appreciatively? It feels weird not to show some sort of appreciation for the musician but it feels even weirder to clap for anyone other than God during a worship service.

 2. Misplaced vision-

 Jesus never built a building, wrote a book, or implemented a system. He did spend three years investing heavily in the spiritual lives of twelve men. Those twelve men turned around and literally transformed nearly every aspect of the world they lived in. We would do well to reexamine our fascination with one-size-fits-all spiritual growth systems and erecting large buildings. Rather, we should emulate Jesus’ example of focusing on the growth and spiritual development of individual Christians.

 3. Lack of genuinely relevant teaching-

 Intact families are becoming increasingly peculiar. It is now taught that there are sixty-three known genders. The number of folks who classify themselves as unbelievers is expanding rapidly. Race relations are collapsing. We are in the middle of one of the most befuddling and contentious elections in history. During 2012 the American porn industry generated 13.33 BILLION in revenue, and drug use is being legalized in most states. The world is clearly going to hell right before our very eyes. And yet most sermons preached on Sunday mornings can be reduced down to two incredibly trivial themes: we ought to love God and be nice to people. We need to go deeper.

 4. Pastors who dress like homeless people-  

 Three words. BUSINESS CASUAL FRIDAY. Seriously.

 5. Poking fun at tradition-

 Poking fun at how churches operated in the past bothers me, not because I believe we ought to do things the way they have always been done. Rather, because it displays a thorough lack of respect for the accomplishments of the past, and it ignores the reality practically shrieking in our face: We are not exactly hitting this leading the world to faith in Christ thing out of the park in our age. It could be argued that churches were far more successful at practically everything a generation or two back. We need to up our own game considerably before we earn the right to poke fun at anyone.

 6. Speakers who assume their listeners are shallow-

 Most people who attend church do so for the specific purpose of learning about the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, they actually enjoy getting a little history lesson or learning something about the original languages as long as the information is presented in an interesting and engaging manner. Assuming otherwise is patronizing and offensive.

 I long to see churches be successful, however I have become convinced that churches will not be successful until we let go of our adolescent obsession with “being cool”. The church was never called to be cool. The church is called to be a hospital for sinners, a school for Christians and safe place for kids to grow-up.

All else is a waste of time.