The Slacker’s Guide to Monthly Prayer

Prayer can be difficult.  Have you tried it lately?

I guess he realized he wouldn't make it home by sunset so he better pray.

I guess he realized he wouldn’t make it home by sunset so he better pray.

I mean, the kind of prayer that bookends meetings or Bible studies is not necessarily difficult.  Just thank God for the day and bringing us together or something like that.

Nor is the prayer in front of a crowd all that hard.  It’s a good opportunity to use your old English words like “furtherance” and your “thees” and “thous.”

What’s tough in that case is talking to God as if He is in the room more than the folks listening.

Then there is the promise to pray for someone.  That’s easy too.  “I’ll pray for you” typically is a polite way to end a conversation.   Or “I’ll pray about that” is a polite way to say you’re NOT going to do something.

The kind of prayer that is difficult is the kind Jesus spoke of, the kind where you go into your room, close the door, are all alone, and pray to your Father who is in secret because He sees what is done in secret and will reward those who pray without trying to impress anyone.

Even I can go into a room and close the door behind me (you learn to do that as a parent!)  And generally I don’t mind being alone.  But, prayer still doesn’t happen that frequently.

On the list of typical “Christian” struggles many will list their “prayer life” (as if they have multiple lives.)  And so on their recurring issue list almost all Christians will put the frequency and depth of their prayer.

Why is this so common?

Well, we are busy people.  We have more pressing things to do like binge watching our favorite tv shows, taking photos of what we ate for dinner, or taking care of the kids.  Well, the last one seems important generally.

We also want quick results.  And we don’t like being alone with our own thoughts.  We like noise and distractions too.

Plus, our minds drift when we try to pray. I have hard enough time focusing in a conversation with someone I can see (just ask my wife).  But, when I throw in closing my eyes and talking to someone I CAN’T see, who won’t verbally object if my attention drifts, or won’t show any body language of frustration, and won’t generally speak up to where I can hear it, then of course I am going to tend to think of my grocery list, rehearse a conversation coming up, or wonder when that movie is showing.

And then there is the tendency to go to sleep.  Most of us live slightly sleep deprived.  And so if you tell me to shut myself alone in a room, get quiet, close my eyes and again, talk to someone I can’t see, then prayer starts to be spelled N-A-P.

Here’s some more reasons that prayer is tough…

Generally, our prayer is all about us and as long as we feel like our lives are doing fine, then why pray?  If we’re all good then why pray, right?

But then, Jesus taught us what to pray about too.  He said we should praise God and pray that God’s kingdom would come, His will would be done on earth as in heaven.

I guess I can always pray that, but it seems risky cause maybe that might mean I have to be a part of doing His will on earth as in heaven.  Better to just stick to praying about my will.

And the final thing I think makes prayer so difficult is, well, frankly our theology doesn’t really require it.  We believe the right things and that’s most important.  Our goal then is to get other people to believe the right things.  Then we can all go to heaven when we die, right?

So we think we got this thing until this thing gets out of control.  Then we pray.

We haven’t stopped to realize that the goal of life is to know God and be transformed in Christ’s image.  And to see that happen, I have to want it, but to want it means God has to help me to want it because I have already shown I would rather watch NBA basketball and argue politics on Facebook.

So there you have it…praying is difficult.  And that’s no excuse.

(Well, it is but it’s not sufficient.)

After all, what’s easy doesn’t really pay off all that much in the long run.

“Lord, teach us to pray…”  Luke 11:1

We Might Be More Eager to Share This Gospel

What is the good news?  And how exactly is it good and news at the same time?  Who is it good news for?

When Christians speak of the gospel, sometimes what comes out is a set of concepts about our sin, separation from God, and needing forgiveness.  The goal is to lead someone to say a prayer and go to heaven.

This is good, but is this the entire good news of Jesus? Is there more to the story?  Check out what NT Wright has to say…

INTERVIEW WITH NT WRIGHT from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

Let me clarify

I didn’t mean to communicate in the post above that my slacking was always in the form of “sitting at the feet of Jesus and just enjoying His presence”. I think that is the ideal for us slackers… to be believers that listen patiently and enjoy the day by day moments. We can also be the prayers of unhurried prayers. We can be the ones who slow down enough to see those needy people who so rudely interrupt our day.

But we can also be lazy. We can be critical even when we have no blood in the game. We can be unprepared. How do we balance these demons with the low stress life we want to live? I’m not always sure, but it’s a battle I definitely feel going on inside me. What I don’t want to conclude is that I’ve got to be an alien personality type in order to please God. I need to avoid laziness, but I don’t have to wake up every day and recite Steven Covey’s 7 Habits. That’s not who I am, and I’m pretty sure it’s not who God wants me to be.

Are you OK with slacking?

There are two categories for self-identifying evangelical believers: disciple on a mission, or backslidden non-contributor. We all want to be part of the first group, and we fear we’ve slipped into the second group while we were watching our favorite tv show, or making lots and lots of money. (Or maybe you’re in the second group and you never really thought about it, which I guess is part of what qualifies you as a non-contributor). If you’re like me, you’re sort of flirting with the second group but you’ve always had an eye on the role of world-impacting disciple, and part of “keeping an eye on” requires staying in tune with the John Piper’s, David Platt’s and Francis Chan’s of the evangelical world. Those guys will regularly kick you in the pants and remind you how little faith you’ve been living with.

These guys also transfer to their listeners a certain level of Godly urgency. There are millions of street corners all over the world with no church… get busy planting. And at this point guys like me whole heartedly agree that somebody needs to get to planting those millions and millions of critical churches. Sitting safely in our already played out suburban churches won’t get that job done, no sir.

But let’s be real. I’m never going to go on a church planting crusade. I’ve never even started a club, or successfully mastered a new skill on my own time… because I’m a slacker. And as a slacker I like to talk about big ideas and critique the good hard work of other believers, but it pains me to my core to imagine the long steady labor of planting even a small community of new believers. I’d rather just chill, thank you very much. I’d rather cheer on those Type A personalities running around for the Gospel, while I casually travel the path of least resistance and most pleasantness. I’m not even trying to mock myself. I really really want to live in a world where I can contribute to the Kingdom of God at a slow pace and as efficiently as possible. Does God have a plan for people like me, the guys and gals who aren’t pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps?

And that’s what this is, the home of Jesus followers who just want to chill. We love you missional organic church planter. We love you church anxiously re-inventing yourself for a new generation. We love you church conference hopper frantically taking notes on every session. But we will never be you, because that looks overly busy. I know this makes you look down on me, but is it possible that God made some people to plow forward productively, while he made others to stop and smell the roses?

In a world that honors the Martha’s, is there still room in the church for Mary’s? I’ll bet you love the Mary and Martha story, but you are just so sure Mary popped back into happy house maker mode the moment Jesus was done with his visit. But what if she didn’t? What if she was like that with every visitor, leaving Martha to clean the dust out of the corner while she just enjoyed the company? Is she still the hero of the story? That’s the theme I hope to tease out slowly over the life of this blog. Until then, just chill.

When You Just Don’t Care If People Come to Jesus

He looked at me from across the table and simply said, “I don’t care if peopleEvangelism come to know Jesus.”

As a slacker, I am not easily shocked or surprised (both require energy.)  So, I just looked at him and said calmly, “Tell me more.”

“I mean I like our church and all.  I like that it is service oriented and focused on missions.  I like that it challenges people to share the gospel with others.  But, personally, when I look at my life, I would have to say that I just don’t really care if people become Christian.”

“Hmmm.  I appreciate your honesty.  Not many people, especially church leaders like yourself, would admit this.”

“So what do I do?  I mean, I am more about meeting people’s needs and whether or not they come to Christ is not really my concern.  Am I wrong for feeling like this?”

He asked, so I answered, “Yes.  But, I do know your heart.  You are not opposed to people coming to faith in Christ.  It’s not like you are booing loudly every time someone gets baptized.  It’s not like you lean over and say ‘what’s with all the baptisms already?’  No, in your heart you want people to know Christ but you just don’t feel personally motivated to engage in the process of helping people find Christ. I get that and think a lot of people feel the same way.

They might not admit it, but like you said, if you look at your life you would have to say that in reality you just don’t care if people become Christian.”

If my friend were a Calvinist I would understand his position (zing!).

But, he’s not and no amount of guilt tripping, cajoling, Bible referencing, verse quoting, book reading, evangelism training, or testimonies from people who seem good at evangelism will make him care.

So, what is he to do?  Is he wrong for just not caring, or at least caring more about helping people’s physical needs than their spiritual?

Setting The Bar for Slackers

Slackers don’t slack at everything.  We are committed to our convenience and our comfort.   We do things on our own time.  We drum to the march of our own drummer, or however that goes.

But, here is some advice if you are trying to help a slacker grow, improve, or be discipled in the Christian faith.

You can never set the bar too low.  In fact, if you just leave the bar lying on the floor, that’s good enough.

A slacker will likely just look at it and say something like, ‘I can do that anytime, so that’s when I will do it.’

Now, should you by chance put the bar too high, a slacker will likely look at it and say something like, “Wow.  I could never reach that.  So I won’t even try.  But, I will give myself credit for imagining what it would take and maybe even knowing about people who have reached it.’

Slackers live vicariously through other people at times and like the occasional challenge to reach a high bar.  But, in the end, it usually doesn’t lead to any substantial change, though we might try to reach for it for an hour or two.

After all, as I read somewhere once by accident, “only the mediocre are always at their best!”

So, now that I think about it, leave the bar at home altogether.  Don’t even bother setting it.  Just love them, pray for them, and do what God is calling you to do regardless of what anyone else does.

You will likely avoid a lot of stress that way.

Sometimes the weight of other people’s devotion moves others into action more than holding them accountable to predetermined ‘bars’ of excellence.  So live it out in front of them and see what happens.  After all, we are ‘compelled’ to follow Jesus not coerced.