About johnmarkum

John Markum is the Lead Pastor of LifeCity Church in Santa Clara, CA. He is a husband, and a father of four, amateur chef, and lover of life.

Quit saying you’re praying

quit-prayingI’ll pray for you. It’s the “proper” response in American church culture whenever someone shares something with you about their struggle. It really sounds nice. And I believe it’s almost always offered with the purest intentions. But it tends to have as little sincerity as “bless you!” does whenever someone sneezes.

Because of this, when I was raising support before we moved to launch LifeCity, I literally asked no one to pray for me. I felt like it was ridiculous to ask people who claimed the name of Jesus to pray for one of their own who was trying to start a church. Sure, it sounds spiritual to “ask” for prayer. But even if you don’t like me, you’re not going to pray for me unless I ask you to?! Pardon me, but your prayer life needs help if that’s the case.

Now it’s our obligatory, knee-jerk response on social media whenever a terrorist attack, natural disaster, social injustice, or some other form of tragedy affects some other part of the world to flood social media with hashtags, quotes of solidarity, and temporary profile pics expressing our love  – and again, prayers – for those suffering such terrible losses…

Then, of course, one week later, we’re back to our completely unaffected lives. The hashtags fall from the lists of “what’s trending” and the temporary pics revert to our normal selves, and like our often completely meaningless expressions of prayer – nothing has actually changed.

No one without food was fed. No one homeless found shelter. No one grieving a loss was comforted. Nothing. NOTHING! was changed by our shout-outs saying that we’re praying for any city, country, or people group affected by such things.

Look – I don’t mean to be such a kill-joy, and I certainly dislike coming across as a jerk – especially regarding praying! But we need to really, really quit blaming prayer for our inaction. Hear me out…

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us, “23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Offerings were presented in the Temple as part of the prayer rituals of ancient Israel. Jesus literally tells His followers to stop their prayer offering to go make things right with someone they’ve offended. In other words – it is more important to God that we actually do good instead of simply praying for good. 

Please note – in the very same passage, Jesus tells His followers to then go and present their offering after they’ve reconciled with the offended brother; but the priority is not on merely doing “religious” exercises, but improving people’s lives.

It is far more difficult to look someone in the eye and apologize, or offer forgiveness to them than it is to “pray” for them and hope that God just glosses over a situation you would rather avoid altogether. Prayer does not work that way.

Prayer moves the hand of God only to the extent that I’m willing to obey Him. Where obedience is lacking, so is the power of prayer. I’m not saying that prayer doesn’t work. I’m saying that prayer without faith doesn’t work. And faith in God is always accompanied by a corresponding action. James talks about that in James 2:14-17. Paul even talks about this in Ephesians 2:10.

So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Don’t Pray!” I’m saying that we need to quit hiding behind prayer as an act of disobedience for doing actual good. Feed a hungry family. Donate some time to volunteering in your city. Restock a coat closet at a school for students in need. Spend some time with someone who’s hurting. Go and actually do something! Go and be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Have a strong bias toward action. And then pray for them, and that others would join you in trying to meet real needs in this broken, hurting world.

Otherwise, don’t ask God to do something He’s already commanded and enabled you to do. Seriously.

Sincerest blessings,
Pastor John

P.S. – The next time someone tells you they’re struggling with something you genuinely can’t do anything about, try this. Instead of saying “I’ll pray for you,” just do it. Just pray for them right then and there. Say, “Can I pray for you right now?” Put your hand on their shoulder (if appropriate) and pray for God to intervene right then and there. And afterward, make sure they’ve got your number in case there is something you can do to help.

What I don’t pray for…

pray-forIt’s an election year… good times, amiright?! No, of course not. We’re all miserable and wondering how this circus is going to end in November. I’ve got countless people in my life who know Christ as I do, that are praying that this is somehow the end of times, and Jesus is going to come back and remove us all from the scene before all Hell literally breaks loose. But I’m not one of them…

You see, as long as I’ve been a Christ-follower, the most spiritual people I’ve known have looked longingly toward the day our salvation inevitably ends being a matter of faith but at long last a matter of sight. Many of you reading this don’t share that belief, and that’s fine. You don’t have to argue that belief, just for the moment understand that I do, and in various theological flavors all “Christians” do.

Over the years, I’ve never actually said publicly anything in that vein of thought – that I hope Jesus comes soon. I’ve been a pastor for the vast majority of my adulthood, and I’ve never once prayed for Jesus to return. I’ve always been this weird kind of outlier to my more theologically fundamentalist counterparts. But that ship sailed awhile ago.

You see, I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to ask God to usher the rapture of His church, or the beginning of the worst period of time on earth never before seen. I know prophecy beyond the average seminary grad, and I just can’t pray for that.

Don’t misunderstand me… I believe in His return. I even long for the day that I look upon Him. But when that day does come, if my current disposition holds true in that moment, my overwhelming joy will only be comparable to my gut-wrenching agony at the fate of the world I leave behind.

Most Christians say things or quote parts of Scripture to express their longing for His return. Things like, “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus!” or “maybe today [He’ll return]”. Such thoughts break me. As much as I trust Him to judge this world in righteousness, I know beyond doubt that this will result in eternal separation from Him for so many who have rejected Him. I just can’t ask God for that, though I know one day it will come. It must come.

My prayer is two-fold…

  • “God give us more time… more people know Your Son today than at any other point in history. Please, merciful God of Heaven – stay your return but a little longer while Your servants lift up Jesus across this earth.” and…
  • “God let Your Spirit fall fresh on us again. Bring revival and new life into your church. Send a second pentecost upon my city, our nation, and this world that Your Son died to redeem. Send a tidal wave of your love and grace in ways no one can deny.”

Dearest Christ-follower who’s praying for the end to come, I fear that you know not what spirit you are of. When He does show up, may He find us living, preaching, loving, and desperately compelling our communities to turn to Jesus. That would be a really great “welcome” present. Instead of praying for that return (which you and I have no influence on anyway), why don’t you pray that He send more laborers into His field? The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, tired, and lonely. Better yet, why not join in the harvest?

Blessings,
Pastor John

Go on a Missions Trip…

missionstripI was 17 years old when I went on my first international missions trip to Panama to do medical work in some extremely remote places along the gulf coast of the narrow country. It was this experience, in part, that compelled me not only to ministry, but specifically toward working to reach the least reached. A missions trip literally changed the course of my life. Then God called us to plant a church in the heart of Silicon Valley. Not exactly the same kind of jungle – and yet, every spectrum of ethnic and social diversity from around the planet is found within a small radius of the elementary school our church plant currently meets in. Which brings me to this past summer…

Last month, I had the privilege of taking two other folks with me from LifeCity – Robert Sanders and Liz Reyes – to join our friends at Ocean View Church of San Diego for a missions trip across the border, into Tijuana, Mexico. For years, Ocean View has been taking teams of people into Mexico to work with orphanages, provide food, give to communities and families in ways they seldom get to experience, and most importantly – share the gospel in meaningful, personal ways. They like to call it “Beans, Rice, and Jesus Christ!” And for us, it was the beginning of a vision God began in my heart as a teenager in Panama.

Enoc Rivera, a Mexican-raised pastor on staff at OVC, has been preparing with his church family to move across the border sometime in 2017 with another family from the church, in order to plant a daughter church in the middle of the impoverished colinas (“hills”) outside the city of Tijuana. I personally made it my mission to bug him the entire week we were with him in the country, trying to get a grasp on the calling and challenges they were stepping into – and how we as a church plant that received support from OVC can now return the favor by partnering with their newest mission to spread the gospel into Mexico.

Sometime this next year, we anticipate having Enoc and his wife Betty, up to Santa Clara to join us and share the vision directly with our LifeCity peeps… and yes, we’re planning on going back to Tijuana next summer with them, hopefully with six to a dozen of our folks this time.

When you see the overwhelming need, disadvantages, and living conditions these kids and families accept as everyday life – and then match that with the joy and gratitude they express for being the hands and feet of Christ to them – it’s indescribable. And all of these emotions are just the tip of the iceberg when you realize that because you took the time and energy to go on this trip, God was using you to show His love toward them. It’s a tidal wave of experiences that will move you long after the trip is over.

I’ve shamelessly ripped the mantra that Ocean View uses to express their commitment to sending people to do ministry across borders: “Go on a missions trip – it’ll change your life.”

It changed my life as a teenager 17 years ago this summer. And because of that experience for me, I’m now a pastor getting to lead others into the same kind of life-changing experiences. It is my sincerest prayer that one day, we’ll be sending dozens or hundreds of men and women into ministry here, near, and far away just like God did in my life… just like he’s doing in Enoc’s life.

Go on a missions trip… it will change your life.

Blessings,
Pastor John