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.

Advertisements

You’re not a Bad Person

BadPersonThis past Sunday, I preached a message as part of a new series called, Made New. You can check out the message below. One of the main thoughts I shared was this:

You’re not a bad person.

We tend to judge ourselves as “bad” or “good” based on our perception of ourselves in comparison to our perception of others. This gets tricky on several levels. Because I know my faults far better than anyone else, I can be far more critical of myself. We all do this… we compared our “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel”. You’re not a bad person. That’s not your greatest problem. Your greatest problem is – outside of Christ – you’re a dead person.

Ouch. That was direct! Maybe even abrasive, huh? Well please don’t be offended at me. I’m not even the one pointing it out. In Ephesians 2:5 the Apostle Paul writes, “even though we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!”

The bad news is – you’re not bad – you’re dead apart from Christ. If you were just bad, you could do something about your condition. You could work harder, get your life cleaned up, cut some bad habits, start some better ones, get all “religious”, and help yourself get right with God. A bad person could get better…

But a dead person is pretty helpless. You’ve never seen a dead person perform CPR on themselves, or warm up a defibrillator to shock their heart back to life. No, because dead people need outside help – they need a Savior. Someone who is not dead themselves, who can breathe life back into the lifeless, change their heart, and restore them to new life.

And that’s exactly what Jesus does for us. He squared off with death and dragged it kicking and screaming into it’s own grave… but He walked out victorious over death on the third day. Now, the One who came back from death offers to breathe His new life into our tired, broken, dead souls.

Have you experienced a new life in Christ? Have you placed your faith and trust into the only one who can bring a dead soul back to life? I invite you to do so today.

Blessings,
Pastor John

https://vimeo.com/139879206

Bread and Wine

breadwine“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men… For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” Proverbs 4:14, 17

Bread and wine… interesting choice of words for Solomon, the writer of Proverbs 4. In preparing for a message on this passage recently, this detail did not pass by me unnoticed. Interestingly, we see bread and wine pop up in Scripture often.

Bread is brought up often as a reference to food in general in the Bible, and is symbolic of receiving satisfaction. Likewise, wine appears frequently in Scripture and is typically symbolic of joy.

Some examples of bread symbolizing satisfaction include…

  • Gen. 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
  • Gen. 18:5, “and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves…”
  • Lev. 26:5, “And you shall eat your bread til you are full…”
  • Psalm 104:15, “…And bread which sustains man’s heart.”
  • Matt. 6:11, “Give us this day, our daily bread…”

Of course, Jesus also refers to Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 – the ultimate source of our satisfaction.

Some examples of wine symbolizing joy include…

  • Job 1:13, “One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine…”
  • Psalm 4:7, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”
  • Psalm 104;15, “…Wine, which makes the heart of man glad…”
  • Pro. 3:10, “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
  • Ecc. 2:3, “I tried cheering myself with wine,…”
  • Isa. 24:7, “The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan.”

The fascinating thing about bread and wine, is that we see them together frequently in Scripture, but never more clearly than at “The Last Supper” an event that we reenact in part today in commemoration of Jesus words during that meal. We typically refer to this memorial as “communion,” or “the Lord’s supper.” It was at this event that Jesus told the apostles, “Take eat [this bread], this is my body which is broken for you… This cup [of wine] is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you…” When we take communion, not only are we “remembering the Lord’s death until He comes,” we’re also declaring “Jesus you are the Bread of Life, and the only thing that can ultimately satisfy my longing soul. You are the only One who can fill my life with joy unspeakable – full of glory!”

But in Proverbs 4, it says that those who find themselves on the path of the wicked “Eat the bread of wickedness,” and “drink the wine of violence.”

When we get our lives on the path of the wicked, we get everything backwards. Those in this passage get their satisfaction from rebellion and wickedness; they get their joy from harming others.

Whenever we get off the way of wisdom and down the path of the wicked, we’ll call wrong what God says is right – and call right what God says is wrong.

The net result? We rebel. And harm others. And get our satisfaction and joy from doing such. May God help us to not twist His Word, to love others and show mercy, to be humble and gracious – even as Jesus has been towards us. Remember this the next time you take of the bread and wine at communion.

Blessings, Pastor John