How do you know you’re successful at this whole life thing? I’ll be honest. I’m tempted to gauge my success based on my bank account. I’m also tempted to gauge my success at how well my sons behave. We have the same questions as a church.
How do church leaders know if they are successful or not?
When I was a kid, I played baseball --kind of. I assumed I knew what it meant to keep score because I knew that the team with the most runs scored won the game. Then I attended a game with my friend and his dad. Gary handed me a scorecard. I was lost. I had no clue what to do with it. Now, to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of what he taught me that day. What I do remember from that day, however, was that there are so many leading indicators that help us predict who will have the most runs scored at the end of nine innings. The number of strikeouts, the number of walks, hits and RBI’s etc all help to indicate what team will have the most runs scored at the end.
Our church started thinking how we could discover whether we are successful or not as a church using this same idea. If so, then what’s the scoreboard? We don’t have runs scored. We don’t have touchdowns or points. We have some obvious items to track such as the number of people attending our church and the number of people who have made the decision to trust and follow Jesus and His ways. But beyond those items, what else could we measure?
We decided to develop a scorecard. Kind of like baseball, we track all potential next steps people could take. We track everything from liking and following us on social media platforms to baptism to leading a small group. We believe that God wants to do something in and through each person. There is Kingdom Potential in all of us and we hope to help anyone unlock that Kingdom Potential.
We’ve assigned each potential next steps for people at RE.THINK a set amount of points. Our August score total was 3998 September score total was 4803 and so far in October with 2 weeks to go at the time I’m writing this is 3061. We are building a baseline to understand how easily people can take their next steps at RE.THINK Church as each person matures in their relationship with Jesus.
So if we were to personalize this, could there be leading indicators in your life that would help you understand if you’re being successful or maturing as a person? The author of the letter of Galatians wrote these words, But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
So how do you and I know if we are maturing in our relationship with Jesus? How patient are you? How loving are you? When you walk into a room, do people know you as a person of peace or not? Are you kind?
Now to be completely honest, you’re not going to become more peaceful, more loving, kinder and more gentle on your own. It’s only as a result of living connected to the Holy Spirit. These are the products of being connected. So how do you and I stay connected to the Holy Spirit?
I think this is where the leading indicators help us determine if we are maturing or not.
#1. Do you recognize the difference between going to church and being the church? We recently kicked off one of our favorite message series, Stop Going to Church, with a message that explains the difference. Here’s the link. STOP GOING TO CHURCH WK 1
#2. Prayer. Prayer doesn’t have to be strange and full of confusion. It’s a conversation between you and God. If you’re new to this whole faith concept and don’t really understand prayer (You’re not alone. I still don’t understand it completely.) here’s a blog series we wrote about earlier this year. Prayer Blog
#3. Reading the Bible with a group of people helps you build community and understand the Bible. This next one could be considered two separate indicators but at RE.THINK Church we believe the best way to do these two steps is together. Each Wednesday night we have groups of men, women, and students that gather and discuss what we call our S.O.A.P. journals for the week. Each person reads the previously scheduled reading schedule and follows S.O.A.P. We make these groups open to everyone. We invite skeptics who don’t follow Jesus yet. We invite questions and doubts. We don’t shy away from the tension that this could create. We believe that an appropriate amount of tension is a good thing.
So how could you personally apply this? Start by answering honestly. Are you going to church or are you connected? Are you looking for a way to contribute or are you more concerned with what you get out of attending church?
Are you God and the power of God directly through prayer? We don’t need to pray through someone or ritualistically. We can access God’s directly through prayer. Are you? How often are you praying?
Are you applying the truths we find in the Bible? Are you connected with others who are reading and applying the Bible as well? Do you support each other WHEN life throws you curveballs?
Following these steps might help you understand if you’re putting yourself in position to mature. It’s kind of like a sailor having to adjust the sails to catch the wind and gain momentum. We have to position ourselves and our habits and routines to capture the wind of the Holy Spirit to gain momentum in the maturing process.
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Let’s play a game. For whatever reason, you’ve made the decision to attend church again for the first time in a very long time, maybe ever. Perhaps you’ve fallen on some rough times and are seeking some encouraging advice. Maybe you've recently had a child and you believe that faith is an important aspect for children. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to start looking for a church to attend.
The important question you may ask yourself is “HOW DO I KNOW I FOUND THE RIGHT CHURCH?”
I grew up attending church every week and even went to college to become a pastor. I served as a pastor for five years until I simply gave up on going to church. I was frustrated beyond explanation with the hypocrisy of the leaders. I was frustrated with how irrelevant the churches I served in were. They seemingly didn’t care about the community we lived in. So in 2006, I walked away from the church. I found it easier to love God and love others and not attend church. I would listen to messages online and that seemed to be great for me.
Eventually, my wife and I decided we should attend church for the sake of our children. So we started the process of looking for a new church. We really didn’t know what we actually wanted, but we definitely knew what we didn’t want.
During that time, I remember thinking “this is a nightmare”. It was so difficult to find a place where we felt like we belonged and wanted to be a part of.
So, in this blog, I want to address what to look for when you’re searching for a church. I asked for some help from friends and people I know who recently searched for a new church to attend.
I hope this helps.
Mike and Tammy looked for a church where the mission of the church was Christ-focused and outreach was a theme. They wanted opportunities to connect with others outside the Sunday morning experience as well.
In the weekend service itself, they were seeking engaging speakers who were theologically sound with quality music as part of the worship experience. Their children are grown adults, but they still understood that healthy, quality children’s programming that involved parents and families throughout the week was crucial.
Mike and Tammy also wanted to feel at home when they walked in.
The church they decided to attend and to get involved with checked all of the boxes.
This particular church is one of the most influential churches in America.
My friend, Tristen, was invited to attend a church by a friend of hers. It was important to have an outlet of hope. Being in the LGBT community, she previously felt unwelcome in church. The church she attends now offers hope. She told me, “This church breaks the Bible down into nuggets of information that I can literally walk out of the door with and apply to my life that day. They also talk about real stuff...depression, substance abuse, insecurities, loneliness, family issues, etc. They just make you feel like you are accepted and welcome. It pumps you up so much on a Sunday that is carried for the entire week.
Prior to this church, Christianity always interested me but the environment of the church I grew up in didn’t ignite anything inside of me to feel passionate about Jesus. It was an environment of a vengeful God where things were very black and white (right/wrong) versus an environment that celebrated a loving, forgiving and fatherly God.”
My friends, Gary and Kim, wanted to go to a church that made them feel welcome and RE.THINK Church was it. Kim said, “RE.THINK is our home now. I love Marc and Heather for everything they have taught me and have done. I feel that everyone should experience what RE.THINK has to offer at least once.”
Let’s go back to the game we mentioned at the beginning, “HOW DO I KNOW I FOUND THE RIGHT CHURCH?” What should you look for?
We as humans need to feel welcomed and accepted. We should attend a church that makes us feel welcomed and accepted as we are.
The message, preaching or teaching portion of the service should help us understand the Bible (The Bible is the collection of ancient writings that are God inspired. Followers of Jesus read the Bible to determine truth). The person giving the message should also help with the application part of the Bible. It’s important that clarity and application be part of the message. It’s through the message that God moves people to a point of changing their desires. A true transformation that happens is a result of God changing the desires we as humans have. This happens when a person understands the clarity of the Bible and how to apply the Bible to their own lives. All three churches mentioned are churches that have goals to clearly teach the Bible and help people apply the truths found in the Bible.
Find a church that you’re able to ask questions even the tough questions. The leadership of the church should be able to answer what the mission and vision of the church is, what are the values of the church. Church Leadership shouldn't shy away from tough conversations, or uncomfortable topics. You should have an avenue to ask the questions about faith, life, and purpose.
Lastly, the importance of ‘outward and next’ should be a focus of the church leadership. People who aren’t part of the church should benefit from the mission and ministries of the church. Emerging generations such as toddlers, elementary students and all the way through high school should be a focus. How do you know this is a focus? Every church might say these are important, but there’s a way to find out. Like most things, if money and energy are spent on emerging generation ministries such as children and students ministries, the church values emerging generations. If time and resources are allocated to serve in the community, the church has an outward focus.
If you know anyone who is looking to reconnect with their faith or connect with faith for the first time in their life, pass this along. They might just need a safe place to explore their faith.
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I grew up attending a local church most of my life. Every Sunday we would wake up, get dressed, walk into the church building, attend a Sunday School class and then attend a normal service. Everyone that was there carried their Bible like badges of honor. The larger the Bible and the more worn out the Bible appeared, the holier the person must be.
Large Bibles were in, like really in. Someone even made a music video...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTYr3JuueF4
There is nothing wrong with having a giant Bible, but shortly after that video was made, technology made some amazing advancements. I’ll admit, I may have resisted the technology advancements that allowed me to read my Bible on my phone when it first started.
At the time, I was a student ministries pastor. I was leading a group of tenth-grade guys. One of the guys asked me this question, “is it ok for me to read my Bible on my phone?” I responded quickly and said something like “it’s ok at times, but you should read the Bible on a real Bible…”
A few months after that conversation, I found myself needing to look something up. I realized I didn’t have my ‘real’ Bible but I did have my iPhone in my pocket. So, I downloaded the You Version Bible App and looked something up. I found it so convenient to read the Word of God on my cell phone. I went back to the group of students and told them I changed my mind. I believe that I screwed up and made a mistake when I judgmentally told them to read the Bible on a real Bible.
I’ve been asked several times if it’s ok to read God’s Word on a mobile device. It’s made me think through this whole process of how we ended up with the Word of God in our hands.
I think it’s crucial we realize that the Bible isn’t actually one book. It’s a library of books that have been collected over thousands of years. God spoke through several men (and possibly 1 lady... the author of Hebrews, who knows). The Bible is God’s mega-narrative love story between Him and humanity. While it’s tempting and even possible to try and read the Bible from page one to the last page, that’s not how it’s designed. The Hebrew Rabbis describe reading the Bible and its passages like looking at a diamond. Every time you look at it, the viewer will discover something new.
The early church didn’t have the Bible (in any form that was usable and portable like a book) for several hundreds of years. It amazes me when I think through how these individuals matured and grew into the potential God had for them from the beginning without the Bible.
They learned about Jesus through other humans telling the story of what their lives were like before they knew or met Jesus, how they encountered Jesus and what their lives are like now after meeting Jesus. In spite of not having an official Bible or proper training, Paul, Peter and other church leaders discipled other people and those people discipled others. Eventually, the Bible as we know it was formed, but not for several hundreds of years in a painstaking process.
The method that was used to write and read the Bible was handwritten documents that were copied and dispersed out among the followers of Jesus. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in 1436 by Johannes Gutenberg that the ‘real’ Bibles were even possible. This one invention revolutionized humanity and empowered regular people to understand truth and God with clarity. Individuals could actually read the Bible in a language they understood and challenge the authorities and ask questions. This seems so strange to us today. It’s crucial we remember Gutenberg, Tyndale, and Luther among so many other reformers.
I honestly don’t see an issue with using technology of any form to put the Word of God in the hands of regular people. The printing press was the latest and greatest form of technology at one time. Mobile cell phones are the technology of our day.
There are some dark sides of technology. I have found a few things to be helpful in avoiding the dark side of using technology to read the Word of God, however.
If there is a dark side of technology, there must be a bright side of it as well.
Here are some of the most practical ways to use technology and it’s ‘bright side” while avoiding the dark side of technology.
To sum it all up, yes a person can use technology to read the Bible. The ‘real’ Word of God isn’t in a platform or method. It is in the actual text and meaning of the text.
Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash
Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash
Significance. Who doesn’t want to live a life of significance? Look throughout history and you’ll see men and women who lived significant lives and some who missed the mark. Which do you remember the most? Those who lived significant lives, of course. I think we all strive for significance. The question is, do our actions and our decisions lead us towards living meaningful lives? Our thoughts and words have a purpose, but our choices and actions reveal our true aim in life.
The question has to be raised at some point, what is our aim when it comes to parenting? Is it happiness for our children? Is it success? There are so many potential occupations and possible objects to aim for when it comes to parenting that we may lose sight of what matters.
When I was in middle school, I went on a camping trip in northern Wisconsin. One of the best things I did was archery. I loved the idea of shooting a target. Deep down inside I hoped to become a modern-day Robin Hood fighting off the villainous evil men in my town. The issue, I never actually learned archery. It wasn’t enough for me to just have a bow and some arrows. That didn’t make me successful. During this camping trip, some of our leaders started an archery range. They gave me some basic instructions and feedback.
One of the first things they told me was to stand so that I was in line with the target. They told me that being in line with the target would increase my chances of actually hitting the target.
They taught me how to hold the bow, load the arrows and how to rotate the bow elbow outwards to avoid the string burning my arm. One of the things I remember the clearest was the concept of looking directly at the target. My aim was crucial when it actually came to hitting the target.
Aim matters. It’s crucial. What we aim for is most likely what we’ll end up hitting or accomplishing. So the question is, what are we aiming for while parenting our children? Are we aiming for their happiness, are we aiming for them to be college ready or do we want them to hit a totally different target? What we strive for is most likely what we’ll hit or accomplish.
Instead of sharing my opinion on how you should raise your child, I'd like to encourage you to dream big. Think to the day that you become a grandparent. What kind of parent are you hoping will raise your grandchildren?
Are you hoping for a hardworking, faithful parent? Are you expecting your grandchildren will be raised by maturing adults?
The challenge starts when you start to back engineer the process. Dreaming of what kind of parent will raise your grandchildren is excellent. The reality is, for the most part, we parent as a reaction to how we were parented.
For most people, the most significant thing we'll accomplish will be in who we raise. It's easy to get caught up in believing that what we achieve or how much money we put into our bank accounts will reveal our significance in life. But it's worth repeating, for most people the most significant thing we'll accomplish will be in who we raise.
The reality of life seems so simple. The children we are raising today will get older. It doesn't guarantee they will be mature. Accomplishing a maturity is an option, not a requirement. As parents, we should set our children up for success in the accomplishment of maturity.
If you want your future grandchildren to be raised by faithful, hardworking and maturing parents, that process starts for the most part in how you raise your grandchildren's parent.
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Growing up in Indiana, I’m pretty sure I was brainwashed into thinking that I had to like basketball. I quickly realized that I was not built for basketball, but I really, like REALLY, wanted to be good at basketball. I grew up when some would call the real G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, still played. We had a basketball hoop in our driveway. I played so many imaginary games where I took the last second shot and won the NBA championship.
My sixth grade year, I bravely signed up to tryout for basketball. I remember stepping on the court with talented kids who were really good. They were more skilled, taller, faster and most of these kids had actually played basketball on a real basketball court not just in their driveways.
The coaches evaluated everyone’s talent and ability during the next two days. This was rough for me. I vividly remember walking out of the gym the first day realizing there’s no chance I’m making this team. The next day, I remember looking at the cut list. Needless to say, I didn’t make the cut. I was cut the first time around. It was a long time until I even attempted to play basketball beyond my driveway.
This was the beginning of a few long years of my middle school time that seemingly led to being overlooked time and time again. Looking back during those ridiculously long and tedious years of 6th - 8th grade, it did help develop my maturity. I learned that I don’t control what happens to me, but I do control how I respond to life’s events.
This reality isn’t fun, but it’s part of life. We don’t really control anything. We do control how we respond. Being overlooked happens to us all, not making the team, not getting the promotion, not getting the girl or not being chosen. When “Life” happens to us, we can with choose to wallow in our sorrow or we can choose to react differently. We can choose to realize this amazing truth. When others overlook us, God is watching. In fact, God is looking intently at us.
God has plans for us. There is one Bible verse that followers of Jesus love to throw around. It’s Jeremiah 29:11. In this verse, God clearly tells the people of Israel that he has plans for them. God says that He plans to prosper them and give them a hope and a future. Church goers love to throw this verse out when transitions happen such as when a pastor or other people leave the church. The context of this verse however gives us a completely different look at its meaning. The people of Israel could have easily thought that others were overlooking them, including God. Take at look at this link for an overview of the backstory to this verse.
When we are overlooked by others, even those who are supposed to be closest to us or even those people put here on this earth to provide, protect and care for us, God is still here looking at us. God sees you and your life matters to God. You matter to God. Lean into Him and His ways. Don’t buy into the lie that our life’s circumstances somehow reflect God’s love for us. The author of the book of Jeremiah in the Bible predicted that the nation of Israel was going to go through some extremely rough days and they did. The eye opening thing is that Jeremiah, this man that God loved, cared for and spoke with, experienced all those difficult days WITH the nation of Israel. Through all of the difficulty, God was still watching Jeremiah and every other person. God is still looking at you. He sees you.
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As we wrap up this miniseries on Prayer, How to Talk with God, I wanted to share one last thought on prayer. This might be the most difficult, yet important, aspect to talking with God.
When it comes to prayer, God’s opinion is the one that matters most. Our prayers should be genuine, honest and simple. There are moments when it may seem difficult to pray. It might be challenging during those hard times, but realize that you can still pray, hear from God and be heard. Dave Ramsey says about success with personal finances are 80% behavioral and 20% head knowledge. It’s the putting the plan into action that makes it difficult. Praying genuine, honest and simple prayers are 80% doing it, and 20% head knowledge.
Paul, a church leader who wrote a large portion of the Bible, encouraged the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica to pray without ceasing. I remember the first time hearing that statement. I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d heard up that point in my life. Does God really expect me to walk around throwing thee’s and thou’s and hedges of protection around for everyone to hear? Does God really expect me to drive, walk, go to school or work with my eyes closed?
When we have a confused perspective on prayer, it can seem like the wisdom from the Bible is foolishness. Understanding that God is looking for genuine, honest and simple prayers changes our perspective. When Paul is encouraging the followers of Jesus to pray without ceasing, he’s encouraging us to talk with God and listen for God’s voice throughout the day.
There’s a man named Brother Lawrence who wrote a book entitled The Practice of Presence of God. He explained how while doing normal everyday functions we could have a conversation with God as if he was there with us.
Here’s the reality. Humans are spiritual beings wrapped in a physical body. We can’t really touch the spiritual aspect of our lives, but we know it’s there. This is why as humans we hold funerals when someone passes away, saying kind words about the individual. This is also why some of us can have all the material possessions and yet yearn for more. It’s not more materialistic things we actually desire, its purpose and significance that we actually crave. As spiritual beings wrapped in a physical body, understanding that God, another spiritual being, is present with us even in the moments we can’t sense or feel Him. The more we Practice the Presence of God, the clearer we understand God’s voice in our lives.
Some of us may have grown up practicing our faith, but as we moved up in years, we may have walked away from that practice of faith. RE.THINK Church is a safe place for anyone to explore their faith or even reconnect with his/ her faith. Our purpose in existing is to help lead people in a maturing relationship with Jesus. We understand that for some people, exploring the faith they once knew might be a starting point. If we can do anything to help with that process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to pray when God is silent
If you had a chance to share with people what your relationship with God looks like, what would you say? In high school, I was asked to do this up on stage one Sunday morning at our church. I figured I would just be honest with everyone. I got up on stage and without making much eye contact, I shared how God and I used to be close. In the past, I could hear him talking to me when I prayed and I could feel him in my life, but not anymore. God had been silent for what felt like two or more years. So, I went up on stage and told them, “Look, I’m trying as hard as I can to get close again to God. I am reading my Bible, praying, going to church and I just don’t feel like he is here. Things in my life do not seem to be changing and prayer doesn’t seem to matter.” Honest truth. The following week, I was surprised as I started getting notes from people all throughout our church. They all said the same thing. They had been in my situation and there was hope.
It’s not uncommon for Christians to feel this way, even really faithful Christians seeking the Lord every day. Which means this is an important issue to address. Why does God allow us to feel this way? Where is he? And what can I do to get through this season? I’d like to give you guys a few tips on how to survive the season and where I have found God in the midst of the silence.
First off, we need to address the myth that God is silent because we are not doing enough. We do not have to earn his love. Regardless of whether or not you have believed in Christ your whole life or you want nothing to do with him, the Bible says that he is fighting for us and chasing us down. It doesn’t always feel that way though does it? It’s easy to think God is ignoring us when we have been praying for him to show up in our lives for some time and we see no results. Personally, I get so mad at God, but here is what I have learned. God loves us way too much to not want to give us the best life available to us. Our dreams and promotions are not going to be sustainable in our lives without character development. None of our time in the silence is wasted.
If you look in the Bible, you will struggle to find someone that was used by God without first going through a time of struggle, silence or questioning God’s goodness. Don’t waste this time of silence or feel discouraged thinking that God doesn’t care. Silence actually means the opposite. When God is silent, feel encouraged that God loves you enough and that God has such a big plan for your life. Recognize that he is giving you time to work on your character in the silence. In my experience, seasons of silence are always followed by seasons of extreme blessing. Maybe someday I will get to share some of the miraculous things that occurred after my seasons of silence. Today, I want to focus on some tips to get you through those “quiet” seasons.
1. Always remember in the dark seasons what God has spoken to you in the good seasons. When God feels distant and life seems impossible, Satan spreads his lies with great effectiveness. Hold tight to what you know to be true even if your heart does not feel it. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9). Trust in truth not your heart.
2. Remind yourself of truth (Phil. 4:8). Read your Bible. Memorize scriptures. Listen to worship music. Listen to sermons online. The more you speak the truth into your life, the firmer you will stand until the silence breaks.
3. When you no longer have the strength to pray because you are discouraged, remember that the Bible promises that in those moments, the Holy Spirit steps in on our behalf and prays for us to the Father (Rom. 8:26-27). Jesus was here too. He felt the same way we so at times and He has compassion for us. When we are weak, He steps up and fights for us. Hold onto that truth.
4. Surround yourself with people who will speak truth to you (Prov. 19:20-21). The best thing you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with Christians who know what the silence is like and yet know how to trust God through it until the season of blessing. They will give you strength.
This process is hard. This process may not always feel worth it while you are in it. When the silence breaks, I promise it is worth it. If you can hold strong in the silence, God will use you in incredible ways. So hold on.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9
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I heard several strange things growing up in church. I remember not understanding all of them. Some I figured out on my own and just hoped I came to the right conclusion. One thing I thought was strange was that whenever someone prayed, they said things I never heard them say while not praying. One time a guy and I were talking about Notre Dame football while Lou Holtz was the head coach at Notre Dame. The guy was not a fan of Coach Holtz and called Lou any and every kind of name you can imagine. A few minutes later, he got up to pray in our church service and randomly said words like sanctify us, purify our country, hedges of protection, bless her heart, traveling mercies and everyone else’s unspoken requests. He also prayed “Bless Pastor “Bill”. May he give us a meaty sermon today.”
Every week, I heard the phrase “Give us a meaty sermon today.” My mouth would salvate. I literally expected a steak (steak tacos would have been heaven on earth)! Each week, I left disappointed. In my opinion, that prayer request went unanswered!
I had never heard this particular guy say any of these words together. Then when I started following Jesus, the stupidest thing happened. I started praying that way. When our sons were born, I realized I was a major influence in shaping their views about God. We would pray and I started to realize that the way I was praying was irrelevant. They would pray and their prayers were so genuine, honest and simple.
Shad would pray for the cat across the street to get better. Carson would pray that a certain leader at our church wouldn’t stink and that her breath would smell like Fruit Loops instead of butt. They would ask God , “Why did our neighbor get sick?” and “God why did the Patriots win the Super Bowl?” Shad would often pray asking God why Notre Dame didn’t win football games. He would then listen urgently waiting on a response from God. Carson once found a squirrel. He named him “Squirrely”. He prayed that Squirrely would live forever. Sadly that wasn’t the case.
I was amazed how genuine, honest and simple my sons’ prayers were. God taught me something during those years. Keep your prayers genuine, honest and simple.
At one point in the Bible, Jesus was surrounded by children. He let everyone know in the setting that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like these children. Let’s pray like children, genuine, simple and honest.
There’s no need to lie to God and act like you’re having the best day ever when you’re really not. Be genuine, get to the point and simply be honest.
Prayer is a two-way street as well. Take some time and listen to God. I know that seems extremely strange and maybe a little wacky. God never intended for us not to listen to him though. I believe there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we speak. This can be said for both our friendships and how we talk as well as how we engage our prayer life.
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I grew up going to church. We would wake up on Sunday mornings and my mom would wrestle the four of us to get dressed in our Sunday best. I’m pretty sure my hair was completely unkempt most of those Sundays. I was bored out of my mind most Sundays. My main goal during the service was to figure out how to get to the ‘fellowship hall’s kitchen’ without being caught. I knew that there was a group of old men keeping the box of donuts safe while devouring 3-4 donuts each. I just wanted one for myself (for the record that had happened 3 times in my life).
The optimal time for me to make my move was during the most boring part of the service, The Pastoral Prayer. If you’re not familiar with this part of some church traditions, let me explain. Someone reads the prayer requests of the entire church and sometimes the pastor would open the floor for prayer requests. My favorite though was when someone would shout out an urgent prayer request interrupting the pastor as he read through the other requests. After the prayer requests had been read, the pastor would pray and open the altar (the part at the front of most churches with a kneeling pad). If the Spirit was moving or if people were feeling particularly emotional, or they wanted to get up and walk around after sitting for several minutes they would go the altar to pray. People would go the altar praying for every part of their life. They prayed for distant children, health concerns, state of the nation etc. Prayer time felt like it never ended!
I heard of eternity in my Sunday School class and I’m pretty sure they were talking about this part of the service. For a kid who struggled to sit still for 5 seconds the struggle was REAL. 99.9% of people pray with their eyes closed (not sure why, but they do). So when I wanted to make my move to the glorious donuts, this was my time. Like a child prodigy ninja , I stealthily worked my way through the church (I’d tell you how, but I don’t want people using my own skills against me in my own church) to get to the back and out the door to the donuts.
My mom really wanted us to follow Jesus so just going to the service wasn’t good enough. She wouldn’t return us to our home until we attended a second portion of the weekly experience called Sunday School. Sunday School wasn’t as boring. Sometimes we had snacks. We could talk and move around a bit. Each week the Sunday School teacher would ask each of us for prayer requests. She would then ask for a volunteer to pray for the prayer requests that each of us had just listed.
The person praying would elaborately pray for each prayer request. Most of the time he would use words we had heard our parents use or other adults during that altar call part of the service we just attended. They would say phrases like ‘Direct his steps, help him to follow your leading, bless her heart, Spirit move in her, hedge of protection, seeking His face, or walking in His mercy”. I still don’t know what some of those phrases really mean. Is God really concerned with the condition of our hedges and shrubs?
I remember the Sunday I realized that everyone else had figured out this whole prayer thing, but me. The Sunday School teacher asked for prayer requests and everyone went around sharing their requests. One kid was going to a karate tournament, one kid was going to a spelling bee that week, one kid’s parents were getting divorced, one kid wanted a pony and one kid really wanted a Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas (this was April). As everyone listed their requests, the teacher dutifully wrote them down. We all knew what was next… the tribute to pray for our class.
Like Katniss Everdeen, a girl wearing a blue dress rose her hand volunteering as tribute. The teacher ignored her and looked right at me. I hadn’t prayed at all this particular school year. This was my Sunday.
So everyone closed their eyes and I began the prayer. “Jesus thanks for being who you are…. You’re great. You just heard all the requests. Would you answer them? If you didn’t hear them for the past 5 minutes, Mrs. Smith wrote them down in her journal. You could read them from there. Thanks for this Tang. It was really good this week. -Amen”
I didn’t close my eyes because I just didn’t. I don’t know why people do that still. When I said “Amen”, the expression of shock and disappointment was evident on all their faces. A kid named Jeff laughed and a girl named Emily caringly asked me if I needed help praying the right way. Mrs. Smith wanted to see me after class. When we talked, she asked why I was so disrespectful in my prayer.
We started this miniseries to help people understand what prayer is, what it’s not and how to actually pray. We believe that prayer is powerful, effective and crucial as we explore our faith. It doesn’t have be this awkward, long or a boring part of our lives. It can be fun, impactful and meaningful.
I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t care if we use fancy elaborate words or not. I’m pretty sure He doesn’t require a minimum amount of words or amount of time while praying. I’m pretty sure Jesus just wants to talk with us. I really believe that when we use words we wouldn’t actually use in everyday life, it throws Jesus off. When we spend all our time talking and then saying Amen indicating the prayer is over, we miss out on the most important part of prayer, listening to Jesus.
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
Just to clarify any confusion, my family is normal. In fact that imagine attached to this blog is my family. We were with some dear friends of ours at South Haven, MI posing for a picturesque family photo, when this happened. We are normal. Just this week we’ve had to break up fights between my sons. I actually had to say these words, “No you shouldn’t fart on your brother’s head…” among so many other ways of correcting our sons. I lose my temper. At times, I feel like I’m losing my mind parenting our boys.
As we wrap up this miniseries, I hope you’ll resist the temptation to fall into the comparison trap. It’s a trap. We all do it to some degree, but it’s a black hole of sinking sand that we can get lost in.
A few years ago, I had to go to the store and pick out a picture frame. I needed something simple but creative. I stood in front of the picture frames for several minutes seeking the perfect one. It hit me while I was looking through the frames, that every picture in them was the same. All of them pictured a couple with some children and a small animal of some sort. Everyone was smiling too, even the dogs! None of them seemed stressed, The siblings weren’t fighting or pulling out each other’s hair. Everything looked peaceful and serene. Strange. My family rarely appears that way. In fact, my family rarely acts that way anymore.
Maybe picture frame companies should start putting real family photos in their frames. That could be fun. Real families like these...
Most importantly, I hope that as we’ve worked through this miniseries, you’ve resisted the comparison trap. The comparison trap is everywhere. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to the filtered perfection of others we see on social media, youtube or any other platform. Behind every Instagram worthy photo are dozens of photos like what we see above.
There isn’t a perfect family. The point of the these blogs has not been to compare one family to another. The point has been to encourage you as the parent to give your family the attention and intentionality they deserve. I believe you can lead your family well and set your children up for success!
If we can ever help you to better lead your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out. At RE.THINK, we have many resources and useful tips that can set you and your family up for success. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
WHy a blog?
RE.THINK Church values being a church that is casual. Casual Church goes far beyond the way we dress, it's more about we expect people to take this journey at their own pace. We are here to journey with everyone. So we've created a blog so people can check us out before they show up for a service.