Prayer Calendar: When the Formula Doesn’t Add Up

, ,

We like formulas. They make life understandable. “A + B + C = D” helps simplify our world. It is orderly and predictable. It is sad however, when we turn prayer into a formulaic exercise. We all do it from time to time, often with good intentions. We have a problem (A) and we add prayer (B) and we appeal for the power of God (C), and then we expect a specific result (D).

We all want prayer to be far more than that. We know prayer is about relationship and conversation. However, I find myself at times defaulting to the formula. You may as well.

As we grow in our prayer lives, is there a way to leave the formulas behind?

Recently I heard someone quote “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. They quoted it as a formula that applied to Canada, today. I will be the first to say we need humble prayers of confession. However, I believe it is a mistake to feel God is obligated to heal Canada if we pray those prayers.

He may, and that would be great, but He may not. This passage is a promise to the Hebrew people, not a current day formula to follow. Yet we sub in the pieces: our country’s current state (A) + humble confession (B) + God’s power (C) = healed Canada (D). This is not an isolated example.

How can we move past these kinds of formulaic prayer?

Let us limit our thoughts to just two basic reminders:

First, we should recognize that not all formulas are bad. This sounds contradictory. However, let me give you two examples: The Lord’s Prayer and the ACTS acrostic (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Both could be considered formulas and if there is no intention in them can turn into ruts; yet they can move us well beyond the A+B+C=D formula.

When we take time to consider what Jesus modelled for us and pray in a similar way, or when we broaden prayer beyond a mere “shopping list” to include declarations of God’s greatness and our thanks, as well as acts of confession, it can expand our prayer life. The key might be our intentionality to broaden prayer.

Second, we could spend more time in conversational prayer. Prayer at its core is a conversation. I know that I really take this for granted at times. I have the opportunity, at any time, on any day, to chat with God almighty. Instead, I often don’t converse because I focus on “my list”. Conversation is a two-way street. Prayer is no different. We share and we listen.

I suspect for us, listening is far harder, yet it could be very beneficial. An interviewer asked Mother Teresa what she said to God in prayer. She responded, “I mostly listen.” That led the interviewer to ask, “When you listen, what does God say?” She answered, “He mostly listens too”.

Could listening move us past the formula?

Do I feel so at home in God’s presence that I am comfortable when both God and I are listening?

How about you?

Pulse Podcast 021: Priesthood of all Believers

, ,

We’ve often heard, and often said the term “priesthood of all believers,” but have we stopped to contemplate what it means? What kind of an audit could we give ourselves for this? And how well would we do on it?

Join us as we give some fresh thought to this subject for the EFCC family.

Here is the preview/teaser version, which you can show at church or with your small group, etc.:

And here it is in audio-only format:

Prayer Calendar: Getting Past Salt and Pepper Prayers

, ,

The other day I was talking with my friend Ron Swanson regarding the way most of us North American Christians pray. He used a phrase that I just can’t get out of my head. He said we often treat prayer like salt and pepper – an add-on, a little seasoning on top of the meal we have made.

Is this really the way we pray?

Sadly, if we are honest, we probably have to admit – yes prayer often feels like salt and pepper. We get busy doing our own stuff, and then perfunctorily sprinkle a little salt and pepper prayer into the mix.

Could we find a way to get past salt and pepper prayers?

I’ll be the first to admit, this is often where I land.

I want to pray. I know I need to pray. I know there is power in prayer. I know prayer moves the heart of God. I know that God desires a deep connection with us through prayer. I know prayer is one of the few practices that Jesus specifically taught his disciples how to do. I know lots about prayer. However, there is a huge difference between knowing lots about prayer and praying. There is even a wide chasm between desiring to have a better prayer life and actually praying. Sadly, I often fail to act on the knowledge and desire that I have. I often fail to pray deeply and passionately. I simply, sprinkle a little salt and pepper on what I am already doing.

If you are like me, you don’t really want to hear one more person give you another guilt trip about prayer. So, I will try and avoid that here. You don’t need to read another book on prayer. We’ve all read several of those, and have been temporarily encouraged; but then have found ourselves struggling along again.

Instead, I’m wondering: Do we need to re-imagine prayer?

Mark Buchanan in his book, Your God is Too Safe, writes a chapter on the loss of imagination. He uses kissing as an example – if you describe a kiss in it’s sheer physical form it almost sounds repugnant. It takes imagination to turn it into something incredible. He talks how we can rip the heart out of a communion service but explaining every last detail. He reminds us that one of the missing ingredients in our faith is imagination.

Is this what we have done to prayer? Taken the heart right out of it because we don’t have the imagination to see it in deeper, bolder, and more mysterious ways? I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to go on a journey of re-imagination.

So, let’s imagine prayer as:

  • listening
  • breathing
  • food
  • life-blood
  • war
  • visiting the King
  • surgery
  • hanging out with our best friend
  • 911
  • I have several more, but you add your metaphor here

At some point, these metaphors all break down. However, could they also breathe fresh life into the old bones of our prayer lives? It’s worth a try!

To see the latest prayer calendar, click here.

Pulse Podcast 020: The Supreme Court’s Ruling on TWU’s Law School

, ,

We’re not really a current events podcast, but we thought this was of sufficient importance and interest to engage with it.

The Supreme Court’s decision on TWU’s Law School has implications for the church and for religious education institutions in Canada.

We’re just not sure what they are specifically.

If you’d like to reach out and dialogue with us on this, you can engage us on:

Here is the preview version you can share in more time-sensitive venues:

And here is the audio version:

The Pulse: What do we Mean by “Evangelical” and “Free”?

, ,

Many of us who serve our Lord in Evangelical Free churches run into the inevitable question “What on earth is evangelical free”? In a world that talks about caffeine– or sugar-free, “evangelical free” sounds like we are free of evangelicals – that all the evangelicals have been purged, thrown out of our churches! In times past, the original terms “evangelical” and “free” were considered relevant and powerful. However, times change and words can either change meaning or switch from connoting a positive message to a negative one.

The Evangelical Free Church movement is an international movement with a history that makes the two terms meaningful, once properly understood. Let’s consider the two terms in order.

EVANGELICAL

The word “evangelical” refers to the gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual ancestors in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark were dismayed at the moralistic, social religion of the state churches into which they were born. Rather than religion based on following social norms, they sought salvation in Christ and to follow Him as Lord. They found the need for this salvation and sanctification in Jesus in their reading of the Scriptures. They formed “believers churches” where individuals made a decision to accept and follow Jesus.

They served the Lord’s Supper and studied the Bible in their homes. Their first question for others was not “Which church do you attend” or “What do you believe about ___?”, but rather, “Do you know Jesus?” Like them, we are people who see the gospel of Jesus as our prime concern. We wish to know Him, share Him, and follow Him. In this sense, the Bible becomes our authority for what we know about Jesus, His good news, and what He calls us to follow.

FREE

As I mentioned before, our Scandinavian forbears grew up in the state church. The government and the church were inextricably linked. This meant that the church influenced the political realm and that the political realm influenced the church – for good and ill. All citizens were members of the church, regardless of whether they believed and followed Jesus or not. “Free” churches formed as believers’ churches – free from state control. They wanted to be “believers only”, but open to “all believers.” This won them persecution from the state in a time where the state could not imagine that religious pluralism could work without mass chaos and religious wars ensuing.

Our Free Church ancestors believed that freedom to live out their faith could only be limited by the Bible itself. Their cry – “Where Stands it Written?” – was a declaration that individuals and believers churches should be free to practice their faith from government and religious control; only the Bible had the authority to limit that freedom.

So, in the end “Evangelical Free” means that we are people of the good news and the Word. We are focused on Jesus, His salvation, and his Lordship in our lives.  We assemble as families of believers in churches that are free from state control. Today, we assume that separation of church and state is a good thing.  Our spiritual forbears thought so too – but they were censored and persecuted for that belief.

Hence, we trust that “Evangelical Free”, rather than suggesting that our churches are free of evangelicals, instead indicates that they are full of people who are saved by the grace of God and who are a loving and gracious community of faith, following Jesus as Lord!