Prayer Calendar: Getting Past Salt and Pepper Prayers

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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.

Prayer Calendar: The Spark for Mission

I’m old enough to remember the campfire tune, “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going.” It’s fun to envision Smokey the Bear singing it as a fire prevention jingle. Seriously, a spark could be a good metaphor for prayer and mission. Sparks are initial impulses. A spark in an engine eventually moves your car.

Could Prayer Spark Mission?

I firmly believe prayer is the leading edge of mission, or the spark! Over the last two years, the Revitalize theme has called us to grow in gospel sharing. My worry is that we tend towards manufacturing results based on our efforts.

After Dave Acree retired from ably leading us as Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst, we had to make a decision about who was going to be the EFCC champion for prayer. In attempting to make that decision, we kept coming back to a key thought. Simply this, there seems to be a vital link between prayer and mission. Therefore, it could make sense for the National Mission Director to champion prayer and here I am.

Having offered that explanation, I have three quick thoughts as to how prayer can spark mission:

 

Prayer should put us in a posture of submission

Our prayers ought to come from an, “Our Father, who art in heaven”, posture. We acknowledge that we are under the will of our heavenly father and open ourselves up to what he wants to accomplish in and through us. I think that is a key characteristic of a disciple. I have recently been grappling with this simply definition of a disciple, “a person who hears the voice of Jesus and responds in obedience”. If our prayers led us to that kind of obedience, would we see more gospel sharing?

 

Prayer reshapes our understanding of God’s love

Just a bit before the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” To love as God loves, means all people are worthy of our love, and care. Praying for enemies opens us to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. It sparks true love within us. We move from seeing enemies to seeing people in need of love and the Good News of Jesus. What would our witness look like if we truly took this command of Jesus to heart?

 

We pray to the Lord of the Harvest

Let’s finish with Luke 10:2, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Could our prayers actually multiply the mission workforce? This statement of Jesus indicates they could.

As we contemplate the state of the church, our meager witness, or a seeming lack of spiritual passion, I suspect the spark of a remedy is not in new programs, or better buildings, or more cash…but simply in reconnecting with the One who is the hope of the nations.

 

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

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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”?

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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!

The Pulse: We Are All Storytellers

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We are – by nature – story tellers.

We sit around kitchen tables, coffee shops, and local parks, and we tell stories. We tell stories of our lives, of our children, of our hurts, joys, and losses. We listen to others tell their stories. And each story leads to another. We catch glimpses of one another’s needs, fears, joys, and treasures. We understand one another’s lives and we share our lives with others.

But when we talk about becoming a “Gospel Sharing People” like the early Free Church pioneers, we immediately begin to complicate the sharing of the Good News with programs, or booklets, or videos that can explain it to ‘them’ (to those people who need to hear the Gospel). We develop processes and skills to ‘explain it all’. We stop being ‘storytellers’ and we turn our efforts towards being ‘teachers’.

Most people think about sharing the Gospel as a theological statement. That is true even among those who are adamant that we must first develop relationships. Relationships provide the fertile soil in which truth grows. Once the permission has been granted by virtue of the relationship, the thinking is that the believer can move on to determine how best to provide the ‘theological data dump’ the lost person needs to hear.

I think there is a step missing.

Let me share something I have observed when we talk in our churches about Evangelism and sharing the Gospel. It seems that whenever the conversation turns to sharing the Gospel, one of the first questions someone in the group asks is, “What is the Gospel?” It is a very real question. But, if you take that question out of the academic realm and move it into our churches, it is also the question that stops the whole process of sharing the Gospel in its tracks.

When an average Christian thinks about sharing the ‘theological data’ of the Gospel, they worry about “getting it right.” They are afraid they might miss something or miscommunicate an important truth. They are so afraid of getting it wrong that they are paralyzed from sharing it at all.

That does not mean that we should ever stop teaching the theology of the Gospel. It is important to ‘get it right’. Paul sure thought so. Just read through Galatians again. The other Apostles who wrote letters to the early churches also took great pains to explain the Gospel as clearly as possible. So, I am not advocating that we abandon the study of God’s Word to understand the height and depth and breadth of the Gospel (Eph 3:18-19).

Instead, I have come to see a need for a ‘step’ in between building relationships and sharing the Gospel. This is a step (like building relationships) that ought to come naturally to all of us. We need to get back to being ‘storytellers’. We need to encourage people to tell their story – to ‘Be Witnesses’ of the Good News.

Every day we talk with neighbours, friends, family and co-workers about common, everyday experiences. We talk with concern and compassion. We share common needs and hopes. And we have opportunity in every one of those conversations to share the Good News of Jesus.

  • We parent differently because of how we trust Jesus to watch out for our children.
  • We face adversity differently because of our faith in an all powerful God who has not lost control.
  • We don’t face any of life’s issues on our own.

That’s a truth we have put our trust in – he is with us always (Mat 28:20).

We have a story to tell of God’s Story at work in our lives. We see the joys and treasures of life through a lens of praise and thankfulness. God’s Story of blessing and creative genius. And, we are all story tellers by nature.

I think we need to get back to ‘Being His Witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). That means telling our story of God’s Story. It means being storytellers of what we know and what Jesus is doing in our lives every day – those everyday lives our neighbours and friends live alongside us. We need to stop thinking about how we can share our ‘theology’ and start thinking about how we can share ‘our story’ of all God has done for us.

We need to be ‘witnesses’ before we are ‘teachers’.

As we work on relationships, we’ll have lots of opportunities to share our story of God’s Story. He’s strengthening us, encouraging us, and giving us hope in the things we face every day. Our neighbours and friends need to hear those stories. And when God’s Spirit makes the connection between His Story and their story in your friends mind, they will be ready to hear (and asking to hear) the Good News of Jesus Christ.