Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Why Pray?

So this post is totally inspired by my awesome wife.  Today she was on Facebook and a friend of hers asked for prayer for a friend of hers, to which someone wanted to know why he should pray.  Here is her response.
Not the right time to ask it, and not the right place,but worth answering. And I understand why you need an answer. Matt is going to heaven sooner than anyone wanted, despite our prayers for something different, and my Dad died despite my desperate prayers. So, first question, why pray for someone we don't know? Because we care, whether we know him or not. Something struck our heart and made us want to pray. If we don't care, then we don't pray. Bigger question, why pray ever? Because it's how we talk to God. We make our hearts known to him. He listens. And when he answers, its either what we wanted or not. But either way, we know we had that conversation. Why do we tell anybody anything? Why call a friend and talk to them? Because you want them to know your thoughts, you want to share life together. And maybe they don't respond the way you think they should, maybe they can't change anything that did or will happen for you, but sharing it is part of your relationship with them. Will our prayers change the outcome? I don't think so. God has a will, he has a plan, and it is often completely inexplicable to us. But praying might change the way we understand the outcome, and it will certainly help build our relationship with the God who is walking beside us through this life. I prayed for my Dad to live, and he died. I trust this is God's plan, even though I don't fully understand. My world starts and ends with the small circle of world around me. Maybe if my dad hadn't died, that drunk driver would've hit a van full of little kids. My world is too small to see the extent of God's plan, and it's intricacies. But I prayed, and God knows it broke my heart, and I think it's good that I told him that. It's part of our relationship.

I think it's a fantastic answer, primarily because it reminds us how important it is to have conversation with God.   So often we get in "prayer mode" when we think about praying.  Prayer mode takes us to that mental place where we think we need to convince God to do something or think we need to change our language, like we are walking into a court or something.  We so often forget that prayer is conversation with God, a part of a healthy relationship.

Does prayer change what happens?  That's a tougher question to answer.  I will say that I don't believe prayer changes God's will.  Why?  Because God's will is for good, not for evil.  Unfortunately a lot of things happen that are not God's will.  So to say prayer changes God's will suggests that momentarily God willed something bad but fortunately enough people got together and had a spiritual protest so now God decides to do something good instead.  God does not will evil, harm or suffering, so there is really no need to change that will.  (For great insight onto God's will and what happens in the world I suggest a short book titled, The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead.)

If prayer doesn't change God's will then how can prayer change the outcome?  I believe prayer can change outcomes but not because it changes God's will but because it changes our response through the work of the Spirit.  When I pray for someone who is sick - I pray they experience God's presence and grace.  I pray for their family - I pray that they experience God walking through them in this journey.  I pray for those around them - praying that they can be God's instruments of compassion and care.  So really what I am praying is that those around and caring for someone are open to and attuned to God's will.  The thing is that God's will is good, but we often mess it up.  The thing is we humans tend to be selfish pretty much all the time.  I'm in a hurry, so I don't fully listen to you.  I'm under stress, so I don't think about all the tools at my disposal.  I've had a bad day, so I am discouraging instead of encouraging.  There are all sorts of ways that God's will gets muddled up by our selfish lives, insecurities and other failures.  Prayer is asking God to help us be better attuned to His will, presence, guidance and grace.

It also open us up too.  It helps us realize that healing doesn't always mean cure and that peace doesn't always mean someone lives.  In the end prayer isn't about getting our way, it's about sharing life with God and being open in our conversation with God.  So pray - not to convince God of something, but to share something with God.  Pray not because you think you need to change God's mind but because we all need the Spirit to help be better at following God's will.  Pray because God cares, want to hear you and wants you to listen and experience God's presence and guidance.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Making the investment...

I read as much as a can... sometimes it's a lot and other times just rarely.  What's "fun" for me to read are mostly books about Christianity... whatever angle that might be.  The book I'm reading right now, You Lost Me, is one of many I've read about the struggle that many people have in their faith life during the ages of 15-25.  For a variety of reasons, across denominations, this is largely an absent section of the population.  There are reasons for sure... some feel they have to choose between faith and science.  Others state they believe in Jesus, they just don't think that the church is a good representative of Him.  Some simply feel that the church has never helped them apply faith to their daily lives.

Now there are probably a lot of reasons contributing to this.  One of the things I find most interesting and convicting though is the idea that the "dropout" struggle isn't a problem; it's a symptom.  More specifically, the faith struggles of teenagers and young adults are just the visible symptom of the faith life of adults.  In other words if we think they are apathetic about their faith maybe it's because we are.   This is something that's suggested by a number of people, Kendra Creasy Dean in Almost Christian, Dave Kinnaman in You Lost Me among others.

I've thought about it a lot and I wonder how true it really is.  I mean just about everyone I know would say that investing in youth is the most important thing we can do as a faith community.  We have staff, programs, events and partnerships all focused on helping youth and young adults grow in faith.  I can't help but ask myself, when was the last time we (aka the rest of the "adults" in the faith community) invested in the life of a youth or young adult?  By invested I don't mean money, I mean taking time with them and telling them our own personal faith stories.  If we think it is so important to grow in your faith, then we should be taking time to share our stories of faith.  If you were one of those who stayed active in the church why not regularly tell the story of why it so important to me to have been involved in the church during High School or College and beyond.  If you weren't, are you willing to articulate to someone why you wish you had been?  Can you tell someone what you think you missed by not being involved in a faith community those years?

If we, as adults, cannot look back and tell the story of why our faith has been important to us no amount of programs, staff or partnerships will ever have the result we are looking for.  I am increasingly convinced if we want our young adults and youth to have vibrant and active relationships with Christ we need to make the investment ourselves - all of us.  We need to be open and honest, build relationships and tell our stories of faith.  Youth and young adults don't struggle with faith for a lack of information... they have all the information they need.  Maybe they struggle because they don't understand why they should pursue it in the first place.  Maybe those books are right - they struggle, because we struggle.  While none of us ever have a "perfect" faith hopefully we have a faith worth expressing, and if we aren't apathetic about our faith we should stop acting like it and keeping it to ourselves.  We have the reason, the experience and the stories others need to hear.  We just need to make the investment in their lives.  Expecting a younger generation to do something "just because" just doesn't cut it anymore.