One reason people stay away from Christianity is not because they don’t know any Christians.
It’s often because they do.
Our actions and our words as a follower of Jesus have the power to attract or repel people from Christianity.
The number of people who never go to church or follow Jesus keeps growing. And their thinking keeps changing too (I’ve outlined 15 characteristics of unchurched people here).
So what can we do about it?
Well, in addition to modeling humility, grace, truth, love and so many other things that describe the earliest Christ followers, we Christians can watch our words.
This post was inspired by a great piece by Scott Dannemiller recently profiled in the Huffington Post in which Dannemiller urged Christians to stop saying “feeling blessed” whenever something good came their way. He makes a thoughtful, insightful argument around that.
I think there are three other things Christians should really stop saying.
1. Prayer works
Should we really stop saying that prayer works?
Well, yes and no.
Most people who say prayer works these days really mean God did what I wanted him to do. As if prayer was a button to be pushed to release exactly what they wanted from the vending machine.
Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued.
Prayer does ‘work’, but it works very differently than we’d like. It still ‘works’:
When we can’t trace out any direct result from our prayer.
When the opposite of what we prayed for happens.
In those moments when we feel very distant from God.
When we bang down the door of heaven for years and are not sure anything is going on up there at all.
There are scores of people inside and outside the church whose spirits are crushed because they prayed (fervently) and:
They didn’t get the job
Their mom died of cancer
Their child was born without a heartbeat
They ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled
Prayer doesn’t ‘work’ because I got what I wanted and they didn’t.
The parade of saints across the centuries would have been shocked to see prayer reduced to God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it. God is not a puppy to be trained or a chef in the kitchen who prepares food to suit our every whim. He is sovereign.
As Richard Foster says:
For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer – nothing draws us closer to the heart of God.
Do things happen supernaturally when we pray? Well yes they do. But often in ways we cannot understand or even trace out.
I think Christians can take consolation in the fact that when we pray, we often don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, yet the scriptures tell us the Holy Spirit will translate the prayer into something better than we could phrase in the moment.
So pour your heart out to God. Pray about the things the scripture says are close to God’s heart. And when something ‘goes your way’, be grateful and offer it back to the God who gave it to you. And when things don’t go your way, understand that God is still very much in control and very much loves you. Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.
2. God told me to…
Often you hear people (and pastors) say things that start with “God told me to…”
The longer I follow Jesus, the more hesitant I am to say God told me to anything specific. Maybe that’s an issue I need to work on, but it springs from my observation that I’ve seen this misused far more than I’ve seen it used well or authentically.
In fact, I’ve often noticed that the more outrageous the claim, the more likely someone is to say “God told me to…”
When I hear someone claim God told them to do something, I feel like saying:
God told you to do that? Really? God himself spoke directly to you and told you to specifically build that building for which you have zero money? Or leave that church that you were in deep conflict with without resolving things? Or buy that house that’s way out of your price range? Wow!
Are you sure it wasn’t the pizza? Or the voice in your head that often tells you to do the things you simply feel like doing?
For the record, I believe there are times when God does speak to people today. But let’s be realistic. What made me put this phrase on the list is the number of times I have heard the phrase used to describe a decision that is:
selfishly motivated (come on, admit it…you’re justifying your impulses)
contrary to scripture (the scriptures pretty clearly suggests that what you’re doing is sinful…or at least isn’t wise)
designed to shut down debate (does anyone really think they can win a “God told me” debate?)
I’m not saying God never tell us anything directly, but I am suggesting it happens far less than most of us claim.
So what’s a better course?
Say something like “based on what I know from scripture, I believe this is the best/boldest/wisest course of action.”
That makes sense. And then you can have an intelligent discussion. And you don’t pull the God card to justify something about which Christians and others can have a legitimate discussion.
Or, if you’re just trying to shut down debate, just be honest. I wanted to do it so I did it. There. Now you said it and everyone will feel better.
If you’re dead honest, you might even realize you made a crazy decision.
3. I could totally feel God’s presence
You’ve heard this before. We live in an emotional age and we’ve arrived at a place where many of us feel like we’ve become mini-authorities on when God is present and when God is not.
But analyze that.
The truth is we tend to feel God’s presence more:
When the band played our favourite song
When the band played five of our favourite songs in a row
When the room was packed
When the decision went our way
When we felt happy during our quiet time
Is God only present when we feel him?
Or better yet, is God’s presence synonymous with our ability to detect it?
Well, of course not.
So why do we insist on speaking like it is?
Nowhere did God promise that the Holy Spirit is a feeling or an emotion.
Jesus did explain to us that the Spirit is a Person and moves freely. The Holy Spirit is bigger than our emotions and not subject to our editorial commentary about whether he is present or not.
I have had moments when I believe I felt the presence of God palpably.
But God is just as present
on our worst days as he is on our best days
when we are uncomfortable as when we are comfortable
when we are hurting as when we are healing
And sometimes…the room was just full, and the band was just really good.
We need to learn to trust in God’s presence especially in those moments we suspect he’s absent.
What if Christians started having more intelligent, less consumer-oriented, deeper conversations with people?
What if our relationship with Christ was grounded more deeply in God’s character and less in the constantly shifting circumstances we see around us?
I’m thinking the dialogue inside out and outside the church would be so much healthier for it.
What do you think?
Any other things Christians should stop saying now? Leave a comment!