Meeting with a group of clergy last Thursday, the conversation turned to prayer and the idea of teaching people to pray. There was general consensus that prayer is a good thing, but it became quickly evident that most in the group view prayer as something we “have” to do rather than something we “get” to do. The concept of spiritual discipline equals burden (instead of privilege or opportunity) in most minds. When it came to talking about helping lay people develop a discipline of prayer, the general opinion was that people are “too busy” to pray. Think about this for a minute. What assumptions are contained in this sentiment? First, prayer must be of lesser importance than other things — like lunch, naps, the Packers game, work, school, sports, etc. Second, there is a cumbersome time commitment involved — are we too busy for a five-minute prayer a few times a day? 30 minutes? an hour? We might be too busy to spend the entire day praying, but too busy even for grace before meals? Third, it would be a waste of time to teach people to do something they won’t do — ignoring the fact that generally people don’t devote a great deal of time to things they have never been taught. A bit of a vicious cycle here.
Two days later, my wife and I taught a Disciple Bible Study training session. When we talked about the challenges of the study, an almost universal complaint was that people will not devote 34 weeks of their lives to studying the Bible — especially when it demands daily Bible reading and reflection. Once again, the “too busy” demon reared its ugly head — Disciple “doesn’t fit” into people’s busy lives. There is no doubt this is true — you cannot add an hour of daily Bible study to an already packed schedule. If you add an hour of Bible study, you have to give up an hour of something else (watching TV, surfing the net, talking on the phone, an extra hours sleep). But the “too busy” claim simply means there are other things we would rather be doing.
And that’s the point. It is a matter of priorities and values. We make time for the important things (or the easy things) in our lives. Where our treasures are, their our hearts will be also. I recently heard the lament of a young mom saying how much she missed going to church. When I asked her why she couldn’t go, she said simply, “Soccer.” For her, letting her kids have some exercise with friends on a Sunday morning offered higher value than letting them get some spiritual guidance with friends — and her sacrifice was not getting some spiritual guidance for herself. But she seemed to miss the fact that this was her choice — she placed the importance of soccer ahead of the importance of church when she decided that her kids would get more from the former than the latter. Another instance, this time a father, made the decision for his daughter not to “do” confirmation because they would miss American Idol. He remarked that it is “just impossible to do everything,” and he is right, but it is not a lack of time that is the real problem, but a matter of priorities.
Lest it seem I am being judgmental, let me confess to being first among sinners. I need exercise, I need to walk, and I need to do it every day. I broke my leg twice in three years and put on weight during my recoveries that I have never been able to shed. When I walk, I lose weight and I feel better. But, its been too hot, or I had a cold, or I twisted my knee, or I have been… “too busy,” and so weeks go by where I have only walked a few days. What’s up with that? I’m lazy. I’m tired. I’m sore. I am a bundle of 1,001 excuses and not one good reason. If it were more important to me, then I would find a way to make it happen.
Not praying, not reading the Bible, not attending worship, not participating in fellowship, not serving the needs of others — these things are not limited purely by time, but mostly by desire. We find a way to make time for those things we truly love. If we are “too busy” this is an excuse, not a valid reason. Our growth as Christian disciples depends upon our willingness to put God first. As long as we maintain our commitment to self, we will continue to be too busy for God. It is that simple, and though many may argue I believe our motivation is guilt rather than reason. We know we are not doing the things we should do. Good thing we believe in a merciful and forgiving God, and that our journey of faith is a process and not a test. We can be better, but only if we decide to be. Our lives are not likely to get less busy. Therefore, it rests with each of us to decide what will fill our time. For Christian disciples, we can never be “too busy” for prayer, for study, for Christian fellowship, and for service to those in need.
Categories: Christian discipleship, Core Values, Religion in the U.S.
One way of understanding the spiritual disciplines is that they help shape the life toward holiness. But if we feel no great need for holiness – or deeper holiness – then the disciplines – the way of life – that lead to it are of little value.
I think there is a fundamental need to find or cultivate a joy in God. When we take joy in drawing close to God the means to get us there – prayer, fasting, studying Scripture – become welcome aids rather than burdensome duties.
I don’t know of any way to discover that joy in God than by receiving it as a gift of grace, however. So, there is a bit of a chicken and egg problem in my brilliant design.
When I read Vital Signs, I wondered briefly how people in thriving churches had time to earn money! But I also believe that is the commitment God is calling some of us to, while others may be called to a somewhat different commitment. As the member of a small(er) church, our shared prayer time (Joys and Concerns) has deepened my understanding of prayer and situations about which we might pray. Sometimes, it is a matter of a slightly different prayer experience. We prayed with squares of cloth placed where we needed healing the Sunday we read the story of Dorcas. That prayer was accompanied by deep silence in the congregation.
I think pastors and church leaders need to model spiritual disciplines (and I think Dan has shared info about the degree to which that happens or not). And that discipline should bear compelling fruit! People should ask, “where do I find that peace in MY life?”
Our lives need the rhythm between do/be/do/be as Marcia McFee reminds us; and prayer certainly fits in the “be” category. I’d also recommend William Tenny-Brittian’s book, Prayer for People Who Can’t Sit Still.
(Sorry to be long-winded, haven’t posted anything for a while).