Resurrection From Dead Spirituality

Sermon audio (11-16-08): How To Pray For Our Region Much of the deadness of evangelicalism today traces to an uncomfortable fact: it is often a religion of mere words.

Families go to church, singing, speaking, and listening to waterfalls of words, but after the families return home, their lives do not change. Christians read page after page of words. They listen to still more words on the radio. They surf blogs to find more words yet. But the words have at best a momentary impact.

Sometimes the words themselves are solid. Faith is an ancient term describing a real action of reposing confidence in God, and when the term is paired with a definite article, the faith, it describes a real system of thought. But if a Christian uses such terms without reverence for the realities they describe, he will become more insensitive to truth. Solid words can't be thrown around without danger.

More often, the words are not solid, but squishy. Christian preaching, writing, and conversation reek of clichés, piles of vain phrases that stink up the mind's moldy corners. Let go is an imperative that can be obeyed with reference to dollars, ropes, and Eggo waffles. Let go and let God cannot be obeyed because it cannot be understood. Let go of what, exactly?

There are two words today that seem to have become poisonous: ought and should. They both express obligations. "I ought to read my Bible." "You should witness to your friends." But they also give a tacit qualification: should, ought to, but won't. These two words now express primarily guilt and yearning.

The spirituality of ought and should is what many Christians live out, a religion of mere words that presses condemnation deeper into the conscience without any hope of redemption. The biblical term for this state is unbelief.

How can a person be raised from such a death?

The only answer is prayer. Concerning which, some semi-random thoughts:

1. The realization that faith and unbelief describe the two roads of ultimate human destiny can be a powerful motivation to seek God. It's a realization that can move you from yearning to doing. It suggests danger and possibility at the same time -- the danger of unbelief, and the possibilities latent in prayer.

2. Here is a discipline that can revolutionize your prayers. Treat each word you say to people as if it were a promise. Treating your words as promises means screening out flippancy, evasion, inaccuracy, and lies, and placing sincerity, justice, and simple accuracy into your speech. This is a recognition that others depend on your words.

What is the connection between this discipline and prayer?

I think you'll find a strange dynamic begin once you weigh your every word. You start seeking God's wisdom, consulting him in real time. You start organizing your biblical knowledge for application, for quick mental retrieval, and you start asking God for his priorities in each situation. In short, you start to pray.

What I have just written may seem strange. But it works.

3. A high view of God can draw your prayers upward. If you view Jesus Christ as royal, unstoppable, and intimately engaged with everything that happens in this world, then your mind will be drawn toward him irresistably. This is the view of God behind statements like Colossians 3.1: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

The religion of mere words has a view of God that is low. God is not royal, but remote. Far from being unstoppable, God seems hindered by our inability to do his will. Far from feeling his engagement in the world, we seem unable to hold his interest.

To be raised up from dead spirituality, we have to exchange our mute idol -- an abstract, cool deity -- for the living God. The God of the Bible listens to us and knows us. That is why Jesus taught (Matthew 6.7-8), "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this . . ."