If you listen to non-Christians talk about Christians, probably the most common criticism is that Christians do a very bad job of living out their faith. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, but not your Christians.” Anyone who pastors has struggled over what to do about the fact that it is so common for people to show up at church, engage in service, worship, pray, fellowship and then walk out the doors and leave it all behind.
A lot of churches have responded to this problem by trying to encourage their members to be more enthusiastic, more devoted and more consistent in their faith. But the reality is that the criticism that Christians are mean, petty, untrustworthy and judgmental is often driven by encounters with the sort of “on fire for Christ” Christians these churches tend to produce. Even fairly liberal Christians who advocate for social justice are often known more for their harshness, judgmentalism and us vs them mentality in the pursuit of their righteous goals than for their lovingkindness.
My opinion is that the problem lies not with the devotion or belief or even the enthusiasm of the Christian. Rather, the problem is the result of a fundamentally erroneous view of the sacred and the profane. Too many Christians have a worldview which divides life into what is of God and everything else.
Thus, many Christians can easily leave the “God-stuff” for church and then do as they see fit while dealing with all the “not-God-stuff” the rest of the week. Other Christians, seeking to avoid that particular error, see it as their job to bring the world around them into line with their ideas about God. These people often behave very poorly as they struggle to wrestle messy and unruly reality into something which conforms to their understanding of Godly. It’s what happens when you are seeking a goal rather than seeking love.
The reality is that this dichotomy between God and the rest of life or the sacred and profane is false. There is no such thing as God-stuff and not-God stuff. It’s all God-stuff. God is big and wide and encompasses all human interest, activity and motivation, not just that which is specifically concerned with or directed towards God. As the lazy steward says of his master in the story of the talents, “Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed”. The harvest – whether it’s directly from “God-stuff” or not – belongs to God.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” ~ Psalm 24:1
The bible says that the creation is a testament to the reality, character and ways of God. Our job is not to try to get creation – which includes other people and the things they do – to conform to our concept of God’s reality, character and ways. Rather, our job is to be open to learning from and working with what God has already embedded and made manifest in his creation. No, the world doesn’t work perfectly. But that’s largely because we are still foolish children resisting this instruction.
My second tip for building a healthy faith life through prayer is directly aimed at mending the false divide we have created between what is of God and what is not. And true to my promise that these are tips for slackers, it doesn’t require you to do much more than increase your awareness!
Expand your concept of prayer
In my first book, The Upside Down World ~ A Book of Wisdom in Progress, I share a prayer which we said daily at my Catholic High School. One part of the prayer in particular profoundly shaped my thinking about the relationship between the what in life was “God-stuff” and what was “not-God-stuff”. These words lead to me get rid of that division entirely, in fact:
Eternal and ever loving Father, I offer you everything I do this day: my work, my prayers, my play, all my thoughts, my time with family and friends, my hours of relaxation, my difficulties, problems, distresses, which I shall try to bear with patience.
After years of saying these words at the start of each weekday, I understood them to mean that all of my life should be a prayer offering. So I started purposely offering to God whatever I was doing – whether it was cleaning, school work, socializing, my job or just taking a walk.
I willfully began challenging the separations which existed in my mind between what I could offer to God and what I could not. When God was present with me and when he was not. Is God with me in the bathroom? When I’m dealing with an unreasonable child? Or an unreasonable boss? Can I invite him to join me when I’m listening to music? Read over my shoulder when I’m absorbed in a book?
Prayer can be understood as entering into God’s presence. In prayer we share our thoughts, needs, hopes, fears and desire with God and receive from his heart in return. When we begin consciously and willfully inviting God into our everyday life and activities, then those things become prayer as well.
Please understand, that this is not a practice which is meant to show you how to change reality into something better. Nor is it necessarily about reminding yourself that God is present so you’d better act right (although that can happen as well). The practice of viewing everything you do as a prayer and an offering is primarily about allowing God to reveal his presence in the seemingly mundane, non-spiritual and even profane parts of daily life. It’s about learning to recognize the ways that God is already present and working in the world.
It takes you from fighting the world to learning to join with the often subtle dance of love and creation which is taking place just beneath the surface. As you begin to see God’s movement in the world and bring yourself into alignment with it, the false division between the sacred and the profane, the Godly and the rest of life starts to heal. A wholeness grows in you and your relationship with the world and people around you.
As you begin to recognize the ways God is at work, you become less susceptible to embracing those things in the world which are not in alignment with him. You find yourself more naturally acting in ways that manifest love rather than causing conflict, upset and distress as you try to force everything into conformity with your own ideas about God and his ways. The enmity between God and his creation gives way to healing and oneness.
So, ask yourself if there are parts of your life which you see as in conflict with or outside the realm of the Godly or the spiritual. Start intentionally offering those things to God and ask him to reveal his presence in those things. Make the choice to view your daily activities as a form of prayer – a way that you intentionally open yourself to the presence of God, share with him and receiving in return.