|Posted by thethousandmarch on November 6, 2011 at 8:40 PM|
I spent the last couple of post critiquing others, in this post I’m going to criticize myself.
A couple of posts ago – Church Plant Update: An Ending – I referenced Acts 6:2-4 which says:
It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
In that post I was discussing the responsibilities of a pastor in relation to the responsibilities of a deacon; my point was that it’s not a pastor’s main responsibility to minister to people’s physical needs, that’s the deacon’s job. (Of course as humans pastors are still supposed to love their neighbors, which will mean at times meeting other people’s physical needs.) Now, in this post I want to talk about one of those things which is a pastor’s responsibility, that which they cannot neglect – which I have been mainly because I never really thought of it was one of my responsibilities until I read these verses a few weeks ago. Now I’ve read these verses many times before, but I finally saw them in a new way for the first time. That is that prayer is one major aspect of a pastor’s job.
For the past few years I have had a lot of trouble praying, mainly because I haven’t felt like praying. In high school and early college I had a prayer list, people I prayed for nearly every day. But, I stopped doing that because it felt too mechanical. Over time I got to the point where most of my praying occurred when I was by myself driving in my car. But, I decided it was wrong to multi-task God into my life like that. I was only praying while driving, because I couldn’t do anything else. I decided I needed to give God his own time. The result of my resolution however was that I just didn’t pray much at all anymore. Again I didn’t feel like praying, because I didn’t feel like I was experiencing God. It just felt like I was talking to myself and it felt emotionless. Jessi and I stopped praying before meals because it felt ritualistic rather than actually being an act of thanksgiving.
Over the last couple of years I’ve come to realize that when I focus on my feelings and my perceived ‘spiritual’ experience I make Christianity into a self-centered religion and thus not Christianity at all; the real focus of Christianity is Jesus not me. Of course all humans are bent this way. We are ego-centric creatures and so when we encounter God we tend to try and treat him as a tool just to get what we want. I often treat God as a vending machine – I often think (subconsciously) that if I pay him what he wants he has to give me what I want and If I make him mad I’m going to get punished. But, the doing, or not doing of what God wants all has to do with me just trying to get what I want, not a genuine love for God based on a true recognition of who God is.
Over the past couple of years I’ve learned not to focus so much upon my own entertainment. I’m also learning that God has given me everything I need and furthermore he will not reject me when I sin. As a result I’m not very concerned anymore about how church, worship, prayer, bible reading etc. makes me feel. I’m not too concerned about having ‘spiritual’ experiences each time I relate with God. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy my experience, it just means my feelings are not my main concern. My main concern is doing what I know is right. I want to worship and serve God, because I trust he is there and he has loved me and done everything he ever needs to do for me – even when I don’t feel it. It doesn’t matter if he blesses me with material blessings in this life (though I’d like them) it doesn’t matter if I enjoy serving him. This doesn’t mean I love God dispassionately, to think I could would be the height of self-righteousness; I love God because he has loved me. I couldn’t otherwise. I love him because he has saved me from sin and death and will redeem me and he will take care of me throughout this life in the best possible way. He will redeem all my mistakes and sin and other people’s mistakes and sin, turning all evil for good. What this means is that I know that for me to love God doesn’t mean I’ll feel good about it, or enjoy everything I do. It also doesn’t mean I’ll ‘feel’ that God is present all the time. And it doesn’t mean every time I worship, pray, or serve someone I’ll have a ‘spiritual’ experience.
Despite learning I didn’t have to ‘feel’ like my prayer time was meaningful, I could trust that it was. I do believe prayer matters. I believe it changes us and it affects God. I believe there is a real spiritual communion which occurs between God and humans through prayer. Still I didn’t pray regularly. I tried to pray without ceasing and practice the presence of God – I didn’t do very well.
Then I read Acts six a couple of weeks ago. This may sound stupid to some people, but I never really thought of prayer as the ‘job’ of a pastor. But, according to the Apostles it is a major part of ministry. So, I’ve decided, it doesn’t matter if the only way I know how to pray feels mechanical. I’ve made a prayer list, because I know that gets me praying. It may make me sound like a jerk that I’m only praying because I finally realized it was my duty. But, one way we learn how to love others is by following God’s instructions. I want to love God and I want to love others, so I’m going to pray for others even if I don’t enjoy it.