|Linda and I in Green Lake, Wisconsin|
It's Monday morning. Linda and I are at our yearly HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Last night we have a beautiful session with Steve and Wendy Backlund, who are on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California.
I'm going to speak tomorrow night on "Normal Church." I'll talk about how the Church in America has lost the culture wars. (See here, e.g.,) Then, I'll present the only solution I see to regain the vast moral ground that we have lost.
I think, and pray, about this a lot. I ask God for wisdom and discernment, and what I am to do. This morning the often-quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14 is before me.
If my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.
What a great promise! Yet, sadly, most American Christians are too busy to pray, men more than women. This verse is about a "constant praying life," not a few multitasked prayers tossed up for a parking space. This is ongoing praying, consistent God-seeking. Now if American Christians did that, then I say watch out for the Church!
In the process of encouraging people to pray as conversation-with-God, I often hear the following, from Western Jesus-followers: "I don't think I have time to pray 30-60 minutes a day/'
If the Jesus-follower is from a Third World country, like ancient Israel in the time of Jesus was, they have time to pray. What's going on? My answer is: the more Westernized a person is, the less they take time to meet and talk with God; the less Westernized a person is, the more they take time to meet and talk with God.
I estimate that 80% of European and North American pastors and Christian leaders do not have a significant prayer life. By this I mean that they do not take time to actually pray. By "taking time" I mean more than saying a blessing over dinner, or multi-tasked "praying." By "significant," I mean something like an hour or more a day. I mean something like Jesus did, habitually.
My estimate comes from teaching and coaching 3000 pastors and leaders, over the past forty years. Many, many pastors have confessed this to me.
The statistics flip for pastors and leaders who are from Third World contexts. 80% of them have a significant prayer life. When they attend my prayer and spiritual formation seminary classes, they already have a quantitative prayer life in place. They pray... a lot. The European and North American clergy, on the other hand, find themselves "too busy to pray." They find it hard to "fit in" times of actual praying. Why is this so?
The reasons Westernized Christians don't significantly pray, and Third World Christians do, include these.
- SENSE OF NEED: More access to human helping agencies lowers the desperation level. But when I was, e.g., teaching and speaking in India, the lack of access to medical care, education, jobs, etc. was massive. One could only turn to God, in prayer. So in India I found pastors who were praying people. The less felt need there is, the less one prays; the more felt need there is, the more one prays.
- NEED TO CONTROL: Westernized Christians live under the general cultural illusion that they are in control of life; Third World non-westernized Christians live in a cultural world where human control is minimal at best; hence, they appeal to God (or gods, or spirits) for help. The more one feels in control of life, the less one prays; the less one feels in control of life, the more one prays.
- TIME: The more stuff a person has, the less they pray. Much of their life is dictated by their stuff, which demands much time protecting, arranging, storing, repairing, cleaning, cultivating, etcing. Stuff demands time. On the other hand, the less personal ownership, the more actual time to pray. The busier one is the less one has time to pray; the less stuff one has, the more one has time to pray.
James Houston writes: "To pray is to declare loyalty to a spiritual reality above and beyond the human realm of self-effort and control."
So, will it be heart-loyalty to "things above," or "things below?" The answer to this question will determine whether or not a Christian prays. And that will determine whether or not the American Church wakes from its slumber.