What will 2016 be like? Will America decide to continue upon the path of narcissism and self-destruction or will we finally declare that enough is enough and take our country back? Will our churches decide to put the focus back on Kingdom work or are we still going to throw all our resources into buildings and parking lots? Will the conservative majority in Congress continue to capitulate to liberals or will they decide to honor those who gave them the majority by governing with a conscience? Will the Christian majority in this country continue to wish somebody would do something about Planned Parenthood, an IRS that doesn’t answer to anybody when it is caught breaking the law, and officials across the nation who flaunt their disdain for the First and Second Amendments? Or, will we quit our whining and “fight the good fight of faith”?
Let me share with you three things the body of Christ is going to have to do if we are to be have any positive impact on 2016.
First, we are going to have to reintroduce ourselves to prayer. I’m not talking about obligatory prayers over food, worship services, and sick people (I am not suggesting those are unimportant or irrelevant). I’m talking about the kind of commitment to prayer that Jesus and the Apostles had. I’m talking about availing ourselves to God so that the Holy Spirit can do what Romans 8:26 promises. I’m talking about a commitment to praying not only for our perceived wants and needs but extolling and exalting the majesty and holiness of God (“hallowed by thy name”!). I’m talking about a willingness to energize prayer with fasting. I’m talking about such a commitment to prayer that you wished you were the one who said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer” instead of John Wesley. We all know how important faith is (Hebrews 11:6) but we need to understand that prayer is more often than not the voice and expression of faith. We simply cannot legitimately hope for change in ourselves, our nation, or our world if we continue to treat prayer as a passing thought or an obligatory exercise of religiosity. I don’t guarantee much because I’m not in charge but I feel more than comfortable saying that if you will commit to the kind of prayer I’m talking about, God will shake your world! But you need to know this: if were as simple as it sounds we would all be praying powerful prayers for hours each day.
Second, we need to have a plan; personally and corporately (to the extent we can come into agreement with others). Life has shown me that most sports teams do a better job of having a stated vision, setting goals, and creating an environment to bring them to fruition than most Christians or churches have about matters that are of far greater importance. My daughter plays collegiate fastpitch softball. From the time she started playing T-ball to college it was drilled into her head that when you are out on the field know exactly what you are going to do if the ball is hit to you. I cannot tell you how many times throughout her career a ball would be hit to a teammate and that player would stand there with arm cocked back…waiting and trying to decide where to throw it. Indecision is the fruit of being unprepared. The majority of churches I’ve been a part of either didn’t bother with creating a vision and setting goals accordingly or went through the motion of setting goals but left off any measure of accountability. And when the ball was hit they stood looking like that player who wasn’t expecting it in the first place not knowing what to do with it. Why are we like this? Look at the paragraph above this one and you’ll know. When we don’t commit to fervent prayer there is really no way we can have a passion for Kingdom work.
Third, “Just Do It.” It’s a shame that a footwear company seems to have a better grasp of how to get results than the entire Body of Christ. Almost all Christians know what the book of James says about faith without works. Yet we continue to talk a big talk and feel no guilt about letting others do the heavy lifting in our faith walk. Let the preachers do the preaching, the missionaries do the evangelizing, and the seminaries do the training. American culture is unapologetically embracing evil (abortion, homosexuality, entitlements, hedonism, pornography, etc.). And how many pulpits are responding to the normalization of these and other sins with “Thus saith the Lord…”? And of the few that are, how many of the parishioners are spreading the word, burning up the phone lines to their elected officials, and speaking up and out publicly about these and other issues concerning morality and spirituality? If there is any hope in turning things around it rests on the willingness of Christians to engage their spiritual enemies without reservation or apology. Going to church on Sunday when you’ve not spent time in serious prayer or otherwise lifted a finger (uttered a word of protest, waved your arms in the universal signal to stop, or conveyed to anyone in any meaningful way that God cannot be pleased with the moral or spiritual climate of America) is the height of hypocrisy. American churghgoers had better take heed to Matthew 7:21-27. Those who do not “do” are not entitled to the rewards of faithfulness no matter how often they called Him “Lord” or how many church services they attended.
Year after year we supposedly take stock of the year just ended and hear optimistic speeches and sermons about the opportunities of the new year. Yet very little seems to change. The American church continues to decline in number and vitality and the issues of morality (sins) that should be addressed by a unified voice from Christianity continue to grow more and more bold and prevalent. Why? The Church keeps waiting on a magic bullet. A new book. A new voice. A new megachurch pastor.
We have bought hook, line, and sinker into society’s cleverly disguised self-idolatry. It’s all about me. “You deserve a break today.” Get the most for the least. Luxury. Style. Comfort. Take it. The three actions I have suggested we take if we want to get results beyond our wildest expectations are not novel, trendy, or new. It didn’t take a theological giant to unpack and decode the biblical data. Pray, plan, and execute. It is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. But as simple as it sounds (and is) it takes a tremendous amount of commitment. Have you tried to pray for a half an hour straight lately? Visioning, setting goals, and working out their implementation is a challenging and time consuming affair. And following through with the work? Yeah, that usually gets consumed with work and family issues because they take priority, right?
Do you see what I mean? We seem to have lost the will and stamina to do what we know to do. Jesus didn’t say “Waltz right through that gateway to eternal life” did He? No, He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Strive to pray faithfully. Strive to develop a godly vision and the means to implement it. Strive to be a doer and not only a hearer. Strive as if your very soul and eternal life depend upon it…because they do.