If God answered all of your prayers...
... would the whole world be different or only your world be different?
I heard someone pose this question rhetorically on Thursday and it rattled me. I couldn't duck the truth of my answer. I don't know what stung more: my selfishness, the smallness of my prayers, or my lack of belief in the power of prayer.
My prayers are way bigger and different than they were ten years ago, but the bottom line is that within 2 seconds of hearing this question, the truth of my heart was revealed. Uggh.
What's the truth of your heart? Convicted?
If so, where should I go with this blog now?
One route is to build a line of logic prompting us to be more aware of our selfishness. Then, I could toss in a generous portion of data about the deplorable state of our world to snap our attention back to the realities of war, human trafficking, the refugee crisis, our deteriorating planet, etc..
The intention wouldn't be mean-spirited. It'd be a creative attempt to remind us that, compared to these issues, most of our worries are "first world problems."
Next, I could throw in a story or two about individuals who rose above their small worlds and took a noble stand for the lost and forgotten. It'd be a mix of inspiration and education about how we can make a difference.
The intended effect would be to whip the reader into a lather of determination to charge the gates the hell. More likely, however, the end result would be readers left with an odd mix of motivation, shame, guilt, paralysis, and indifference.
I'd like to take a completely different approach. I'd like to offer something that doesn't motivate you to act more lovingly, but rather gives you a pathway to become more loving. See the nuance?
Trying to motivate someone to be more loving is like demanding a 10 year old quarterback to start throwing as hard as Tom Brady... or a 5th grade girl in the play to act as well as Merrill Streep. It's paralyzing. It creates a cycle of failure. It drives people away from the goal not toward it.
In his book "The Life You've Always Wanted," John Ortberg uses the analogy of running a marathon to make this point. Trying to run a marathon on the day you become motivated to do it will lead to pain and failure. Beginning a proven, year-long training regimen will result in success and satisfaction.
So here are eight elements of a training regimen to become more loving, compassionate, and joyful one year from today:
- Read and study the bible. It'll change your life. It's still the best way for truly understanding how much God loves you. If you're new to this, start with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Use a study bible or an online bible with study notes. Check out www.biblegateway.com
- Find a church with great teaching straight from the bible.
- Learn how to pray as Jesus prayed...and do it often.
- Read great Christian books: John Ortberg, Dallas Willard, A.W. Tozer, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen. It's presumptuous to lump my book, The Joy Model in with those folks, but I'm told it has been helpful to people.
- Be intentional about what you put into your brain via news, internet, TV, radio, etc. Hide the posts of all toxic Facebook friends.
- Remind yourself at the end of each day of at least three blessings in your life and thank God for them.
- Expose yourself to the pain going on in the world. As the old saying goes, "Let your heart break for the things that break God's heart."
- Lastly, help someone. Anyone. I know this is contrary to my suggestion to work on your heart instead of your good deeds, but sometimes it is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into action.
I believe the best way to bring about world peace is through the internal, Holy Spirit-empowered transformation of individuals.
Jesus mapped out a way to do this and the list above is what I think he would recommend for our modern world. Developing the mind and heart of Christ is gradual. It's more like growing corn than popping it. The technical term is sanctification and it occurs by cooperating with the Holy Spirit not by our hard effort.
Give it a try. If you earnestly do that for a year, I guarantee you your prayers (and your level of joy) will be different on February 26, 2018.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" Galatians 5:22-23