Don’t worry about anything;
instead, pray about everything.
• Philippians 4:6 (NLT)
• • •
My Evangelical Hangover
Praying for Stuff
Hi. I’m Mike and for a long time I lived and served in the world of evangelicalism. Now I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition (the original “evangelicals”). But I’m talking about American Evangelicalism. I followed the path of others who “went into ministry” in the generation when “evangelicalism” became a thing here in the U.S.
I was “saved” in the Jesus movement, “discipled” in youth group, “equipped” in a non-denominational Bible college, “called” to be a pastor, “worshiped” to “Contemporary Christian Music (CCM),” further “equipped” in an evangelical seminary, and I served in non-denominational churches that emphasized a “church growth/church planting/discipling” model.
I’ve written about this many times here, and about why I eventually left the culture of evangelicalism. But you know the old saying about not being able to take the country out of the boy. I appreciate much of my evangelical heritage, but I also have plenty of “hangovers” from those days — angst and guilt and doubt and questions about whether I’m “following the Lord” in one area of my life or another.
The churches I attended and pastored were the kinds that had regular “prayer meetings” on the schedule. Usually Wednesday nights. A few persistent souls gathered to have a short devotional study (10% of the meeting), share “prayer requests” (80%), and pray intercessory prayers on behalf of those with needs (10%). When these meetings became less and less attended, there were always those who saw this as a sign of impending doom. People just weren’t committed to prayer anymore. Dagnabit.
We also had, or were encouraged to have, regular personal “devotions.” A meeting with God each day to hear him speak through the Bible and to speak to him in prayer. We were encouraged to keep our own “prayer lists” of intercessory needs to pray through regularly, from our own “walk with God” to our families to missionaries in the farthest flung places around the globe.
Praying was an integral part of my evangelical life, well, at least in the sense that we talked about it all the time and deemed it of utmost importance. How much actual praying we did is a mystery to me to this day.
One thing we often talked about with regard to our lives was making decisions. Life, of course, is filled with choices, and in the evangelical community a great premium was placed on getting those decisions right in a way that God would be pleased. And the pertinent question we always asked one another was: Have you prayed about it? We believed that God would provide providential guidance or specific biblical direction about almost any decision you can think of. One key sign of his leading was that the pray-er or group of pray-ers would feel “peace” about the decision.
I always struggled with this. I found prayer, though always practiced in a “spontaneous” and never a “liturgical” manner, to be formulaic, often shallow, unimaginative, and relentlessly repetitive. And there was a whole host of matters that I never felt comfortable praying about.
Which brings me to my hangover today. For those of you who don’t know, we are in the process of trying to sell our house and relocate nearby. I won’t bore you with the details, but let me just say it’s a season of life decision. If we’re going to make a move, this would be a good time in our life to do it. At least the way we see it.
But throughout this process I’ve felt guilty. I haven’t prayed about this. In fact, I can’t make myself pray about this or encourage my wife to sit down with me and devote time to praying together about it. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask others to pray about this.
In fact, if you pressed me I would probably tell you I don’t think God really cares a fig about this situation. I can’t imagine that God is really concerned about whether we live here or there.
Also, frankly, it’s about as “First World” a problem as I can envision. I can’t define moving as a “need.” Either place would seem like a palace for 80%+ of the world’s population. Our needs would be far more than met in either location.
I don’t know what I would ask God if I did commit the matter to prayer. God, please help us sell our house (for a good price)? God, please help us get this new house (for a good price)? That seems a bit self-indulgent, doesn’t it? A bit like a spoiled child asking for another toy or a bit more candy. God, search my heart and help me know if I’m doing this for the right motives? What motives would those be? We’re just doing what millions of others do — trying to find a place we like that might be well suited for us and our family in the years to come.
Isn’t something like this just a matter of responsibility, stewardship, and common sense wisdom? Is it something that must be prayed about? What would I be trying to do by praying, get God to sign off on it? Get God to “bless” us with what we want? Seek God’s “favor” on our decisions? Do I think God might actually tell me, “Yes, sell this house,” or “No, don’t buy this house?” Seems like a waste of breath and a waste of God’s time.
But I have this evangelical hangover. There’s a voice pounding in my head over and over:
“Have you prayed about it?”