Lately, I’ve found myself evaluating in greater depth what I’m spending my time and attention on. I’ll ask myself questions like: What is the most important thing for me to do today? Why am I interested in this post? Will this help my family in the long-term? These questions aren’t born out of a struggle with guilt, by the grace of God. And I am not operating under a system of rules that I think will add to my favor before the Lord, by the grace of God. The reason for why I’ve been asking these questions isn’t complicated, it’s simply learning to guard the little time I have within the 15 or so hours that I am awake within a 24-hour period. But these series of questions have led to more questions like: What do I find myself obsessed with? What would I like to do this year? How can I serve my neighbors better? What have I done for my church lately?
Thus, the start of a new series…
Over the summer, I’d love for you and me to explore questions together. These questions won’t likely be theological questions, rather I want to explore practical everyday life questions that might be actionable, or they could lead to confession and repentance in an area, or maybe the questions will help to stir love and affection for the Lord. They will likely be questions that I’m asking myself or asking my friends. They may even be questions based on a trend I see via social media.
And I’d love for you to participate.
If you feel compelled, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions either via the comments section of this blog or on my social media posts. I hope you would join me as we think and reflect on various aspects of life together. Every now and then, I’d love to feature your answers on my site. I’m going to give you a bit of a head’s up for next week’s question, which is: What Am I Truly Obsessed With?
I was inspired to ask myself this question after seeing someone quote a friend who said she’d like to be obsessed with the thing she’ll be obsessed with for eternity (paraphrasing). Next week, I’ll seek to answer honestly about my obsessions and then share why I hope to be more obsessed with the person I will have the joy of being obsessed with for eternity.
Until then, are there any questions you’d like for me to explore? Any questions you think would be useful to consider as an online community?
(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)
With these words, the pastor in the pulpit bows his head and everyone in the pews around me does the same. What follows is pretty unspectacular. A roomful of people close their eyes. Their pastor speaks words of praise and thanksgiving, of confession and repentance, of desire and supplication. It might last for five or ten or fifteen minutes. There is no music. No movement. No sound except the voice of one man and the quiet “Amens” from the congregation.
This hardly seems like a high point in the worship service. And, I admit, I haven’t always enjoyed it.
As a child, I squirmed and daydreamed through many pastoral prayers. As a teenager, I slept through a handful. Even as an adult, I find my mind wandering and my heart cooling more often than I would like to confess. At such times, the week’s calendar or the prospect of lunch seem more compelling and delightful than sitting in church with my head bowed.
But, Sunday after Sunday, I must remind myself that these moments of prayer are much more than they seem to my myopic human eyes. The pastoral prayer is not a passive interlude. It’s not a serene intermission for the congregation to catch its breath. It’s far from boring.
It’s work. And it’s war.
When I was a teenager, I lived for a while in the Scottish Highlands. I’ll never forget my first Sunday in the village church: as the pastor began to pray, the entire congregation rose to its feet. We were not listening to the prayer. We were praying. The pastor was the mouthpiece—he gave words to our desires—but we all joined our hearts before the Throne of God.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John pulls back the curtain of heaven so that we might see what our prayers look like from God’s perspective. John writes:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3-5)
This picture looks nothing like the quiet, unspectacular ten minutes we experience every Sunday morning. Incense. Fire. Thunder. Lightening. Earthquake. In the words of one commentator, “the prayers of the saints and the fire of God move the whole course of the world.”
Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that by our prayers God’s people escape temptation and find deliverance from evil (Matt. 6:13). By our prayers, Satan’s subjects surrender and his demons admit defeat (Mark 9:29). And by our prayers, the gospel of Christ secures victory in people’s hearts (2 Thess. 3:1).
When ordinary people bow their heads in the wobbly pews of a nondescript church building on any Sunday morning, their prayers are used by God to accomplish his great purposes.
Enjoying the pastoral prayer, then, means that we see ourselves not as passive listeners to someone else’s prayer but as active members of a praying army, boldly approaching the very Throne of God. It means that we cherish the invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in this important work. It means that we learn to delight in what God will do as we pray together.
Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together (Crossway 2016).
Recently, I watched a hilarious video about a couple pretending to visit churches looking for what might “fit them” the most. The parody has been viewed almost 200,000 times and counting, and it’s for good reason, it’s just that funny. And like most satire and parody pieces, there’s an element of truth to what it’s poking fun at. In this case, this satirical video touches on a problem.
There are many possible lessons or ideas we might be able to discuss from the video, but the thing that struck me the most was the fact that we do have churches with different DNA. I have had the joy of visiting various churches around the country and although many of the heart struggles of the men and women I’ve interacted with in those churches are the same, each individual church has its own overall unique feel, and every culture has its own emphasis. And for this reason I think it’s good for each of us to ask ourselves, when we talk about church life, disciplines, godliness, or living for the Lord, are we proclaiming ourselves and our culture, or are we proclaiming Jesus?
If you are a Christian, you have a ministry to others whether it’s “official” or not. We have a “job”, so to speak, to proclaim Jesus. As I was writing this post, I began to add scripture references to support that we are ambassadors for Jesus, I quickly discovered that there were too many to count. But perhaps the greatest commandment is enough: to love God with all of our hearts, minds, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). If we truly believe the gospel to be true, there’s no greater gift and no greater way we can show love than to proclaim Jesus.
But, if we are honest, how often do we proclaim Jesus? When you look at the blogs and articles that are written, and at our organizations and even our churches, would it be easier for someone to point out all the things we are for besides Jesus? Now, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying if you have an Etsy shop you need to make sure it’s blatantly about Jesus. Instead, I’m thinking specifically of church cultures and what comes out of our mouths when we are living out the Christian life and interacting with others. And do these various church cultures and norms actually shutout people who need Jesus? Do we have a desire to proclaim matters that are grey in the Scriptures such as: working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, homeschooling vs. public schooling, diversity vs. less diverse, traditional services vs. contemporary, etc. What are we more likely to proclaim about ourselves, our churches, and our communities—the culture or Jesus?
In Michael Reeves’s excellent book, Rejoicing in Christ, he says,
“The center, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even “the gospel” as such. It is Jesus Christ.… He is not a mere topic, a subject we can pick out from a menu of options. Without him, our gospel or our system—however, coherent, “grace-filled” or “Bible-based”—simply is not Christian.”
Yes! No Jesus, no Christianity. No Jesus and we are just stuck with culture. But, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28). Our only boast is in Jesus our Lord in whom we find our wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption (verse 30). If we are to proclaim, let us learn and grow in proclaiming Jesus: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (1 Cor. 4:5). It’s not about us. Our living for the Lord isn’t about us. Our worship isn’t about us. Our desired practices aren’t about us. If we are going to proclaim anything, let it be this: Christ and Christ crucified.
Preaching to Myself, Too
If you’ve been around here long enough, you know I’m not telling you something that I have not myself already been convicted by or wrestling with. It can be tempting for me to place a great deal of hope in the diversity of my church, for example. I long for it and we are praying for it (and, by God’s grace, we are seeing growth! I have an awesome pastor!). But as I seek this diversity and as I encourage others to do the same, my prayer is that I’d do so because of Jesus. I’d like to say that I always proclaim Jesus, but who does? So, I’m in this struggle with you. Let’s grow together in making sure that our church cultures, mom groups, women’s ministries, you name it, are filled with the grace of God and the name of Jesus. Let’s ask God to help us make him our focus and not our culture.
Oh, and here’s that hilarious video for your enjoyment:
My kids are on spring break this week, which means my time and attention have been occupied by laughter, silliness, and breaking up fights. It’s been good to have them home. And it’s been good for me to be home and enjoy an extended time of rest and play (I even got a fake nose ring!). This time has also caused me to be less aware of what is going on in the media, social media, well, any media! I can’t keep up with it all and keep up with my kids too. What I’ve also seen in my heart is increased joy and peace. I don’t think these two things (my lack of attention to various media and my increase in joy) are disconnected.
I’ve spent the past few years trying to stay up on current events, which has involved me keeping up with the news media as well as social media. I do believe that awareness of what’s happening in the world is necessary and good in order for me to do the work that I do effectively and also so that I might love my neighbor well. But this week confirmed what I’ve been thinking for some time, it’s time for a bit of a change.
I won’t go into detail about how that change will look. But I do know that I’ve had a bit of information overload during the past few years. I imagine I’m not alone in this. There’s been much to keep up with. But my soul longs for a bit of quiet. I can’t and shouldn’t be completely unaware, but I confess that I think I’ve made knowing what’s going on around me an idol. And honestly, all of the headlines are beginning to sound the exact same to me (this is not a shot at the media).
It’s been a refreshing week. I dare not give you rules for media engagement, but if you’ve found yourself weary and, like me, also see that you take in much of the news day in and day out, perhaps a little break would do your heart good too.
I have quite a bit of travel and speaking planned over the next few months, along with writing projects that I’m thrilled to share about in the near future. I plan to get back to regular blogging shortly as well as finishing up my Enjoy guest post series. But if it’s a bit quieter around here, know that it’s likely because I’m writing longer works that I pray will serve you well.
Grateful you’d invest a moment or two here each week. It’s a joy to write and hear from you!
This week I had the pleasure of guest posting at Desiring God. The article I wrote is meant to encourage moms, like me, to rest in our Savior as we labor in love. I wrote the post a few months ago, and when I saw it posted this week, I was reminded just how much I need these reminders. Although the piece is directed to mothers, I believe we all need the reminder to come to Jesus when we are weary and heavy laden. The rest and peace that he provides is what we all need and desire.
I’d love for you to take a moment and jump on over to DG to read the post.
Here’s a taste:
Motherhood is hard. Can I get an amen?
While we bear the difficult physical aspects of mothering, our minds and hearts come alongside and accuse us of laziness, insufficiency, and failure. Perhaps that’s one reason Jesus commands us to love our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).
We lack joy in motherhood — and enjoyment and peace in our Savior — the moment we step away from the gospel and try to do this “mom thing” on our own. Instead, as we mother, we need to remind ourselves daily of the truth of God’s word, specifically the gospel.