An Essential Ingredient in Reaching Unreached People

The occasion: a church’s first service in a new building. The mayor and other dignitaries attended. The mood was festive — at least until the pastor showed a picture of men hanging from a crane.

The men, the pastor explained, were martyrs, killed for their faith in Jesus. We do not live with the same danger, he continued. We will probably not face martyrdom. But we can not be any less committed to Jesus than these men were, the pastor said, and we must be equally prepared to die for Christ as they were.

We live in interesting times. We are increasingly out of step with culture, and we are feeling it. We’re not used to being countercultural. We get that it happens elsewhere, but it’s a new experience for us here.

It’s time to get used to it. We out of sync with the popular zeitgeist. We may even, at some point, lose our charitable status or property tax exemptions. So be it. We can’t be any less committed to Christ than those who have suffered more.

David Platt once witnessed a baptism in an underground house church. The pastor asked a young man in his twenties, “Are you willing to be baptized, knowing that it may cost you your life?” With unhesitating resolve, he replied, “I have already sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Yes, I want to be baptized.” A friend of mine now asks people this same question before he baptizes them.

We may not face the threat of death here, but we must be equally prepared to die for Christ as those who do.

I love what Ajith Fernando writes:

The West is fast becoming an unreached region. The Bible and history show that suffering is an essential ingredient in reaching unreached people. Will the loss of a theology of suffering lead the Western church to become ineffective in evangelism?…[Christians] need to have a firm theology of suffering if they are to be healthy and bear fruit.

This is true everywhere, but we’re just beginning to learn its truth here.

Christians Against Poverty

Many of us know the challenges of managing our money. No matter how great our income, the expenses seem to keep up. We may like the idea of budgeting, but living on a budget is another matter. As a result, we end up falling short and racking up debt.

Christians Against Poverty wants to help. At first glance, it sounds like a protest group or ministry for the poor. It’s actually for anyone who wants to learn how to better manage their money. Although it’s certainly a great fit for low-income areas, it’s also a great fit for middle-income people who want to budget, save, and spend wisely. According to their mission statement, "We are passionate about releasing people in our nation from a life sentence of debt, poverty and their causes. Working with the church we bring good news, hope and freedom.”

CAP works with churches to offer a CAP Money Course, which aims to empower people to give and save more, and to avoid the destructive effects of unmanageable debt. The course is simple. It begins with where you are financially, and helps you set financial goals, design a budget, and implement a system that helps you stick to the budget using a cash system. The course comes with a clear workbook, and is taught by trained volunteers. Participants in the course get access to an online budgeting tool. If you need additional help, you can access Internet and phone-based support directly from CAP.

Why should churches partner with CAP? Many in our congregations and communities are struggling with their finances. Helping them is part of discipleship, and it’s also a means of building relationships.

I heard of CAP through friends who took the course a year ago. They thought they were managing their finances well already. After taking and implementing the course, they were able to save enough money to take their entire family of five to Thailand (where my friend grew up as a missionary kid) using cash.

I recently took the course, and we plan on offering it through our church. If you live in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, then you should consider taking it too, or offering it at your church.

For more information, visit the Christians Against Poverty website.

Rebuilding Your Broken World

Back in the day, I was a big fan of Gordon MacDonald, author of Ordering Your Private World. I still remember the day that I heard that he had resigned due to a moral failure. I think I believed that only the bad guys did that sort of thing. It was the first time that I truly realized the good guys are susceptible too.

Sadly, it’s not unusual to hear heartbreaking stories of moral failure. MacDonald’s book Rebuilding Your Broken World, written years after his moral failure, helped shape my understanding around this issue.

The whole book is worth reading, but it may be useful to summarize some of the important lessons I learned. Here are some that stick out to me:

Broken worlds are common. “The Bible abounds with examples of men and women whose worlds crashed from self-inflicted causes, and their responses range within great extremes,” writes MacDonald. We shouldn't be surprised.

We’re all vulnerable. We need to confront three lies that we tell ourselves: Broken worlds are the exception, not the rule; a broken-world experience can never happen to me; and if my world breaks, then I can handle the results. We are all vulnerable, and the potential damage is greater than we can imagine.

We’re especially vulnerable when we think we aren’t. A German teenager landed an airplane in Red Square because the Soviets hadn’t prepared for the threat of a small plane. When we leave our hearts unguarded, we’re in severe danger.

We are especially vulnerable in the areas of our strengths. “The Bible characters never fell on their weak points but on their strong ones; unguarded strength is double weakness,” writes Oswald Chambers.

Secrets lead to death; repentance and truth-telling leads to life. Cover-up and self-deception keeps us in bondage until we are ready to name the evil and move towards repentance and healing. Churches can help people move from secrecy to light.

Take preventative steps. Adopt a repentant lifestyle. Practice spiritual disciplines. Cultivate key relationships. Resist the applause that belongs to Christ. Take time to have fun. Hold things loosely. Be filled with the Spirit of God.

Restoration is possible. “Either you believe in the capacity of Christ’s atonement to make you a new person, or you don’t. If you do, then start living like a forgiven person should live. And how is that done? By being a lot more quiet, humble, thankful, sensitive, and anxious to serve than you ever were before. Forgiven people basically live like that,” MacDonald says.

Restoration follows a process. For starters: be silent and withdraw; refuse to defend yourself; assume the ministry of the interior; walk through the pain rather than avoiding it.

Restoration requires others. “Ultimately, rebuilding broken worlds can never happen alone. It is a team effort, and it has to be accomplished in concert with those who can give grace and affirm progress,” says MacDonald. “The grace that helps to rebuild a broken world is something given: never deserved, never demanded, never self-induced.”

The lessons from this book have stuck with me for years. I've appreciated rereading them again this week. I pray we'll learn them well as those who walk with others who fail, and face the danger (or reality) of our own sins and failures.

Private Prayer

It’s happened. I’ve caught myself praying in public, and realized that most of my recent prayers have been in public. It’s the very thing that Jesus warned about:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

When most of my prayers are public, it’s a sign that I’m putting on a performance before people rather than talking to my heavenly Father. This is deadly in ministry, and it’s deadly for the soul.

I’ve seen the opposite happen too. I’ve prayed with others, and had the sense that I’m listening to a conversation between intimate friends. You can’t fake that. There’s an honesty, a tenderness, and a fluency that can only come from a rich, private experience of personal prayer.

That’s why I love what Jesus said:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

The applause of other people is a poor substitute for the intimacy of a relationship with the Father who cares, and who promises to reward. I’m praying that I will increasingly learn to pray in such a way that my public prayers are nothing but the smallest of glimpses into the ongoing intimacy that is my life’s greatest joy. God make me a man of that kind of prayer.

Fourteen Quotes from A Praying Life

Some books are forgettable. A Praying Life by Paul Miller isn’t one of those books. It’s the best book I’ve read on how to pray in the mess of daily life. I highly recommend it.

Here are fourteen quotes from A Praying Life that stood out to me:

Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of a family mealtime. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center. (Kindle Locations 378-382) 

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. (Kindle Locations 425-426) 

A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer. (Kindle Location 437) 

The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy. (Kindle Locations 503-504)

Become like a little child—ask, believe, and, yes, even play. When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has done something remarkable. He’s given you a new voice. It is his own. God has replaced your badly damaged prayer antenna with a new one—the Spirit. (Kindle Locations 624-627)

You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly. (Kindle Locations 694-696) 

If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray. (Kindle Locations 729-732) 

You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit. (Kindle Location 916) 

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. (Kindle Locations 969-971) 

Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life. (Kindle Locations 1555-1556) 

Suffering is God’s gift to make us aware of our contingent existence. It creates an environment where we see the true nature of our existence—dependent on the living God. (Kindle Locations 1676-1677) 

Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. (Kindle Locations 2627-2628)

If Satan’s basic game plan is pride, seeking to draw us into his life of arrogance, then God’s basic game plan is humility, drawing us into the life of his Son. (Kindle Locations 3017-3018) 

Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend. I’m aware of the weeds of unbelief in me and the struggles in others’ lives. The Holy Spirit puts his finger on issues that only he can solve. I’m actually managing my life through my daily prayer time. I’m shaping my heart, my work, my family—in fact, everything that is dear to me—through prayer in fellowship with my heavenly Father. I’m doing that because I don’t have control over my heart and life or the hearts and lives of those around me. But God does. (Kindle Locations 3269-3273)