Family Worship

Our family added a new daily routine at the beginning of 2021: family worship time! If you don’t have this as a daily routine in your home already, I cannot recommend it highly enough. We’ve wanted to do this for a while but weren’t sure what to actually do. And to be honest it just seemed like it would be awkward. But it has come to be our absolute favorite part of each day. I hope that this post will encourage you to add this routine in your own home and provides some tips to get started.

The What

What do I mean by “family worship?” Worship in general refers to the way that we praise and encounter God. We do this on Sunday mornings in church, which we call corporate worship. We do this in daily quiet times, which could be called “private worship.” Family worship is simply praising and encountering God as a family, in a time that we have intentionally set aside for this purpose. For much of Christian history it has been a core piece of Christian family life.

The Why

Why should you add family worship time to your daily routine? Let me give three reasons. First, regular family worship time provides a way to model your faith by worshipping in front of your kids. This is especially true if your church, like ours, has children’s classes during your Sunday morning worship. If your kids are not with you during Sunday morning worship then they may never see you publicly worship God during their childhood. Family worship provides a time for your children to watch you worship and learn what it means to pause to praise God.

Second, family worship provides an intentional time to make worship part of your family life. Deuteronomy 6:7 says that parents are to “teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Our faith cannot be confined to Sunday worship and midweek church activities. We are to constantly be seeking to form our children in the ways of faith. As a parent, this is the highest calling in your life. Family worship helps us to steward this responsibility well.

Third, a daily routine of family worship provides accountability for you and your spouse to worship the Lord. I have to confess, I miss my daily devotional times more often than my family misses family worship. Because making time for family worship doesn’t depend only on me. Most days I announce that it is family worship time. Many days it is my wife. Some days our three year old daughter Lydia is the first to remind us. We’re in it together, and even on the days when I’m tempted to skip it, I’m always glad when we make time for family worship.

The How

So how do you actually go about doing family worship? It’s Tuesday evening, you’ve eaten dinner, and it’s time for family worship… now what? First, keep it short. Our family worship time is typically 5-10 minutes. The benefit you gain from family worship is not to be found in any one evening but in the habit itself. Not in this Tuesday evening’s worship but in doing family worship every Tuesday evening. We are formed not just by the content but by the habit itself.

So what do you do during family worship? Read, sing, and pray. First, read a story from an age-appropriate Bible. For older children this may be an actual Bible, but for younger children it may be a children’s Bible. (I recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible, or for toddlers we’ve used The Beginner’s Bible Bedtime Collection). We end our reading time with a short prayer response to the story (“Thank you God for sending David to be Israel’s hero and save them from Goliath. And thank you for sending Jesus to be our hero and save us from sin. Amen.”)

Next, sing. Pick a song that everyone knows. For us this has usually been Jesus Loves Me, or sometimes Jesus Thank You. If you have a piano or guitar to play along with, fantastic. If not then you can play a YouTube video of the song and sing along with it together. We’ve done both. Most nights Lydia “plays the piano” while we sing together. It’s not a production, it’s family worship, so do whatever works for your family. But please don’t skip it. Singing is a great way to worship, and singing in family worship is a great way to model this for your kids.

After you sing, pray. For our family worship prayers we all hold hands while I pray. In my prayer I thank God for a few things from our day (our family, church teachers, sunny days to play) and for something related to our Bible reading (“Thank you for forgiving the people in Nineveh after you sent Jonah to them”) and ask him for our daily needs. Depending on how the day has been, this may be a prayer for good sleep or for help being kind to each other tomorrow.

But What About…

Won’t it be awkward? This was my concern. It just seemed weird, and I was positive that singing as a family would be awkward. My encouragement is that it feels more awkward for you than it will for your kids. Your kids don’t know any better. It’s awkward for you because it’s not your “normal.” But whatever you do in your home will become the “normal” for your kids.

I don’t have enough time. If you don’t have time for a daily family worship time then aim for 5 days a week or 3 days a week or 1 day each week. Even one day a week adds up to hundreds of formative family worship times over the span of a childhood.

My kids won’t sit still that long. We have a three year old with two modes: Go and Sleep. We get it. Three thoughts here. First, expect some wiggling. It’s going to happen. Second, set boundaries. We have a “family worship blanket” that we are required to stay on during family worship time. A few times a week we have to enforce this rule, but having a physical boundary makes this easier. Third, remember that the main goal is the habit, not tonight’s worship time. If your kids are so wiggly that you aren’t sure they heard a word you said, it’s OK. They’ll be there again tomorrow.

I’ll end with a line from Donald Whitney’s book on Family Worship: Isn’t this what you really want to do? It might feel a little awkward at first, it might require sacrificing some time, and it might be frustrating some days to get your kids to sit still that long. But don’t you really want to have a regular routine of intentionally worshiping God as a family? For your kids to learn from you each night what it looks like to worship God? What a fantastic way to steward the high calling of parenting that God has given to us as the primary disciplers of our children. It is my hope and prayer that you would add this rhythm to your family life and find it as richly rewarding as we have.

What if I’m praying for the wrong thing?

Maintaining a consistent, daily routine of prayer is one of the most basic aspects of the Christian life. It is also one of the most difficult for me. Perhaps it is for you as well. I always find myself second-guessing my prayer requests. Is that really what I should be asking for? Is it really best that this conflict at work disappear? What if God has put this in my life to teach me perseverance or patience? Then I should really be praying for strength to persevere, or for patience, rather than for God to remove it. What if I’m praying for the wrong thing?

Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers because we do not know what to pray for as we should. This tells us two things. First, it is normal human experience to not know what to pray for. Second, even if I pray for the wrong thing, the Spirit intercedes to help me pray for the right thing. But if I’m praying for the wrong thing, and God has to correct my prayers anyway, why bother praying for anything? I’ll still pray to confess my sins and to praise and thank God, but why bother making requests if God already knows what’s best?

C. S. Lewis is helpful here:

“In every action, just as in every prayer, you are trying to bring about a certain result; and this result must be good or bad. Why, then, do we not argue… that if the intended result is good God will bring it to pass without your interference, and that if it is bad He will prevent it happening whatever you do? Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they’ll come clean without your washing them. If He doesn’t, they’ll remain dirty (as Lady Macbeth found) however much soap you use. Why ask for the salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything? We know that we can act and that our actions produce results… It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.1

Lewis goes on to say that the difference between praying for something to happen and causing something to happen is that in prayer God can either grant it or not grant it. God is the one who decides whether or not our desire will come true. But our actions are more directly tied to the results. And they are often terrible. Suppose, for example, that I want someone to die. If I pray for that person to die, will they? Of course not. Prayer is not voodoo. God will not grant that prayer and cause someone to die just because I prayed for it. But suppose instead of praying for their death, I decide to shoot them. If the gunshot is fatal then they will die. There is a crude directness to our normal actions.

Imagine if you never made a friend because the friendship might end poorly. Never took a road trip because there might be a car accident. Never went to a doctor out of fear that God might not want you to be healed. If our actions and our prayers are simply two different ways in which we affect the world around us, then this is exactly what we do in our prayer lives when we only pray for God’s will, or worse yet, fail to pray at all out of concern that we are praying for the wrong thing.

God has allowed us to act in this world in ways that affect the nature of reality. When you eat a sandwich, that sandwich is no longer there. You have altered reality such that the sandwich no longer exists. Our actions really affect real events. And so do our prayers. We see this throughout the Bible:

  • Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The LORD was receptive to his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. (Gen 25:21 CSB)
  • Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. (Num 11:2 CSB)
  • Then the LORD was receptive to prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel ended. (2Sa 24:25 CSB)
  • So the man of God pleaded for the favor of the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored (1Ki 13:6 CSB)
  • But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. (Luke 1:13 CSB)

We can pray with the same confidence with which we act. More so, actually, because God may lovingly choose not to grant our wrong requests. With our actions, what’s done is done. With our prayers, we have direct access both to the power of God and to the goodness of God. God is able to do whatever we ask, but He is merciful enough not to grant us our foolish requests. So “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).

Resources on Prayer

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

“Work and Prayer” in God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis

Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney


1. From the essay “Work and Prayer” in God in the Dock.

Advent, week 3: Joy.

When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt 2:3)

A few years ago I noticed a small detail in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. When the wise men from the East come to Jerusalem and ask where the newborn king is, Matthew tells us that “When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” The piece I want to focus on is that last phrase: “and all Jerusalem with him.” Why on earth would the Jews be disturbed by this news? Israel had eagerly awaited the birth of the Messiah for centuries. At this time they are under the unwanted thumb of the Roman empire, ruled by the illegitimate king Herod. It makes perfect sense that Herod would be afraid – he knows that he is not the rightful king, and he knows that the people know it. News of the birth of the rightful king could start a riot or even a revolt. Herod was right to be disturbed by this news. But why would Israel be disturbed by it? Maybe they were afraid of what Herod would do. Maybe they were afraid of what Rome would do. Whatever the reason, this is not the right reaction.

Matthew includes this detail to foreshadow that Jesus will not be the sort of king that Israel expects him to be. When he hears about the King’s birth, Herod asks the Jewish religious leaders to teach him about the King’s coming. They are the experts, after all. They have studied the scriptures, and they know all about the coming King, the Messiah. And yet these leaders are the very ones who will later have Jesus executed. Jesus didn’t line up with their expectations for the coming King.

Jesus doesn’t line up with our expectations today either. He teaches things that we don’t want to hear. He makes demands that we don’t want to obey. Maybe it’s when Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that the command to “love your neighbor” includes even the political or ethnic or religious group that you cannot stand to share a nation with – or when he adds that this person might just prove to be the better neighbor of the two of you. Maybe it’s how he tells us to use our money. Maybe it’s when he teaches that glory is found not in power but in weakness, not in ruling but in serving.

How do you react when Jesus doesn’t line up with your expectations? Are you unsettled or afraid? Do you protect yourself by rationalizing it away? “‘Love your neighbor’ doesn’t include this group – they’re too dangerous.” Or “I can love them without letting them near me.” Or “once I have move money, then I’ll try to follow Jesus’ teaching about money.” Advent is the season in which we remember when God’s people waited in darkness for the coming of the King. But Advent is also the season in which we prepare ourselves to receive the King today. What would it look like for you to receive King Jesus with Joy rather than Fear, even when he doesn’t meet your expectations?

What is it this Advent season that is causing you to be unsettled or afraid rather than joyful?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.

Advent, week 2: Peace.

“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'” (Luke 1:31)

Pregnancy is a scary time even in the modern world and under the best of circumstances. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary. For Mary there would be no epidural. There would be no emergency C-section if complications occurred. There would be no doctor, no nurses, no hospital bed. After delivery there would still be no doctor, no medical supplies, no lactation consultant, no What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  On top of all of this, remember that Mary was probably a 14 year old kid who was a virgin and had quite possibly never traveled more than a few miles from her home. When they arrive in Bethlehem (a journey on which 9-month-pregnant Mary rode bareback on a donkey) there is no room for them. Scholars debate whether the original Greek words of the gospels indicate that Jesus was born in a stable, a cave, or a family living room – regardless of which is correct, this was not going to be the delivery that Mary was expecting.

On a broader scale, Mary was a Jew living in the first century. This meant that she was a member of a people group who had been colonized by and were currently occupied by a world superpower (Rome). Herod, the “king” in Jerusalem, was not the rightful king – not even a real Jew – but had curried favor with the Roman powers-that-be. When he hears that a child has been born who is called “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:1-2) he is afraid, and he later orders that every child in Bethlehem who is two years old or younger is to be killed (Matt. 2:16). Can you imagine being a parent of a one-year-old in Bethlehem when Herod gave this horrific order? Can you imagine being Mary? Mary was forced to flee to Egypt, another world superpower, to avoid the violence.

We hear these stories every year, and so it’s hard for us to read this story with fresh eyes. (I will never be able to read Luke 2 with any internal voice other than that of Linus from Peanuts). Let me frame this story in a modern context for us: Mary is a pregnant fourteen-year-old girl from Honduras seeking asylum in the United States to avoid violence in her hometown. When she finally arrives, there will likely be “no room” for her or her newborn baby. In all likelihood her family has disowned her, and so she and her baby will depend fully on the kindness of strangers and the grace of God along the way in her journey. There is no higher justice to turn to in her own land – under the best of circumstances she will be ignored, and under the worst she will be further abused.

It is into this context of fear, turmoil, anxiety, and pain that “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God'” (Luke 1:30). “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14) Peace even to Mary, the new-mom refugee fleeing from violence in her unstable homeland, and seeking asylum in a foreign nation.

In what situation in your life do you need to hear this Advent message: “Do not be afraid”? The message of “peace on earth” as the Advent hymn declares. Our world is full of violence and pain and hatred and injustice and uncertainty and loss and fear. But the King has come. And the King is coming. Even when peace seems impossible, the Advent message reminds us that it has already begun.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Advent, week 1: Hope.


“This is the genealogy of Jesus: the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1).
 
There is a common trope in action movies in which a main character has been seriously injured and appears to have died. The character lies motionless on the ground, while friends around him plead for him to open his eyes. After a few silent seconds that feel like an eternity, the character gasps for breath – his eyes fly open – and he reaches for a friend – alive.
 
That’s the effect that Matthew wanted this opening verse of the New Testament to have on his readers. God promised Abraham (in Genesis 12) that he would make a great nation out of him and that the entire world would be blessed through him. He promised David (in 2 Samuel 7) that one of his descendants would always be on the throne over the people of God. As Israel and Judah were terrorized and kidnapped
en masse by world powers Assyria and Babylon, God promised his people that a Messiah was coming who would set things right and restore life to the people of God. And yet,
centuries had passed with no Messiah in sight. To put things in perspective: the number of years between the return from exile and the birth of Jesus was twice the number of years between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and today. To say that the people of God had “waited” for the Messiah is an understatement.
 
And then, after centuries of silence, the New Testament opens: “This is the genealogy of Jesus: the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This at last is the one we have waited for. Our hope was not in vain. God has kept his promises, and they will all be fulfilled in this person Jesus. It is a remarkable opening to the Christmas story.
 
As we enter this season of Advent, I invite you to reflect on this theme of waiting and hope. What is it that you are waiting for – longing for? Maybe you’re waiting for a wrong to be made right. Maybe you’re waiting for physical healing or for some other suffering to end. Maybe you’re waiting for a relationship to be restored. Maybe you’re waiting for a new season of life to begin. Maybe you’re waiting for God to put an end to the tremendous evil that we see in our world.
 
How has God in Jesus addressed this longing? In Christ, God has begun the new era of the history of the universe. Death has been defeated. Sin has lost its power. Evil does not have the last word. In his birth, Jesus became one of us – Immanuel, “God with us,” committed eternally to us. In his life, Jesus modeled and taught the way for us to live truly human. In his death, Jesus broke the power of Sin. In his resurrection, Jesus broke the power of death.
 
Our waiting is not in vain. Our hope is not empty.
 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Lydia

saint-lydia

“A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:14-15)


My wife Amanda and I anticipate the birth of our first child any day now. Lydia is her name. Over the past several weeks we have shared her name with dozens of people, and the reaction is almost always the same. “That’s such a pretty name! How did you choose that name?” It’s a fairly uncommon name. Neither of us have close family members named Lydia. To the best of our recollection we have only known one Lydia in our entire lives, and she was not the namesake. So why “Lydia”?

Lydia is named after a purple cloth dealer from Thyatira who lived and died in the first century. Strange, right? Lydia’s story is found in the Bible in Acts 16:11-15. She only appears in verses 14, 15, and 40, but we learn so much about her in these few verses. We can think of at least seven things we learn about Lydia from these verses, and these are exactly the reason we chose to name our daughter after her. We hope and pray that our Lydia will embody the same virtues we see in Lydia of Thyatira.

1. We pray Lydia loves Jesus Christ.

The first thing we learn about Lydia (Acts 16:14) is that she is “a God-fearing woman.” The same verse tells us that God opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. And the joy is immediately evident. She and her household are baptized, and she invites everyone back to her place to celebrate. Lydia heard about and met the risen Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart to love him. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

2. We pray Lydia is courageous.

Luke unfortunately gives us no back story for Lydia, but we can fill out some back story from what he does give us. What do we know about Lydia? We know she was from Thyatira but is now living in Philippi. We know she sells purple cloth. We know she was attending (and possibly leading) a prayer meeting of women by the river. It seems she was the head of her household (since her entire household follows suit in baptism, and since she invites the travelers to her home). The picture that we have of Lydia, then, is of an entrepreneurial woman (quite uncommon in her world) who was living what appears to be a fairly wealthy lifestyle (purple cloth was a lucrative business, and she appears to have had a large home) without a husband and in a foreign city, as the head of her household (which at the time would include servants in addition to family), and who takes the initiative to attend or lead a prayer gathering of God-worshiping women in this foreign city. Lydia was no damsel in distress. She was courageous. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

3. We pray Lydia knows her worth as a woman created by God.

Lydia’s story would be uncommon but not exceptional if she were a man. But as a woman her story is remarkable. At every point of the story we find Lydia in a role we would expect to be filled by a man. To start with, Paul and Silas find her at a prayer gathering by the river. To the careful reader of Acts, this is actually an alarming detail. Paul has visited several cities up to this point, and his first stop is always the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship. But in Philippi there apparently is no synagogue. The reason for this would have been that Philippi did not have ten Jewish men as required by Jewish custom in order to form a synagogue. But it seems Philippi may have had ten at least ten God-worshiping women. And these women, including Lydia, faithfully meet by the river to pray. Lydia is also an entrepreneur, and a seemingly wealthy one in a lucrative industry. It was not unheard of for women to hold such roles, but it certainly would have been noteworthy. Lydia also seems to function as the head of her household. This was definitely a man’s job. In Roman custom the paterfamilias (“family father”) served as the master of the estate, overseeing the operations of his home. This would include farming, finances, daily operations like food preparation and water gathering, and possibly even overseeing small businesses run out of unused rooms. A large home at the time could look more like a modern office building than a modern house. And Lydia appears to serve as the paterfamilias of her home, where there likely is no authoritative male figure to hold the role. Lydia extends the invitation to her guests to stay in her estate. Again this would have been extremely common from a man, but highly unusual from a woman. And at the end of the story (Acts 16:40) we learn that the church is apparently meeting in Lydia’s home. At every point in her story, we find Lydia in situations where we would expect to find a strong male presence (Jewish religion, business, the paterfamilias, the church) but where there apparently is no such presence. But instead of a confused void, we find Lydia serving faithfully. In a society that believed women to be inferior to men, Lydia courageously steps up to fill the roles left vacant by the men around her. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

4. We pray Lydia will lead when no one else will.

Not everyone is a natural-born leader. But this does not mean that only certain people are capable of leading. Lydia appears to have had something of an entrepreneurial spirit, but most of her leadership was forced on her. She was likely only involved in the business world because she had been widowed and left with no other option. This industry took her across the sea to another city. There were no men leading a synagogue service in this city, so she found or formed a group for the women. She had no husband to act as paterfamilias, so she did so herself. Maybe Lydia was a born leader. Maybe leadership was the last thing she ever wanted. Either way, when people around her when in need of a leader, Lydia was willing to lead. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

5. We pray Lydia will be generous.

Lydia of Thyatira was a wealthy and successful woman. But neither of these are reasons we chose her as the namesake for our daughter. Her generosity is one of the reasons. After coming to faith in Jesus, Lydia urges Paul and his traveling companions to stay in her home. This is more than an invitation for a visit. This is an invitation for them to make her home their “headquarters” as they seek to preach the gospel in Philippi. In Acts 16:40 we learn that Lydia’s home has become the meeting place of the newly formed church. Lydia is extremely generous with the way she uses her resources to care for others. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

6. We pray Lydia will be hospitable.

The Greek word that the Bible uses for “hospitality” is a compound word that literally means “love of the stranger” (philoxenia – “philo” means “love” and “xenia” means “stranger”). Hospitality in the ancient world wasn’t about Super Bowl parties with friends but about taking care of the stranger, the traveler, the “other” who was in need. God is the ultimate example of hospitable in his love for humans – an “other” to God. Jesus is hospitable in that he extends himself to “tax collectors and sinners,” to a Samaritan woman, to people with leprosy, to the demon-possessed. Lydia of Thyatira was hospitable. Paul, Silas, and Luke are traveling from region to region preaching the gospel, and they are without room and board in Philippi. But Lydia extends herself to make her home their home in Philippi, and later to make her home the church meeting place in Philippi. Lydia shows true hospitality to these people in need. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

7. We pray Lydia will love the church.

Lydia of Thyatira values community. Without a synagogue to visit, she joins/forms a prayer group. When she comes to faith in Christ, she tells her entire household and they also are baptized. She invites Paul, Silas, and Luke to stay in her home. She opens up her home as the place where the new church gathers. Lydia values community. Lydia loves the church. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.

The Devil’s in the Details

devil_in_details

When we consistently use passive, impersonal phrases — like “I got saved” or “prayer works” — to describe God’s interactions in our lives, we start to forget that the actor is in fact Yahweh God and not some generic, impersonal force.


The Problem

Have you ever heard someone say “prayer works” or seen the bumper stickers that say “try prayer, it works”? Every time I hear someone say that, it makes me cringe. I certainly don’t have a problem with people praying — in fact, I believe it to be a tragedy that the church prays so little. My problem, as petty as it may seem, is with the actual wording of the phrase. Prayer doesn’t “work.” God works. Saying that prayer works is like saying that calling 911 gets intruders out of your home. The police get intruders out of your home. Calling 911 is just a good way to get the police to come to your house.

Prayer doesn’t “work.” God works.

So a better bumper sticker might read, to borrow a line from the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, “Ask Dad, He Knows.”

The Impact

This is more than just wording. When we use these phrases — and only these phrases — over and over again, it does two things. First, it confuses children and non-Christians as to what we really believe. When someone who is not a Christian has a crisis, they may turn to prayer on the advice of a Christian friend. And their experience may likely be, “I prayed and it didn’t work; God must not exist.” To which I would respond, “Or maybe you just don’t have a relationship with the Father yet.” If I were to ask the president of the United States to take a day off work and spend the entire day with me, he would refuse. But it would be absurd for me to conclude that this means he would refuse his wife as well if she were to ask him the same favor. I don’t have a relationship with the president; she does. In the same way, non-Christians should not expect for their prayers to be answered in the same way as believers’ prayers, because they are not His children (John 1:12). Although there is certainly a place for prayer from non-believers, and God certainly has and does answer prayers from anyone as he chooses, we should not confuse the world by telling them that “prayer works” as if prayer-answers were as guaranteed as taking aspirin for a headache.

Second, it confuses us as to what we really believe. When we consistently use passive, impersonal phrases — like “I got saved” or “prayer works” — to describe God’s interactions in our lives, we start to forget that the actor is in fact Yahweh God and not some generic, impersonal force. What do we do when prayer doesn’t seem to work? Do we assume that our prayer tank must need to be refilled? It’s not magic; but so often we treat it as is it were. And yet, the awesome truth is that prayer as a conversation with God is indescribably greater than prayer as magic, in the same way that the love between a father and his child is greater than the gravitational pull between the Earth and the Moon. Magic implies impersonal force. Conversation implies relationship.

we start to forget that the actor is in fact Yahweh God and not some generic, impersonal force

The same problem applies to saying “I got saved.” Don’t believe me? Start telling people how old you were “when Jesus saved” you, e.g. “I was 9 years old when Jesus saved me.” If you’re not accustomed to using that phrase, it will probably feel awkward and uncomfortable to you; I know it does for me. That’s a problem. How did you “get saved?” Did you just work really hard? Did you step in a puddle of magic Saving Potion on your way to lunch one day? If you are saved, it is because Jesus saved you. We would do well to constantly remind ourselves of that, and to make it clear to others.

If you are saved, it’s because Jesus saved you.

The world offers an infinite number of false saviors: success, family, wealth, moral character, self-actualization, retirement, respect, relationships, appearance, fame, etc, etc. “I got saved” suggests (rightly) to the world that they can be saved too; but it doesn’t give the slightest clue as to how that happens. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. Don’t ever forget it, and don’t let them miss it.

The Next Step

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18:21.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29.

I’m not saying that the phrases “prayer works” or “I got saved” fall under the category of “corrupting talk.” But if your words confuse the lost about God’s active role in the world, and His power to save them, then they could hardly be said to be “good for building up” or to “give grace to those who hear.”

Think about what you’re telling people with your words.

Sometimes the Devil truly is in the details.