Keeping It Simple
We live in a complicated world. You don’t need me to tell you that. The overwhelming speed of technological advances, climate change requiring unprecedented international cooperation to reverse, wars and famines, bitter polarization and on and on. It’s a confusing world which seems to spin faster and faster. Followers of Jesus get caught in the vortex as much as everyone else, it seems. Churches and church leaders feel the need to stay relevant, adapting secular strategies and distorted theologies designed to keep people in the seats but bearing little resemblance to the biblical story or God’s call to life.
Despite best efforts, the Church always seems to lag ten or twenty years behind the rapidly evolving culture. It’s happened for my whole pastoral career. When the entire business realm was obsessed with MBO strategies, management by objective–a strategic approach to enhance organizational performance–the Church was pretty late to the party. Eventually, though, we decided it was necessary to be more organization than organism, more institution than family, and we showed up…just in time for the business world to explode onto the next project–writing mission statements, vision statements, identity statements and a plethora of other statements. Eventually the Church went down that road too. Months and years were spent articulating our existence for a culture which had no interest. We seem to always have energy for trying to catch up with our culture, but with little success. So here’s my idea: instead of trying harder to catch up, let’s fall further behind. Much further. Instead of living ten or twenty years in the past, let’s make it centuries.
The truth is, as the rate of change and confusion accelerates, followers of Jesus have–and always have had–exactly the things needed to thrive in the chaos. They aren’t glamorous, of course. Sometimes we call them “spiritual disciplines,” sometimes “faith practices.” Followers of Jesus pray, including listening prayer. We make time for silence. We prioritize listening for God through scripture. We confess our sins, keeping short accounts with God and cultivating humility. We fast to break or avoid attachments to unhealthy patterns. We worship to put our eyes on God rather than ourselves. We meet together for encouragement and care.
Ho-hum, right? Been there, done that. Isn’t there something new, something dynamic, something innovative that can get our spiritual adrenaline pumping, something that will grab the attention or admiration of our culture? Those things come along all the time, but they never last.
The practices listed above are things that followers of Jesus have done for centuries. In a time of dizzying change, they become more important, not less, more countercultural and require more intentionality. Just as one example, a couple of months ago when I was at a leadership retreat, we built a three-hour silent time into the schedule. People went off to hike, walk, ride a bike, sit by the river…for three hours. No conversation, no technology. Three hours with no agenda other than this question: “Is God speaking to you?” For every single one of the participants, it was profoundly meaningful. Things slowed down.
What if we went backwards, back to the things that always have and always will connect us with the Lord of heaven and earth? Prayer, silence, scripture, confession, fasting, worship, fellowship. Are we practicing these things regularly in our own lives? Are we creatively teaching our people to lean into God through these ancient and trustworthy channels?
In a world that is increasingly complex, there’s even more need to keep it simple. I wonder if it’s what Jesus thought about when his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. He gave them what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. It is disarmingly simple. No glitz, no eloquence,
uncomplicated. Here’s the way it reads in The Message version of Luke 11:
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
Taking the time to pray this each day would be so very old-fashioned. And so very, very good.
Peace of Christ,