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The Problem of Prayer: An Experiment November 9, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Bible, books, Christianity, confession, Greg Boyd, hearing God, life, Peter Lord, Philip Yancey, prayer.
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Prayer is one of those things that is fundamental to following Christ. Most Christians would agree that prayer, along with Bible reading and going to church, is one of the most essential things to living a successful Christian life. The interesting thing is that while it is considered essential, not many people actually do it that often (the same could be said for the other two), and even when people do pray, they often don’t think they are very good at it. I’m one of the latter. Now, I might pray a line or two throughout the day when something enters my mind that I know I need to pray for. Also, I meet with a small group to pray for about an hour each week before my church’s young adults service, and I actually surprise myself at how well I pray out loud. My problem is sitting down and having focused, intentional, personal prayer time with God. I have no problems spending a lot of time reading the Bible, but when it comes to really pouring my heart out to God in a time of  concentrated personal worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, I feel that I lack. This really bothers me because I believe that prayer changes circumstances, people (the person praying most of all), events, at sometimes can even change God’s mind and will cause Him to act in a way that He would not of acted if no prayer was prayed otherwise. With this view of the power of prayer,  not only is prayer a privilege and a right but also a great responsibility. Therefore, there is no excuse for me to not pray.

I have had knowledge of this problem of prayer in my life for awhile now, so I was excited when the young adults ministry at my church started a three week series on the topic of prayer. The more we studied about it the more I realized that I needed to make a change. I started re-reading two books that have influenced my views of prayer the most, Hearing God by Peter Lord and God of the Possible by Greg Boyd, and picked up  Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?  These books and the series at church have helped motivate me greatly, and I feel that God is leading me to try the experiment that I’m about to share with you. Some people may think that this is too small but I think it’s a good way to jump-start my prayer life.

The experiment is this: for the next thirty days I’m going to spend at least one hour in concentrated prayer everyday. Through these thirty days I’m going to try different techniques, formulas, and models. Sometimes I will follow the formula I learned in seventh grade called the ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Other times I will open the Bible and pray the through the Scriptures, mostly the Psalms, but this will not be a time of Bible study. I will also pray the prayers in books such as The Book of Common Prayer. I’ll try these multiple methods to try and determine which I find to be the most helpful for me to maintain a consistent time with God. Some time over the next 30 days I will also try to take a 3 day personal prayer retreat where I leave to go stay somewhere and leave all forms of technology behind and spend all 3 days in prayer, fasting, and Bible study. I will attempt to blog about my experiences as much as possible. Hopefully, this experiment will enhance both my prayer life and yours as well. I challenge you to try this experiment yourself and we can dialogue about what we’re going through together here on the blog.

UPDATE: As soon as I posted this blog, Greg Boyd also posted one on the same subject. I strongly recommend it. http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/my-car-crash-and-the-open-view/

Are there any prayer models like the ACTS model that you know of that you can share with me?

What are some books that have helped your prayer life?

Will you be trying the prayer experiment with me?

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My Other god September 30, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Bible, confession, life, sin.
1 comment so far

The first of the Ten Commandments always struck me as odd. In case you haven’t seen the movie recently (because isn’t that where we all first learned them? I can never read any story about Moses without picturing Charlton Heston), the first commandment as in Exodus 20: 3-6 says,

  You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (ESV)

It’s always been hard of me to think of God as being “jealous,” being that jealousy is usually seen as a negative trait. Even one of Paul’s most popular New Testament passages says that, “Love is not jealous” (1 Corinthians 13:4).  But, that’s what God says about Himself. He is jealous. He loves us so much, and wants our love in return, that He experiences the emotion that we call jealousy when we give the love that should be His and His alone to another god. I think most of us dismiss this verse as more speaking to the Israelites in those days and not su much to us, because we don’t have “carved images” or idols, that we bow down, serve, and pray to. At least not in the most literal sense. But, I’ve come to realize in my own life, that I probably break this commandment more than any other commandment in the entire Bible. Though I don’t bow down or pray to any little statue or anything like that, I do turn to other things when I should turn to God.

I turn to the god of food when I’m in need of comfort.

Food makes me feel better about my situation, if only for a few minutes. At times, I feel like I don’t even have a choice in the matter. After leaving the church on Wednesdays after youth service, I have to go through the Taco Bell drive-thru, even when I’m not that hungry. It’s like a ritual or sacrament. While eating three chicken quesdillas at ten o’clock at night might sound like it’s bad only for my physical health, it’s also detrimental to my spiritual health, because I’m looking at the food to fulfill an area in my life that only God can. I’ve often argued that God is not concerned about this as much as my other sins. I’ve said things to myself like, “I need to overcome this lust issue, before I focus of this gluttony issue.” When truth be told, God wants me to turn all my sin over to Him, and they are all destructive. In some ways, serving the god of food is worse than serving the god of pornography. Every Christian peer I have would call me out if they saw me buying an adult movie from the mall, not one of them would think anything of it if they saw me buying a triple from Wendy’s. But, this addiction to food (and it is an addiction, let’s call it what it is) has me in just as much bondage as an addiction drugs or sex. It’s bad for my body and it’s bad for my spirit. That’s exactly what worshiping idols do to you, they leave you with a broken body and spirit.

Slowly but surely, I’ve heard God’s call to me to lay down my idols, to turn my back of my other gods, and to worship Him only. To only find fulfillment in my relationship with Him and Him alone.

What are some of your idols? How can we help each other turn our backs on them and only worship God?

The Truth About Being a Socially Awkward Christian September 24, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, confession, Danny Jones, extroverted, introverted, life, socially awkward, The Church.
36 comments

I get  a lot of compliments about the title of this blog. Most people think it’s cute at worst, funny at best, and the people who know me think it fits me well. I’m glad that people enjoy it, but honestly being a socially awkward person, much less a socially awkward Christian, in today’s culture is anything but cute or funny. Let me set up a little bit of what being this way is like. I can think of no better scenario than this past Sunday night.

Recently, my church started a new young adults ministry led by my friend, B.J. This ministry has two services a week; one for the young adults in Picayune on Mondays, another for the young adults living about an hour north in the college town of Hattiesburg on Sundays. This past Sunday, a small group of the “leaders” from the Picayune campus traveled with B.J. to Hattiesburg to both help set up as well as get connected with some of the students at that campus. I know the people that traveled there, but not that well except for B.J., who was driving the 15-passenger van with his wife riding shotgun. I sat in the very back, without saying one word the entire drive, at one point even causing B.J. to say “Brandon, you sure are quiet back there.” I really didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled and nodded. The fact is trying to say something witty that turns out to not be so witty in front of the people I was with was absolutely terrifying.

We finally got to our destination and started setting up for the service. This went well enough for me, I can make small talk at times when everyone is working on an equal task. The big problems began when people started showing up. I knew some of them, but again not that well, and the majority I did not know at all. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to introduce themselves, but for introverted people, I think it’s only slightly better than chemotherapy. I see new people and I lock up. I can’t make eye contact, my palms become sweaty, I become cottonmouth with no amount of liquid able to wet my dry throat. Thank God for my Blackberry. I start scrolling up and down, looking at nothing in particular, but at least the appearance of me texting someone will convince these people that I’m not a loser, and maybe even sway them from trying to talk to me. It doesn’t work though, some guy does try to make small talk, asking how I’ve been. I say good, and ask the same of him, he says good as well, and then just stands there, obviously waiting for one of us to say something that could start an actual conversation. If meeting someone new is like chemotherapy, this is like being tortured by shoving bamboo sticks under my fingernails. Eventually, I just look back to the safety of my smartphone and he walks away.

After a awhile, I talk myself up reminding myself that I’m a leader and am not supposed to be afraid of people. I see a group of people standing in a circle and laughing, I decide to try and go enter the conversation. The circle doesn’t open to let me in, so I stand on the outside looking in, as if I’m the only kid on the fieldtrip to Disneyland that forgot to get my parents to sign the permission slip and have to stay at school. Somebody then forgets what movie a certain line he’s referencing is found in, and I know it so I speak up. My answer is correct and he says, “That’s it!” and continues with his conversation, once again leaving me on the outside of the circle. I thank God when it’s time for the service to start. On the ride home, I’m more involved with the conversation, thanks to a lucky joke I made that was actually funny. Then I start to overdo it because of my excitement of being involved and try to think of more funny stories or witty statements, but I’m not that funny or that witty so I start to use other people’s stories or jokes and claim them as my own, but unfortunately, they only work for the people who actually own the rights to them. The agony only ends when I’m back in my truck, graciously alone.

They say the Christian life isn’t meant to be done alone. We need community to survive. I believe this is true. But, for people like me, the thing that’s supposed to keep you alive causes you so much pain and anxiety. It’s like drinking water that tastes and smells like gasoline. You know you need it to live, but drinking it can be vomit-inducing. I get jealous of people that others naturally gravitate toward. My friend, Danny, is like this. People naturally like him; and he’s just naturally good with people. I watch him when he’s dealing with the people in our church and I’m amazed. He might as well be wearing a cape and a big “S” on his chest. It’s unbelieveable to me. How is he that comfortable with people? How are people that attracted to him and others like him? It’s strange. We have even discussed the dichotomy of how people react to him and to me. He can make a certain joke and people will think it’s hilarious. I could make the same exact joke and people will think I’m just creepy. It all goes back to the fact that I’m socially awkward and he’s not. I’m introverted, and he’s extroverted. These are just common personality types. Being one way is not better than the other way, it’s just the way we’re built. Sometimes, though, being introverted can feel less like a personality type and more like a disorder or a condition. This is magnified in the Church, which is an extroverted culture. Introverts have a much harder time with it than people think they do. We often get the label of “weird” because they think we don’t like people, which is not the case. Introverts like people just as much as anyone. It’s just that we want to be liked and to be seen as “cool” so bad that we have a hard time socializing. People will say that’s shallow and that we should just be ourselves, but they don’t understand that we are.

One of the things I have noticed about social media networks like Facebook and Twitter is that introverts don’t exist on them. I don’t know what it is but introverts thrive online. I realized on Sunday night, that I would have a much easier time talking to these people through a screen than I do face-to-face. Through this blog and through my Twitter, I feel closer to my online “community” of people that I have never met than I do to some of my peers in my own church. I am not saying this is right or even healthy, I’m just saying this is what being socially awkward is like. It’s a prison. It’s not cute and it’s not funny. It’s lonely. It’s painful.

Where do we introverts, we socially awkward, fit within our Christian communities? Social awkwardness is not sin. Let me make that clear. I don’t think the problem is within us, though I do think that there are some things about our personalities that we need to overcome. However, there are also some things that extroverts, or people who are not socially awkward need to understand. Namely, we are not weird. We are not creepy. We are just nervous. We like you, and we want you to like us. We have wisdom to offer, if you will just allow us to say it when we finally work up the courage to say it. Be patient with us and continue to reach out to us, though understand that sometimes we will need more space than you might.

To others who are socially awkward like me I want to say this: God has given us callings and dreams, too. We can lead just as well as extroverts, God did not limit us to be followers. We can be pastors, teachers, prophets, artists, entertainers, worship leaders, and anything God has called us to be. We can do “all things through Christ who gives us strength” just like people who aren’t socially awkward can. We can overcome the aspects of our personalities that would hold us back. We can overcome the fear that often paralyzes us. I think we can even have an advantage over our extroverted brothers and sisters. The way we are forces us to rely solely on Jesus. We aren’t tempted to use our personalities nearly as often as extroverts do. When we find the courage to do what God has called us to do, we can have the confidence that we are not working at all in our own power, but in the strength of the One who loves us unconditionally, as we are. Our strength and hope is found in the One who at the sound of His Name, every knee will bow, socially awkward or not. Never forget this.

Gideon: “My clan is the weakest…I am the least.”

God: “But, I will be with you.”

Judges 6:15-16

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