The disciples of Jesus had the incredible opportunity to learn how to communicate with the Father in a very personal way. In truth, this was unprecedented among average men. There were only a handful of individuals named throughout the Old Testament who dared to approach God in personal prayer. Jabez, Daniel, Jonah, Habakkuk, Abraham, Isaac, Nehemiah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hannah, and Hezekiah are some of the very few that are recorded, compared to the millions of Israelite children who lived throughout the generations.
God’s people had come to rely on a mediator, a priest, to intercede on their behalf. Among God’s people, prayers to God almost always took place collectively in public and were facilitated by whoever was presiding over the gathering. But when Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to dwell among men, His intimate connection with God became sought after by His disciples.
The disciples had watched Jesus approach God on numerous occasions. Early morning private prayer sessions were a regular occurrence for the son of God. He had even prayed all night before selecting his 12 Apostles. And now they desired to meet face to face with God the Creator. This desire motivated them to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.“Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
Jesus’ response to them was very direct. Without hesitation He stated, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:2-4)
Jesus knew the disciples’ destiny as Apostles. He also understood that the success of their future ministries would be directly related to their connection with their Heavenly Father. It was for this reason that he simply said, “When you pray.” There was no question in His mind; they were going to pray.
Yet it was vitally important to Jesus that His disciples knew how to pray. The gospel of Matthew also records Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer. In Matthew’s account, Jesus states, “In this manner, therefore, pray.” (Matthew 6:9) The record of what is called the Lord’s Prayer is often misunderstood. Jesus was not telling His disciples to simply memorize this prayer and repeat it every day. In fact, in the verses preceding the account in Matthew, Jesus is quoted as saying, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (6:7)
God never intended His people to approach Him in prayer and simply repeat words without thought. Prayer was intended to be an opportunity for His people to maintain an ongoing relationship with Him. It is something that should be alive and fresh every day. God’s mercy and grace are new every morning, and the prayers of His people should be also. For this reason, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray “in this manner.” In other words, “follow my example.” Abide by this guideline. Don’t just say the same things over and over every day.
The disciples learned that the God of the universe was to be addressed with reverence. And the words of His people were to reflect their recognition of His sovereignty. Just any old prayer would not suffice. Jesus showed by the example of this prayer how to reverently enter the presence of God and daily build a relationship with Him.
As America’s religious landscape grows more diverse, we see Christianity’s cultural dominance fading. While a vast majority of the country and our leaders still identify as Christian, many conservative Protestants sense a growing animosity toward themselves and their beliefs.
For the Christian Right, recent conflicts around homosexuality, church-state separation, abortion, and other hot-button issues are viewed as threats, indicators that their values are no longer embraced or even tolerated, but under attack.
When Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was fired earlier this year over a self-published book that briefly critiqued homosexuality, conservative Christians saw the incident as further evidence that they are losing their religious freedom.
Are these Christians worrying for no good reason?
Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About one third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.
The only group to fare worse was atheists, who received low rankings from nearly half the respondents. But while atheists drew more global hostility than any other group, the negative rankings for conservative Christians came from a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive, and wealthy respondents.
As this survey illustrates, animosity toward Christians involves racial, educational, and economic factors; the people most likely to hold negative views of conservative Christians also belong to demographic groups with high levels of social power. Rich, white, educated Americans are major influencers in media, academia, business, and government, and these are the people most likely to have a distaste for conservative Christians.
As a sociologist whose research focuses on race and religion, I was curious to know more about cultural progressive activists, individuals who oppose the political agenda of conservative Christians, and their views on the Christian Right. In 2009, I conducted an online survey of nearly 4,000 people who tended to fall into this politically progressive, highly educated, white and wealthy demographic.
Their attitudes reflected the negativity toward Christians found in earlier research, with some particularly extreme and troubling remarks. Responding to open-ended questions, they said:
“Churches and houses of religion should be designated as nuclear test zones.”
“Kill them all, let their god sort them out.”
“The only good Christian is a dead Christian.”
I cannot determine by my data the percentage of Americans with such a level of vitriol, but judging by the comments, it’s not a trivial amount.
In the United States, hateful bigotry is directed not only toward groups such as racial and sexual minorities, but also toward conservative Christians. The survey comments evidence that some of the anti-Christian animosity veers into unreasonable hatred and fear. It’s Christianophobia.
From this research, I wrote my latest book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions, the title itself inspired by several respondents who joked about feeding Christians to lions.
The “fear” part of this definition of Christianophobia came from respondents who saw conservative Christians as a dark force seeking to take over society and impose Christian rule. For example, some envisioned conservative Christians as similar to the Taliban or Nazis.
According to one respondent, “I believe they seek to impose a theocracy on a secular nation, sort of a Christian Taliban.” This comment also indicates the frequent fear among my respondents that conservative Christians want a theocracy. One respondent stated, “Their agenda seems to include making America a theocracy, which frightens me, as it would take us back to the Dark Ages politically, culturally, educationally, and morally.” This fear ignores the reality that conservative Christians have the same desire to influence the public square as other social groups.
To Americans hostile toward Christianity, adherents fall into two categories: foolish, ignorant followers and manipulative leaders. For example, one of my respondents stated that Christians “pretend to be under attack from mysterious forces of evil by way of secularists, but this is merely a convenient boogie-man invoked to make their followers send them money and to make them appear as victims.” These stereotypes offer insight into those with Christianophobia, their concerns over Christian takeover, and their desire to limit Christian influence.
I have heard many Christians talk about being persecuted. Last year’s controversy over the subpoenas issued to Houston pastors opposing a transgender rights ordinance fed Christians concerns of religious freedom and targeting biblical views on sexuality. But persecution isn’t quite the right term. Americans with hostile views of conservative Christianity are quite satisfied with Christians as long as they keep their faith to themselves. As one respondent said, “Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face.” Another remarked, “Christian Right people can do what they want in their churches and homes, but not in the public arena.”
Such attitudes reflect notions of a privatization of religion, whereby people are free to believe whatever they want, but not to use their beliefs outside of their own private lives. (After all, that’s the attitude respondents have about their own faith. Why shouldn’t Christians feel the same way?)
Despite their views on Christianity, respondents remained ideologically committed to religious freedom and brought up notions of religious neutrality. They were generally not willing to directly impose their particular beliefs onto conservative Christians, though they would constrain how Christians exhibit their beliefs. Christian fears of non-Christians invading their churches and homes to rob them of the right to practice their faith are as irrational as the fears of theocracy some with Christianophobia possess.
When asked what sort of changes they want in society, respondents were willing to support policies with disparate effect against conservative Christians. One respondent stated, “I don’t think we should pass laws that are directed toward any particular group of people. However, if a particular good law happens to negatively affect practices or beliefs of the Christian Right, but protects the freedom of most Americans, then I would be in favor.”
This respondent sums up a popular mentality: Laws that disparately affect Christians can protect others from Christian attempts to take over society. If these laws are couched in terms of religious neutrality—like the “all comers” policies for student organizations—then those with Christianophobia can endorse them without worry about being stigmatized as bigoted. (There is a similar phenomenon noted in race/ethnicity scholarship. Public policy measures that seem racially neutral can work to the disadvantage of people of color. Restrictive immigration policies are theoretically racially neutral but disproportionally affect Hispanic Americans.)
This helps to crystallize the current conflict in our society between conservative Christians and those with hatred toward them. Christians face economically, educationally, and socially powerful individuals who seek to drive them from the public square. Many with Christianophobia are convinced that conservative Christians will drag our society back into the Dark Ages and must be stopped with any measure that cannot be defined as overt religious bigotry.
An important challenge for Christians is to convince such individuals that they have the same rights to influence the public square as anyone else. Learning how to communicate, and hopefully find ways to co-exist, with them will help determine whether there will be a persistent cultural conflict or if a truce is possible.
George Yancey is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas and author of the new book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?Yancey is also author of Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (Baylor University Press) and co-author (with David Williamson) of What Motivates Cultural Progressives (Baylor University Press). His work can be found at http://www.georgeyancey.com.
Image credit: Monik Markus, Flickr
Each spring, in the days between Easter and Pentecost, students of Jesus have an opportunity to re-assess the mission we’ve received from Jesus. We are big on Easter, and rightfully so—God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, putting an exclamation mark on the life of his Son. Some branches of the faith are big on Pentecost, celebrating the coronation of Jesus in heaven and the overflow of the Spirit which dripped down on the earth.
The 40 days between Easter and Pentecost are less distinct, yet they provide us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the resurrection in our lives. The risen Jesus didn’t leave in a hurry: He hung out with his disciples and put the finishing touches on three years of training. He wants to do the same for us. The first 11 verses in the the book of Acts suggests that we, too, can go deeper with Jesus and discover what he has in mind for us. Here are a few suggestions:
The resurrected Jesus stuck around for 40 days. Apparently he had more to say and do. The very first verse in Acts teaches us that the gospels were about “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The rest of Acts teaches us that Jesus was still doing and teaching in the days, weeks, months and decades after the gospels. The work of the first century church was the work of Jesus. Is that still true today? It’s all too easy to substitute our work for his, to engage in ministry apart from his direction. What is Jesus is doing and teaching in our day? Are we still working with him or simply working for him?
Jesus’ message in the 40 days of resurrection was really no different than his message during his three years of ministry: the Kingdom of God (Acts1:3). During that time, Jesus continued to speak about the Kingdom of God. It’s worth noting that the book of Acts opens and closes with the Kingdom of God front and center. The very last verse in the book shows us Paul, three decades later, proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 31). Have we meditated on the meaning and importance of the Kingdom, or have we reduced the message of Jesus to only his sacrifice of the cross? Individually and corporately, we need to rediscover the Kingdom message.
The gospel accounts end with Jesus saying, “Go!” In Acts, Jesus says, “Wait!” What was so important that Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem? In our day, many Christians are familiar with the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20), but are we aware that Jesus commanded us to wait? Jesus said, in effect, “Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until you receive all that I have for you?” Have we meditated on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives? We can work for God without any special empowerment. We cannot work with him apart from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told his followers plainly that there were some things we would not know, especially regarding the times and the seasons of the last days. Yet this very topic is of great interest in the church today: Harold Camping’s foolish predictions are just a symptom, the true illness is a church preoccupied with an exit strategy when our mission is stay and represent. Biblically speaking, we’ve been in the “last days” for 2,000 years. Jesus tells us to focus on the mission, not the culmination of the mission (Acts 1: 7-8). Have we meditated on the wrong subject in our day?
The angels who were present at the ascension asked a pretty good question: “Why are you looking toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11). It’s a question worth considering. Frequently we are more concerned with heaven than with the Kingdom of God. The breathtaking sacrifice at Calvary purchased the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but in our generation many followers of Jesus have limited his work and message to heaven and heaven only. We should ask: If the gospel is only about going to heaven, why did Jesus invite us to take up the yoke of discipleship?
I’d love to get the podcast of everything Jesus taught in those 40 days, but it hasn’t shown up on iTunes yet. In the meantime, he invites us to work with him just as closely as the first disciples.
Agape love frequently expresses itself as a flow of compassion. Jesus said, “Rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me.” Compassion is one of these rivers. It is a gentle stream of tenderness and concern for another person’s need. Such love compelled Jesus to feed the hungry, comfort the sorrowing, heal the sick, teach the multitude, and raise the dead.
Most of us at some time in our lives have experienced this flow of love toward someone.
Perhaps you felt it while washing the dishes, or while working on the job, or driving down the freeway, or sitting in a classroom. You couldn’t explain it, but your impulse was to do something special for that person.
Start Asking God How to Love by Faith
I encourage you to take the first step; start loving by faith and follow that flow. It is Gods compassion streaming toward the one in need. The tug of love within you means that He is filling you with godly compassion and that He has chosen you to minister to that individual.
Ask God to manifest His tender compassion through you in some way today. As you pray, ask Him to lay someone on your heart. When you sense God’s love flowing through you to that individual, find out his need and begin ministering to that need. By following the leading of Gods Spirit, you can help those whom the Lord has prepared for His transforming touch, and you will become part of His miraculous provision. When God leads you to help someone, He will enable you to do what He leads you to do.
A Japanese magazine has a picture of a butterfly on one of its pages. Its color is a dull gray until warmed by one’s hand. The touch of a hand causes the special inks in the printing to react, and the dull gray is transformed into a flashing rainbow of color.
What other things can be thus changed by the warmth of your interest and agape love? Your family? Your church? Your city? This hurting world is hungry for the touch of someone who cares — who really cares! Through God’s agape kind of love, you can be that someone.
Make a List of Those Who are Difficult to Love
But what about those who seem unlikable? People with whom you may have difficulty getting along? Individuals whose attitudes rub you the wrong way? I encourage you to make a list of people you do not like and begin to love them by faith.
Perhaps you will place yourself on the list. Have you thought of applying the truths of 1 Corinthians 13 to yourself by faith? Ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you. You have no reason to dislike yourself when your Creator has already forgiven you and demonstrated his unconditional love by dying for you!
If Christ is in you, you are complete because Christ Himself is perfect love, perfect peace, perfect patience, perfect kindness. He is all goodness, and He is in you! Whenever Satan tries to attack you by reminding you of sins which you have already confessed or by magnifying your weaknesses and shortcomings, claim in faith the forgiveness and righteousness of God, and thank Him that, on the authority of His Word, you do not have to be intimidated by Satan’s accusation.
Thank God that you are His child and that your sins are forgiven. Thank God that Satan has no control over you except that which is allowed by God. Then cast this care on the Lord as we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 5:7.
Perhaps your boss, a fellow employee, your spouse, your children or your father or mother is on the list of those whom you will love by faith. Pray for each person. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with Christ’s love for all of them. Then, seek to meet with them as you draw upon God’s limitless inexhaustible, overwhelming love for them by faith. Expect God to work through you! Watch Him use your smile, your words, your patience to express His love for each individual.
Love by faith every one of your “enemies” — everyone who angers you, ignores you, bores you or frustrates you. People are waiting to be loved with God’s love.
A homemaker who, through a long cold winter, had seen her family through mumps, measles, a broken nose, 3 new teeth for the baby and countless other difficulties, reached the point where these pressures and demands became too much for her. Finally, on her knees, she began to protest, “Oh Lord! I have so much to do!” But imagine her surprise when she heard herself say, “Oh Lord! I have so much to love!” You will never run out of opportunities to love by faith.
Remember, the agape kind of love is an act of the will, not just an emotion. You love by faith. By faith, you can claim God’s step by step, person by person.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love…” Like fruit, love grows. Producing fruit requires a seed, then a flower, then pollination, then warm sun and refreshing rains, and even some contrary winds. Similarly in daily life, your love will be warmed by joy, watered by tears and spread by the winds of circumstances.
God uses all that you experience to work His will in your life. He is the one who makes your love grow. It is a continual, ever-increasing process. As Paul says, “May the Lord make your love to grow and overflow to each other and to everyone else…”
Let Love Motivate You
Now, how does loving by faith motivate you to engage in aggressive personal evangelism and contribute to the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
When you begin to truly love God by faith with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbors as yourself, you will begin to see men as God sees them — as individuals of great worth, as those for whom Christ died. As a result, we shall be motivated by the same love which constrained the apostle Paul who said, “Everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen.”
Love, God’s kind of love, causes the Great Commission to become a personal responsibility and privilege. When non-Christians observe believers not only saying that they love one another, but also proving it by their actions, they, like their first-century counterparts, will marvel at “how they love one another” and will be drawn to receive and worship our Savior with us.
How exciting it is to have such a dynamic, joyful force available to us! And it all comes from our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, who explicitly promises in His Word all that you need. You need not guess, nor hope, nor wish. You can claim this love by faith, right now, on the basis of God’s command to love and His promise to answer whenever you pray for anything according to His will.
Why not make this prayer your own: “Lord, You would never have commanded me to love had You not intended to enable me to do so. Therefore, right now, on the authority of Your commands for me to love and on the authority of Your promise to answer if I asked anything according to Your will, I personally claim Your love — the 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love — for You, for all people, and for myself. Amen.”
Remember, How You Can Love by Faith is a transferable concept. You can master it by reading it six times; then pass it on to others as our Lord commands us in Matthew 28:20, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” The apostle Paul encouraged us to do the same: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Adapted from the Transferable Concept: How You Can Love By Faith, by Dr. Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. © Campus Crusade for Christ. All rights reserved.