What’s Your Prayer Plan?

Every successful leader understands the importance of planning. Yet, in one of the most important areas of our lives, many of us just wing it and hope for the best. That area: Talking to God.

MEDION DIGITAL CAMERA
MEDION DIGITAL CAMERA

Think about it. If you have a big meeting or a big pitch for client or you’re starting a new division or getting ready for a new fiscal year, where do you start? Research, analysis, and planning, right? And that’s not just true in business. You plan your Thanksgiving meal. You plan your once-in-a-lifetime vacation. You plan your wedding (or your child’s wedding).

If it’s important to you that something is done well, you think it through and plan for success.

No wonder there are so many great clichés on this topic: Hope is not a strategy. Plan the work and work the plan. If you fail to plan you’re planning to fail. … And some great verses, as well – Luke 14:28-33, Proverbs 21:5, Proverbs 14:8 …

Yet, we don’t always take a planned approach to our prayer. I’ve seen it in my life, and I see it when I look around. We typically don’t pray with planning and intentionality.

Should we?

Prayer is a heartfelt conversation with the God of the universe. It demands reverence because God is God and we, to grossly understate reality, are not God. But He also is a compassionate Abba Father who longs to hear us speak from the heart. So there are times, when prayer calls for a stream of consciousness discussion with God. You see that often in David’s psalms. Or there are times when we fall back on Anne Lamott’s model for two basic prayers: “Help me! Help me! Help me!” and “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

But Jesus also gave us a modeled intentional prayer and gave us model for prayer. So there is wisdom in the idea that we should go to God regularly with intention—in our praise of Him, in our thanks to Him, and in our requests of Him.

I’ve been thinking about prayer a lot lately. I guess it began working on me during a talk a few months ago by Pastor Steve Gaines. Or maybe it goes back to when Audrey and I saw the movie War Room. Or when we read the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. And in the last two weeks it seems like every other post I’ve seen on social media was about the importance of prayer. SBC Life provided a great story about a “data-driven strategy” for prayer (click here to read it).

So how can we be more intentional with our prayer?

  1. Schedule Some Prayers: We shouldn’t only pray according to a schedule, but having some regular times of prayer built into our day helps us stay regularly connected to God, which will help us feel the prompting of the Spirit when there’s a need for impromptu prayers. I recommend starting and ending every day with prayer. And if you are married, a highly recommend praying with your spouse.
  2. Write Out Your Prayers: There are many ways to do this. Some people put prayers on sticky notes or in notebooks or on cards. A friend of mine said he would pray for me, and he wrote a full page plea to God on my behalf in his prayer journal. My wife came up with a wonderful prayer list that we use each night. We have three categories and it covers 21 days, so that’s more than 90 people/issues that we regularly lift up to God.
  3. Pray with the end goal in mind: It’s easy to focus on the obvious issue that’s in front of us, but our prayers should help us stay focused on God’s glory. How would that impact the way you pray for your children, your job, your retirement, you spouse, your friends, your community …?
  4. Pray the Word: The Bible, of course, is full of passages that can be read as prayers. Click here for a 3:45 video on this from Steve Gaines.
  5. Read books on prayer. In addition to The Circle Maker, I recommend Stormie Omartian’s series of books on the power of prayer (The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Husband, etc.), and Pray Like It Matters by Steve Gaines.
  6. Join others in prayer. Many churches have prayer teams or prayer guides, or you can join in on something like the National Day of Prayer, which this year is May 5. Click here for events near you.

A Taxing Question about Giving

Federal taxes were due this week for Americans, so here’s the question I think we all should be asking: “How did I do as a giver?”

Not, “How much did I pay?” Or, “How much more did I owe?” Or, “How much did I get back?” But, “Did I give enough?” Not to Uncle Sam, but to the world.taxes-646509_1280

Most of us, I think, would say something like, “I gave what I could” and we’d feel pretty good about that. But what if your friends, neighbors, enemies and the media took a look at your tax returns? Would they conclude that you are a generous giver? Would it change how you describe yourself as a giver?

Pretend, for instance, that you are the president of the United States. Last week, the current president and vice president released their 2015 returns, and their giving is pretty consistent with what they’ve done in previous years. The Obamas donated $64,066 to 34 different charities in 2015, so that’s nearly 15 percent of their adjusted gross income. The Bidens gave about $6,600 to charities, which is about 4 percent of their earnings. Neither “tithed” to a church. The Obamas gave $1,500 to a church. Nearly $4,000 of the Biden’s contributions went to one of three churches.

What about the current crop of presidential candidates? The most recent information is on their 2014 taxes. The Clintons gave away about 11 percent of their income to charities, while the Sanders donated about 4 percent. Donald Trump hasn’t released any of his tax returns, although he says he will. Ted Cruz didn’t disclose his charitable giving for 2011-2014, but previous returns indicate he and his wife gave away less than 1 percent of their income in 2006 and 2010.

It would be nice to think our political leaders are generous with their money, and it’s easy to judge them for not being more giving. But it’s the log in my own eye that is the real issue. The fact is, our political leaders are a reflection of our society. And the statistics indicate we’re not very good givers. Americans gave $358.38 billion in 2015, or an average of $2,974 per household (source). That might sound like a lot, but it amounts to only about 2.9 percent of our adjusting gross income (source). The “tithe,” of course, is considered 10 percent, but very few people donate 10 percent of their income to charity, much less to their church.

When I look at the statistics, I think my wife and I are pretty generous. When I look at my heart, however, I realize we’re not giving enough. And God is looking at my heart. I want us to give more to the church we attend, more to other churches we support, more to missionaries, more to worthy para-church organizations, more to worthy organizations that aren’t considered “faith-based.”

More.

Why? Because we’ve been given so much.

We can’t count on our political leaders to lead the way on this, but we can do our part. We can search our hearts for what God is asking of us, and then we can act in obedience. The old saying is true: We can’t out-give God.

Note: Randy Alcorn wrote two of my favorite books on giving. The Treasure Principle is a short, easy read. Money, Possessions, and Eternity is long but worth it. You can find both of them here. Also, click here for a good website on generous giving.

When insecurities are driving the bus

My insecurities were buckled in tight and driving the bus full speed toward the edge of a cliff. This was several months ago. I was sending a preview copy of Grow Like Jesus to a few friends and asking them to read it and consider endorsing it.

photo credit: Selega Cockpit via photopin (license)
photo credit: Selega Cockpit via photopin (license)

What if none of them were willing to read it? Worse, what if they read it and didn’t like it? What if they hated it?

Thankfully, those fears were unfounded.

Two of my favorite responses were, “There’s no freaking way I would not help you” and “Just get ready for books to fly off the shelves.” People seemed genuinely excited about the project and more than willing to help.

Now, less than one week from when the book officially “launches,” I find myself continually overwhelmed with gratitude for all the support the book is getting – not just from those who read the advance copy but from others who are promoting the book in one form or another. It’s been humbling, to say the least.

In many ways, the experience of asking friends to sacrifice something in the name of our friendship has made me clay in the hands of the Potter.

I’ve often challenged clients to ask their “networks” for help, but it’s been very different to find myself asking for favors. For the endorsements, I had asked some friends to give up a few hours of their valuable time to read the book, give an honest opinion of it, and then, if they felt so led, to write something nice that I could share with the world. Seemed like a lot to ask.

Now I’m asking people to buy the book, to recommend it to others, to pray for it, to write reviews on Amazon, and to promote it on social media. Seems like a lot to ask. It all makes me very uncomfortable. So as I battle to keep my insecurities out of the driver’s seat, here are a few lessons I’ve tried to keep in mind about imposing on friendships:

Don’t take negative responses personally. I knew some people simply wouldn’t be able to read the book and write an endorsement. Most “no’s” were gracious and understandable. But I’ll confess that a few “no’s” stung a little. I had to remind myself that they lead busy lives, too, and that I don’t know everything that’s going on in those lives. I had to remember to push aside my human nature, stay thankful for all the “yes’s,” and trust God for the results.

Encouragement does wonders for the soul. That said, it was great to get encouragement, even from those who weren’t able to help. It’s often hard to say “no” to your friends, but I saw how it’s possible to do so with grace and encouragement. When I am asked to help others, I’m now more committed than ever to responding – whether with a “yes” or “no” – in an encouraging way.

Faith is most active when I step outside my comfort zone. For me, the hardest part about publishing a book wasn’t writing it or finding a publisher, although those weren’t easy. The hardest part has been marketing it. I love promoting the message, but I get weirded out when it feels like I’m marketing “me” or when I feel like I’m imposing on others. Still, I know hope isn’t a strategy. I have to do my part. Sometimes that involves asking friends for a hand along the way, even if it makes me feel a little strange.

So, to all those who have helped and are helping with the promotion of this book, thanks. In one way or another, you’ve helped me Grow Like Jesus.

(Want to see the book’s endorsements? Click here.)

3 Lessons from Lunch with an Atheist

The atheist invited me to lunch. He wanted to ask about Jesus.

I played it cool.

Externally: “Sure, man. Let’s roll.”

Internally: Fist pumps. Shouts of, “Yes!!!”

8516626342_364be57217_s
photo credit: Split Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)

This is what followers of Jesus in the secular marketplace long for, right? A chance to be salt and light to a co-worker who is suddenly eager to hear about God’s redeeming love.

So we went to lunch, me and the atheist.

He shared some of his the troubles. He asked why believing in God would make any difference in his life. And he asked why I “bought into Jesus.”

I listened. I asked questions. I made observations. I shared from my personal experiences as an agnostic-turned-believer. I gave him blunt answers to his blunt questions. I drew stuff on a napkin.

He listened. He asked more questions. He made more observations. He looked at the stuff I drew on the napkin.

We spent more than an hour talking about life, death, and God. And guess what happened?

Well, that was more than 10 years ago and, as far as I know, he’s still an atheist.

On the one hand, he left with a clear understanding of mankind’s sinfulness and the solution Jesus provides for anyone who seeks forgiveness, grace and redemption. On the other hand, I felt like a failure. Intellectually, I knew better. But I had invested emotionally into this friendship—and others in our office. Why wasn’t I seeing fruit? Surely it was my fault.

There are times when I still experience this type of frustration. But a few decades in the marketplace mission field has driven home an important theological point: It’s not about me, it’s about God.

That’s easy to forget in a results-oriented culture, especially when the challenges of life are beating on us like the winds of a hurricane – when Satan whispers (or shouts): “You’re not good enough!” So when the storms begin to form, here are a few things that help calm my waters:

  1. Remember the seed-planters. When I feel like I’m not making a difference in the world, I make a mental list of all the people who invested in my journey who have no idea I’m no longer the same misguided agnostic they once tried to help.
  2. Disrobe and un-gavel. One of my sisters is a federal judge. She gets paid to judge others and interpret the law. Not me. So why should I judge myself (and others) when it’s so clearly not my job?
  3. Take my medicine. Sometimes I enter into a conversation believing God is using me to teach the other person something. That might be true, but too often I arrogantly miss something God is trying to teach me. God is sometimes working through me, but He’s always work in me and on me.

In our work, we set goals and we’re held accountable for the results. In the Kingdom of God, we act in obedience and leave the results to Him. We can get uptight when the results aren’t what we expected or wanted, or we can remember that God is far more qualified than we are to spin this world forward as He sees fit.