I spoke this morning to a group of 6 through 10th graders at a camp put on by the House of Israel ministry in Anderson. The theme of the camp, and of my message, was victory. The talk went well, but that really isn’t what I want to write about. During the response time, at the end, it was the type of prayer that I felt compelled to lead that has captured my attention.
I’ve grown up in a church culture that has placed much weight on something we refer to as “the sinner’s prayer”. It is a prayer that is typically repeated by the person interested in salvation similar to a President taking the “Oath of Office”. I have no axe to grind with this particular method, I believe many, even multitudes of, authentic, powerful, and lifelong commitments to Christ have begun with “the sinner’s prayer”. However, this morning as the kids’ heads were bowed, a few having lifted their hands to indicate their need for rescue, for a Savior, I realized that the last thing I needed to do was walk them all through a prayer that they would likely disengage from half way through.
My fear is not that a legitimate decision can’t be reached through repeating a prayer after someone, my fear is that even if the heart is sincere, there is a unique language of the heart. The language of the heart, in its moment of desperate need for rescue, is not a theologically balanced, hermeneutically accurate, properly phrased “expression of condition, intention, invitation, and adoration”. The language of the heart is the cry of a man falling off a cliff and catching the one branch that can hold him. Sometimes that language is a gasp of surprise, sometimes that language is still fearful because the reality of the situation hasn’t fully sunk in yet. Sometimes that language is stunned silence.
So this morning, with all of these thoughts in my head, I simply told them that all they had to say to God was, essentially, “help me God, only You can, and I’m a mess”. It didn’t have to be in those words or inflected with an evangelist’s unique cadence. It just had to be honest and simple. That prayer, I believe, can save anyone from anything, forever.
Augustine said this:
Man lives if he breathes – prayer is the breath for the Christian.
Coming away from that wonderful experience, I wonder how often we pray that way after we’ve started the Christian journey. I wonder how often we fall back into the same lies as before we were converted, believing that we can manage our image and juggle our schedule and find an endless supply of “life” in our own effort. It’s no wonder we have a tendency to become spiritually short of breath. The strangled feeling that we experience, when we allow life and religion and personal pressures to compress our chest, is a normal way of life for some. Maybe it’s time for some of us to come up for air.
Perhaps we would be well served to set aside some of the heavy theology and religious rituals on occasion and simply breathe. Breathe the breath of Heaven; breathe the air of grace; breathe the oxygen of the soul. Maybe the prayer, “help God, I can’t do this”, isn’t merely “the sinner’s prayer”, but the saint’s as well.
I encourage you to breathe deeply of the presence of God by coming to Him this afternoon with no agenda other than to say, “You are all I need in this moment, and in every moment.”