half-time speech vs. game day

I’m a big sports fan. I love just about any sport–except NBA basketball. Sorry! I just don’t get into it. In my opinion, you could put 2 minutes on the clock, 100 points on the scoreboard for both teams and see who wins. That’s about as much time as I care to give to a pro basketball game! NFL football is definitely my favorite sport and I still cheer on my hometown team–the Minnesota Vikings. Since I spent 8 1/2 years in Atlanta, I also follow the Falcons and now that I’m in Detroit, I follow the Lions. It’s a little tricky because Detroit and Minnesota are in the same division!

In many sports, the half-time speech by the coach is a big deal. If your team is behind, it’s the coaches chance to address the weakness in the game plan and to boost the morale with a little “you can do it!” speech. If your team is ahead, it’s an opportunity to celebrate–a little–and pat the team on the back with a “way to go!” and “keep at it!” speech. The half-time speech can make or break the game. How many times have you seen the momentum of a game shift after half-time? It was probably due to a well-executed half-time speech.

I think it’s time to start looking at our worship services on Sunday as a half-time speech instead of game day. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve been in ministry almost 20 years and for much of that time, I served in churches that approached Sunday as “game day.” Some even went so far as to say that every Sunday was like the Superbowl (no pressure!). Think about it–where are most churches resources allocated to? Usually, Sunday morning. From staffing and programming to budgets and buildings, Sunday is game day. We even judge the success of our churches by counting how many “fans” show up and how much money they put in the collection plates.

To take the analogy further, we have hundreds, sometimes thousands of people showing up to watch the paid professionals do what they get paid to do. They are the spectators and if their “team” isn’t performing to their expectations, they might find a new “team” to go watch. Or if the “team” on the other side of town plays cooler music during the “game” or has a nicer, newer “stadium,” that “team” gets their attention.

Unfortunately, most of our American churches are set up this way. There is a co-dependent relationship between the paid professionals and their spectators. The spectators are dependent on the paid professionals for their spiritual nourishment and the paid professionals are dependent on the spectators for their paychecks and position. This has created rockstar mega-church communicators who are idolized by their congregations. In the worst scenarios, this can lead to pastors with over-inflated egos who begin to believe their own press. When this happens, the situation can be extremely dangerous. All too often, a leadership failing is right around the corner–moral failure, embezzlement, abuse of power, etc.–and the church is decimated as a result.

That’s why we need to start looking at Sunday as the half-time speech instead of game day. The real work of the Kingdom comes as God’s people scatter serving as His Kingdom ambassadors where they live, work and play on Monday through Saturday. When we gather for the half-time speech, we can celebrate God’s movement in and through His ambassadors and be motivated to go out and do it again!

What about you? Do you look at Sunday as game day or as a half-time speech? How would it cause you to live differently if you viewed Sunday this way?

the Father’s character

There are many different “prayer tools” out there to aid us in our prayer lives. I’ve used the ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) acrostic in the past. Truth is, I’ve found that if I don’t use some sort of tool, my mind can easily wander–SQUIRREL!!

A few months ago, I learned a prayer tool based on The Lord’s Prayer, or the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray. It just makes sense. If this is what Jesus taught His disciples, shouldn’t it be a model for us to follow as well?

Here’s the simple format:

The Father’s Character
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name…” (Matthew 6:9)
Let this phrase guide your prayers around the themes of God being a loving and gracious Father. It speaks of our relationship with Him through covenant. But, be sure to balance it with the fact that God is holy, separate from us and He expects us to be holy and set apart as well.

The Father’s Kingdom
“…Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
This is huge! So many things come to my mind when I read this phrase. We have been given the opportunity to represent His kingdom as ambassadors. He has chosen to use us to accomplish His kingdom purposes on this earth. What greater purpose could there be to surrender fully to? It also brings to mind the kingdom values that should begin to be more and more evident as a group of believers live out the counter-cultural ways of Jesus. What about physical healing? We know from Scripture that there is no sickness or disease in God’s kingdom. So, to pray that God’s kingdom and God’s will would come to earth as it is in heaven means we can and should ask for God to bring physical healing.

The Father’s Provision
“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
God is our provider. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “…it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth..” This is an area of growth for most Americans. We have such an independent spirit and we fail to recognize that God is our provider and not we ourselves. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Allow this phrase to guide your prayers for God’s provision for your every need–not just financial.

The Father’s Forgiveness
“And forgive us our debs, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
Lots here to pray over as well! In general, if you’re like me, you over-estimate your own holiness and under-estimate your own sinfulness. As the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” What about broken relationships? Has someone wronged you? Matthew 6:14-15 seems to indicate that if we do not forgive others for the wrongs they have committed against us, then God will not forgive us!

The Father’s Guidance
“And lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13a)
Pray for God’s guidance in your life. What areas do you need God to guide you into truth and away from temptation? 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises us that there is no temptation that can overtake us because God will make a way of escape for us.

The Father’s Protection
“…but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13b)
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we are in a spiritual struggle. Pray for God’s spiritual protection and deliverance in your life. As you examine your life, what weak spots do you have? Our enemy, the evil one, will attack where you are weak. Those are the areas where we especially need the Father’s protection.

I’ve been using this prayer tool for the past couple of months. I am a substitute school bus driver to help supplement my income and I have been on the same route for about 2 months. The bus practically does the route itself by now so I use the 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon for some focused prayer. This tool has been very beneficial in keeping my thoughts corralled.

You can either pray through all 6 categories in one prayer time or spend the whole time on one of the 6 aspects. Doing the latter will enable you to really go deeper in a segment. Another way to use this tool is to evaluate your prayer life. Which segment(s) are you strong in? Which segment(s) are you weak in? For instance, I might have no trouble asking for God’s guidance in my life, but I might struggle recognizing Him as my provider. It’s a great evaluation tool!

What prayer methods have you found helpful?