Monday, March 4, 2013

The Christian Counterculture, Part Three

Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge
This review follows A Manifesto for a Christian Counterculture and The Christian Counterculture, Part Two
As important as Christian knowledge is to developing our long-neglected counterculture, any culture relies not on what its members think, but upon what they do. As people called to the Kingdom of God through the message and person of Christ, we are defined by our beliefs, but known by our actions. Thus, to become and remain a Godly, unified people, we must spend time with the God who claims us as His own.

Like many Christians of his generation, Mark Batterson started out pursuing the love of God, but eschewing the trappings of church. When he founded his metropolitan DC parish, he held services at a movie multiplex, courted the media, and addressed lively current issues. But he did so from the conviction that Christians must live our beliefs, not just talk about them. He worked hard to make his church a real community of active, doing believers.

This latest book is part of Batterson’s Circle Maker curriculum, a positive way of “doing church” together even when we’re not seated in the same room. Nevertheless, it permits separate reading, and is intended as a daily devotional for a forty-day prayer vigil. Each chapter runs four to six pages, combining strict scriptural declarations on prayer with Batterson’s enthusiastic homiletic style. You won’t want to limit yourself to just one chapter per day.

A Protestant minister I know admitted that his seminary education included almost nothing on prayer. Churches place such emphasis on preaching and teaching—on knowing about God—that prayer, the act of knowing God, goes by the wayside. Not surprisingly, many Christians admit they spend little time actually praying outside church. We treat prayer as something we fling ourselves at, like bear wrestling. How discouraging.

By contrast, Batterson would rather help us approach prayer as a growth process, an act of developing our God-sense. Just as we struggled to walk, until we did it, we struggle with prayer, until we realize we’re talking directly to God. That’s why, like Jesus in the wilderness, he wants us to spend forty days on the process. Whether individually or as a body of believers, Batterson wants us to grow in our love of God, not succeed or fail all at once, right now.

Batterson is direct in addressing what lacks he thinks we believers suffer, which keep us from achieving our prayers. Small visions, timid voices, and the love of our neighbors’ good opinion prevent us from fully opening to God. To his credit, Batterson does not exempt himself from this criticism. Where many Evangelical leaders hold themselves aloof from criticism, Batterson turns his own fears and failings into object lessons for us.

If we believe, as Gabriel said, that “With God, all things are possible,” why do we limit our prayers to the mundane and the ordinary? Why do we ask for what we could get ourselves, while taking God’s tasks on our shoulders? As Christians, we have internalized the world’s definitions of busy-work, forgetting that the One within us is greater than the one who is in the world. So we neglect spending time with the One who has already won the greatest battles.

Not that prayer always needs to be profound, and demand that mountains move. Taking a cue from Brother Lawrence, Batterson reminds us that every act we perform daily—washing dishes, nurturing our kids, earning a living—can be a form of prayer. And asking God to keep a hand on our children, leading them home when their spirits stray, is not a small request. Indeed, intercession may be the biggest prayer a believing Christian can make.

I especially appreciate Batterson’s statements on the limitations of prayer. We must not give into magical thinking, expecting that if we don’t receive our requests, that God has turned away from us. Sometimes what sounds like “no” to us may be God saying “not yet.” Even more important, that apparent “no” may be God telling us that through faith, we are made strong; we cannot let prayer justify our own refusal to act on the mission God lays before us.

Batterson intends that small groups, or even entire congregations, should undertake this prayer challenge together. But he does not exclude the likelihood that, at some point, we may have to take his prayer challenge alone. Whether on your own, or as part of a mission revival, Batterson’s devotional can help Christians with possibly the most overlooked aspect of their faith journey. I intend to keep using it on my path.

For a prior Mark Batterson review, see:
Three Books for a Christian World

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