If I’m in the right mood, I can be easily convinced to join a group of people and play a game. My in-laws are really big game people, and that always makes for a lot of laughs at family gatherings. Most of the time, the humor comes from someone making a Freudian slip and saying something completely inappropriate, causing the entire room to erupt in laughter.
A few years ago at Christmas, my wife and I gave my brother-in-law a new board game. Not too long after the presents were opened, we gathered together as a group near the still-twinkling Christmas tree and decided to take a crack at some new and healthy competition amongst family. It was a game none of us had ever played before, so the routine course of action took place before we could all get started and play: we read the rules. Ugh.
Honestly, I absolutely can’t stand reading the rules before playing a game. I’m ready to talk smack to my opponents and just get into it. There is fun to be had, and pausing to make sure I engage in the fun correctly kind of saps away most of the excitement for me. The truth is, however, if someone didn’t read the rules first, we would end up playing the game wrong, the scoring wouldn’t make any sense, and the actual fun would get derailed by arguments, frustration, and someone inadvertently kicking the glass coffee table.
For many areas of life (not just playing board games) the key to fruitfulness is appropriate preparation. And the intentionality of living as a follower of Jesus in today’s culture is no exception. Yes, it is important to be ready to answer any specific questions that might come up when you’re in a spiritual conversation with someone, but the preparation I’m talking about here has to do with prayer.
If you closely examine the ministry of Jesus, you will easily discover He was a man who took prayer very seriously. The bible says Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). This is significant given the fact that He knew His ministry would be relatively short (three years), and packed with activity (teaching, miracles, travel, etc.) A running motto for every Christian should be, “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.” Jesus’ busy life didn’t lack prayer and neither should ours.
Frankly, if we’re not praying throughout the entire process of living out our faith in the world, we’re trying to accomplish the work of God through our own efforts. Although we might try to make it work in our own power, we simply don’t have the capacity to handle the rigors of living a spiritually fruitful life while remaining unaffected by the constant pressures of the world.
Prayer is where our strength comes from, it’s where our hearts become aligned with God’s, it’s where our motivations are focused on the appropriate things, and it’s where we recognize who is really behind all of this anyway. We need to ask God to open people’s hearts to the gospel before we open our mouths. We must be talking to Him about our fears and apprehension in a way that honestly recognizes He must work in order to bring genuine life change.
Prayer really is the best way to prepare in order to see good things happen. And if your schedule doesn’t reveal prayer as the foundation for effective ministry and life change, you need to ask yourself what might be pushing you to skip it and move on to the “action.”
In John 17, Jesus sets the precedent for how we are to approach a life lived as His follower – a lot of specific prayer. He prays for Himself, he prays for His disciples, and He prays for other believers. Isn’t He the best?
Before you talk to people about God, talk to God about people. It’s a great way to live and be prepared for whatever may cross our paths.
Game on, sucka.