Why Men Don’t Pray


Let’s listen in on the end of a Christian men’s group meeting:

Guy 1: Great Bible study! Now who has prayer requests?

Guy 2, raising a hand: I inherited a couple thousand dollars from an aunt who died, and I need prayer to know how to best handle the money.

Guy 3: Put it in a stock index fund. Tracks the stock market and since it’s always going up over time, you win.

Guy 4: Have you looked into a 529 account? Little Joey will be going to college some day. Gotta remember that.

Guy 5: There’s the upcoming mission trip for the youth. I hear a lot of the kids don’t have enough money to go. You could write it off. Advance the Kingdom and all that.

Guy 3 to Guy 5: But if he invests it, he could make money and still turn some over in the future. Let his interest fund the mission trip five years from now.

Guy 6: This is a blessing from God. He means it to meet your needs. Your car’s not lookin’ all that hot right now. Didn’t you say the transmission needed work?

Guy 2 to Guy 6: True, but…

{Twenty minutes later…}

Guy 4: College, man. I’m telling you. It’ll cost a quarter million for four years the way things are going. Save now.

Guy 1: It’s almost 9:30, guys. Looks like we’ve pretty much shot our time, so anyone want to close in prayer?

{Guy 2 raises his hand}

Guy 1: Go for it.

Guy 2: Thank you, Lord, for this time. We pray you’d bless us and all our families. Help us to know you more. Amen.

All the Guys: Amen.

Sound familiar? I’d say that’s an eerily close script for just about every group of Christian men I’ve ever been a part of. Mention praying for each other’s needs and for the needs of the Body and you’ll hear 99 percent advice and 1 percent prayer.

I don’t remember it being that bad in my ancient past, though. And as much as it’s easy to blame men for this (to say they just aren’t spiritual enough today), I have another theory.

Consider all the changes wrought in our society in the last fifty years.

  • Companies fire men at the drop of a hat, even if they do good work.
  • Women now fight them for their jobs—and win.
  • The feminist movement questioned men’s very raison d’être, and that questioning trickled down into society as a whole.
  • TV went from Father Knows Best to showing dad routinely outsmarted by everyone, including the family dog.
  • Men aren’t reading the lay of the society’s land well. Too many changes happening too fast. Even in church on Sunday, they hear the message they’re not doing it right.

In short, I believe many men—many Christian men—struggle with feelings of incompetence. They wonder if they do anything well. GaggedThey fear that the future will somehow reveal their inadequacies, and they’ll be made a laughingstock.

I’m no psychiatrist. I’m down on psychology. But when I talk to other men, I see them struggling with these issues. It’s like watching Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross looping in the lives of many men.

I believe this comes out in the way men approach prayer today.

A problem arises as expressed through a prayer concern. Suddenly, a chance to show competence—to let someone else know that I’ve heard what he said and I might be able to resolve it then and there, as if God had miraculously touched my mind with the answer! I can be helpful! I can make a difference!

I can be competent!

A more disturbing side exists to this, too. Intellectual competence in providing the winning solution to someone’s problem isn’t the only competence issue at stake here. Prayer becomes a comptetence issue, as well.

To many men, providing a common sense answer to a prayer need means not running the risk that prayer may not work. We prayed about Steve’s inheritance and he wound up getting taken by some shyster financial advisor. Then who’s wrong? Maybe our prayers failed the competency test. Maybe our faith failed that test, too. Maybe we’re not godly enough for God to take our prayers seriously. We’ve botched everything else, so why not this, too?

That fear of being shown incompetent doesn’t afflict women as much as men. I think the main competence issue women struggle with concerns raising their kids. Yes, that’s a leaden weight, too, but I think men tend to struggle with competence in every aspect of their lives. It’s why shows of bravado empower men. To be king of the hill carries some meaning.

Now we can inject all sorts of spiritual advice into this. We can talk about dying to self. We can talk about grace. But men simply aren’t experiencing those in their lives because what they get from the church on Sunday doesn’t have enough steam to get them past the gauntlet of potential incompetence they must run through the rest of the week. The car breaks down, and it’s so complex they can’t fix it. When their kids ask for help on algebra, they can’t do it. They can’t work enough hours in the week to avoid the offshoring due to hit their company. They can’t meet all the requirements the parachurch ministry says they must meet to be a Christian husband. They don’t even know where to start in prayer to address all these lacks. So they don’t even try.

And that’s my take on why men today don’t pray.

Big Box Altars


All hail the might dollar!This last weekend, my wife and I did something we haven’t done in almost three years…

We spent a day shopping.

Unlike some Americans, we shop only if forced. As we try to simplify our lives by purchasing fewer and fewer things, shopping dwindles into the background along with other things we’ve relegated to the backburner of life (like TV viewing, going to the movies, and taking vacations every year).

One of the truths the Lord’s been teaching me concerns the embarrassment of riches we have in the United States. I got a larger lesson in this when I walked into a store I haven’t visited in more than two years: Best Buy.

My wife practices her singing on the way to work, but her car’s stereo burned out so she can’t practice along with her CDs. I came to see what I could find in a new stereo under $150. I also noted here a few weeks ago that our TV burned out. While we may watch next to no broadcast television, we do, on rare occasions, get a DVD out of our local library and take an evening off. So I wandered into Best Buy to get a feel for what’s out there in both offerings.

Whoa. The price tags! Am I reading it right that a TV capable of rendering a fully digital signal—as mandated by the FCC as of this month—costs a minimum of $1,500?

Sometime in the distant past of my shoddy memory, $1500 used to be what a car cost. In other words, one heck of a lot of money. Yet on this eighty degree, sunny day, Best Buy filled with people waving cash, their eyes wider than the width of the TVs that grabbed their attention.

What grabbed my attention was those folks’ shoes. You can tell everything you want to know about someone’s income by their shoes. Well-off people may wear grubby clothes, but rarely do they wear grubby, no-name-brand shoes. (When I worked in sales years ago, I picked my customers based on their shoes and routinely chalked up monster sales figures as a result) .

The shoes on the humungo TV-buyers said this: “We can’t afford this TV.” The kids wore knock-offs, swooshes that mimicked Nike, stripes not exactly Adidas. And so did their parents.

Thrifty, perhaps. But a quick scan of the newspapers tells a different story. We’ve got record personal bankruptcies, record mortgage defaulting, a huge spike in credit card debt (after years of downward numbers), negative savings rates, too much leverage on our houses through home equity loans, and a rise in every negative economic indicator known to Man.

Yet we keep on buying. We have to.

Hear David’s heart cry:

Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
—Psalm 142:4-5

Standing there in Best Buy, watching people cart out thousands of dollars worth of items that a house fire would reduce in heartbeats to so much melted glass and oozing plastic, I understood.

Best Buy takes notice of them. Samsung cares for their souls. Sony is their portion, Panasonic their refuge. Be it Best Buy, Home Depot, DSW, Bass Pro Shops, or whatever— that big box store’s got an altar to perfectly fit that hole where God should be enthroned.

At some point in the history of the United States, Jesus Christ failed to satisfy. You and I know this had nothing to do with the splendor of the Lord. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. But something changed in us.

I’ve been writing about the Holy Spirit quite a bit lately, and I think the American Church’s understanding of Him may explain our Big Box Altars.
I believe that we made the Lord a mental exercise. The Enlightenment inflicted a dire wound on our grasp of the Faith. We turned the Faith that enlivens us into something we cognitively assent to. Yet in doing so, we stripped the passion, the intense feelings of intimacy, that accompany faith in Christ. Our churches transformed into dim depositories of hazy reflections of what it means to be aflame with love for Jesus.

As a result, verses like the following don’t register with us:

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
—Psalms 122:1

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women. As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love.
—Song of Solomon 2:1-5

Instead of being sick with love for Jesus, instead of longing with all our hearts to dwell with our brothers and sisters in Christ before Him, we pump ourselves up to watch March Madness on our new 60″ plasma TV. You should have seen the eyes of the men in that store as they watched (oh so fortuitously) NCAA basketball games on those monster TVs. You could almost hear their souls saying, “This is what I truly need. I’m sick with love.”

Idolatry isn’t pretty.

But then again, neither is sterile intellectual debate. Yet how easily the American Church concedes passion and emotion! Dry, dusty churches fill with people looking to be sick in love with something, someone, anything, yet we give them intellectual discourses on the fiery faith of our fathers. We hold Jesus Christ out as a systematic theology. Or we make Him into a trifle that exists only to wave a magic wand and Poof!, a more real object of our affection shows up in our living room—all sixty plasma-filled inches of it.

A reader asked me the other day what kind of church I go to that it has drums and dancing. The fact that someone asked that question saddened me, because it made me wonder what kind of church he/she attends. What kinds of sermons? What kind of fellowship? What kind of worship?

Any life at all?

I’ve got to believe there’s something wrong with a Church where week in and week out there’s no weeping before the altar of the Lord. If a man can go through an entire church year without once falling on his face weeping, without soaking the church carpeting with his tears, something’s desperately wrong with his church.

I’ve got to believe that a church will never amount to much for the Kingdom if it never once sees someone get up and dance during worship. I’ve got to believe that a church filled with people who just sit and nod their heads will be asleep when the Bridegroom comes. The Holy Spirit’s missing in a church that goes through the emotionless motions.

How can an unstirred church reflect anything resembling the abundant life?

In C.S. Lewis’s masterful book, The Great Divorce, he posits a heaven so substantial that all of life this side of it resembles a vapor. Massive, unearthly Christians fill that dense heaven, giants, heroes that shake the foundation of the world with their conquests. How then can it be that so little life fills believers today? Why is it that we cannot find succor for our souls on Sunday, but instead find our hearts strangely warmed—if only for a passing moment—by a 60″ plasma display rocking with the Final Four?

Have we Christians rendered Christ so inconsequential? Have we denied the power of YHWH for the power of LG?

What happened to passion and fire?

Is Your Church Rightfully Embarrassing?


Skateboarding ecclesiastical dudes!We seem to be having more than our share lately of worship services that don’t follow the bulletin. We don’t have a service outline in our bulleting for just that reason. Still, since we started attending in December 2004, I’ve noticed an uptick of services when you can just throw the script away.

I love that. I wish more churches pitched their scripted Sunday mornings. (I wish more churches had reason to deviate from the script, but sadly, I won’t hold my breath on that one.)

Yesterday, God showed up again palpably. Last time, I was moved, but this time I just watched. It’s not about me. If He blessed others rather than me this time, that’s super.

Worship team practice before the service stunk, but when it came time to play, grace prevailed and the music flowed. The atmosphere changed in the church and you could tell something was stirring.

One of the things I appreciate about my church concerns the openness to letting anyone talk. The pastor and elders do a fine job of knowing when to let others stand up and take the microphone. That’s a real gift. It also means everyone’s involved in the service. People don’t just sponge it all up; they contribute in tangible ways.

I feel blessed to be a part of a church that has so many positives going for it.

I love to see my wife dance in church. Several of the women danced spontaneously—yet another blessing to have that openness to express one’s worship through dancing. But by the time the A/C kicked in (82 degrees in March?) I was pretty sweaty and so was my wife. We fanned each other after I came down from behind the drums.

We sit near the front. Since our church does draw a rural crowd, we get a lot of folks who sit in the last third of the church. Most of the visitors do, anyway. But this morning, two women visitors sat behind us. During the offering time, the church breaks up to greet others, so we chatted with the visitors.

Moments later, one of the men of the church approached the pastor with several things he felt we should be praying for. He listed the needs and called people up for prayer. At that point, I knew the pastor wouldn’t be preaching that morning and I got that “Oh no, the visitors aren’t going to see a normal Sunday” feeling.

It’s a mixed feeling. I want people to come back. I know when I’m out of town and visit another church, it’s always disconcerting to me to show up on that weird Sunday when nothing’s the way it normally is. I’m always fascinated by what constitutes “normal” church for other people, so I get disappointed when I get the guest speaker or it’s “Raise Money for the New Children’s Wing” Sunday or some other aberrant meeting.

So when it got a little “pentecostal” during the extended prayer time, I had that feeling wash over me—the “Hey, it’s not even noon, so no one can be drunk” riff on Peter’s original Pentecost sermon. When the worship team got called back up to the front, I had this in mind about our visitors:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
—1 Corinthians 14:23-26

Plenty of building up happened Sunday. God blessed people and they blessed Him in return. That’s the best you can hope for on any given Sunday. Even if the blessing this particular Sunday might be perceived by outsiders as a bit unconventional.

I’m perfectly fine with whatever looniness I exhibit. I learned a long time ago not to be so stuck on myself that I keep God from doing a work in me or through me. But what about those visitors?

As you all well know, I’m not ashamed of the charismata. Yet I always get a little voice inside me saying, “What are the visitors thinking?” What I consider perfectly normal, they might think is…well, loony.

Or better, rightfully embarrassing.

The cross is embarrassing in some ways, isn’t it? We crucified our God. Not too many adherents of a particular religion are willing to accept that kind of blame. Some Christian churches aren’t, either. They got rid of the cross a long time ago. All that talk of dying to self made the visitors squirm.

Though it’s a more common practice today in Evangelicalism, the laying on of hands may embarrass some. We’re not a high touch culture, preferring our personal space. Hugging other people in church becomes a no-no, too. And let’s not get started on that holy kiss, either.

Christians cry in church, too. Even grown men. The reasons for doing so are legion, but in public they’re more rigidly defined. Seeing someone go outside those definitions, even in church, makes some people tense.

I think the mark of a good church is its willingness to be rightfully embarrassing, even if it might drive away potential members. The Gospel itself is embarrassing because it upends every standard cultural convention. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. If someone strikes you, offer the other cheek. Don’t hold grudges, forgive. Deny yourself in order to supply others. That baldfaced countercultural response drives some to consider us loony. We’re an embarrassment.

Or at least we should be.

Paul’s comments to the smug Corinthian church oozes with irony:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
—1 Corinthians 4:7-10

We Christians have nothing to apologize for. If we’re truly living out the words of our Lord Jesus, nothing (or no one) can embarrass us. We are dead to the world. That world can laugh all it wants, but in the end, we’ll get the final guffaw.

So what does your church do that’s rightfully embarrassing?