Turnaround Journey

Many churches and organizations plan, but there is a large difference between planning and strategic planning that leads to implementation for effective ministry. Working with churches over the years one realization that has occurred to me is execution or implementation for effective ministry is an area of weakness in most of our churches, ministries, and organizations. Could this be an indicator of the plateaued and declining state of 80-90% of our churches? I believe it is.

While some believe that planning and hosting an event, leads to success, and consider their events to be successful, the truth is many events and ministry endeavors are lacking in effective, efficient, Gospel-centered ministry. This is why I believe God has guided me in writing Turnaround Journey.

Turnaround Journey follows the story of Pastor Tim Farling and Calvert City Community Church as they learn a clear and easy to follow strategic planning process with techniques on effective and successful implementation. The formula in this book helps leaders and teams narrow their focus spending their time on those things which will bring the highest results for the church or organization.

In addition the reader will find thirty-four helpful insights for productive leadership in any area of life. Thirty-four leadership tips and techniques that will change the effectiveness of your organization and increase your leadership ability and skills.

Thank you Dr.’s Jeff Iorg, Larry Wynn, & Syd Garrett for the following:

Dr. Jeff Iorg, President, Golden Gate Seminary

“Embedded in this story are important principles about actually leading a church to plan and implement strategic change.  There are many theoretical books on how to do this – but sadly, not too many on how to really get it done.  If you are discouraged by theoreticians and frustrated by failed efforts, check out the insights in this book as a roadmap to practical change in your church.”

Larry Wynn, Vice president, Church Revitalization, Georgia Baptist Convention

In Turnaround Journey, George Yates gives insight into leadership development that is applicable in the church, family, and corporate world as well. These principles are Biblically based and practical. Anyone desiring to become a more effective leader will benefit from this book.

Syd Garrett, Director of Compliance, Fortune 100 Global Telecommunications company

Turnaround Journey is an excellent handbook for all leaders in the church –  ministers, teachers, staff, as well as lay leaders.  George Yates does a fantastic job of laying out the tools and techniques for leadership and problem solving in the church.  In reality, many of the insights are really not limited to churches – really applicable to a Christian leader of any organization.  I’m going to borrow some of the analogies and approaches for use at work.

To learn more and to order your copy of Turnaround Journey visit soncare.net or your favorite bookseller’s website.

Changing Directional Thought Processes

Changing Directional Thought Processes – Have you ever watched Wheel of Fortune on television? There have been times when I have watched it and think of one word likely in the puzzle, and I can’t think of any other word that could fit – even after I know the word I’m thinking is not correct. It is like a tunnel-vision of thought that I cannot break. Once the puzzle is revealed I may realize how obvious it was. But I could not break my own tunnel-vision of thought.

How many times have you been in a meeting or leading a discussion and realized only one avenue of thought was being explored? Working with pastors and church teams, I see this often. Recently, a church team was considering behavior patterns of their church. Patterns the church had developed that may be detrimental to the church’s growth. The conversation turned to their Sunday morning Bible study and carried on for fifteen minutes. When I would ask the team, “What else?” The response would be something about Bible study groups. While structuring for a more effective, disciple-making Bible study was certainly a need, I realized the group was stuck in a tunnel-vision thought pattern. I needed to break the thought processes of the team and redirect their thinking toward behavior patterns in other areas of church life.

First, I needed to break into the current thinking, lead the team away from Bible study only. “These are good, and you certainly have realized a great need in changing the behavior patterns of Bible study groups. However, we need to look at all areas of the church life.” These two statements cause a pause in the thinking of everyone in the room. The subtle compliment in the first statement breaks the chain of thought. Then I would need to redirect the thought processes. “What other behavior patterns, good or bad, do you see in other ministries or actions of the church body that positively or negatively affect the church?” The conversation moved away from Bible study and other areas were addressed. Since that meeting the team has identified areas of need in Bible study and have the first steps in place to becoming more effective and efficient in building disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission. Not only in Bible study, but in three other areas of church life as well.

In chapter nine of the book Turnaround Journey, coach Greg has been leading the church leadership team in a discussion using questions and statements to engage the team’s higher order thought processes. At a particular point Greg realizes the team members are focusing on only one aspect or one line of discovery. Team members are caught in a tunnel-vision of their thought processes. Greg poses one question to break this tunnel-vision. “Are your driving gauges solely on the instrument panel of the dash in your car?” With this one question Greg is forcing the team members to unearth a different line of thinking.

It is like a train changing tracks. This question causes the team to think of gauges as something other than instruments found on the car’s dash board. It is a think outside the box question. Greg realized the members were focused only on those instrument panel gauges. So he uses a question to redirect their thinking. The question is worded in such a way that it interrupts everyone’s thinking, but it also interrupts their thought processes. After giving time for those thought processes to be broken down Greg rephrases the question to enlighten his listeners and to reengage their thinking. He could have asked the second question first and avoided the awkward silence. However, Greg knew he needed to break down the thought processes and after the appropriate time, regenerate them. What do you think, was he successful? Read chapter nine of Turnaround Journey to see if the conversation changed directions. Did the team members realized there was more to be explored than the twelve inches of a dash panel?

Changing directional thought processes takes people deeper in their learning experience, causing more than impressions to be made. Changing directional thought patterns does not stop with attaching old information to new. It leads people in a discovery of what they had not considered or experienced in the past. Learning to use questions that change directional thought processes is a powerful tool in helping others gain insight, and change behavior patterns (people begin looking at subjects from a different perspective). However, a word of caution is due here. Using this directional change too early or with wrong timing can have a detrimental effect on the learning process. In leadership this can have an adverse effect on the team’s ability and willingness to carry out assignments. Learn to use this when appropriate, but always use cautiously, and with wisdom.

Jesus used this type of leadership with the religious leaders, his disciples and others following Him. Can you name a time Jesus changed the directional thought processes of 1) the religious leaders (Pharisees, Scribes, Sanhedrin), 2) his disciples, 3) one or more of His followers?

For more information on Changing Directional Thought Processes contact George Yates and purchase your copy of Turnaround Journey.

Wait for a Response

Wait for a Response – This post has some very close similarities with the previous post “Leadership Conversational Pauses”. It is nature in our culture to give an answer. From our earliest age of recollection we are trained in giving an answer. As a child, even before we were able to ask a question, every time we looked at our parents with a queried look, they always gave us an answer. As a child grows he learns to expect an answer when he/she has an inquiry. In turn children are taught to give an answer when asked a question. This routine becomes second nature. One thing we need to improve upon is that not every query needs a quick, even instant response.

I’ve watched leaders and teachers ask great questions and not allow anyone time to answer, blowing right past a great learning opportunity. Darryl Eldridge (Rockbridge Seminary) has said, “Never ask a question you do not want someone to answer.” This is great advice and one all leaders should study, concentrate on, and practice. Slow down, allow time for your team members to process the information and wait for them to give you an answer.

One reason we do not wait for a response is because silence is awkward. It is true silence is awkward. Yet silence is also a great learning tool when used properly. Again, slow down, silence is okay. As noted several times in Turnaround Journey, ten seconds of silence can seem like several minutes. This is what makes silence awkward. However, this is no reason to give the answer or move on without an answer.

Learn to read the body language and facial expressions of your team members. If they seem confused or in need of clarification, you may need to restate or reform the question for a better understanding. But do not answer the question or move on without an answer. Your learners need the brief time of silence to move to higher order thinking to process the information. Asking good formulated questions will bring about learning and will allow your team to assess more possibilities for drawing a conclusion and coming to a right decision.

When leaders wait for a response and allow the team members to process the information, encouraging their response(s), effective team work and productive outcomes materialize. When used effectively this will also help build a better, more efficient team. Waiting for a response can be used in a variety of scenarios: when you need your team or learners to discover a truth or how to best move forward in a particular situation, helping team members to understand needed changes (personally or as a team), brainstorming,, gaining knowledge, and assisting individuals to realize their shortcomings.

In the gospel of John, chapter eight, when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, He asked a question, then he hesitated, stooped down, wrote on the ground and waited – in silence – for their response. Another great lesson learned from our Lord and Savior.

Practice waiting for a response, then put it into practice in all your circles of influence.

For more information on Waiting for a Response contact George Yates and order your copy of Turnaround Journey.

 

Leadership Conversational Pauses

Leadership Conversational Pauses – Effective leaders understand the necessity and viability of conversational pauses.  Many leaders and teachers, however, move through these concepts missing the opportunity for understanding and true learning to take place in the minds of listeners. A pause for even a few seconds will enable the higher order thought processes to kick into gear allowing the listeners to process and grasp what is being said. When listeners are allowed the opportunity to engage the higher order thought processes, the new information is processed alongside familiar information stored in the memory bank of the brain. It is the combining of the old, familiar, with the new information which brings about understanding and learning.

By moving along in a group discussion or a one on one conversation without these pauses there are few indicators that the person(s) have gained an understanding of what you desire from them. In fact, without pauses, there are few opportunities for the needed learning to take place. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed too many leaders who did not allow this time for understanding, and when the later actions of the listeners did not meet the desires of the leader the only person held accountable was the listener. In my opinion the leader is most at fault in many of these situations.

Another error I have seen leaders make is to run through his spiel letting his listeners know what he wants without any pauses. Then at the very end of his discourse ask something like; “Have you got that?” In most scenarios the subjects would simply say yes, or ‘I think so’, whether they do or not. For this we could find fault with the subjects or listeners. We might ask, why didn’t she speak up? All too often though, people have been put down and made to feel inferior enough times that they are willing to risk going into the project with a partial knowledge of the assignment than face scorn and ridicule even if the ridicule is subtle and unknown by the leader. For others, they do not speak up and ask questions because they do not want to feel like the only one who does not understand and they do not want to prolong the meeting.

Throughout the story in Turnaround Journey coach Greg and Pastor Tim use pauses with the staff and others to effectively communicate the desires and needs of the moment. In chapter eight Greg pauses several times to engage the higher order thought processes allowing the team members to process the new information and to develop a proper strategy for their church.

Practice using pauses in all your discussions and conversations. See what changes come from the people you speak with and those you lead by allowing information to be processed for better understanding. It may seem awkward at first, but you will see positive results. And if the understanding isn’t at the level you expect, you can clarify and make any corrections before leaving the discussion avoiding potential downtime and damage in the ministry field or workplace.

Learning when and where to place pauses in your team meetings and conversations is not difficult. In most cases the pauses should come natural, when you are asking something of your listeners, when you have completed giving instructions to be carried out, or as you are discussing a new platform or venue. The difficulty comes in implementing these pauses when you are not use to them. It is easy to keep going without the pauses. After all in your mind everything is clear. You, as the leader, have thought through the idea and know what you want. Remember: those in front of you are likely hearing this for the very first time. Five seconds of silence may seem like a long five minutes, but it will produce greater understanding and reap great rewards.

Practice pausing in your conversations and leadership meetings. Stop, breathe, allow your listeners to process the information you are divulging. You will build a less stressed team, with better capability to effectively, efficiently carry out the task and ministry ahead.

For more information on using pauses to build a more effective team contact George Yates. To pre-order your copy of Turnaround Journey visit the Turnaround Journey webpage.

 

Healthy Debate – Building Healthy Teams

Healthy Debate – is a great tool especially for strategy planning and leadership teams yet it is one seldom used, or at least seldom used effectively. Healthy debate should work to engage everyone on the team in the discussion. Healthy debate does involve conflict. However, in healthy debate, the conflict always remains on differing points of interest and not on personalities. The scenario played out in most organizations, large and small, is the conflict quickly turns to personalities. This is detrimental to a healthy outcome. Therefore, it cannot be healthy debate.

Healthy debate is conflicting points not personalities. In our story in Turnaround Journey (as in most scenarios) there are differing points of interest. Each of which could be validly supported. For healthy debate to occur the discussion should be led in such a way that the team comes to a ‘what is best for our situation’ answer and substantiates that answer with factual information. It is not based on any personalities or ministry preferences. In chapter seven of Turnaround Journey, Greg (the coach) had actually prepared the team for healthy debate for a full half hour prior to this decision making discussion. Greg had the team divide in pairs to share their ideas. Then he had them present the other person’s idea, not their own. What was he doing? He was allowing them to build a defense for the other person’s idea, not the person. Everyone’s idea was heard and accepted. But by being voiced by a second person, it brought a broader understanding and acceptance for each idea.

There are varying ways to build healthy debate into your team meetings. The key is to keep personalities out of the discussion – as much as possible. Make no mistake people’s personalities will come out as they share their ideas and thoughts. Otherwise there would not be passion for any particular idea. What we mean by keeping the personalities out is not to allow differing personalities to close off our open-mindedness. Healthy debate should not leave anyone feeling left out or belittled for sharing his/her opinion. As a leader it may be necessary from time to time to remind the team members to look beyond the person voicing the idea, and look at the premise of the idea. It is not the personality but the premise that will be implemented.

With some teams it may take time to build in true healthy debate, especially where people have not had the opportunity to openly express their ideas and understanding in the past. When first introduced to the idea some may feel insecure due to past experiences on your team or previous work, school teams, or even at home. In the church people do not want to offend another and do not want to feel offended or belittled. Therefore some may at first feel a little intimidated by the thought of healthy debate. This is where good strategic, encouraging leadership is very valuable to building your team members confidence that each person’s ideas and thoughts on every situation is vital to the team and the organizations future.

Seek out ways to implement and lead your team(s) in healthy debate.

For more information on healthy debate for effective decision making contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

To order a pre-release copy of Turnaround Journey visit soncare.net for this and 33 more leadership tips as well as a prescription for effective strategic planning and implementation for your church or organization.

Engaging the Higher Order Thought Processes

Engaging the Higher Order Thought Processes – When we study the works of Jesus we see He was a Master at engaging the higher order thought processes of those in front of Him, be it disciples, followers, or the Pharisees and other adversaries. What does this term “higher order thought processes” mean? It is engaging your listeners into life changing learners, causing them to go beyond mere recall and to delve into a deeper level of thinking and processing of information. For learning to take place one must be able to relate to the topic being discussed. The only way to relate to something is to have some prior knowledge. Learning always builds upon learning, therefore we must always have some prior knowledge of or related to the topic at hand to be able to understand the new information.

For example, we know an infant, once she develops their motor skills adequately, will transfer everything she picks up to her mouth. Have you ever wondered why? Consider this. What is the very first action where a baby learns satisfaction? It is being fed. When hungry a newborn knows to cry in hunger. What does Mom do? She instinctively feeds the newborn. The newborn experiences satisfaction. As that baby grows and discovers new things, the only option she knows is to take that new toy, scrap of paper, or other object to the place where satisfaction is experienced. The youngster will only grow out of this as her ability to grow in understanding increases and she is taught other options.

In Turnaround Journey Pastor Tim Farling and Greg the church’s transition coach, engage the leadership team’s higher order thought processes often in meetings and discussions. In chapter five Greg (the coach) uses a couple of statements to engage the higher order thought processes of his listeners. Then, he pauses, allowing each person to assess, reflect, and ponder the stated information. Too often, leaders and teachers jump ahead giving an explanation and not allowing these higher order thought processes to be fully engaged. In doing this we lose the greatest learning opportunity for those under our leadership and teaching. Greg waits silently for a response. Then when one of the team members asks a question for clarification (“What do you mean? What opportunities would we miss?”), Greg still does not give a direct answer. He gives enough to allow those wheels of higher order thought processes to continue in each of his listeners around the table. It is not always the best and most effective approach to simply give the answer, though that might be the simplest, easy way to proceed. Simple and easy is not always best. For a lasting learning experience allowing the higher order thought processes to engage and think through the scenario produces the most effective and lasting learning experience. One that is more likely to be carried into the workplace assignment.

Another tool coach Greg uses in Turnaround Journey is also one of Jesus’ teaching techniques. He uses an analogy and an object lesson (taking a trip). Why? Because everyone around the table has taken a trip and can relate to the question posed by Greg, “What is the first vital piece of information you need before you can plan or take a trip?”

In doing this Greg is able to allow the discussion to flow from the learners before turning the analogy back to the matter at hand. Engaging the higher order thought processes helps people process the information being offered and transforms it into learning by attaching the new information with what is already stored in the memory bank of our mind.

Jesus knew that engaging his listeners’ higher order thought processes would bring about life changing learning – and look at the following He gained as a leader. The leadership and teaching techniques He used were geared to learning rather than dispensing information. Learn to use leadership and teaching techniques that focus on learning not teaching. It’s what Jesus did and all His teaching/learning techniques engaged the Higher Order Thought Processes. Engaging higher order thought processes produces effective efficient fruit. Use these and you’ll see a more productive team. To learn more about Engaging Higher Order Thought Processes purchase your copy of “Teaching That Bears Fruit,” Guardian Press, 2001.

For more information on engaging the Higher Order Thought Processes contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

For more information about or to order a pre-release copy of Turnaround Journey visit Turnaround Journey.

 

Responsive Leading

Responsive Leading – Responsive leading should not be misconstrued as reactive leading. It is not. The two are completely different. Reactive leading is leading after an event or series of events has led to a particular situation. The situation has caused you to change leadership practices. Responsive leading on the other hand is leading subjects from the point of his/her knowledge and understanding to a discovery learning experience.

Too often we are preparing our response before listening to the full disclosure from our inquirer. A good leader does not jump in and begin responding until he knows his subject has fully expounded her inquiry. A wise leader may sit quietly allowing his facial expression and body language to speak for him telling his inquirer, “Yes, I am listening, I am interested…” Once his subject has finished, a wise leader does not necessarily rush into a premeditated answer that he has been plotting while his inquirer was speaking.

At this point it is wise to take a few seconds, gather your thoughts, ponder what was spoken as well as what was communicated through body language, voice tone and inflection, and eye contact. The best response is always one that will lead the inquirer in a discovery learning experience. Often, the best first response from the leader is to ask a question. This question can be critical to the outcome of the conversation. This first question may be for clarification of the need or inquiry. Even if the leader is confident of what the inquirer is asking or divulging, it is never a bad idea to ask for clarification. “So, if I am hearing you correctly, you believe we should…Is this correct?” This question can assist the inquirer in reviewing and summarizing her thoughts.

From here the leader can begin formulating a response to assist the inquirer in the discovery learning experience be it for herself or something to aid the organization in general.

Chapter two of Turnaround Journey gives an example of Responsive Leading. Be certain to read Turnaround Journey and observe how Pastor Tim Farling uses Responsive Leading. In this one scenario one of Pastor Tim’s staff leaders asks for clarification of an assignment. Tim takes a few seconds to gather his thoughts. Then, he first recognizes Roger’s work and shows appreciation for this work. Following this, Tim does not immediately pose a question that might put Roger on the defense. Instead, Tim says, “Let’s think through this a little more and maybe I can clarify my desire.” Notice Tim places himself in the boat with Roger. He begins his response with “Let’s” expressing his desire to walk through this together. Now Tim is ready to assist Roger in a discovery learning experience using a powerful tool of leadership – questions. Also, since Roger has not been put on the defensive, he is ready and eager to learn. His mind is not building a defense or meditating on a prescribed answer. Instead, Roger is ready and willing with an open mind to discuss the potential and possibilities of the query at hand.

Again, take notice of the questions Pastor Tim proposes. They are formulated to not put Roger on the defensive, but to lead him in discovery.

Responsive leading is effective when deployed with the intent of assisting the inquirer in discovery learning. Pacing your response as a leader and formulating the right types of questions is very valuable in the learning process. Will your inquirer learn more from a patient, listening, leader or from one who interrupts, cuts off, and interjects before hearing the full inquiry? Perhaps it is good to practice the golden rule here. You like to be heard and you expect to be heard in full, do you not? Do those subject to your leadership deserve the same respect and hearing?

Practice responsive leading with those subject to your leadership. You’ll see greater team effort both in private team meetings and in the public venue where you serve. Responsive leading – listen to the full inquiry without fabricating your response while your subject is still speaking. Pause, think through what has been shared, then phrase your response as one with you in the same boat rowing together with your inquirer as a team effort – let’s find the solution together.

For more information on Responsive Leading contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries at http://soncare.net

Order your pre-release copy of Turnaround Journey by visiting soncare.net/turnaroundjourney

 

A New Year, Turnaround Journey

A New Year has dawned and within the first quarter of this year we should see the release of the next book God has enabled me to write, Turnaround Journey. One of the struggles churches and all organizations face is effectively implementing plans, strategies, and events. Turnaround Journey takes the reader inside the meeting rooms of Calvert City Community Church as they embark on a journey unlocking the intricacies of successful strategic planning and execution for effective ministry and carrying out the Great Commission, the church’s main purpose or mission.

Once the church unlocks these intricacies they realize the process is uncomplicated and simple enough to assist the church (any church) in planning and executing strategies on every level of the organization with great effectiveness. Included in Turnaround Journey are thirty-four leadership insights that will assist leaders of any organization or ministry in becoming more effective and efficient in leading others and accomplishing the organizational goals and objectives.

After reading the manuscript for Turnaround Journey, Syd Garrett, a friend and executive with one the world’s largest telecommunications organization wrote this, “Turnaround Journey is an excellent handbook for all leaders in the church –  ministers, teachers, staff, as well as lay leaders.  George Yates does a fantastic job of laying out the tools and techniques for leadership and problem solving in the church.  In reality, many of the insights are really not limited to churches – really applicable to a Christian leader of any organization.  I’m going to borrow some of the analogies and approaches for use at work.”

In this blog for the next 8 weeks I plan to give you, the reader, a taste of what to expect from the upcoming book Turnaround Journey, giving some of the brief leadership insights found in the book. Today, let me share this story.

While serving on staff at a mid-judicatory office (denominational office servicing churches in the region), I had a vision, a plan to implement a regional equipping and training conference. This was not just another conference. My thoughts were to bring in experienced, successful ministry leaders for all areas of church ministry and office work to lead training and equipping sessions for people serving in those particular ministry positions i.e. secretaries, Sunday School teachers, Youth Ministry, Deacons, Treasurers, Women’s Ministry, etc. We would bring in twenty-five in all the first year. My boss approved the idea and I went to work. I approached the next level judicatory and asked for their help. They gladly accepted and got behind the effort financially, and with personnel to help plan and lead conferences.

One thought I will never forget from that meeting with the next level judicatory leaders. They asked what I would consider a success as far as people attending the inaugural event. I stated that I had asked our staff to pray for four hundred (400). They did not laugh or tell me it could not be done. However, they did try to let me down easy (as this was my first attempt at something on this scale). They informed me that no one in their building could remember in twenty years of hosting and promoting training events in this particular region ever having more than 250 people in attendance. They could not explain it. In other regions larger numbers were the norm. But not the region where we were planning to host this event.

A little deflated, I went back and told my staff, but said, I believe 400 is the number we are to continue praying for, and we did. On the day of that inaugural event we did not have 400 in attendance. 520 people showed up that day for training and equipping for ministry. There were a lot of logistical headaches that day, but what a glorious day it was. I was humbled and blessed at God showing up and showing out that day. Each of the next five years that conference grew while I was part of it – not because of me, but because of a God who is greater than all those involved.

I share this story with you because people ask, how can we get more participation or better results at our events, ministries, etc. As I have studied this I realize most people or organizations can plan. But there is a huge difference between planning and strategic planning with effective execution and implementation. Turnaround Journey helps answer these questions leading to effective and efficient execution and implementation by giving the reader a simple formula to follow. Enjoy the Journey!

For more information on Turnaround Journey and to be placed on a list for a pre-release copy contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

How Do You Pray?

How would you answer the question in the title of this post? How do you pray? How does your church pray? I have become especially concerned about this over the past two years. I believe in the church we have failed to teach our people to pray effectively. And we do it through our own example. How many times have you been in a mid-week prayer service, and listened for twenty to thirty minutes as people gave updates and shared of family, friends, and colleagues in need of prayer. Then following this elongated time of sharing and verbalizing the requests (mainly for the sick and infirmed) one person will stand before the group and pray for maybe sixty seconds, either grouping the requests or naming a few asking for healing. His or her sixty second prayer is completed with an Amen, which in the church has become equivalent to “The End” at the end of a movie. It signifies the finishing point, our prayer service is over. We spent thirty minutes talking (sometimes gossiping) and sixty seconds praying – and we call this a prayer meeting.

This is happening all across North America on a regular basis. I believe the average “committed” Christian spends less than thirty minutes per week in prayer. This includes prayer time in church, before meals, bedtime, and throughout the week. Less than thirty minutes, and this is the average for committed Christians. I realize there are those prayer warriors who do spend much more than this in prayer each week and I praise God for these saints. What would the average prayer time per week look like if they were not spending hours each week confessing, interceding, praising, and giving thanks to God in prayer?

Our prayer lives have become routine and even rote, to the point that I would venture most of our prayers come from the head and not from the heart. I recently heard a third year college student called on to pray in a public venue. This young man had been raised in church all his life. When called upon to pray, this was his prayer: “God is great, God is good. Thank you for our food Amen.” Now I am grateful that he did not abstain. He did pray in a public restaurant. While I was grateful, at the same time my heart sank. Here is a twenty or twenty-one year old who’s prayer at mealtime is to recite what I call a child’s prayer. Surely he had heard prayers in church and his home all his life. But had he not been taught how to pray himself?

We have said for years that prayer at its simplest is a two way conversation between you and God. Have we not taught our people how to have that conversation with God? I mentioned above that much of our prayer life has become rote and routine. We pray phrases and sentences as: “Bless the gift and the giver,” “put a hedge of protection around…,” “heal…,” “Keep us safe until we meet again.” We use these and other catch phrases not because they are expressions coming from the heart, but because we have heard others use these same phrases and we like them or think they are appropriate for the prayer time and occasion.

When I read of the prayers of the early church in the book of Acts and when I read of Jesus’ prayers and His teaching on prayer I see something totally different. Jesus’ prayer life was so powerful that the disciples ask Him, “Teach us how to pray.” They did not ask him to teach them how to preach or how to outwit the religious leaders. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. As Jesus responded to his request He did not say pray these words. He did say “When you pray, pray like this…”

In Luke chapter two, in verses 31-32 Jesus speaking to the Apostle Peter stated, ““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus didn’t pray for a hedge of protection. He did not ask God to keep evil away from Peter. Jesus said “I have prayed that your faith may not fail…” How much more effective could our prayer life be if we would only learn and practice this one principle? Our friends are already walking through this battle with cancer. God knows the outcome. Yet most of our prayers are for God to change the direction or the outcome. We’re asking God to use His omnipotent power to change everything to fit our desire.

Jesus did not pray for God the Father to change the direction. He prayed for Peter’s faith to remain strong. Why? So that on the other side of the trial Peter would be able to strengthen others. How many of us could pray for one hour without falling asleep as did Peter and the others in the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus on the other hand prayed for three hours that night. How much of His prayer time do you believe consisted of catchy phrases, clichés, and repetitive popular sayings as He prayed in the garden that night?

I still struggle with this myself. I’m trying daily, praying regularly for God to teach me to pray from the heart and not from the head with rote and familiar phrases. When I find myself using one of those, I pray for forgiveness. I want all my prayers to be from the heart and not something that I’ve heard before. Why not begin today in your prayer life. Prayer is a two way conversation between you and God. If God were your neighbor, sitting at your kitchen table over a cup of coffee, what would your conversation consist of? Then teach someone else what God is teaching you about true, heartfelt prayer.

Much to Offer

“I don’t have much to offer,” the aging, retired widower thought to himself as he sat down at the small table to address a few cards to shut-ins and sick friends. Placing stamps on the cards the widower walks outside to the mailbox still contemplating the preachers sermon. “Lord, I don’t know what I can offer. I don’t have much.”

He turned and saw his neighbor and her little preschool daughter. He waved and said hi! Both, the woman and her young daughter smiled, spoke and waved back.

A few minutes later he drives to the home of his long time friend, Fred, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s. Every Tuesday, he arrives around 10:00 and stays for a couple of hours, giving Fred’s wife a break and a chance to go shopping.

Fred’s wife asks her husband’s friend to stay for lunch where they share conversation and laughs. On the way home he stops at the store for a few things. It is starting to rain. He assists a young mother getting her groceries and children in her car out of the rain before entering the store.

Back at home he makes a few calls to his church friends and some retired work buddies, ending each conversation with, “I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

Before retiring for the evening he reads a couple more chapters from his Bible as every night. Then he turns to the passage his pastor preached from on Sunday. Reading it, he leans back in his chair, looking to the ceiling he prays, “Lord, I don’t quite understand what I can do for you. I don’t have much to offer. But if you’ll show me I’ll do what you call me to do.”

In the quietness of the night he receives this word, “I want you to keep sending cards. Those cards of encouragement carry my special healing for the heart.

I want you to continue bringing smiles to the parents and children in your neighborhood. Each smile shares my love with another soul.

I want you to keep visiting Fred and his wife. You are my messenger of hope and comfort in that home.

I want you to continue doing good deeds for others – in parking lots, grocery stores, and everywhere you go. At these times you are a courier of my love in action.

I want you to continue praying to me for your friends – churched and unchurched, and continue calling them. Here, you are my advocate and my seed sower.

Most of all, I want you to continue spending time with me each day. If you will , I know you will continue doing for me as I call on you each and every day.”

This is Mission Minded Ministry.

We all, young and old, have much to offer. The question is how are you using what God has given you to offer? Share His love this day and every day of the year with everyone you come in contact.

Merry Christmas