By Bishop Sunny Emmanuel*
I have a confession. Early on, I realized that as a minister I was standing up and telling people to live one way (for example pray every day) while I myself was struggling. I found that on any given week I certainly couldn’t say that I prayed more than one hour per day. And even if I did pray it was usually at a prayer meeting (i.e. in front of people). We were all very forceful prayer warriors then. I can’t speak for what the others were like when they were alone, but I know that my private prayer life was not nearly a – how should we phrase it – vocal! In retrospect, years later I find myself wondering how much of our prayers back then were for God’s ears and how much was for each other’s. A classic sermon, with literally thousands of variations, given by pastors around the world to their congregation(s) is entitled ‘Spend more time with God’! I have two actual objections to this sermon – one theological and one practical – but they both boil down to the same three words. It doesn’t work! Telling people in different ways and at different times that they need to spend more time with God is the wrong strategy and in my experience it never has a lasting effect. Now if you want people to go home and fall on their knees that night, by all means tell people to do it. Tell them how wrong they are for not doing it. Tell people that prayerlessness is the problem with the Church today. In fact if a short term solution is all you are after then a healthy does of subtle guilt and condemnation is just what the doctor ordered (of course be sure to interject at least one or two token phrases such as ‘I’m not condemning you and then you are covered).
So! How is it that people begin to spend more time with the Lord? Let me make a statement and you can go and research it after. The Bible never says that you have to love God to go to Heaven. What? Yes! I have felt love in my life and it was never forced, nor coerced. In fact by its very nature love can never be under those circumstances.
Here’s a test. Husbands go to your wives and tell them that you’ll be spending a mandatory one hour per day with them. Then keep track of that time meticulously; one hour to the minute. Bring a list of things you want to talk about and stick to it. Never let your wife talk. Then go to all your friends and brag about what a good husband you are for spending quality time with the love of your life. Hopefully you’ll never take this advice – never! Yet each Sunday that was the advice I was giving my congregants about how to advance their relationship with God.
Our relationship with the Lord is based on love and love only grows in one way. Look closely at how Paul writes ‘And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment’ (Philippians 1:9). Paul tells us two very important things.
Firstly, that our love abounds (grows). I can safely say that I have a greater revelation of God’s love for me today than I did before and THAT makes me love Him even more. God has always loved me with His divine and unshakeable love, but only now am I learning to walk in that love every day. And that is Paul’s second point – love abounds in knowledge. If there is no knowledge then you’re claiming to love a stranger. Love doesn’t grow without knowledge.
You can’t find a scripture verse in which Paul tells the various local Church bodies to spend more time with God. Why? What is the quota? When have you spent enough time with the Lord? What does that mean?
Our relationship with Christ who lives in us and through us is a wonderful twenty-four hour a day event. Don’t segment in people’s minds one time with Christ over another. There is no such thing. Time spent in prayer is no better than time spent in fellowship with the other saints of God for example. In fact there are times I learn a great deal about God while talking with my friends about His Word. I learn about the Lord when I give my testimony to a co-worker or study the scriptures or go to Church. The Christian life is for living and no one part is better than another. All of these events produce knowledge about the Lord inside of me and that divine knowledge causes my love for Him to abound!
Spending time with the love of my life (Jesus) is not a problem anymore. How much time do I spend in prayer and fellowship with God; I really couldn’t tell you because I don’t keep track. But I can honestly say that I understand Paul better now when he said ‘I pray without ceasing’.
There’s MUCH more to say, but what do you think?
*Bishop Sunny Emmanuel is a Senior Pastor with Christian Faith Centre International, Tilburg (Holland). He may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org