I recently read a convicting John Piper post that a friend shared on Facebook. John Piper posts are usually convicting! Dr. Piper was examining prayer, and he posed this question, “Do You Pray Like a Nonbeliever?”
We may immediately protest, “But nonbelievers do not pray!” That, of course, is a foolish statement. Dr. Piper explains, “Of course, unbelievers do pray. They pray by the millions. Countless nominal Christians in all the nations of the world pray almost every day.”
And he is right. All sorts of prayers are lifted up by all sorts of people who believe in all sorts of things. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, earth worshipers, whatever, almost everyone prays at some time or other.
Nominal Christians do a lot of praying, but they pray like nonbelievers, unsurprising because by definition a nominal Christian is one in name only. They pray for clothing, shelter, protection, health, a good marriage, etc., just like nonbelievers. They pray without love and submission to Jesus, a desire for his kingdom, or a concern for God’s glory.
So nominal Christians pray like unbelievers. What about living in general? Do we live like unbelievers? Here are some questions that may help: Do we make choices with the glory of God in mind? Do the Scriptures guide how our children are educated, whether grade school or taking them to Sunday school or informally in our families? What about our money? Do we handle it in an intentional, God-honoring way?
Here are some more questions which we need to answer: What role does prayer really play in our lives? Do we pray for God’s name to be reverenced? Do we pray his will be done? Are we concerned about the spread of his kingdom? Is the established prayer meeting of the church a priority?
How about our own spiritual growth? Do we not only read but meditate upon the Word of God, seeking that God will use his Word to shape our mind after the mind of Christ? Do we attend the Lord’s Supper with heartfelt grief over our own sins for which our Savior died?
What about corporate worship? Do we engage our mind with what is taking place? Do we really believe the words of the songs we sing? Do we really sing, or do we just mumble a bit of harmonic verse because our pride doesn’t want anyone to hear us? (By the way, it is physically difficult to sing with much volume with chin tucked and neck bent while looking at one’s hymnal resting on the top of the chair in front!)
These are hard questions. None of us is without shortcomings, but do we care? Are we truly Christians? We may simply be religious unbelievers, Christians in name only. If Christ is really our Lord and Savior, then he changes our lives, our priorities, and our purposes. He changes us (2 Cor 5:17).
The reality is that nonbelievers can live in respectful and honorable ways. Nonbelievers do charity work, pay their bills on time, treat their spouses with respect, provide for their children, work hard at their jobs, do works of kindness, etc. Many nonbelievers are nice people and make for great neighbors, and many go to church. Such things, however, do not merit eternal life.
We must beware of basing our “Christianity” on a comparison with others. We can always find those who seem less righteous than we. If they are of other religions, then we automatically put them on a lower rung. If they call themselves Christians but rarely attend worship, or if they are in a church not like ours, we may assume that we are true Christians but they are not.
Such comparisons are foolish (2 Cor 10:12). Robert Leighton [1611-1684] counseled: “Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust.”
Christ alone makes the difference. The question is this: Are we truly in him?