This week I’ll be dealing with an issue near and dear to my heart: exercising faith to pursue big goals. The entire article has a huge caveat, which I’ll address in the last section, but I still believe it to be relevant to the life of every Christian. For comments, concerns, or stolen cars, email me at email@example.com.
The As-If Philosophy
This semester, I’m taking a class on the city of Cairo taught by a woman who was born there. We’re reading a book called Cairo: The City Victorious (the name of Cairo in Arabic means ‘the victorious’) by Max Rodenbeck, and in that book, he describes Cairo as follows in a quote taken from a cab driver working downtown: “We are an As-If society. We speak of rules as if we intend to follow them. Our government acts as if it were a democracy. Some of my colleagues got medical degrees by hook or by crook, but they behave as if they were learned practitioners, because they sat exams as if they had not bribed the examiners.”
A Western observer might brand this system a ‘society of moralistic capitalism’ (as has been written) in which the individual pursues his goal without regard to his neighbor’s welfare or respect for their existence and rights. In religious or philosophical terms, it might be considered a type of objectivism, to the foreigner. But in reality, at its core, Cairene society is one of the appearance of Western respectability underlaid by Eastern systems of social progression and efficiency. They do not consider themselves to be in the wrong for their use of standard social procedures, common throughout the entire Arab World. Thus, these Cairenes don’t consider bribes to be morally questionable, or in any way unjust—they are merely simple prices to pay to acquire a college degree, a driver’s license, a passport, a visa, a marriage license, or etcetera. Corruption is so ingrained into the system that it has become routine; distrust of the government after centuries of its abuse of power is so standard that it feeds the normal mechanisms to achieve any kind of social movement.
How does this play into the life of the Christian? For the sake of example, we must approach the situation in Cairo from the lens of ‘Western respectability,’ defined as strict adherence to the legal code and societal acknowledgment of obedience to the laws of the nation as purity and the by-the-letter violation of its laws as sin. Under these working definitions and viewed through this lens, Cairenes live their lives as if they were pure, although they are surrounded by filth. The government does not function unless bribed; the citizen cannot succeed unless he is bent. And yet, the Cairene man believes in his own purity. From a Western perspective, the man is deluded—he has lost his grip on reality.
And yet, this delusion is desperately needed by the Christians I see around me today.
I’m going to make another point and then tie the two together. I think Jeff Foxworthy’s format will suit my purpose best for this section, so here goes:
If you graduated from Harvard Law School, and you applied for a position flipping burgers at McDonald’s, you might have settled for small potatoes.
If you bowled nine strikes in a row, and you decided not to go for the perfect game because you had to take a leak, you might have settled for small potatoes.
If you’re the Dallas Mavericks and you traded away your entire championship-winning team to maybe find someone else who could do it too (maybe), you might have settled for small potatoes.
Now here’s the point: If you have been given all the authority of Heaven and Earth by your Father, and you pray for success on a Physics for Non-Majors test for two and a half minutes and mark the prayer box ‘checked’ on your to-do list, you might have settled for small potatoes. No, you did settle for small potatoes.
I’m not saying that every Christian should pray to change the world. That’s crazy. That’s delusional. That’s living in some fantasy, as-if world where everything that we pray for gets heard and then actually happens—that’s living as if our lives are pure, but surrounded by filth, and we have the opportunity and the ability to change the filth around us. We can’t do that. Surely we’re much too wise than to believe that.
And that’s why a Christian needs a little bit more delusion and a little less ‘wisdom.’ Let me revise the paragraph above: I am absolutely charging every Christian to pray to change the world. It’s logical. It’s sensible. It’s living with a concrete perspective of the world, a perspective based in reality, where the Bible is the true and living Word of God and everything we pray for is heard and answered. It’s living close to how the Arabs do—believing in the purity of their mission, believing that what they do is God-honored, regardless of how the situation looks at the moment.
So how do we do it? Let me take you through the same drill I took my Bible study through two Thursdays ago: Think for a minute about what you consider to be the absolute greatest thing that God could make out of you. I mean the greatest goal that you could ever achieve—the highest pinnacle that you believe God could take the work of your life to reach. Now take a minute and pray for it—and know that God will do that and even more thereafter.
Now take a minute and pray for your friends, that God would do the same for them. Pray for your family, your coworkers, your biblical community, everyone. Pray that they would grow to be leaders in the faith, that God would give them the ability and the wisdom to grow solid and strong on the foundation of Christ, to lead many people who have not known Him to His Name and to disciple them fully and well.
Now pray for the unbelievers around you. Ask God to bless them, to never stop pursuing them until He makes them His own. Ask for their names to be written in the Book of Life, for their discipleship to be completed fully after their salvation, and for their lives to be powerful testaments to the glory of God. Pray for them, too, to become leaders in the Church-to-be, and for them to lead many people to know God.
Above is a short prayer guide concerning how you might pray for yourself, your believing friends, and your nonbelieving friends, but don’t stop there. Think up new goals, big goals, and pray into them. Imagine what the church around you could be, not what it is, and pray for that. Imagine what your friends’ lives could be if they were saved, rather than what they are, and pray for that.
And always remember that praying for small potatoes or not praying at all is a product of unbelief, which is a sin more powerful than any other. Possibly the biggest prayer a believer can pray is a prayer for more faith: for the ability to believe that God can change everything around him or her; to believe that prayer works, and therefore to pray much more often after receiving consistent answers; to see the believer’s life explode with opportunities to spread the Gospel, and to see genuine love between the believers in his or her community multiply exponentially. All of these and more can be yours, with a simple prayer for faith.
Here’s the caveat on all this: Although we can pray big and believe God will do what we ask, we must always remember that His will is the determinate factor to the success or failure of any project. More often than not, I have found the true nature of His will to be something I never expected rather than a project I prayed into. God does this so that I cannot divert His glory to myself. As it pertains to the projects I’m working on now, how can I claim to have planned and plotted and made successful a venture that I didn’t even know to be possible two weeks ago? No; it was entirely God.
So, in closing, remember that God will answer prayers in His way and in His timing. If a prayer goes unanswered, know that it has not gone unanswered—every good and perfect gift comes from above, even silence. And God works everything for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
Lord, thank You so much for prayer! I ask to be filled, and I ask for You to fill my family and friends—I pray that You would give us vision, that we may see what You are doing and join Your work, and that we might be bold enough to seize opportunities for doing Your work when they arise. I pray that You would give us faith, that we might believe that You hear us when we pray, and finally, I pray that You might give us love, that we might always look forward with a thirst in our souls for the next time we might be able to pray to You. I ask for You to give us a holy ambition, a healthy fire, that we might burn to know You more and advance Your Kingdom. Lord, please come to us, and please give us Your Spirit, that we might always be with You. In Jesus’ Name,