Functional Atheists

I have had a relationship with Jesus since 1990. That’s 27 years of learning how to have a relationship with someone.

It’s incredible all the things that can get in the way of genuine relationship—seasons of life, lack or priority, hurt feelings, and more. Maybe above all else, poor communication challenges even the strongest of relationships.

Jeff Vanderstelt puts it this way: Many of us believe the “heavy lifting” of relationship with Jesus is about ministering to our cities through Sunday gatherings, small groups and other events. While those things are necessary, when it comes to prayer, we are often times “functional atheists.”

A genuine relationship with Jesus simply cannot happen or be maintained without prayer. It is the mechanism of communication between people and God.

In 27 years, I am still far from mastering what it means to truly live in daily communion or intimate exchange with God.

What do you say?
How do you start?
When do you listen?
Questions like these percolate through my mind even as I am trying to focus on prayer.

Jesus knew this would be a challenge so he gave us a model to use:
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:7-13)

Here is one pattern I use to move away from functional atheism and toward intimate exchange with God in my prayer life.

God, thank you for being so great.
Thank you for creating all things, including me.
Thank you that you not only created me but you offered to have relationship with me.
All things are in your hands.
They are under your control.
You are good. You are sovereign.
You are mighty, awesome, faithful, and true.

Lord, forgive me for missing the mark in my relationship with you.
I’m sorry for my sin and ask you to help me follow Jesus more faithfully.
I forgive those who have hurt or disappointed me.
I understand that your forgiveness of me is directly tied to my forgiving others so I choose to forgive, as you did.

You know every need in my life. I confess those needs to you now.
You know the needs of those around me. I confess those needs to you as well.
I know you are faithful to respond to and care for your people so I put these needs in your hands and leave them there.
I take the weight off of my own shoulders and set it at your feet.

God, I’ve talked and now I’m going to listen.
Please speak to me.
Remind me of other places I’ve missed the mark.
Bring to my attention other people or situations I can pray for.
Help me to remember to be faithful to my word and obligations.
Teach me about who you are and what you want to do in my life.
Show me the plan you are implementing on the earth and what my part in it will be.
Speak God, I’m listening.

Act on what He tells you.
Write it down. Live it out.
Obedience is the evidence of a prayerful life.

God is not difficult to find. In fact, Jesus told us precisely where to find Him.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)