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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

On the Decline

"Now that was an E-ticket ride!" The phrase referred to a time when Disneyland was free to enter; you simply paid for rides. And they sold ticket books. "A" tickets were the trolley's on Main Street and "C" tickets included some of the mid-range stuff like the Jungle Cruise, but the best tickets were the "E" tickets. Those were the coasters, the fun stuff, the thrill rides. That was then. Today the phrase has no meaning because those who remember that time are few.

When I was young the phrase was "every day of the week and twice on Sundays." What was that? It was how often we were at church. Of course, it was an exaggeration. We skipped a few nights. But certainly there was Sunday morning (for both a church service and Sunday school) and Sunday evening and Wednesday night prayer meeting. It is my suspicion that I've just used several terms that have no meaning to many because those who remember that time are few. "Sunday evening at church?" "Prayer meeting?" We just don't do that anymore. Jesus said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Mark 11:17) and I don't think there are very many gatherings of believers today that would be classified as "a house of prayer."

The question I have is "Why?"

In Acts the first church met "day by day" at the temple or in homes (Acts 2:46). They devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship and prayer (Acts 2:42). Today? Not so much. They also devoted themselves to "the breaking of bread," and any good baptist does that, but that other stuff? Not really. Why is that?

Pressures of Life
In today's world there are lots of demands on our time and resources. Work, family, church, television, social media ... oh, wait, maybe those last two aren't as much ... well, they really are, aren't they? If you go to work and you spend the day at a job and then you come home and eat and have just a few hours between dinner and bed time, what can you do? You have just a few hours to do all the rest. And if we were going to go to church or prayer meeting or other such stuff, that would mean we would miss a favorite show or have a hard time getting Sally to her ballet lesson or whatever else could have been done then. I'm not saying these aren't real or valid. I'm simply saying these demands on our time, money, and other resources exist. They compete with the possibility of a Sunday evening worship time or a Wednesday evening prayer meeting. And those things don't fare as well as those personal things we need to do.

Easy Living
I think another major factor is our modern lifestyle. For centuries we've tried to move toward more leisure. We've arrived. We are an entertainment culture. We have lots of stuff and lots of distractions and lots of amusements. These aren't the same things as pressures. These are things we like, not necessarily need. Why go to the laundromat when we can have a machine in the house? And, of course, running down to a local stream to beat the clothes on a rock to clean them is out of the question. We figure we have a right to come home, kick back, and unwind from a long day of work ... or leisure ... or whatever the long day contained. Comfort is our cause.

Lots of Material
With all the demands on us, we need to consider priority. What is it we need? What is it that is most valuable? What has the highest returns? That kind of thing. So getting Sally to that ballet lesson makes Sally happy and maybe gives her some skills, some grace, some coordination, lots of good things. How about that Sunday evening meeting? Well, that's good, too, but we already have lots of good material for that. We have study guides and books on Romans and helpful DIY "fix your life" books -- sure, sure, they're from a Christian perspective, so they're all good -- so that would automatically lower the priority of those things, right? A good prayer meeting is fine, we're all pretty sure, but put up against the other good materials we have available, is it really that important? Can't we just read a prayer guide and do it on our own? (Really! We do it on our own! Are you questioning that? Okay, we can do it on our own.) In a sense, then, the materials -- guides, books, etc. -- we have available can tend to push us away from Sunday evening services and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

Unasked and Unanswered Questions
Let's be honest. There is another serious question that we do not ask but often wonder about. Why are we praying? I mean, seriously, does it really make a difference? Why go to a prayer meeting? Is it going to change things? Will it actually save Mrs. Smith's marriage? Will Mr. Jones get that job after so long without work? Do we actually think that, because we prayed, John's cancer will be cured? Practically speaking, does prayer really accomplish anything? We don't voice that, but it nags at the back of our minds. Besides, can't we handle most of that? Don't we have counselors for the Smiths, job fairs for the Joneses, and doctors for John? If we already have things in place here, is prayer really making that much of a difference? Is corporate prayer better than private prayer?

We are in a world hostile to Christ. Scripture says it (Rom 8:7), but you just have to look around to see it yourself. Worse, some of that comes from us. We prefer comfort to conviction. We figure we have all we need. We are rich, we have prospered, we need nothing (Rev 3:17). We are not zealous (Rev 3:19). We're just not that bad off. All that Sunday night church and Wednesday night prayer meeting stuff is all well and good, but really, with all things in view, are they really that important? Really?

I would say, "No." Oh, don't misunderstand. They are. But they are not commanded by God. They are not biblical requirements. "Thou shalt meet on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights." It's not in there. So they are important not in the sense that we're sinning, but in the sense that they illustrate our heart problem. We have moved away from vital prayer lives and a zeal for Christ and His people. We nod our heads at "love God and love one another" but then pull away to our private, comfortable corners to do that only if it serves our personal agendas. They beg the question, "Why don't we want to spend time with God and His people?" To our shame.

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