PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
by David Sisler
I collect church signs. I don't physically remove the signs to my house. I collect the messages those signs declare.
Actually, I have two categories of church signs--message and motto. I've often wondered if as much care goes into preparing the Sunday morning sermon as goes into the pithy messages which preach to the vast drive-by congregation.
Another thing that causes me to wonder: why hasn't some clever pastor opened a drive-up window on Sunday morning--drop in your tithe and get a sermonette while you head for the lake.
One more wonder: are sermonettes--little sermons--delivered by preacherettes for Christianettes?
But back to the signs.
Mottos are like corporate mission statements. For instance: "The church in the heart of the city with the city in its heart." Or: "A going church for a coming Lord."
Once you come up with one of those mottos and publish it in the telephone directory, you are stuck with it for a year. Maybe that is deserving of enormous thought. But message signs can be--should be--changed frequently. At least as often as vandals steal the letters or rearrange the words.
A little country church just down the road from my house has one of the best messages I've seen lately: "Prayer doesn't need proof. It needs practice."
That sign forced me to think. It forced me to remember the message. If those two things don't happen, a church sign is just one more piece of junk advertising.
That sign brought to my remembrance a sermon entitled, "Don't Settle for a Two-Bit Prayer Life." Pastor Ben Haden revealed the truth about praying when he asked: "If you stopped praying and your life was not radically changed, why do you bother to pray at all?"
The disciples knew that they did not know how to pray and so they said, "Jesus teach us to pray." In a day when so many Christians pray "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayers, it would benefit us to go back to Jesus' classroom.
Since I have heard them pray, I will never again be able to think of the subject of prayer without remembering the believers in Samara, Russia. One Sunday morning in the church I serve in that city, a woman said, "My sons are sharing a flat with one other family--there are three families in one, three-room flat. Please pray that they can find one empty flat."
Now, you have to understand the severe housing shortage in Russia. There is a two year waiting list to get an apartment. You may not understand, but the following Sunday, the lady stood and said, "This week, each of my sons found an empty flat and now all three families have their own private dwellings!"
Another time, a lady stood and said, "My husband is an alcoholic. When he gets drunk, he gets mean and beats me. Pray that God will deliver him."
I asked the believers to agree with me that the next time that man took a swallow of liquor--and every subsequent time--he would become so sick, he would not be able to stand.
Sometime later, I met her husband. Through my interpreter he said, "I don't understand it. Since my wife started coming to your church, vodka makes me violently ill. It has been weeks now since I've touched the stuff."
But the one that makes me ashamed of my own prayer life is the request of a lady who had three sick cows. She asked me to pray for her cows, because if they did not recover, they would have to be slaughtered and she would lose a great deal of money.
"Pray for cows," I thought. "This is udderly ridiculous."
So I prayed. No, let me rephrase that. I said words. She prayed. The next week I asked her, "How are your cows?"
I will always remember her answer: "They are fine. You prayed, didn't you?"
Prayer does not need proof. It needs practice. Where did we lose that simplicity, that trust? Ben is right. If prayer does not change our lives, why do we bother to pray at all?
In July, 1997, the Sisler family packed up bag and baggage and moved about 20 miles. Somewhere between there and here, the file of church signs was lost. Many have graciously written and asked for more "signs." They have, alas, gone the way of all flesh. I suppose that puts me in the faithless generation of which Jesus spoke: the ones who search for signs will have none given to them. Sorry.
Originally published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/22/95
Copyright 1995, 1998 by David Sisler
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