I remember the day clearly. I was at a soccer game. Two of my nephews were playing on the same team. Somehow, through a turn of events, both of my nephews were in front of everyone with the ball. My family and I start cheering. Meanwhile on the field, both boys begin this strange dance of uncertainty. They begin passing it back and forth, the opposition is closing in, and the window of opportunity is closing fast. The only thing that stands between them and the goal is an equally tentative goalie. The passing continues, the opposition catches up, the opportunity is lost.
“Just finish it.” I thought.
I tried to encourage them a little bit after the game, telling them something along the lines of “Good job, next time just take the shot, the worst thing that can happen is you may miss, but at least you tried.” We all want to see the team win, but when it is your “person” (child, relative, friend, etc) you want to see that killer instinct take over and see them do well. The point is to seal the deal. You have the power to shoot the ball or let the opportunity pass you by, it is your call.
Finish the job.
I bring this up because I recently was engaged in a conversation with a couple of friends. We were discussing several matters but had navigated our way to the topic of loving people. A couple of us were on the side of love people, be open and honest with them about everything, but above all let people know they are loved and not an agenda. Another friend agreed with us, but also made the point of saying that they wanted to see more people seal the deal.
That struck me.
I was taken back a little by it.
Seal the deal.
In this instance, the intention was that a person be led through what has come to be known as “the sinner’s prayer.” It is a prayer that speaks of the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and victory over death. There is nothing wrong with this prayer, but does a person’s eternity, relationship with God, and entire belief system rest on whether they pray this prayer (or maybe just say the words)?
I don’t think I stand where a lot of evangelical Christians stand on this issue, and I may draw a lot of ire for this. I’ll do my best to express where I stand. You see, I see several times where Christ tells a person that their sins are forgiven. I don’t see Him reciting a prayer with them and then their name is added to a tally sheet. I am also not saying that you should not pray with a person if they ask you to because they want to become a believer in Christ. In fact, I have seen frequently that the prayer becomes the ticket in our theology. Pray the prayer and you are free.
It is almost as if “the prayer” has become somewhat of an indulgence.
There is a dark stain in the history of the Catholic Church called indulgences. To give a very basic description, if you paid an indulgence, you got partial to full remission for punishment. You paid the price, received a note, and all was well between you and God. Today, it almost seems as though we have a pray “the prayer” and you get full remission from your sins and get out of hell free. Is that all it is? Is it more? Is it less?
I am not even sure “sealing the deal” is about heaven anymore. I am becoming more inclined to believe that salvation is about the Kingdom on earth and making disciples.
What is the deal that we are sealing? Is it our job? Does “the prayer” show evidence of belief?
When Christ forgave sins, wasn’t it based on the peoples’ actions that proved they truly believed and not “the prayer?”
Should we give up on the prayer? No. My point is that I am not sold on the fact that you have to pray the prayer in order to become a believer.
So why is this important?
I believe it is important because it has a pivotal influence on how we approach those who do not believe as we do. For example, if you feel like you have to pray with someone or they will be lost forever and that is the emphasis of your conversation, everything you do in that conversation is focused in on moving people to that question or that prayer. This can feel very invasive and take the importance of the person and more importance on your agenda and motive.
Conversely, if you focus on loving the person and showing them that you truly care for them and are transparent with them when they ask you questions, the focus is on the human being that God created and loves and not on an agenda. We certainly love to share, but it is not a forced agenda.
Is it even our job? Are we trying to shoehorn people into our belief system without loving them enough to show the compassion of the very Christ we are telling them they must believe? Our job is to love people. The Spirit’s job is to convict and draw, our job is to be available through the relationships we have built with the one’s He is drawing so when they do want to know more about Him (and they may even want to pray) we are there joining them to their King as we have been joined to Him.