This morning I was having breakfast and skimming through the latest Christian book catalog that came through our mail when my son noticed the title of one of the books was on learning to “pray better”. He asked, “How do you pray better? Don’t we pray good enough already?”
I think this question goes to the heart of a lot of the problems we face as Christians, and maybe especially as Americans. We have such a tendency to find ourselves, no matter how much we talk about grace, looking at our faith as a matter of how much effort we put in to it. Sometimes that work is actual “work” – penance, good deeds, giving financially or of time. All these things in themselves are good, but we can easily fall into the trap of seeing these things as preliminaries and prerequisites for God’s grace to happen.
The Protestant mourns for his fellow Catholic brother, whom he sees as “works based” regarding salvation. Yet Protestants are just as trapped by the need to “do more” and “do better”. A glimpse through any Christian book catalog or bookstore shelf of popular Christian “inspiration” will prove my point. So much seems to be about doing more, doing better, gaining and striving. I think this comes out also in theology with the insistence that one’s theology be “right”. I remember growing up that faith wasn’t just about knowing Jesus, but knowing Calvin. You had to know the right things in the right way – not just Biblical truth but the correct interpretation of Biblical truth.
This, I think, is just another form of works. Grace is something we accept without any merit on our part, and to make that grace beholden to anything we do (and I think belief can be a form of works as well) negates that.
Can I pray better, read more, give more? Surely. I stink at all of these. But I gave up worrying for Lent.