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Dr. Russell Moore on the Power of Prayer

Dr. Russell Moore on the Power of Prayer

If you’ve been keeping up with the American Church for the last decade, you’ve likely noticed a pretty big shift.

In fact, as Dr. Russell Moore explains in his new book Losing Our Religion, the shift has been happening for longer than many of us realized. Through leadership scandals, ministry drawbacks, political backlash among myriad other challenges, the American Church has dealt with a lot of change in a little amount of time.

It’s left the Church in a tumultuous moment, on that Moore desperately wants to help individuals figure out. In Losing Our Religion, Moore dives into how the Church got here, and how we can get out of it.

We sat down with Moore to go deeper on the challenges the Church is facing and how younger Christians can help lead the way. He shared his insight on The RELEVANT Podcast, including how the biggest tool Christians have it the power of prayer.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Over the years, there has been a lot of events within American Christianity that have brought out cynicism. How do you handle that in your own life?

Russell Moore: I find that what’s helpful for me is knowing where the default is because I think that, you know, as C.S. Lewis said, “the devil doesn’t send errors into the world one by one, but two by two on either side.” And I’m not really somebody who’s tempted to cynicism very much. Instead, I think what I’m tempted to do is what can sometimes feel like the opposite of that, of a kind of nostalgia. I usually, in my mind, edit out all the bad things eventually and I don’t really remember them. But that can be just as bad or worse than cynicism.

We all tend to over-correct in the wrong direction. My first ministry position, I was concerned that a lot of people around in their church and our community seem to have this really transactional but dead relationship with Christ. Well, you know, I prayed the prayer and Vacation Bible School and so forth.

So I preached a sermon series from 1 John on testing the authenticity of your faith. And it was a spectacular disaster because afterward I would have the people that I was worried about coming through telling me it was great and leaving. Then the most sensitive, Godly people in the congregation would come up and ask to make an appointment with me because “there’s no way that I’m a Christian.”

And I thought, I actually did the reverse of what I’m trying to do. And it’s because if we don’t sort of recognize our own bent to cynicism or happy talk or to introspection or not, then that can distort our view.

How can Christians push back against cynicism seeping into the Church?

I think a great deal of it is just becoming aware of it. I mean, that’s the breaking of the spell. It’s most dangerous when we’re not aware of it at all. Just step back and realize, “OK, I’m doing this again.” And that breaks the spell.

Sometimes I’ll have young Christians on a college campus or somewhere who will say, “What can I do?” And I know this is going to sound like a Sunday School answer, but it’s because I think Sunday School was right: Read your Bible and pray. That is a lot harder than it sounds because everything is working against it. There’s an illusion of self-sufficiency that you can create with technology and with everything else around you. There’s a loss of attention.

It’s even easy to people who are really committed to Christ, but they use the Bible as a tool to go in and hear some verses on this and hear some verses on that, rather than actually inhabiting it and teaching themselves to stop and to pray. I mean that is the first step and it’s a huge one.

Sometimes I hear people say they tried prayer and it “didn’t work.” What’s your response when you hear that?

Here’s something that was really helpful for me, because I will find myself in various times in my life where it’s really difficult to pray and I just feel numb. I was listening to the poet Malcolm Geith, who was doing an interview where he described a stage like that in his life. He was thinking, “I don’t want to pray. I just want to read poetry.” And he said, “I’m going to read poetry to God.” So, he would just take the poetry and read that to God. Before he knew it, he found himself praying.

I’ve found in my own life that when I feel that way, if I can simply say Lord,” I don’t want to pray right now and I don’t know how to pray right now,” that changes the reality. That’s the place I always have to start.

I think many people also think they have to pray “a certain way” in order for their prayers to be heard.

Yes, some people feel like they need permission for more spontaneity when it comes to praying. They need permission to say, “Lord, I’m frustrated.” Some people need more structure so that I know people even from very low church traditions who using the Book of Common Prayer is really, really helpful for them because it gives them a place to start. I think that can be really helpful, too.

One of the problems with talking about prayer is that it’s kind of like what Seth Godin calls “Stephen King’s pencil syndrome.” As Stephen King, every time he would go lecture somewhere, somebody would say, “what sort of pencil do you use?” And Godin says the assumption is, well, here’s the right pencil. And if you use this pencil, you will write like Stephen King. Well, that’s not true. That’s really incidental to it.

A lot of times when anybody talks about prayer, people will think, “That’s the way I need to do it.” But prayer is something that happens differently every time, for different people. Sometimes that’s some trial and error to find out how to do it. I’ve just kind of learned in my own life it’s really useful for me to pray and walk. That’s just how I do it. I wouldn’t necessarily advise that to anybody else. That’s just how my makeup works and so everybody needs to find that for themselves.

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