Yesterday, I talked about something Ray Lewis said in a pregame interview on Sunday. Aside from being grossly inaccurate about the nature of God, there's something else that bothered me about what Ray Lewis said.
The way Ray Lewis said it.
There is a right way and a wrong way to vocalize God the glory, and the way Ray said it rubbed me wrong. Because what Ray said was: "God uses me because I am a good man."
It's a statement that takes the focus completely off of God and puts it entirely onto Ray. Or anyone else who dare speak it for that matter.
But I don't think that means we cannot, or should not, speak publicly of our faith. Or engage in public displays of affection for our God. Not at all.
Donald Miller would argue with me on that one. In fact, he sort of did in this morning's post on the Storyline blog. (If you're not reading and following Storyline, I recommend that you do. The content there is practical and generally poignant, a good read even if you don't always agree with the argument behind the heart. The men and women who share their stories there, as an invitation to yours in the grander invitation to God's, simply live - and write - out loud. It's an authentic read; read it with grace.)
Today, Miller argues that so many of our public displays of faith come off as awkward, contrived, and inauthentic. That too often, we're playing for an audience of men rather than an audience of One. He goes so far as to say that it dishonors God for a football player to pray in the end zone.
I mean, I understand the cynicism and I commend Don for speaking up about something I think grates against a lot of us. As I quoted in another post, a comedian I heard once said, "Even people who love Jesus don't want to talk about Jesus." There's something about that dude kneeling in the end zone that makes us shudder and cringe a little bit. It does seem inauthentic.
That doesn't mean it is. And it doesn't mean there's no value in it.
Maybe it's because I'm keenly aware that I'm living in a culture that progressively tells me that I'm not allowed to publicly have a faith. Maybe it's because I know the stories of house churches in foreign countries that surge and then die because it is illegal to have faith. Maybe it's because I repent of all of those times in my life where I've had the chance to say something about God and chosen not to out of my own insecurities, questions, and doubts. Maybe it's something else, but something makes me firmly believe that we need public displays of faith.
God has always worked best in community. In fact, God's story is wrapped in community. It's wrapped in the very public things that God does among His people. The greatest stories in Scripture - and in fact, heavily most if not all of them - are what God is doing through the people. Plural. As much as it seems that way, God's story is not one of a man here, a woman there, another man here, a woman by a well, a Messiah, and a missionary. Every one of the stories He uses speaks to the broader community of "God's people."
Our relationship with God was meant to be lived out together. Until we get the Vulcan mind meld down, the only way to do that is to live it out loud.
I don't think that means we speak God everywhere. We have to live God louder than we speak Him. But we cannot be afraid to speak Him when moments arise and we really, really want to. When God feels like more than the right thing to say and simply feels like more, we ought to speak Him. When God is present and we have nowhere else to turn, nothing adequate to say in our joy, our sorrow, our pain, our triumph, our grief, our harvest, or any other moment - we ought to speak God. When we haven't given thought to who is looking, who might hear, what someone might say, or what a thing it might be to do so, and instead, we simply feel like it is the good thing to do - we ought to speak God. And I dare say, in those moments that are good beyond our goodness, when we know we're not even close, when moments arise and we are burdened by knowing we haven't lived what we're about to say - we ought to speak God.
Not because we're doing God well. Not because we're getting God right. Not even because we're good at the God thing (if you can narrow God down to a thing). But because God is.
He is. And He ought to be talked about. How else do you give credit to a God who is good than by praising His goodness when you have the chance to do so? Than by verbalizing the source of the good things in your life? Than by redirecting the conversation to something greater than yourself?
It works - it works well and it is absolutely necessary - only when the conversation comes to God and nothing else. It doesn't work if we're all talking about the guy kneeling in the end zone. It doesn't work if we're debating the authenticity of public displays of faith. It only works when the result of your actions is that man stops looking at you and starts looking at God.
We can debate all day how to do that. How to come across as authentic. How to come across as kneeling before God and not kneeling for the sake of man. How to come across as being an honest man before God. How to look like you're not just "doing Jesus" and instead, like you're hungry for something. But we don't need to debate that. We know how to do it.
Come before God.
That's it. Come before God with all you've got - everything you are. Come honestly before Him for the sake of Him. For the sake of Love. For the sake of praise. For the sake of worship. Come before God and take the moment captive, not to the cameras but to the Christ.
People will see when the moment is real. And in the real moment, they will see the real God.
Think again about the man kneeling in the end zone. It seems fake, doesn't it? Contrived? An awkward place to pray? You'd never really pray like that, not in real life. Right? You wouldn't just stop everything in the midst of the action and drop to one knee. You can't just do that.
But what about the team that drops to its knees while a brother lies fallen on the field? What about that picture circulating on Facebook? That is a moment. A real moment. We value it as such.
Donald's is right, we should never spend our time orchestrating how our faith looks. We are best investing our time in how our faith lives. Or better yet, how it loves.
We should not, however, work on living our faith privately. A faithful man looks an awful lot like a good man. Unless we go public with our God, how will an unbelieving world come to know Him?
No man lights a candle and puts it under a basket. Neither does God. He does not set a man's heart on fire and then tell Him not to burn out loud. We were meant to live faithful lives with a world watching. Not because they are watching. But because they see us.