I caught myself saying ‘Never’ the other day; to be fair my wife caught me, and pulled me up.
“I’m never going to pray for someone in front on me in the bread queue,”
I declared – on 3 separate occasions, to 3 different people – after it was suggested at church that this was one way we could activate our faith on a daily basis. ‘But you prayed for the sick lady processing your Visa application at the Department of Home Affairs that time, and you spent months visiting over 200 local businesses, speaking to the owner managers – complete strangers – about authentic Christianity, church, faith, Jesus, etc. So why would you say never now?’
Rachel was half right. Whilst, I don’t recall actually praying for that woman at Home Affairs – although I knew I should have done – Rachel was correct in saying that I did visit several hundred businesses in 2015/16, because I had a sense from God I ought to, and I’ve prayed for people in the street before, at church, multiple Christian events, and whilst ‘on mission’.
Rachel was totally correct; I really should know better than to limit myself to ‘never’, especially after spending the best part of 3 years helping leaders to identify how their ‘nevers’ ‘evers’ ‘always’ and ‘wherever’ statements limit them from achieving the goals God has in store for them.
Psychologists call these ‘Parent Statements’ (Harris 2013:18). Not because parents are the only ones who say them, but because every one of us has, “…a huge collection of recordings in the brain of unquestioned or imposed external events preserved by a person in the early years” (p. 18) – data that we often take in, “…straight without editing” (p. 19). Harris therefore argues that Parent is the best description,
“…because the most significant ‘tapes’ are those provided by the example and pronouncements of parents”Harris 2013, p. 19.
In Time to Think (1999), Nancy Kline argues that everyone has within them the capacity to overcome the thoughts that limit; we just need ‘time to think’ about the assumptions we have about life, people, faith, etc. that act as barriers to our ideas and actions ‘on the other side’. Kline proposes that most thoughts fall into one of 3 categories, i) facts – that are accurate, actual, certain, exist, known, real, or have occurred, ii) possible facts – that we anticipate, believe, conceive, are feasible, hypothetical, imaginable, permissible, plausible, viable, and iii) bedrock assumptions – the basis, cornerstone, foundations, fundamentals, preconditions or presumptions (beliefs, opinion, etc). I can almost hear Kline calling from the pages of her book, “If you [Philip] could imagine the positive opposite to your ‘never’ what would it be?”
The equivalent of my bread queue…
Its 7am Monday, and I’m dropping my car off for a service, when – for some reason – the guy in front of me in the queue lets me go in front of him; which meant I was served by someone two days on the job. I know this because he was quick to inform me that he was a “trainee” and politely asked for my patience as he worked his way through the booking-in system.
After my car was booked in – with a little assistance from me – he offered to drive me home, which is part and parcel of the service here in South Africa. Although I said I could walk the 1.5km, he insisted it was too far. As we pulled out of the garage I asked where he was from, where he lived, whether he had family with him, etc. He was living nearby, alone, his family living 2 hours away. The more he shared, the more I began to sense I should pray for him, so I said, “I’ll pray you find somewhere that the family can all live together” – intending to do so at some other point, but definitely not ‘now’. He looked, nodded, smiled, and thanked me.
As we got closer to my home I felt uneasy and sensed there was unfinished business; that he needed prayer for something else. This time I stopped myself from telling him what, and asked what he wanted. It was what I’d originally thought. So again, I said that I’d pray for him – meaning not now, but sometime in the near future – but this time he replied:
“I need ‘that’ prayer NOW.”
So as we pulled into home, I asked him if I could pray for him – now. “Yes!” he said. So I did, in the car, in the driveway, outside our house. “I needed that” he said afterwards, smiling.
‘So did I’ – I thought!