Yes, I'm still reading Paul Miller's A Praying Life and yes it is STILL rocking my world. Right now I'm processing chapters 9-11 and am loving it. If you're a child of the ministry (preacher's kid, missionary's kid, or just a church brat), I'd highly recommend reading through these chapters. There is a trend going on within our culture and especially within our Christian sub-culture. Cynicism is in and it's infiltrating our churches. I say this not as one on the outside, but from personal experience. A few years ago I joined a small group at church and after a few months of being together, we realized that half of us were "jaded/apathetic" and the other half just didn't get it. It started off as a joke, but eventually it was a very real theme within our group. Many of us who had "grown up" in church brought a cynical perspective to our study and looking back I can see how destructive it was.
We can see how cynicism is the foundation for the first sin in the Garden of Eden and the foundation for our own personal rebellions:
Satan accuses God of cynical motivations, when in fact Satan cynically twists God's commands to his own ends. Cynicism is the seed for Adam and Eve's rebellion against God, and it is the seed for our own personal rebellions. While attempting to unmask evil, the cynic creates it (p.93).
Miller continues stating that "cynicism begins, oddly enough, with too much of the wrong faith, with naive optimism or foolish confidence" (p. 80). Many of the girls in our group had seen the "ugly" side of ministry from either personal experience or from afar. Someone or something they had believed in had disappointed them at some point in their life. Their optimism in the church or a church member had been shattered. "Naive optimism is groundless. It is childlike trust without the loving Father," and shattered optimism sets us up for a defeated weariness which eventually leads to cynicism (p.80-81).
This is a pattern I see frequently in children of the church. They grow up with either a naive faith, shallow without roots, or they have a foolish confidence about their faith, rooted in ignorance of the religion they claim. As soon as the reality of life hits, as soon as tragedy or disappointment strikes, the foundation of their faith is rocked. Many begin to struggle and flail, the end result usually birthing a form of cynicism.
Some of us stay near the church, fighting to figure out our faith, and others disregard it completely. Regardless, Paul Miller hits the nail on the head when he says this of our culture:
"Cynicism is the air we breathe, and it is suffocating our hearts. Unless we become disciples of Jesus, this present evil age will first deaden and then destroy our prayer lives, not to mention our souls. Our only hope is to follow Jesus as he leads us out of cynicism" (p.82).
I see how cynicism has choked me, and I fear how it is choking an entire generation of believers. It is a battle we must fight, and we must fight it with a fierce persistence.
So how do we engage in this personal and cultural battle? Do we ignore all of the hurt and pain in the world? Do we pretend to be happy-go-lucky all of the time? Do we have to look at the world through rose-colored glasses? No, that's annoying. As Christians we must be good thinkers and realists, but we also must take hope. That is what separates us from the rest of the world. The theme of our story is one of reconciliation.
Miller reminds us in his book that we are to constantly be aware of the evil that plagues our world, but we also must have a robust confidence in our sovereign & good Father. He says, "The feel of a praying life is cautious optimism - caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption" (p. 84).
So my dear fellow cynic, please hear me out. I feel you, our world is fallen. The Christian life is messy; it's not the pretty life that you were promised in Sunday school. I get it. But I'm pleading with you to search your heart, perhaps read Miller's chapters on cynicism, talk to someone in your church that you can trust. But most importantly, take hope because redemption has been purchased. Saturate your heart with that truth and seek out godly counsel. Nothing chokes the Christian soul more than cynicism. If not reigned, it will kill you.