It was over the new year holidays that my Dad was sharing one of his unpopular opinions about praying and how about the modern church and its leaders have gotten it all wrong with us. To him, a Christian with a brain and education should not have to pray every prayer point the pastor/priest orders. That it is only common sense that the Christian should learn to sift the pastor’s words with his view of the world and aided by his own personal relationship with the holy spirit and pick the ones that apply to him. And he has come to realize that no matter how firebrand or “close to God” Church leaders are most of them can’t simply wrap their heads around the idea that not everybody has ambitions of building a house in Banana Island or driving a G-Wagon or becoming a minister or emigrating abroad or becoming a massive industrialist like Dangote. Some people are just contented with their one bungalow, at most two or three cars, their civil service jobs and are looking to just enjoy a peaceful retirement with their one wife after ensuring that their two or three children have the requisite education to compete with their peers.
However, we live in at a time where expressing such views in the church is regarded as being unambitious and average. The modern Christian is constantly being reminded that he has to win “territory for God” and “dominate the land” and it is not always in the spiritual sense. Thus as Dad put it ” these days there is no longer fullness of joy in the presence of God, what we have is the fullness of unhappiness and complaints about what God should be doing for us.”
I am not saying a Christian wanting to be a billionaire is bad, after all as Adekunle Gold rightly points out “Dangote doesn’t have two heads”. Obviously, as a much younger man , who is still growing and in a different generation, I can’t filter prayers as much as my father does. Thus I don’t see anything wrong with asking God for material stuff, but a trend which I have come to notice is that pastors are no longer content with ” God do this for me prayers” they are moving into Durella territory “enemies” ” haters”, “forces”. Again as a Christian, I believe to some extent in the forces of darkness, but we should always try to draw the line between acknowledgment and paranoia. It is ironical that we all laugh at Nigerian musicians when they go on about ” haters” and then we scream at the top of our lungs when our pastors do the same thing about “forces” on Sundays. And the effect of this is that the breed of contented Christian is dying out, and being replaced by the Christian who believes everything he wants should be his by right and anything the prevents him from achieving it is a force that must be destroyed, in other words, an unhappy Christian with a hunted animal mentality.
We often analyze Xenophobia after the hatred has been expressed in form of violence, most of the time we do not analyze the underlying causes of the problem. if my pastor keeps reminding me that the reason I have not been promoted at work is because some forces have sat on my file, how long will it be before my all too human imagination believes that my Muslim or Atheist boss is the physical embodiment of the “forces” sitting on my file because they don’t like that I am a Christian? Or taking the recent South African example, when your pastor keeps telling you that the reason why you can’t get the job of your dreams is “forces” and you already believe that it is those foreigners who have taken all the good jobs, how long does it take the human imagination, which is histrionic at the best of times to join the imaginary dots?
In George Orwell’s 1984, the main character, Winston Smith asks his girlfriend Julia, why the authorities of Oceania and Airstrip One regard enjoyment of sex as a crime. I cannot remember how exactly Julia’s reply was worded, but I know it was along the lines of “When people enjoy sex, they are satisfied and happy, and happy people cannot rage, or engage in meaningless hate demonstrations.” In the same vein “men of God” are complicit in creating the unsatisfied Christian. I love this example that a friend once gave me. If a contented Christian earns a salary of two hundred thousand naira, he would make sure to drop his obligatory twenty thousand naira in the tithe box, and no amount of guilt tripping or threatening him with Malachi 3:8, will achieve anything. The frank truth is that people tend to not care much about religion when they think they are happy with what they have. Thus the pastor who does not want to see a drop in takings and church attendance must continually remind his congregation that they cannot afford to be happy or satisfied, and he must continually give room for testimonies of increase in order to encourage the “slacking” members of the church to pray hard and hustle harder. What you then get is a great boom in the work of God, but unhappy hustler Christians who will be too busy comparing themselves to their mates and working hard to allow true peace and joy in their lives.
It was as if Jesus Christ knew at some point Christians were going to turn the church into a “I can contribute to the work God more than you can” dick measuring contest when he talks about that verse in the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day, our DAILY bread” (emphasis mine). The key word here is “daily” not “for the month” or “enough so that our children can have some leftover.” This is the essence of Luke 12: 21-32, that your life, your salvation, and your wellbeing is much more important than how much you are “working” for God. The church leader must simply stop threatening his congregation or guilt tripping them with Malachi 3:8. The church leader must tell his people that God is more than just an investment bank which pays you dividends according to how many shares you buy, neither will he hound you like a moneylender if you default on your tithes and offering and that he prefers you to worship him with joy and peace under a shack with a leaking roof, than to constantly complain to him in the Sheraton banquet hall. Sure church takings may drop, and it may affect the pace of that 1000 seater auditorium project, but if it comes at the cost of less members dying from stress related illnesses and reduces the number of those who have to hide from law enforcement because of wrong doing, I am sure even God will not complain. You may point out that the other religious people are the terrorists, but an unhappy people with a siege mentality can never be good for any society no matter how you look at it.