The preacher looked right at me, stuck a dagger through my forehead, and asked, “When was the last time you really prayed?”
I’ve probably heard preachers say this sort of phrase hundreds of times.
When was the last time you shared Jesus with your neighbor?
When was the last time you dusted off your Bible?
When was the last time you felt sorry about your sin?
When was the last time you genuinely sincerely worshiped God from the very bottom of your heart?
When was the last time you were really on fire for Him?
These questions always catch me off guard. I can probably name thousands of times I’ve felt closer to God than today. Or times when I was praying more. Or reading the Bible more. Or worshiping harder. Or doing the whole church-thing better.
I understand the intentions here: for conviction, to get us moving out of a spiritual funk. But all this pointing backwards feels like a cheap manipulative trick to provoke my flesh into action. It’s a lazy preacher tactic that hail-marys a guilt bomb over the fence and hopes the shrapnel will stick someone.
I’m just not sure that comparing myself to myself is the best motivation to get me into gear. It only stresses me out. I start worrying about technique and method and knowledge instead of actually relating to God on a personal intimate level, and then I forget why I’m even here. Sometimes I think that the guiltier I feel at church, the more I’m doing religion correctly, so I beat myself up into a moral panic until I end up further than where I began.
I don’t blame the preacher. Most likely he doesn’t know better, because he learned how to preach from someone else who guilt-tripped him, and so did the other guy, and so on. The devil has been at this for a long time; he knows exactly what drives a wedge between our faith and duty; he knows how to steal the joy right out of obedience.