Beliefs Opinion

COMMENTARY: The habits of highly ineffective Christians

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Frederica Mathewes-Green is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is the author of “Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy” (HarperCollins), and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today magazine.)

UNDATED _ Well, we finally did it. We may be behind the curve by a decade or so, but last week my husband and I sat down and worked our way through a day-long video conference on Stephen Covey’s famous”Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”After resisting Coveyism for years, we were forced to admit that our daily lives had all the control of a Ford Pinto with bad steering on a wet street.

Now we’re the proud possessors of books, videos, audiotapes, and fine, fat leather binders that look as if they might belong to organized people. Thus far, they only belong to people with a gaping hole of several hundred dollars on their credit card; a result achieved with impressive and speedy effectiveness. I keep wondering when I will run across a secret, eighth habit, one that begins”Hey, Sucker!” Christian author Chris Fabry writes in the preface of his new book that he’d been through too many similar upbuilding experiences.”I had been to seminars and dinners and week-long meetings … men’s meetings, couples’ retreats, leadership training and Bible walk-throughs.”Exhausted, Fabry found himself looking for something less stressful and,”frankly, not so spiritual.””To be honest,”he writes,”I was looking for a meeting whose title did not have the number seven in it.” The result is a slim volume titled”The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians”(InterVarsity). Each of the roughly page-long chapters details one habit to ensure”an average, normal, mediocre Christian life.” Among the chapter titles are these rules for ineffective living:”Dichotomize Your Life,””Shun Pain,””Treat God Like a Pal,””Leave Fasting to the Weird People,””Believe Sex is Dirty,””Have All the Answers,”and”Be a Spiritual Weenie.” One rule clearly indispensable to cultivating a weak and ineffective spiritual life is Habit Number 7,”Make Prayer Occasional.”Some might be inclined to bring only the biggest questions to God:”Who should I marry,””Which college should I attend,”and”Should I get tinted glass in my minivan.” But as Fabry explains,”True mediocrity demands even less. What you must actually do is make up your mind about the decision that faces you, and then subtly conform the will of the Almighty to your own.”Not only does this put God on notice as to his next move, but it also”makes you feel spiritual since you can rightly say, `I prayed about it.'” As to style of prayer,”You must pray the same things, the same phrases over and over, for this will make you more comfortable, and comfort is always the goal of the ineffective Christian.” Of course, it’s expected that during routine prayer, your mind will wander to shopping lists and ballgames:”Since you think about so many other things when you pray, keep your prayers short and to the point. `I want (blank) and (blank). In Jesus’ name, Amen.'” Fabry winds up this chapter with a helpful”Scripture to Avoid”(I Thessalonians 5:17: Pray constantly), followed by one of his specialties, a fractured familiar hymn.”Sweet minute of prayer, sweet minute of prayer, that’s just about all that I can spare. I have regrets and lots of sin, so I’ll see if I can squeeze them in. In seasons of distress and grief, my greatest prayer is quick relief. But things are swell, I’ve no despair, I’ll just spend half a minute in prayer.””The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians”offers plenty of chapters that allowed me to feel superior and scoff at those low-achieving believers who do it all wrong. But more often I ran into descriptions that were a little too familiar. With a comprehensive goal of describing every spiritual bad habit around, Fabry was bound to eventually run into the one or two that could possibly be said to afflict even me.

This is partly because each bad habit has its equally troublesome opposite. Take Habits Number 14 and 67, for example.

Habit Number 14 is”Get to the Head Table.”Here,”Others no doubt are under the faulty assumption that you are their equal. At every turn you must show others how important you really are.” On the other hand, Habit Number 67 is”Be a Poor Receiver.”In this case,”There is nothing more exasperating for people in the church than a person who will not take anything, will not receive from others and will only give. … When someone offers to watch your children and give you a break for a few hours, do not accept. … If the person persists, let your children go for 45 minutes then keep your friend’s children for two weeks in the dead of winter.””The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians”is a provocative book, effectively using humor to disarm and then persuade. I’d thank Fabry for it but, as his own dedication page warns,”An ineffective Christian never remembers to thank anyone under any circumstances. Better get used to it.” MJP END MATHEWS-GREEN