Francis began by considering how easily leaders are distracted in the present moment. He asked if he was the only person there who had trouble staying with people in the moment. He’s certainly not; this is something we all struggle with. He observed that
If we can’t be present with people, how much harder is it to be present with God?
Catalyst asked Francis to speak on “God’s presence matters”. This is an understatement. Really, nothing else matters. Jesus said,
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. — John 15:5 (NRS)
If I’m connected to Jesus, then I will bear fruit. If not, then I can do nothing.
Francis asked us to consider the Psalmist’s request in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. – Psalm 27:4 (NRS)
Francis asked us a convicting question:
If I had a transcript of my prayers in the last month, what would l be praying for over and over? Would it be to dwell with God?
If we don’t seek God consistently in our devotional life, how much less do we rely on God in the midst of crisis? Francis explored a situation in which David was in crisis (1 Samuel 30:1-6). He noted that rather than respond, David waited on God. He “strengthened himself in the LORD”. Is that how we respond in crisis?
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. – Hebrews 5:7 (NRS)
God heard Jesus’ prayers because of his reverence. Similarly, according to Francis, God only hears our prayers if we are holy. Francis asks if we are present enough in our prayer lives that God hears us?
This section of Francis’ talk was highly problematic. He reduced God to a fertility deity: if you do the right things, God will answer your prayers. Disturbingly, he flipped this in his message: my prayers get answered, therefore I am very connected with God.
That may or may not be true for Francis. I hope it is true. But I know plenty of people who are plenty holy and their prayers aren’t answered. At least not with the resounding Yes Francis implied. I wanted to hear some qualification in his talk. Some encouragement for those people who are pursuing God but feeling abandoned. Some admission that prayer isn’t a magic incantation that lets you bend God to your will. I’m sure he doesn’t believe that’s how prayer works, but this particular talk was thick with legalism.
Francis ended with some stories of his own ministries. He challenged me to consider how I design ministries that totally fail without the Holy Spirit.