This beautiful 16th-century pen and ink drawing of hands clasped in prayer by Albrecht Dürer is reputed to be “the most widely reproduced depiction of prayer in the Western world, found on posters, coffee mugs, mobile phones, and has been used as album artwork. Justin Bieber has a reproduction of the image tattooed on his left leg.” (Wikipedia article) I’ve seen sculptures of this image in homes as well. Several years ago, though, I heard an incredibly sad comment about this image. The person said, “Beware the praying hands.”
My wife, Suzi, and I were having dinner with friends in Minnesota. The husband was a painting contractor and while we were talking about his business, he told me that comment was widely circulated among his peers in several different construction trades. He said that “Christians,” who are most often the ones who would have this image in their homes, were the worst customers. Pause and let that sink in. It made my heart sink when I heard it. He said they were the most likely to try to get a cheaper price, most likely to complain about everything, and (get this) the most likely to stiff them on the bill. WHAT!? That was his experience and it’s sad.
Lest we think his was an isolated situation, unfortunately, there is more. I have several stories similar to this one but I’ll share what I heard from my own niece and nephew who once worked as servers at a well-known restaurant. This was in another part of the country so we’re not just talking about people from Minnesota (my extended family lives in MN and there are many other wonderful people there).
My niece and nephew commented to Suzi and me that “Christians” were the worst customers (Hmm, a recurring theme). They told us that the after-church crowd on Sundays was the most disruptive, the most likely to ask for discounts, the most likely to complain, and the most likely (get ready for it) to stiff them on a tip. What in the world!? But the worst of all is the time when someone left what looked like a $20.00 bill folded on the table. When their colleague, who was not a Christian, picked up the “tip” it turned out to be a “gospel tract” inviting them to become a Christian. When you unfolded it, the words “Here’s your tip” were followed by the invitation. Really?
I’m not necessarily against leaving behind some helpful reading material. But, if you’re going to do that, then literally for God’s sake, you had better have been the best customer that server has ever had, you had better have made their day in some way through your interaction, and you had better have left a generous financial tip folded inside the reading material. There is a saying, “Empty bellies have no ears.”
Why would people who claim to be followers of Jesus behave this way? Jesus had thousands of people who followed him around to hang on his every word. They followed him around because he was generous, he healed people, he fed people, he spoke life into people, and I believe he had a winsome personality, especially with everyday folks.
Why, then, would those who follow him be “the worst customers?” I could be off base but here are two possible explanations:
- A misunderstanding of stewardship – Christians believe in being good stewards of one’s resources. The purpose of good stewardship, among other things, is to be sure you have plenty to share with others who may need their bellies filled. Some misinterpret stewardship as being cheap, or at least it comes across that way. I sometimes wonder if they serve “El Cheapo – the god of not nearly enough.” (that’s a play on one of the compound names of God in the Bible if you’re not familiar). Stewardship is a real thing but we don’t want to project a God that is cheap. Because He’s not!
- A misunderstanding of Grace – for a Christian, Grace is the undeserved favor of God first experienced in forgiveness. For some, though, Grace is treated like a license to be a jerk. After all, they may think, “Christians aren’t perfect, Just forgiven” (as one bumper sticker says). Grace, though, is also the energy God provides to live a Christlike life, that winsome, generous, life-giving kind of life. We don’t want to project a God who is a jerk, because He’s not!
Suzi and I were having dinner with a good size group of people at a burger and shake restaurant quite a few years ago (when $100 was a lot more money than it is today). Everyone in the group was a Christian. Our server came to take our order and it had some complications to it. We were ordering and having fun with her so, realizing we may have made it hard for her to get everything down correctly, we said, “If you get this order right, we’ll give you a $100 tip.” Once we said that, we knew we were going to give her the tip no matter what. But, guess what, she nailed it! We all but cheered for her and gave her high 5s.
When we left the restaurant, we stopped to watch through the front window. She went over to the table to see if we had kept our word. Some of her co-workers even went to the table with her. When she saw the $100 laying on the table, she grabbed it up and looked to see if any of us were still around. She saw us watching through the window and holding up the money mouthed, “Thank you!” We all smiled and gave her thumbs up.
We don’t always get it right, but that one was fun!
Live On Purpose
If you’re a follower of Jesus, live like you’re on stage all the time. I don’t mean act or be fake, I mean our lives are always on display. People watch and take note of how we behave. Be winsome, be generous (with resources and words), give, forgive, and speak life. There is enough around us that is negative. Let’s not feed that.
If you’re a business owner with a fish or a cross or praying hands in your logo or ad, make sure you’re striving to be the best in the business in all you do, with your employees, with your customers, and with your vendors. Don’t let people say of you, “beware the praying hands.” Jesus deserves the best representation we can give him. Make someone’s day!