When Eric Metaxas spoke last year at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., he used the opportunity to challenge his listeners. In his new book No Pressure, Mr. President: Real Faith in a Time of Crisis, he makes his remarks available to a broader audience and recounts the journey of a writer trying to be a Christian witness.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: The e-book version of your book is titled “Jesus Hates Dead Religion.” How can you claim to know what Jesus hates?
ERIC METAXAS: The Bible says that God hates what is evil. According to my sources, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, which is to say, God. Q.E.D. Have I missed something?
LOPEZ: Why was your talk worth making into a book? Shameless marketing?
METAXAS: I’m sorry you feel the need to tear down the successes of others. Don’t you believe in the free market? Don’t you know that a rising tide lifts all boats and that your being a little dinghy needn’t be a barrier to your own success?
LOPEZ: You are just full of lessons. Now: Why would you want to be funnier than Mother Teresa?
METAXAS: I guess I say that in the book, don’t I? Well, it’s just a personal goal I set for myself. Everybody needs a few easy “wins.” I also have the goal of being less pompous than Al Gore and less hairy than Ed Asner.
LOPEZ: What’s so special about “Amazing Grace,” which you got people singing within blocks of the White House?
METAXAS: Then you did watch the video until the end! For those of you just tuning in, I led the president and the assembled 3,500 in singing “Amazing Grace” at the end of my speech. But to answer your question, there’s a lot that’s special about “Amazing Grace.” First, it’s one of the few songs to which most people know the words. I might have sung “Happy Birthday to You,” but my wife was already ready to kill me for mentioning it was her birthday, even though I publicly pretended that Nancy Pelosi was my wife (I explain that in the book). Second, the song was written by the great John Newton — and not by Juice Newton, as is sometimes claimed. Third, “Amazing Grace” is the title of my biography of William Wilberforce. Fourth, the song has been embraced by both left and right (you may know of Joan Baez’s historical warbling) and so seemed especially appropriate for the bipartisan crowd that morning. Shall I go on? Perhaps I already have.
LOPEZ: In what way was the invitation to speak at the breakfast “a miracle”? Shouldn’t one save such a description for life-saving events? Or eternal-life-saving events?
METAXAS: Yes, calling it a miracle might have been slightly imprudent, since it doesn’t appear to rise to the level of some other more dramatic miracles I’ve experienced. But what I meant was that it was on some level tremendously random that I should be picked, and I perceived God’s hand in my being chosen, so yes, I still think it was a miracle. These things are difficult to articulate, but there are a number of things that created for me the impression that there was a divine element to it all. I’m sure the book will clear the mystery up for most people about why I think this. Have I mentioned that the book is available for sale and modestly priced?
LOPEZ: How do we “get out of the way” to let God make full use of us as instruments of His love?
METAXAS: That’s a big question. The bottom line is that we need to know him personally and need to ask him to help us do that. He created us to be his instruments and we really cannot be happy and fulfilled unless we ask him to help us become who he made us to be. There’s no trick to this. God is on our side and only wants us to ask him for help. He really will help if we ask.
LOPEZ: Do you always pray about your writing? How do you do that? Does it involve notebooks in church? And doesn’t that look awkward?
METAXAS: Although church attendance is important, we mustn’t limit our prayers to when we are in church. Jesus prayed everywhere, including on the Cross. For some reason many people have an idea that praying is a distinctly religious activity, one that must be done amidst religious trappings. But for a creature to speak to his loving Creator is the most natural thing imaginable, and we’re meant to do it always. Praying to God can and should be like breathing. It’s what we were created to do. And of course I pray about my writing and about everything. I want — and desperately need — God’s guidance and help. So I ask for it.
LOPEZ: What’s the Golden Fish story you wound up not telling at the prayer breakfast?
METAXAS: It’s a mind-blowing and of course true story, but it’s a bit long to tell here. But it really happened, and it changed my life. If you go to my website, I tell the whole story in a really cool short video. It’s on the far right of the homepage, just to the right of Jesse Helms.
LOPEZ: Is the prayer breakfast just a big show, or is it a real cultural/spiritual opportunity?
METAXAS: It can be both. For some it’s a lot of hoo-ha, a chance to hobnob with all kinds of powerful people, but for many others it’s a glorious and deeply spiritual experience. As with so many things in life, what it is depends on what we bring to it. One thing is for sure, much good has come out of it over the years.