Tag Archives: Jesus

Prayer (week 5)

21 Aug

Last week we talked about moving away from the idea that prayer is a transaction. From that perspective God is a cosmic clerk that is forced do to what the customer demands. We concluded that God is not playing a part in our world. We are playing our part in His world. He does answer prayer but not because we twist His arm. This will frame our discussion today.

Have you ever been on a long drive and suddenly realized you don’t remember one thing about the past 2 hours? Maybe it’s just a phenomenon I experience. I have a neutral part of my brain. This baffles my wife. She will ask sometimes, “What are you thinking about?” When I say, “Nothing,” I literally mean nothing. I believe there can be weeks, months, or years of peoples lives that are caught in this “neutral phenomenon.” They have been totally desensitized to the world around them. They serve utilitarian purposes. Their whole personhood is function first. Their bosses speak to them only as functionaries. They live drab routines and are only jolted into consciousness when a tragic event occurs. This is one of my greatest fears–to near the end of my life and not remember most of it. Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” I want to be fully conscious and fully alive every day of my life. Prayer is the vehicle to awareness. Prayer jars us out of the fog and places us in the center of God’s story.

Self-Aware
The importance of being self-aware cannot be overstated. Over and over David asks God to examine his heart. (See Psalm 139) In order to approach God in prayer we must first be sure it is the “real I” that prays. It should be your aim to come to Him purely, without pretense. This cannot happen without self-awareness. This should not produce fear. It is not as if when you “reveal” your true self to God he is going to be surprised. He knows the deepest, darkest places of your heart. Introspection, in the Biblical sense, doesn’t turn you into a navel-gazer that is unable to muster an ounce of confidence. God meets you in your brokenness and reveals His love. In prayer we get an true picture of who we are.

God-Aware
In prayer we are nudged back into the awareness of the God-saturated universe we find ourselves in. There is nothing random. Nothing chance. The presence of God fills the earth. We are drenched in his presence even now. Prayer reminds us of this. Conversations at gas-stations, interruptions in your day, children laughing, a call from a friend are all God-moments. Every shrub is a burning bush beckoning you to take off your shoes and experience God.

Open your heart to the God who knows you better than you know yourself. Open your eyes to the God-soaked world around you.

Prayer (week 4)

16 Aug

Mark Batterson starts the third part of his book “Circle Maker” off with a story that challenges us to ‘think long’. He alludes to the biblical metaphor of planting/sowing. We live in a time where we want instant results and we get them. If I want to know who won the Braves game or how many people live in India, the answer is at my fingertips. If I want a car at this moment, I can go and take out a loan and ‘buy’ it (although ‘borrow’ would be a more correct term). Our society demands instant gratification. We bring this demand into our spiritual life. We say a prayer and expect that if God is truly God he will answer it immediately. God is not google. There are times when He instantly answers a prayer. But this is not the norm. Prayer is not a formula for getting results. Batterson alludes to Daniel who prayed fervently when he knew the answer was 70 years away. We don’t like to think that prayer can be long and boring. We like mountaintop experiences–when heaven invades earth and we feel the rush of God’s presence. We are addicted to “fits and starts” as Eugene Peterson says. In light of this, he titled his book on discipleship, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” If that is true of our apprenticeship to Jesus then it is certainly true of prayer. All we can do is be faithful to pray in the direction of the result we seek.

I was talking with someone from Center City last week about the tension of not being where you want to be. He is in a spot where he can clearly define what success is and pray for it specifically. But right now he is fighting to get to the mountaintop that seems so close, yet so far. I told him to imagine there are 2 guys that want to get the summit of Mt. Everest. One guy trains for 2 years to prepare his body. He spends thousands of hours training and preparing for the climb. He then starts the impossibly difficult journey to the top. He fights weather conditions that are unspeakable. He has to postpone portions of the climb due to storms. Then one day he makes it to the top–the highest point on earth. The other guy is incredibly wealthy and pays for someone to helicopter him to the top (this is impossible but go with me–it’s a story). He too stands on the summit with guy #1. Who get’s more satisfaction out of the experience? Who does it mean more to? The answer is obvious. The “destination” or answer to prayer is often our focal point. Batterson says in several of his other books, “God cares less about where you’re going than who you’re becoming.” The destination means nothing without the journey. Is there something that you’ve been praying for for a long time and haven’t gotten the answer yet? Join the club. Keep praying. God is taking you on a journey and the vehicle is prayer. The moment you stop praying you halt the process. God uses prayer to stitch our hearts to his. It is a moment by moment tuning of our consciousness to God. As we pray we realize we are a part of God’s universe–He is not a nice part of ours. We are caught up in His story (I purposefully refrained from using HIS-tory). Our story is a subplot in his narrative. Keep praying toward the result you seek but know that by the time you get there you’ll be a different person–and that’s the point.

“Prayer isn’t something we do with our eyes closed; we pray with our eyes wide-open. Prayer isn’t a sentence that begins with ‘Dear Jesus’ and ends with ‘Amen’…All of life is meant to be a prayer, just as all of life is meant to be an act of worship.” (Batterson)

Prayer (Week 3)

8 Aug

We are continuing to go through Mark Batterson’s book “The Circle Maker.” In the second section of the book Batterson says that prayer is a habit to be cultivated, a discipline to be developed, and a skill to be practiced. Habits, disciplines, and skills take real effort. That pursuit starts with this prayer…

“The prayer preceding all prayer is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.'” (C.S. Lewis)

There are two questions to ask yourself in prayer. First, ‘is it I that am praying?’ or ‘is it a carefully scripted version of myself that I believe God approves of?’ And second, ‘am I praying to God or a sanitized version of Him that I approve of?’

Real I
There are generally two versions of ourself that the world sees. There is the public persona that work colleagues, drive through workers, and acquaintances see. Then there is the more personal version that our close friends and family sees. However, as Philip Yancey notes, there is your true self that no one sees–all those secret things you live with. Those motives. Those thoughts. That past guilt. That hurt. These are the things that often go unsaid to the public and, sadly, to God. We are good at repressing those things and treating God as if he were a general acquaintance. We make awkward small talk with Him and never go further. Some move past that and let God in a little closer and give him access to our frustrations, joys, and daily life the way we would with a family member. But very few interact with God as their true self. We approach God with carefully rehearsed sincerity but never from a place of purity. This is a tragedy. Often we complain about not feeling God’s presence. I wonder if God too longs for our true presence. I wonder if God is waiting to heal the broken places in our soul but we don’t give him access. True prayer happens when you get honest with God. The posture of prayer is helplessness. Everyone has dark corners of the soul. God wants admittance into those areas to mend that which is broken. (Read Psalm 139)

Real Thou
Blaise Pascal said, “God made man in His own image and man returned the compliment.” Last week we talked about the importance of your view of God. If we have a misconception of God, our prayer will be greatly impacted. If we believe God to be a malevolent dictator in the sky that issues punishment with calloused anger, our prayers will be shaped by that. The “real thou” that Lewis speaks of will not be boxed in. He can not be contained and will not fit any mold we put him him. I believe one of the major problems in prayer is doubt. We don’t trust that God is what the Bible says He is. We doubt even his existence. The problem is that this feeling is tucked away in that dark corner of the soul that we don’t give God access to. Yancey says that he often challenges atheists and agnostics to come up with a doubt that they can’t find in the pages of the Bible. So many great biblical characters wrestle with doubt. The difference between their doubt and ours is that they voice theirs in the form of prayer. They pray to the God they feel is absent or silent. They persist. God loves their prayer because it is real. (Read Psalm 13)

Batterson challenges us to persist in prayer. He says the only way to lose is to stop praying. Pray to God as you are. Pray to God as He is.

Covenant Prayer (part 1)

31 Jul

Today’s guest post starts a series on “Covenant Prayer” from Steve Witherup, one of the other pastors here at Center City Church. He holds a MTh from the University of Wales and is way smarter than me.

Mother Teresa was once invited to be the special guest of honor at a conference where several biblical scholars read papers, addressing topics such as social justice and servanthood. After the conference ended, one of the speakers approached Mother Teresa and asked her opinion on his presentation. I imagine the response expected was a showering of compliments concerning his amazing academic insight into an area so dear to the heart of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa, however, responded by saying that she thought the paper was ‘o.k.’, but the best thing he could have ‘said’ was to simply pick up the broom in the corner and serve by sweeping the dirty floor.
We are sometimes very good at avoiding things by using the tactic of talking about the very thing we are avoiding. This tactic allows for our conscience to remain a little clearer while our hands remain clean. Prayer, for some reason, is something that seems to often fall into this category. We talk a lot about it; we recommend it; we instinctively respond to others’ tragic stories with ‘we will pray for them’; yet so often, we simply avoid talking to God.

There are of course a lot of simple, practical reasons why we don’t pray. We are busy, we forget, we wake up late, we fall asleep early, or we see no pressing need. I wonder, however, if there is not a subconscious reason that sometimes plays a part as to why we would avoid praying. This may sound strange, but talking about prayer may feel safer than actually praying. When we pray, we give articulation to the sneaking suspicion we have that we are in desperate need of another. By praying, we admit that we have exhausted ourselves and others and have been found wanting. It is at this point we ask ourselves, do we dare take the risk of crying out? Do we risk expressing our vulnerability? What if we put ourselves out there and are met with silence? What if we vocalize our biggest dreams and desires and they never come to pass? Would it have been better to just play it safe and see what happens? Ultimately, it is easier and much safer to talk about relationships than to become fully vulnerable and enter one.

…but who likes to play it safe anyway? The Old Testament is full of stories of people who chose to not talk about prayer, but to embrace the covenant relationship God offered and then dared to pray BOLD prayers; dared to question God; dared to express displeasure; dared to beg for miracles; dared to express their biggest dreams; dared to ask God to change his mind; dared to cry out why?; dared to express their absolute desperate need of God to rescue them from that which oppressed.

Throughout this series on prayer, I am not going to give theory, but am going to look at some of the stories of those who actually prayed. By looking at the interactions between God and people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, I believe we can gain so much insight and perhaps be inspired to put into practice the simple idea of talking to our Creator.

Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Ps 116:2

Prayer (Week 2)

30 Jul

Center City is corporately focusing on the topic of prayer this month and reading Mark Batterson’s “The Circle Maker.” In the first section of Batterson’s book he challenges us to dream big. In order to dream big we must first understand the complete “otherness” of God. He is far above and beyond anything we can fathom. He warns us against being prisoners of our left brain (the side that focuses on all things rational and logical). The reality of this God-saturated universe requires much use of our right brain (the seat of our imagination and dreaming). One of my favorite professors from Southeastern, Dr. Waddell, says that the moment you’ve figured out God, he’s no longer God. We have to relentlessly free God from the boxes we’ve put him in. A.W. Tozer was fascinated with this idea. He says that the most important thing about us is what comes to mind when we think about God. Our thoughts about God are of infinite importance. Batterson, paraphrasing Tozer, says that a higher view of God is the solution to ten thousand problems. When we get a fresh revelation of the “otherness” of God, his omnipotent power, and his divine love it will greatly impact our prayer life.

There are so many questions surrounding the topic of prayer. Doubt creeps in regularly. Philip Yancey writes, “Why pray? I have asked myself that question almost every day of my Christian life, especially when God’s presence seems far off and I wonder if prayer is a pious form of talking to myself.” I have asked myself at times “What if prayer doesn’t change anything?” But as Dallas Willard puts it, you should always doubt your doubt. What if prayer does change things? What if God does hear and respond to us? All of this is a mystery. Batterson says that we will not always know the will of God and we can’t be sure God will answer our prayer. What is most important is that we pray and believe that He is ABLE.

But what does this mean in practice? Richard Foster has a wonderful first chapter in his book “Prayer” about simple prayer. He says that we often have a love/hate relationship with the practice of prayer. This tension is usually because we are trying to pray perfectly. We attempt to pray with perfect theology, without any hint of cloudy motives, and with rigid discipline. Foster says, “…we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives–altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture.” C.S. Lewis encourages us to “lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” There is no pretension in prayer. God sees us for who we are. We don’t have to come to God as a blameless over-achiever. He frees us to come to him as we are–sinners and sons.

We must re-define prayer. Prayer is not simply an act of language. Prayer is a turning of our attention toward the Creator-God. Thus, prayer is not defined by the words we speak but the posture of our heart. Our desire to pray may in fact be prayer. Desire should give birth to action. Foster says we should not seek any ecstatic experience in prayer. We need only to come to God with simple faith knowing we are his beloved children.

“My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
Psalm 131:1-2

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