Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Prayer

 It's a time for resolutions...and most people are hoping for change, improvements in their lives.  For me, there is nothing more important than my relationship with God, and I have always looked for those farther along the way to learn from.  I am not neglecting the Word of God, for certainly it is effective for changing lives, but I need  more, I want more.  I want to know how other humans live out their faith.

 I want to have more effective communication with God.  Too often I feel like my words are so small, so narrow in their vision, that  I accomplish little because I ask little of God.  So today I share with you what others have said about prayer, what I want to learn this year about prayer, what I want to own about prayer.


The only way to Heaven is prayer; a prayer of the heart, which every one is capable of, and not of reasonings which are the fruits of study, or exercise of the imagination, which, in filling the mind with wandering objects, rarely settle it; instead of warming the heart with love to God, they leave it cold and languishing. --Jeanne Guyon

Is the Son of God praying in me, or am I dictating to Him?....Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray. --Oswald Chambers

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your task. --Phillips Brooks

Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being. --Henri Nouwen

Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell God your troubles, that God may comfort you; tell God your joys, that God may sober them; tell God your longings, that God may purify them; tell God your dislikes, that God may help you conquer them; talk to God of your temptations, that God may shield you from them: show God the wounds of your heart, that God may heal them. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. Talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration say just what you think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God. --Francois Fenelon

Whether we think of or speak to God; whether we act or suffer for him; all is prayer when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. --John Wesley

I thank you God that you do not ask us to live the Christian life alone, but in community.  And I thank you that this community extends back in history as it extends into the future.  May those who might read these words be as encouraged by them, be challenged by them, as I have been, and may we leave words behind us to encourage those who come behind us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I don't know what to say

Have you ever been there, in prayer and you didn't know what to say or how to pray?  When that happens, I am always confronted with the reality of how much of my prayers are prescriptive prayers - This is how you need to fix it God.  And isn't that little more that arrogance, that I should be telling God what to do at all?

It is in these moments that I  hit the proverbial brick wall, and I have no idea of how to fix it or what to do.  And I find myself sitting before God struggling to figure out what to do or say.  Sometimes I tell him just what I am thinking, that I don't even know how the situation can be redeemed, how it can be resolved without serious pain in the lives of the people involved.  And I hurt for everyone involved, me included.

What foolishness all of that is!  As if God needed my help.  I know we are compelled to bring our burdens and petitions and requests to Him, but I am not sure it says anywhere that we are supposed to tell him how to answer those requests or what to do about those situations.  He is God, after all, and not limited by our imagination.

And then Philip Yancy's words from Where Is God When It Hurts? comes to mind, "Romans 8 announces the good news that we need not figure out how to pray.  We need only groan.  As I read Paul's words, an image comes to mind of a mother tuning in to her child's wordless cry...The Spirit of God has resources of sensitivity beyond those of even the wisest mother."

It made me think of those early months and years of a child's life, any of my children's lives.  I would wake from a sound sleep, hearing tiny noises, and later cries from their bassinets or cribs.  Sometimes, it was little more than a sigh; sometimes it was the stirring that would turn into an insistent cry if I didn't meet a need quickly.  And I did, get there and tend to that child as quickly as possible even though that child did not utter one clear syllable - only a breath not-quite-right, or a whimper.  My heart was touched, and because I loved that child so passionately, I would do anything to relieve his or her distress.

And so God loves us, or even more does God love us, and when we have no words to define our pain, He hears our whimper, our not-quite-right sigh, and he envelops us in his love and grace, if we would take the time to notice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prayer and intimacy

Wesley said, "In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer."

Filled with love...brings to mind Eph. 5:18, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."  Or, in simpler contemporary words, getting drunk is a waste; allowing alcohol to control you leads to no good thing, so instead of being controlled by foolishness, be filled and controlled by the Spirit of God.  And God is love (I John 4:8), so the Spirit is love.  Be controlled or motivated by love.

And we have come full circle back to what Wesley said," In souls filled,(controlled) by love, the desire to please God is continual prayer.

If you are controlled by love, for God and for others, then you not only desire to please God, but do please God, for the first and second commandments in the New Testament call us to love God with our heart and soul and mind and then to, likewise, love one another. 

Now, think about how God views us when we are controlled by love for Him and for others.  It is as though we are singing the same song in harmony with His will and heart, and our actions fill the air with prayer, expressions of our love for Him. 

When I act in a loving way toward someone, see and meet a need, I am singing a song, praying lyrics of love into God's ear.

I don't need to worry about or feel guilty because I don't spend hours on my knees in prayer; I can sing a continual song of prayer simply by loving God and others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

God: do amazing things through me???

It all started here for me this morning, reading the words of Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."

Consecrate -To declare or set apart as sacred; purify and set apart to a purpose. Here, the people were told to, forgive the vernacular, clean up their act and set themselves apart from the world and its values because God had something for them to do, something amazing.

This set me to thinking, about the idea of consecration and what that means to us and whether the New Testament say anything related to this. So, I looked up that word and related words and found out that the three primary writers of the New Testament, John, Paul and Peter had plenty to say about the subject, though they may not have used the same words.

John writes in John 14:23 these words: Jesus answered, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The believer, the one who says he or she loves God will be obedient to God's words or commands. That means that when the world's values and God's values conflict, the one who loves God will choose obedience to God's words, will freely separate themselves from the world.

And in John 15:4, John records more of Christ's words: Remain in me and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.

Consecration has the sense of purifying from and separating to. Here Christ says separate yourself from other influences and remain in me. Consider this word picture; remain in me as a branch illustrates that we are to purify ourselves from all other sources of nourishment. We are to draw sustenance and power from Christ alone, resisting all peer and worldly pressure to be conformed to anything other than Christ.

Paul gives us a word picture of consecration in I Cor. 7:34: An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and spirit.

This passage goes on to talk about how the married woman is consumed with pleasing her husband. But I was struck with this word picture of consecration - the unmarried woman who purifies herself from any unholiness, who seeks to please God in both her body, her physical relationships and, as well as her spirit, that inner life - her relationship with God. She lives a consecrated life.

In I Cor. 11:1 Paul holds himself as a role model talking about his own consecration: Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.

The one who is consecrated or set apart to the holy life lives according to the model Christ gave us. Remember, Scripture tells us he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. So we can look at the lives first of Christ, and then of Paul, not Saul, to learn what a consecrated life looks like.

In Ephesians, Eph. 1:4 for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight, Paul gives us the purpose for our consecration or set "apartness," we are set apart to be holy and blameless in his sight. That's the standard for consecration God's sight, his point of view, not what looks good from our earthly perspective.

Finally Peter addresses the subject in I Peter 1:15, " but as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct, (16) for it is written, "Be holy for I am holy."

Here the standard and extent of our consecration is addressed. The standard for our purity is God; we are called (or drawn to him in salvation) to be holy as He is holy, and in all our conduct. There is no aspect of our life that is exempt from the call to consecration: our humor, our work, our entertainment, our dress, our company (the company we keep - our friends), and I am sure the list could go on and on.

We are to separate ourselves from any unholy action or thought or influence. We must remain in this world, but not be influenced by this world.

So, as I live this day, I must rehearse, as many times as it takes, that this day is my offering to God. It is, and I am, consecrated or set apart to holiness. And when I get off that road, I must take immediate steps to "clean up my act" as Joshua warned those people, so God can do amazing things. And what a thought that is - that God might do an amazing thing through me and through you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Simplest Things

Isn't it interesting how somehow the simplest things somehow become the most difficult things. James 4:7-8 reads like this: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.

So easy, these verbs, to say, even to understand, but then there is the doing: submit, resist and flee, come near. And I wonder if the first is the hardest, the idea of submitting.

We hang on so fiercely to our rights, our will. We know what we want, and we reserve the right to demand it, to have it, regardless of what God might say in his word. Oh, we say we want God's will, but then we exhaust ourselves finding a way to rationalize what we want. As I write those words, three faces came to mind, three individuals who know what they want is wrong; in their hearts, they acknowledge that their will brings them in conflict with the Word. And they search for a way to explain away Scripture that calls their choices sin.

So this little word submit is really a big word demanding our attention, our concentration to search out what it really means for each of us. Is warfare involved here? My will against God's will? This thing I am struggling with, that I want or want to do, is it filling up the space between God and me, pushing me farther and farther away from him?

All of that in one little word - amazing conundrum. I must face the reality, the question: am I willing to trust God with my life in exchange for his presence and peace, or do I really just want to bull my way through life, at who knows what cost?

Remember those three people I mentioned earlier? They all chose their own will, and not one of them is happy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God's thunderous grief

This last week my grad students have been writing articles on how to encourage someone undergoing various kinds of grief experiences, so I've been thinking a lot about the subject.  One of them wrote that he would remind the grieving person that God is in control, and it occurred to me that in the early stages of grief, I am not sure everyone would find that equally comforting.  Some might be tempted to question whether God was all that loving if he would make such a terrible thing happen... but that is a subject to tackle another day.

For today, I want to think about what has comforted me, and one of those truths that I have found comforting is that God has personally dealt with loss and grief and that he really does understand.  Hebrews 2:18, referring to Jesus, says that "since he himself was tested and has suffered, he is able to help those who are tested." Hebrews 4:15-16 says this: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” ( NAS) 

Christ grieved at Lazarus' death, he wept over Jerusalem, as chicks without a hen.  Scripture tells us that we can grieve the Holy Spirit.

And then there's God... I was thinking about the crucifixion and the events of that day and how they showed God's experience of grief at the death of his son.  Remember that Luke 23 tells us that the sun's light failed and darkness came over the land for three hours.  Imagine God's love for his son and his first a wordless grief so great no light could penetrate it.  How many people who have lost something or someone precious to them have experienced a figurative, if not a literal, darkness?  God himself could bear no light to shine in his pain.

Then, I wonder if what we see next is the anguish of God, his cry so terrible that the atoms and molecules of very earth vibrate into earthquakes.  Luke 23 says the curtain in the sanctuary was split down the middle, from the top to the bottom.  Matthew 27 goes on to describe the earth quaking and rocks, imagine this, rocks splitting, tombs opening and dead people raised and walking about.

Have you ever seen someone hear, for the first time, that their loved one is gone?  A scream, a tortured cry fills the air, words useless, agony expressible only in sound, vibrations of the air, their meaning loud and clear.
So, I wonder if that earthquake, those rocks splitting, that heavy wide curtain tearing from the top are evidences of the pain God experienced, of his inexpressible anguish that his innocent son had to die such a horrible death, that he had to really know what it felt like to be separated from his son...I know that the tearing of the curtain has symbolic meaning as well, but I wonder if there is more here.

So, I find comfort in the knowledge that God, the trinity, the persons of God, understand my grief, and when I cry out to them, they hear in comprehension, and my burden is shared and in some way, borne even by God.  His comfort means something because it is the comfort that comes from having been there, from truly knowing, in some measure, my pain.

Well, perhaps I am way off base, but that is just something I have been wondering.

Friday, December 4, 2009


A tendon (or sinew) is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension; tendons render function across a joint. 

You can stretch a tendon or rupture it, rendering the joint ineffective.  Then you will not be able to walk or use your arm, for example, to bear weight. The limb kind of flops there uselessly.

I think that prayer is somehow like a tendon.  It links us (as muscle with potential energy) to God ( the bone as the immoveable and pwerful dynamo), and when the tendon of prayer is healthy and strong linking us to God, we can do amazing things.  We can endure all kinds of tension and stress. 

However, when our prayer tendon is ruptured (and we have broken off communication with God) or stretched thin, (we are reduced to emergency or no real communication), we are rendered vulnerable to the enemy and discouragement, defeat, depression and all kinds of spiritual damage.

John 15:4 says Abide or dwell or remain in me and I will remain in you.  For a branch (or muscle) cannot bear or produce fruit if it is severed from the vine (or bone), and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.

I'm not sure why I am sharing this, but yesterday I watched an athlete fall to the floor in a game, a leg tendon obviously damaged as she limped off the floor.  And the picture made me think of how we walk around weak, as Christians, limping with stretched and ruptured tendons - made so by the neglect of real prayer, communcation with God, practicing the reality of his presencec and drawing power from him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On calling it a mistake

"I yelled at my wife.  I told her she was stupid right in front of my kids.  I knew it was wrorng, but I lost my temper.  Then I had to tell them Daddy made a mistake." 

Those are the words I overheard as I was making my way by the cluster of people in the walkway.  It is not as though I was attempting to listen in to someone else's convesation.  He was sharing this with the small group gathered around him there publicly, and I could tell this man doesn't have exactly an "inside voice" normally.

All I could think of was this wasn't a mistake.  This was sin.  Using those words and that tone to his wife in front of his children was disrespectful and unloving to her and to them, and it was sin.  But he didn't see it that way; he just saw it as a mistake, like picking out brown shoes to go with black pants.  Mistakes don't offend God; mistakes may only mke us uncomfortable, but they aren't really all that serious.

Then I wondered how man times, I did the same thing.  Renamed a sin so it would be more tolerable, so I would be less uncomfortable, guilty.

Now, please don't think I am going to be one of those "you have to confess every sin to get them forgiven" people.  That's not the issue.  But when we minimize sin by calling it a mistake, when we don't acknowledge that we have offended God and his people, we miss the opportunity to renew or revive fellowship with God and others.  That unattended mistake piles up against others, like Peter's rejection of Christ, until we finally either get the message and are broken or, and more seriously, we harden our heart to the Spirit of God and become deaf to his entreaties, like the hard dry ground spoken of in Hebrews 3:13-15.  The word harden there has the sense of being hard like ground that has dried up and the rain can no longer penetrate it, but just runs uselessly off.

Calling sin a mistake is dangerous.  It is like missing the warning sign that the bridge is out, and we fall into a raging torrent.  How much more beautiful the outcome when we call sin by its name, when we go to God in confession, which is only saying the same thing about our behavior that he does.  In that moment of acknowledgement, we are seeing and saying that we know we missed the mark of holiness.  We hurt our God who longs for us to know peace and joy and love, and whether we call it a mistake or sin, our ungodly behavior robs us of love and joy and peace.  Our sin separates - us from the person we have offended and from fellowship with God.

So, all we have to do, is call a spade a spade.  Come before God, and others as needed, and say I see how I have offended you, how I have hurt you.  And say honestly, I am so sorry.  I am filled with regret.  I want to turn from this wrong behavior, even this pattern of offence (if that is the case), and then enjoy the restoration now possible.

For the believer, the penalty for our sin, the price of our sin, has been paid by Christ on the cross  Calling sin -sin, does not get us saved from the punishment of our sin.  Christ paid that price.  But it does restore communication and fellowship with God.  Oh, it is true there may be consequences, ripple effects of our sin, but don't see that as punishment. 

Oh God, I pray this morning, that you will help me to be sensitive to the waves I create with all of my behavior and all my words, that I might not sin against you.  And Father, help me to never fall into the trap of calling sin a mistake.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Up close and personal

Peter begins his letter with the following greeting: "Grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure, through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." II Peter 1:2 NEB

For years I almost overlooked these first words of the epistles - just seeing them as common greetings between Christians, almost as meaningless, like saying Greetings in the Name of the Lord... Then I was convicted that I would regard any words in Scripture or spoken by believers as meaningless, as Christian cliches.  The reality is that these words have meaning, powerful meaning worth exploring.

Though all of these words are significant, I want to focus on the last phrase: through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.  Knowledge, the product of knowing.  Knowing - what happens when you spend time with someone, when you explore who they are and what that means in your life, a seeking to understand who and why they are.

Knowing God, what a concept!  Imagining who he is, and considering the reality that he is interested in me, that he loves me!!!  OK, this takes me to the fruit of the Spirit - or the product of intimacy with God the Spirit.  The more I know him, the more I seek that relationship, that reality that God actually dwells or abides or makes his home inside me, the greater his influence in my life.

Love, joy, peace, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentlenes, self-control: how cool is that!!!!  The more we are filled or controlled or intimate with, or know - not about, but personally God, the more we will also experience these qualities.  Sometimes I think we are so reality bound, so concrete and worshipful of knowledge - the facts, that we miss out on all that God has for us.

When we imagine or meditate or consider, letting our minds wander and soak in the reality that God, the Person, loves us, that he sought us out and revealed himself to us, that he gave us understanding of his Word, that we matter to him, how could we not just wallow in his love.  How could we not wish to celebrate that love?

We had just been married and were in the car; I couldn't contain my joy and filled our little car with singing  Why on earth are we not filled with inexplicable joy bursting out of us when we consider our relationship with God? 

How is it that we allow ourselves to be stressed out with anything in this life?  We have peace with God; our sins are paid for, and we have God on our side!!  He will not allow us to face anything that we cannot endure with victory and in a way that glorifies him  We are not guarenteed a life free of pain or sorrow, but we are guarenteed that when we face it with him, we are guarenteed the possibility of being overcomers, not being overcome.

Oh, that is enough for me to think on today - to celebrate his presence here in this room with me....loving on me..I want to love him back.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Work

Edith Schaeffer in her book The Tapestry says "Prayer is not just the icing on the cake of a so-called spiritual life; prayer is warm, close communication with the living God, and also matter of doing an active work on His side of the battle."

Hmm, somehow that idea that prayer is work on the side of God against the evil one brings reality to the idea of spiritual warfare. Paul says he wrestles with the flesh, doing what he doesn't want to do and not doing what he wants to. And so, honestly, do I. I have all these great visions of what I want to do and not do, and remember too often, my good intentions in the middle of my failure. It just struck me here, as I look at Schaeffer's words, how simple it is, how obvious it is, prayer matters.

It matters because it brings us into the awareness of the presence and will of God. The longer we stay away from prayer, the more often we whip through our prayer time with remembered words and our familiar list, the shorter time we allot to prayer, all of these lead to failure in this battle between God and the evil one for our good. It's really that simple. God desires only that which is for our good, that which leads to love, joy, peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit. Who can question that the fruit of the Spirit is desirable and leads to a happy and fulfilling life?

But it appears that we give way to the devil; we go into the battle for our good with our armor left back in the closet. We too seldom clear with the Father our plans. We too seldom wrestle over our desires and goals before Him, measuring them against His leading and pleading for His guidance. Instead we pray, God guide me today and be with my loved ones and the missionaries in the "corn fields." That's how one of my children heard that oft-repeated prayer requests. I think it made as much sense to her as it did to God, since he was already there with them, if they were believers.

Anyway, today I am challenged about the work of prayer. Work takes time and effort. It takes dedication to do well. I remember an aged lady in our church saying that all she could do now was pray, and I wonder if she wasn't doing the most important work of any believer in that church. She was waging war with the devil from her chair at home, holding up the rest of those who fling themselves into battle without much prayer-work.

I know I am generalizing here, but I wonder how much truth there is to it, how many battles christians have lost because we have an aversion to the work of prayer.