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How To Hate Prayer - Part 2

So you heard a great sermon on prayer and committed to praying for 30 minutes a day. We've all been there. As your alarm sounded the next morning, you leapt from your bed to your Keurig like a gazelle on the Serengeti. You set your iPhone timer to 30 minutes and thus began the greatest moment of personal revival since the Journey Reborn tour...

God please help me to be a good [mom/dad/husband/wife/child] today. Help me to be a good witness at work. We're struggling with [insert financial situation here]..... Um.... Help all the starving children in Africa... And also help the thunder in the 4th quarter.

Pretending not to look, you glance at your phone... 29 minutes 14 seconds to go. Crap.

This is one of the easiest ways to hate prayer that I know of:

Center Your Prayer Life Around Petitions

The problem with the above approach is it's centered on prayer as a medium for supplication (asking God for stuff.) This is not bad, in fact, it's biblical. However, making this the primary task of prayer doesn't end well. Focusing solely on petition is the fastest way I know of, for you to view prayer, and ultimately God, as boring. 

Why? because requests are inherently "me" centered. And no one approaches the God of the universe to spend the whole time talking about themselves (we've all been on a date with THAT person.) In any moment, prayer or otherwise, that we have the opportunity to focus on Jesus or ourselves we should always, always, choose the former.

In contrast, the giants of prayer in the scriptures and in history, seem to be fascinated with the beauty and nature of Jesus, not their finite problems.

Let's look at David...

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple ~Psalms 27:4

Dude had one request - to pray every day his whole life, and stare at the beauty of Jesus. 

Let's look at 2 more:

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ~Psalms 16:11
They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. ~Psalms 36:8

Listen to the pathos in these texts. Pleasure, river of delights, beauty, happiness. Is this the kind of language that we use to describe our own times in the presence of God? 

So how do we do this?  The two easiest ways to center your prayer life around God are worship and listening, and then you can land on your requests. If you turn on your favorite worship song and sing the words TO him, its communicating with God... So it counts towards your 30 minutes! Listening is another topic we could spend a great deal of time on, but I'll defer at the moment.

I'm a big fan of praying about your prayer life like the disciples did - Jesus, teach us to pray - so the first thing I would do with these truths, is go to the One who promised "I will give them Joy in my house of prayer", and cling to that. Go over some of these texts with him, ask him for insight... When we look at the God that we see in the scriptures, and then look at our own experience of him, it's healthy to wrestle with the tension that lies in between. If you don't know how to do that, that's fine... Just pray about it.

 

 

 

The Death Of My Lover

A crucifixion story from the perspective of John the Beloved

 

An ancient tree I now behold

Blood of God runs now cold

Crimson red the branches stain

Ageless deity is now slain

 

What victory is won by this?

Death has stolen God’s great gift

A violent end to peace’s prince

No justice here before or since

 

Then he wakes and I am new

To empty graves as one we flew

Then he walks and I find peace

My heart with God, a debt appeased 

Help! I'm 30 And I'm Still Figuring Out Who I Am

A couple times a month we have some of our student leaders and interns over to our home. I was feeling brave the other night, so we tackled the always messy, always liberating subject of identity... 

I stole an exercise from Steven Furtick's new book, UNQUALIFIED which can be purchased here. The exercise was simple, transformative, and to the point: On one side of the paper you write your "I Am" statements: I am insecure. I am good at sports. I am a leader. I am a failure.

We shared our lists each other - which were pretty raw - and then on the other side of our paper we transformed our list to a different kind of I am statement. The "With Christ I am" list. With Christ I am confident. With Christ I more than a conqueror. With Christ I am made in the image and beauty of God.

The most fascinating thing was this: As vulnerable as it fell to share the first list, it was significantly harder for most of us to share the second. These positive statements felt awkward, untrue, and disingenuous. I realized I've gotten so cozy with the lies about myself, that they feel more authentic than the truth. So yeah I guess I've got a ways to go...

We discussed Moses who encounters I AM at Mt. Horeb. When God tells him what to do, Moses answers with these words: "Who Am I?" It's a rhetorical question meant to communicate that he's the wrong guy for the job, but God answers it anyway:

We pick up right after Moses asks God 'Who am I?',

“I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have BROUGHT THE PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT, you will worship God on this mountain." Exodus 3:12

At first glance it sounds like God dodges the question... Unless you know what Moses' name means. Moshe meant "Brought out", because pharaoh's daughter "brought him out" or "delivered him out" of the waters. In other words, it was a play on words:  As God restated the directive he was simultaneously telling him his name - Moshe, that's who you are, that's who you've been from the beginning, the one who would bring my people out.

This seems to be a pattern in the scriptures. Whenever someone figures out who God is - that's when they figure out who they are. Look at Saul on the road to damascus, another conversation in the desert by the way. It begins with Saul saying "Who are you Lord?" and ends with God telling Paul who he is - an Apostle to kings and gentiles. With that in mind, I left our students with this thought: If I want to know who I am, I have to know who I AM is.

The point is, we find Moshe wandering around in the wilderness at 80 years old not really having a clue who he is. It's a tension we've all felt at some point or another - the place in between not knowing who we are, and feeling like we should have had that figured that out by now. We think we're waiting on God in this endeavor, when in actuality, he is waiting on us. He awaits our presence in a desert and wilderness all our own with Him. He waits for you to, through prayer and devotion, engage his heart and ask him to tell you your name. To hear his Words echoing in our hearts, saying what we certainly must have known deep down... That we were sons and daughters all along.

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How To Hate Prayer - Part 1

First off let me say what you want me to hear... You don't hate prayer per se, but you're reading this for a friend. I get it... I only wish I had more friends like you.

Chances are your friend spends his/her time in prayer nodding off while praying for his/her favorite sports team. Maybe they have interactions like "God, while I can appreciate the dramatic literary value of Ehud stabbing that one guy, and the whole knife disappearing into his bowels, I'm having a hard time applying it to my life..."

Here's some reverse psychology to help your friend:

1. Have Incorrect Thoughts About God

Every dialogue we have with someone is colored by our perception of them. Case in point: you're mother-in-law is always harping on your career choices, so everytime you have some sort of life announcement in this department, you brace yourself for the conversation. Why? Because it's difficult to have healthy dialogue with someone, when we've made negative assumptions about their character.

Bad theology will always taint our interactions with God, and always leave us cringing when we think of prayer.

Primarily this happens through 3 lies:

  • Mad God - You view God as sitting up there in his Golden Lawn Chair with a hammer waiting to "wack us" whenever we do wrong. This not so thinly veiled lie comes mainly from partial narratives in the scripture, and maybe a bitter Sunday School teacher in Kindergarten - speaking for a friend here.

 This view of God will prevent you from "Boldly approaching the throne of grace" ten times out     of ten.

Here's the truth of Scripture:

"As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." -Isaiah 62:5

  • Sad God - God is up there so "grieved" by us, our condition and our sin. Weeping over the brokenness of humanity like some sort of celestial Eeyore. Maybe you don't think of this one often - but it's there - I don't even know how it got there, but it's there.

Here's the truth of scripture:

"The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing." -Zephaniah 3:17

  • Distant God - So you beleive that God exists and maybe even "loves" you. At least in the "he has to love everybody, he's God" sort of way. But fundamentally you view him as distant from your world, your day to day. He's up there, I'm down here. It's just as hard to talk to distant God, as it is to talk to a distant second cousin - so... how's the weather up there in Maine... ~long pause ~ Good, good... so what do you do again? I'm a nurse.......... Big gulps huh? Welp see ya later..."

Here's the truth of God's word:

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. -Psalms 139:1-6

What if we let our thoughts, theology, and worldview be obliterated by the wrecking ball of scripture? The Word of God is creative, but Paul says it's destructive! A weapon that sets out to destroy every thought that sets itself up against the truth (2 Cor. 10:5).  If allowed to renew your mind, you'll be left with a blank canvas for Christ to color in places of devotion. There's a certain kind of wonder as you present to God your new-found emptiness for him. Remember, he never leaves us as he finds us - through meditation, prayer, and long treks through the narrative of his word, you'll discover a new portrait of Christ, a divine vignette brushed with grace, truth, and beauty.

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Anchored... In His Nearness

The following is a devotional I wrote for our anchored prayer and fasting experience in January...

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, and if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalms 139:9-10

As a child I thought that God’s omnipresence (his ability to be everywhere) mainly had to do with geography. God can be with me, and in China at the same time. This, I thought, was a very nice feature to have, especially if you were craving Chinese food.

I’ve learned to accept a much broader view of the doctrine. God’s omnipresence isn’t limited to physics. David, as he penned Psalms 139, said that if he went to "the highest heaven or to the deepest depth" God was present - The word here for depths was Sheol, the hebrew word for hell. You could almost read it as, “God, when I’m going through hell… You’re there.” You see, he is close by us not just in every place, but in every season and in every emotion. In our most devastating tragedies he is present, and in our greatest triumphs he is near. 

If you were to ask Moses, he would tell you that God is in the wilderness. Elijah, I think, would tell you that God is in the silence. My friend who just lost a child, would tell you that God is in the grieving. I could tell you, as I’ve toiled to redeem my past, that God is in the healing. But wherever that is for you, let your heart be rooted in the knowledge that God is deeply present, keenly aware, and tirelessly active in the minutia of your life.

Call To Action

  1. Read the following text. Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I only a God nearby declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him, declares the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?
  2. Picture Jesus sitting right there with you (because he is). Where do you need him to be present?  Maybe it’s your finances, your marriage, your relationship with a child. Ask him to reveal his presence in this area or relationship. What is he doing? What is he saying? 

En Inspiro

The first work of the writer, as I understand it, is not his first draft or his outline; his true beginning is inspiration.

This moment is the inventor’s fuel, it is the theologian’s revelation, and the philosopher calls it his epiphany.

Without this inspiration, our works lack the brilliance, creativity, and pathos that characterize all meaningful endeavors. 

We are “created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us.” 

I fear that we spend our lives completing tasks, instead of a mission, and the “good works”, which could have been ours, are left undone. Our schedules are full, but our lives are not.

Our world is full of works that are mundane and colorless and uninspired, and it is not begging us to produce one more that is devoid of any true virtue or significance.

If we filter our creations through what is born of inspiration I think we will discover a need to retool some our lives, and abandon some projects all together.

I would run my own life through these painful criteria, but I fear that I lack the moral courage to act upon what I find.

In Search Of The True Wilderness

I often find in myself an ache to go to the wilderness. And I'm not talking about some cool meta-physical wilderness that is somehow an analogy of the "season" i'm in either.

I'm talking about trees and mountains and creatures with four legs; it all feels like home to me.

Intuitively I am given the impression that this longing is greater than myself. I am speaking of that particular brand of desire which transcends an individual, or even a time. The belief of an afterlife, or the desire to find a soul mate I would categorize as such.

In short, these cravings do not belong to you or to me, but to all of humanity. 

Man was born into the unfinished wilderness; he awoke to a world where he was alone with God.

It is this genesis with God that I long for; the desire to be alone with God is inherently etched on the tablet of my heart.

We are unsure how long man was in this state with God, scholars presume it could have taken him years just to name the animals.

Woman was born into community; Adam, and a more finished creation awaited her crowning arrival. As such she craves this covering, this protection, this love and togetherness. 

Perhaps this is why she doesn't even like to go to the bathroom alone...or perhaps for us men, such mysteries are better off unexplored. 

I am not saying that she doesn't long for intimacy with God, any more than I am saying that a man doesn't desire to be with others. As a quick aside, many of you know that I have always maintained that the qualities belonging to the masculine or feminine are extremely subjective and change drastically with cultures and time; I believe the intrinsic, God given, attributions to be a much shorter list. So I will not make any conclusive statements here; but I welcome the conversation.

Jesus told his disciples: "You will leave me all alone; yet I am not alone, for my father is with me."  These moments in the proverbial wilderness when we are "lonely, but not alone", are calling to me even as I write this. 

For me the mountains provide me with this singular pursuit, but life affords us many such opportunities. Singleness is such a wilderness; an uncommon situation or struggle is such a desert.

In these moments I am hedged in; like the harlot wife of Hosea, my solitude separates me from all other interior interests and pursuits. 

My ear is tuned only to his voice; my heart has feelings only for him...And in these moments I am reborn and I open my eyes, awaking to a wilderness all my own with God.

A Great Salvation

Today I am reminded of the words of the Reformation's great theologian,

"All that is necessary for salvation is the knowledge that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior"  ~John Calvin

It is alarming to know that that great human quandary which has eclipsed the ages, lurks quietly within our own members. Like some kind of unknown cancer, we begin to see it's symptoms without fully knowing it's severity.

Our problem is no small thing, but as Calvin says, we are better to know it, Blaise Pascal once said, "It is good to be tired and wearied by the futile search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."

The problem of the human race is serious...and it is eternal; But sin's greatness is rivaled only by it's remedy.

Christ, the paschal lamb, was, and the Jews knew nothing of this, not a great man as they had always supposed, He was God's only Son. 

The existence of the Messiah was known, but his nature was veiled; concealed within the words of the  ancient prophecies. Perhaps it was known only in the heart of God, perhaps this was part of the Ephesians 3 "mystery which was not made known to men in other generations which has now been revealed by the Spirit."

Yet this was his glorious plan all along, the "Lamb slain before the creation of the world". Or even that he would "dwell among us", should be enough to elude our greatest cerebral capacities. As Lewis writes in the Last battle, 'Yes,' said Queen Lucy. 'In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.'

Such a divine plot could only be the contrivance of beings no less magnificent than the Godhead themselves. We are partakers of no small emancipation; but the heirs of what Hebrews calls "such a great salvation", and this wrought by no less of a propitiate, Christus Victor, Christ the Victor!

On The Power Of Children

I have always maintained that it is hard to be a spiritual writer because we are, in a sense, reducing things magnificent and eternal to something as paltry as human language.

It is hard indeed, to not be the butcher of all things divine, when we are working with such incredible limitations and today's topic is no exception.

I have not written in some time partially because I am falling in love right now, and as you well know, this commands almost all of a man's resources and time, and also because I have wished to do such a great idea, some measure of justice.

About seven months ago, I had an encounter with the Lord, where I saw a vision of my daughter, almost exactly as she looks today. When I saw her, I was filled with so much joy it was overwhelming. I felt like God told me that the depression that I have struggled with on and off over the years, would be taken from me through the birth of my daughter.

The next day Lizeth came to me not knowing about what I had seen and told me that we should name the baby Abigail if it was a girl...and that it meant, "father's joy".

Dostoevsky once said that "the soul is healed by being with children." The other night while I was holding her, I could feel it, I could really feel the healing happening. I could actually sense her little frame healing my wounded heart. It was as if the love and the warmth God was filling my heart with was searching out the recesses of my heart and taking from it all those remaining pains and disappointments which have held so tightly on over the years.

It is humbling, I think, for a grown man to be so weakened by a creature so small and unassuming; but it is healing me. It is taking from me the ego that demands to be validated, and the pain that demands to be masked. In their stead it is giving me one of those few substances that will remain for all of eternity: love (I Cor 13:13).

I am looking forward to thanking my daughter in the years to come for the ministry she has done to me. Jesus said, that we could not enter the kingdom except a man become like her, so I am learning from her. I am learning those rudimentary qualities necessary to "enter the Kingdom." I am learning from her how to be gentle and open; she is teaching me to trust without reservation, and perhaps most importantly, she is teaching me about my utter dependency on God for my most basic of needs.

I am experiencing what theologians have called a "great exchange", that is, that Isaiah 61 experience, exchanging our ashes for a crown of beauty, our mourning for his joy, a spirit of despair for a garment of praise. This exchange is most certainly from God, but it has come to me through this tiny vessel, truly, "God has chosen the weak things of this world"

It is almost as if he gave these things to her while she was being "woven together in the depths of the earth," and said, "here...give these to your dad."

Psalms 23 & A Theology of Rest

I write this on my sabbath, my favorite of all days during the week. As I rest I am reminded of a small unassuming sentence penned by David many years ago; in psalms 103 of God he says that,

"He knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are but dust."

My own human weakness and frailty has been my constant instructor in my need for rest. It seems that we run only short races, before we tire physically and emotionally. We grow weary, so quickly as finite beings, and discover within ourselves a swelling need for restoration.

It is not until that we acknowledge the reality of the human condition and it's many limitations; that we can truly discover rest in God.

I have oft, with many others throughout history, found comfort in the psalmist's ancient words: 

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leadeth beside still waters; he maketh me to lie down in green pastures"

By it, we are reminded that God is the author and the source of all rest. While I have found truths that equal it's relevance in the scriptures; perhaps there is no truth more relevant to the human condition than the doctrine of rest; or at least no truth more often necessitated.

The Sabbath, we are told by Jesus, was made for man. It was God's gift to man; in preparing the earth for humanity, God quipped it with rest. It was one of His many kindnesses to us, knowing that such a small creature would have great need for it.

It is worth noting that while the Sabbath was the Last day of God's week, it was the first day of man's. God wanted us to be born into this sort of rest and euphoria with God. It was from that place in God, that man went forth to create and to toil; to put his hand to the plow of all that God had assigned to him. How much better would our creations be, friends, if we spent the first day of our week with the creator of the cosmos?

I was reminded some time ago, by my friend Taina Brown (who is a fascinating conversationalist) of our need to approach the concept of rest wholistically. Thessalonians 5 reminds us that we are tri-partate beings; body, soul, and spirit. To limit rest to the physical, falls desperately short of the biblical reality. Often our physical frame is what needs rest the least; it is our inner man that longs for restoration perhaps the most.

Our mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties, grow weary under the weight of unkind words, anxieties and traffic :) These all cry out for the Matthew 11 invitation to come to Him, all of us who are "weary and heavy laden", to find "rest for our souls". Oh that like David we would proclaim "My soul finds rest in God alone!"

That we, with the author of Hebrews, would "labor to enter into that rest". Oh that we would yield to the gentle leadings of the Good Shepherd as he leads us to a place beside the still waters...away from the chaos...away from the noise...

Life, Death, & The Renewal Of All Things

I find that words are often woefully inadequate to capture our deepest emotions; In these moments I've found music or art to be much better mediums of the mystery that is within us.

Above my dining room table hangs a painting. It's cheap art, and it looks tired, but as I sat at my table yesterday I felt like it expressed my musings as of late, far better than language could.

It's a picture of a home, surrounded by a garden. It looks far too idyllic to be real; the landscape is flawless, the home, a stucco-tuscan design seems untouched yet...welcoming; and the lot of it is more like a house you would see at the end of a movie than one you would pass on the way to work.

It's like the house I've always wanted to come home to, not at the end of a long day; but rather at the end of a long life.

It's perfection spoke to me about a better age, an age to come; it reminded me of the "better country" that the Patriarchs who were "not at home in this life" were longing for (Heb.11).

So many things that I have been going through as of late, like that painting, have been reminding me of that age. The death of my grandmother, and the death of my friend Michelle, the impending birth of my daughter, the aching exhaustion from working long hours; these have all served to remind me of a better world.

A world where death itself is defeated and no more, a time when the One "through whom all things were made", will "make all things new". A time when the eternal longings which He has "set in the hearts of men" will be fulfilled.

Oh how my deepest longings will come to fruition in that age! What a joy it will be to see my little sister, and my father, and my grandmothers; and what an honor it will be to say like John the Beloved, that we have "seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son"! 

And finally, after my long day of toil in this life...whether by eastern sky, or by grave should He tarry...I will go home.