intimacy with God

How To Hate Prayer - Part 4 - Dealing With Shame

 

I recently ran a poll on Disqus asking "why Do Christians hate prayer?" I know, I know, we don’t hate prayer, per se, we just never do it.

I get it.

Of course, people immediately engaged the clickbait with PIRANHA-like instincts, to tell me how much they didn't hate prayer! Eventually the outrage subsided and some real answers began to emerge.

The number one response was exactly what I expected it to be:

Shame.

People don’t approach God because they’re not perfect.

The instinct here is right on – you should be perfect to enter the presence of a holy God - Just look at Uzzah - but the conclusion is a little off.

This is the typical recipe for a lie from Satan – part truth + part lie = whole lie – See Jesus in the wilderness.

Agree With Your Adversary

I once heard a teacher reference Matthew 5:25 in regards to shame,

“Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way”

The word Greek word for Adversary is used for Satan elsewhere.

When you experience shame and condemnation, the thought was agree with the accuser right away, but don’t buy into the other half of the lie.

“You’re right, Satan, I did have a ton of sin in my life, but thank God Jesus made me a new creation and paid for my sins once and for all!”

I’m not sure how I feel about the hermeneutic on this one, but I love the thought!

Super Attractive Lies…

The shame and condemnation truth/lie equation is one of the easiest to believe because it feels so right! Never has sin felt so much like righteousness as it has with shame. God hates sin; I should feel bad about it! Right? Isn’t that called conviction? 15 years into my journey with Christ, there’s not a lot of lies I don’t immediately recognize as such. But with condemnation, the counterfeit feels so similar to the authentic that it's incredibly hard to discern between the two.

Projecting ourselves onto God

When we think of God as merciful, we view him as such, through the lens of our own mercy and forgiveness towards others – which happens to be both finite and fallen.

Here’s what I mean.

If Suzy messes up and lies to you, you'll forgive her once - IF , and only if, she apologizes. We may do it two or even three more times if we’re really great Christians, but eventually enough is enough! Essentially we have a mercy tank, that has so much mercy and patience, and when we’re out, we’re out. If you have kids you know the first 3 times your kid spills milk on his outfit, you may handle it like a champ, but the fourth and fifth time in as many days, and your tone begins to change.

Why?

Because your tank is running low…

This is where we get it all wrong about God.

God’s goodness, his mercy, and his hesed, is not finite like ours, but infinite. God has no tank, and nothing in his nature has a beginning or end.

We also show mercy because we have to, and assume the same about God. I’ll forgive because I have to, even though I’m hurt, and it's hard. Where we show mercy because we have to, God shows mercy because he loves to! That’s right, it’s something he loves doing! Time and again the scriptures remind us that he delights in showing mercy!  It’s like a favorite hobby to him.

The key to enjoyable prayer lies in knowing how much he enjoys giving us the grace we need to boldly approach his throne, and confidently engage his heart. 

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How To Hate Prayer - Part 3 - Structuring Your Prayer Times

I'm gonna be completely honest here.

I've pretty much had my life planned out since middle school. 

My to do list is color coded.

Each day of the week i intentionally focus on a different section of my job description... Who does that?

I have a disease. I realize that. Please pray for the people I love the most.

The other day I mapped out my week on my dry erase board in Stephen Covey's 4 productivity quadrants - if you don't know what that is, that's okay, it only means you're not sick like I am.

My ability to operate without plans and structure is not entirely unlike Jack Garratt's ability to write terrible music.

...These things are just not in the cards for Jack and I.

This was all in the interest of full disclosure so you can take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt.

We've been talking about Jesus' promise to give us joy in the place of prayer (Isaiah 56:7), and wrestling with some of the reasons we don't experience that.

So with that said, this is one of the easiest ways out there to NOT enjoy prayer:

Definitely go in without a plan

Early on in my process with Jesus, I was at some sort of meetings when I was first introduced to the idea of planning/structuring my prayer times. We were in a pre-service prayer setting, when one of the speakers walked us through the ACTS model. 

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication (fancy KJV word for asking God for stuff)

I should have known. The answers to life's greatest mysteries have always been hidden within the same medium:

Acrostics!

But seriously, 15 years later and I'll still bust out the ACTS model from time to time.

Everything God builds...

Everything God creates is first given structure, and then given life. With the creation of Adam he first creates the bones, then breathes his Spirit into him. With Ezekiel he does the same thing - skeletons and tendons, then ruach. With Moses, first he gives intricate construction details for the tabernacle and liturgical process, then he fills it with glory.

Sometimes in prayer and in our other endeavors, we give God something to use, something to work with, something to move through. I think it's his way of involving us in the process.

But here's an important caveat: You WANT structure. What you DON'T want is your prayer life to become wrote religious exercise, instead of life giving relationship. Tyler Speegle has a great piece on that here.

Other than the ACTS model here are a couple other ways I've structured my prayer times:

1. Praying Through A Psalm

People talk about the power of praying the scriptures all the time. The Psalms are a great place to start praying the word, since most of them are prayers already... So it doesn't take a lot of imagination. Psalms are an easy way to give your prayer time a path to travel. Read a verse then apply that verse to a situation in your life e.g. marriage, finances, relationship with God, then use the textual language to pray it back to God. Then on to the next verse.

2. 20-20 Challenge

From time to time I'll issue the 20-20 challenge to my students. It's connecting with God for 20 minutes a day for 20 days. Why 20 days? So glad you asked. Because it takes 21 days to build a habit (the 20-21 Challenge wasn't nearly as catchy).

I'd also chart their 20 minutes for them:

  • 5 Minutes: Turn on your favorite worship leader and worship for 1 song
  • 5 Minutes: Read a Psalm - why a psalm? Because they're short - baby steps people, baby steps.
  • 5 Minutes: Pray about your prayer life like the disciples did when they said "Jesus, teach us to pray". This is huge in the beginning - Your getting distracted, great, talk to him about it. "God I'm bored." "God give me a hunger for you." "God I'm trying here, but I need your grace." "God I want to want you" "Jesus teach me to pray."
  • 5 Minutes: Requests/Needs

These are just ideas. Ask people you respect in this area, create your own, see what works for you. 

One final thought. If you're in one of those seasons where you are falling deeply in love with Jesus, hearing from him all the time, and thinking about him in every waking moment, you probably don't need a lot of structure. Mountaintops should be enjoyed, but structure will help us to be faithful in prayer  in the valleys and arid places that lie in between.

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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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? 

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.