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Prayer

A Sound Prayer

A Sound Prayer

Nikos Kazantzakis won 9 Nobel prizes in literature. You might be familiar with this work from, Zorba the Greek or The Last Temptation of Christ. In a lessor known book entitled, The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises he painted a gritty but beautiful picture of allegiance to Christ. 

“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you. My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: this is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow. My God and I are horsemen, galloping in the burning sun or under the drizzling rain. Pale, starving, but un-subdued, we ride and converse. ‘Leader!’ I cry. He turns his face towards me, and I shudder to confront his anguish. Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.”

I had to read that a few times—Struggle is assumed, opposition at every turn, yet unwavering loyalty. SO, What should prayer sound like?

Minimally, it can be more than a spiritual grocery list in hopes of God providing needs and wants. It can also be more than a last ditch plea only after you’ve done everything humanly possible. Though, asking is invited. Gratitude, confession, and praise are also beautiful and critical forms to fill out our prayers.

As I was thinking about what prayer should sound like, a friend offered a beautiful image of a baby in his mother’s arms. The child does not yet know a single word but already understands how to give and receive love, understands presence, understands intimacy. Think about that. Intimacy is a growing awareness of God’s presence and it doesn’t even require words. Silence can be renewing and comforting when we realize that God is near.

Lent invites us to voluntarily give up normal activity or items for the spiritual purpose. The hope is to re-sensitize our hearts. Lent is also about focusing our attention on God’s voice, revealed in His Word. If you need a guide, download the ReadScripture App and begin daily reading with Jesus & the Kingdom. The videos are outstanding and sure to help understand God’s Word better.

Hope is rising. Easter is coming!

Beyond Circumstances

Beyond Circumstances

Adolph Eichmann was the mastermind behind of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.  He was finally captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial 15 years after the war. Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions, including many of Dinur’s own friends.

As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently. Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed? No. As Dinur explained later in a 60 Minutes interview, what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all…he looked like an ordinary person…Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, “I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities.” In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: “Eichmann is in all of us.” In other words, we’re all equally flawed and yet that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Compassion is recognizing a person’s needs that’s merely different than our own.

Salvation. Is. The. Same. Way. 

In Ephesians, Paul is in jail – by his own people – for making salvation available to non-Jews. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem mad in the least bit, maybe because Paul didn’t see himself as any better. He doesn’t pray for circumstances to be better nor easier, simply “asking that the God may give you the Spirit of wisdom & revelation, so that you may know him better.” (1:17)

Paul shares how the Gospel changes everything—“…That may you have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (3:18). We don’t have to be defined by wealth, mistakes, luck, regret, broken relationships, class, or culture.

As we understand who we are in light of who God is, we emerge with a new identity. We are hidden in Christ, not buried by circumstances. Faith is knowing God’s present, able to redeem all things. As we seek to make amends or give up control, it begins with experiencing how deep & wide, how long & high of God’s love. That’s change from the inside out.

Pray Anew.

Pray Anew.

Most people have some kind of internal dialogue with God. But prayers often go up like ‘Hail Mary’ passes – a last ditch effort for help. Other times, prayer’s a tool crisis management, which is totally fine and yet, there’s so much more to experience…

I love how Paul prays for the Ephesians. He doesn’t pray that things would go well, be safe, find better jobs…despite their difficulties. He bypasses any prayer for circumstances saying, “I keep asking that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (1:17).

I like to pray for answers, to get past, to solve, for ease. Paul prays that we might see and sense God’s presence in the midst of it. This is a radically different way to pray! It’s also the only way we can be transformed.

Paul doesn’t pray for circumstances, for them or him, even though he’s in jail. He prays for a quality of relationship to see God and experience Him in the midst of our success or challenges. Circumstances don’t tell the meaning of your life. Paul’s writing that the present state of your life is not final word! He prays that you would have the faith in the power of God to reverse your life into something new. The power of God – and our prayers – is not to underwrite our prosperity or dreams. It’s power to take the most tragic or regrettable, even prosperous or ideal experiences and—with Christ—experience His presence in this present age!

I'm all ears.

I'm all ears.

If you’re a parent, how well do your kids listen (…the first time)? If you’re married, how well does your spouse hear? At work, do you feel heard by your boss? Hearing is such a basic human instinct yet actual listening seems like an art form. Faith and relationship thrive when we’re able to hear and respond but it’s just not always that easy.

I vividly remember sitting in a booth with Sam Earp. At 68, he’d been a pastor, professor, and missionary but due to his wife’s dementia, Sam was now providing her full time care. But he still loved to make time for tired pastors with big worries. We were talking about prayer, specifically hearing from God. I was frustrated with not hearing from God when Sam relayed this story.

He had just finished bathing his wife, putting her diaper on, and getting her dressed when he got a whiff of a foul smell. Realizing she had just messed her pants, he takes her clothes back off to clean her up. As she’s standing there, she goes again right on the bathroom floor. In that moment, with a tear rolling down his cheek and the emotion still fresh, he describes how he turns to God with a loud voice, “I’ve had it! I can’t take it!! Can you hear me?!?!”

I start to offer my condolences, “Sam, I’m so sorry…” But, he interrupts, “David, God continues asking the same question of us, “Can you hear me?!”  He reminds me how God speaks in suffering as much as prosperity. Struggle isn’t God’s punishment but an invitation to trust, express our need, and see God is near. He had my attention. I was all ears. Simply put, we grow by listening.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Hebrew daily morning and evening prayer. Shema enables us to practice the presence of God. More than sound waves entering your ear, Shema calls the people of God to listen and obey. Because real listening takes effort and action.

All transformation comes about as a response to revelation. It’s our response that leads to transformation. So…What is God saying? What are you hearing? How might you respond? And, whom do you share what you’re hearing and supposed to do?

Taking Inventory

Taking Inventory

How Can I Pray (& give up control without giving up)?

More than 400 years ago St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged a Daily prayer of Examen – a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence & to discern his direction. A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life.  Since we’re in the midst of Lent (prayer, sacrifice, & compassion) and talk about Rhythm of Renewal (i.e.  becoming more aware of God’s presence & turning as led), try this version of prayer on your own:

1.    Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of a day/Wkd in the company of the Holy Spirit. If it helps, pick out one day this week that’s most memorable. The day or circumstances may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle.  

  • Ask God to bring clarity and understanding…

2.    Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with.

  • What did you receive from these people?
  • What did you give them?
  • It’s all a gift.  Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.

3.    Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions.

  • Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day—Boredom? Excitement? Resentment? Compassion? Confidence? Inadequacy? Nervous? Condescension?
  • What is God saying through these feelings?
  • God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins & faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out in some way.

4.    Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with a person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant.

  • Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, confession, or gratitude.

5.    Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

  • Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation?
  • Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God.

Creation Speaks.

Creation Speaks.

Is it just me or did Austin just come to a screeching halt this week?!?!  With yet another “snow day”, we have another round of closures and cancelations. It can feel like an interruption to our hyper-scheduled lives. And yet, the conditions also remind me of God’s design for renewal. Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”  Extreme climates, often defined by agriculture, enforce a work-life balance. The seasons of fall, winter, spring, and summer outline a rhythm for rest, preparation, new life, and harvest. Even animals instinctively hunt, gather, and bury themselves in hibernation.  

While I love living in Austin, our mild climate hardly lets up. Our year-round pace remains full and often demanding. So if you find yourself getting restless or feeling interrupted this week, consider God has created our lives for BOTH fruitful labor AND stillness, fellowship AND solitude. This week, embrace the weather as a Divine Interruption. Put a log on the fire. Brew a midday pot of coffee. Enjoy unexpected time with family under the same roof. Turn on some music. Loudly.  Work from home. And wear sweats around the house all day. “Kairos” moments represent Spirit-inspired opportunities to turn…turn towards…turn away…but most importantly RE-Turn to the One who Authors Life.