Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Training Is Oh So Valuable

June 14, 2017

Have you seen the movie Sully? It’s the story of the US Air flight that landed in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds that knocked out its engines?

Jeff Skiles, the first officer on that flight, spoke at the conference I am attending. I’ve heard both him and Capt. Sullenberger speak a couple of times each. They take about 40 minutes to tell the story of an event that took less than a couple of minutes.

The thing that stands out for me? Training.

Everything they did. Every communication. Every action. From the captain to the first officer to the cabin crew. Everything had been prepared for. They had been trained and drilled many times.

When the emergency happened, one or two words communicated next actions. Everyone knew what to do. They had seconds to act. (Of course, idiots spent years second-guessing them, but that is human nature, I guess.)

What about us?

Do we “become a Christian” and immediately think we can tell people how to live their lives? Do we suddenly know everything?

Paul talked many times about training in his letters. I was thinking about that, then I thought about Paul himself. He had years of training in the Scriptures and in the interpretations of the leading rabbis of the time.

Then he met Jesus.

Did he go out and start preaching? No, he was blind. They guided him to a believer who had been instructed by God to teach this famous anti-Christian scholar. And Paul studied. And he went to the desert and he studied, prayed, meditated.

He himself was training. For years. Then he went out.

I’m not suggesting we all go to seminary–after all, I didn’t. And I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t spent a lifetime training. Then I discovered I could write. Well, a little anyway.

But like Paul’s favorite analogy, we need to train like athletes. Every day. To be prepared to run the race set before us.

Cultivate The Need for Prayer and Reflection

April 13, 2017

The Archbishop once told me that people often think he needs time to pray and reflect because he is a religious leader. He said those who must live in the marketplace—business-people, professionals, and workers—need it even more. From The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa)

There are people we hold in high regard because of their position or their calling. We attribute to them qualities that are often beyond human possibility.

The Governor of the state of Alabama (fervent Religious Right Christian, I guess) just resigned after a moral failure became public. America’s leading morality policeman (I am told, I know nothing about him and have never seen his TV show) if facing the end of a career and lucrative speaking and book fees after moral failures became public.

We think of preachers and priests as spiritual beings, praying and meditating all day. But then think of clergy, some famous, some not so, who have fallen quite publicly when their human failings were revealed.

Business people and professionals face ethical choices daily. Should the engineer point out dangerous design flaws? Should the business owner dump chemicals out back by the creek rather than dispose of properly? Should the executive take advantage of people under his power–perhaps sexually or by threatening their livelihood?

The temptations are many and insidious.

Only through constant prayer and reflection can we maintain our focus and moral equilibrium.

I’ll Pray About That–Really?

October 27, 2016

“I’m so sorry about you losing your job and your car breaking down. I’ll be sure to pray about that.”

“I’m sorry to hear about all your troubles, Sarah. I’ll pray that someone helps you out.”

“I need repairs to my house. I’ll pray about that.”

Ever wonder about the person whose response to people is, “I’ll pray about that?” Or, in my long career I’ve come across several business leaders whose response to business problems was, “I’ll pray about that.”

Shane Claiborne, one of the authors of Red Letter Revolutions: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?, wrote, “But sometimes when someone says, “I’ll pray about that,” it is code for “I’m not going to do anything else for you.”

Prayer is good. It is part of a spiritually disciplined life. Especially when it goes beyond the idea that God is the Great Vending Machine in the Sky dispensing good things to those who meet his criteria.

Claiborne continues, “If we hear someone asking for prayer over and over because they need work done on their leaky roof, we should keep praying, but we might also get off our butts and get some people together to fix the roof! When we ask God to move a mountain, God may give us a shovel.”

I have witnessed the power of prayer. I’ve seen healing when doctors thought it impossible. I’ve seen lives change.

But, I’ve never seen prayer “work” when it’s obvious that God wants us to work.

We can pray about the devastation in Haiti (remember that? how soon the news media moves on and we forget about things), or we can raise money for supplies. Or maybe we have a medical or other specialty where we can go and work. And pray for success at the same time.

Or, we can pray for someone and bring a meal. Or pay for a repair. Or take them to lunch.

Let us resolve not to use “I’ll pray for you” as code for “Let me out of here before I have to actually do something.”

Pray With Intention And Trust

September 1, 2016

It was just a simple movement. Stretching across the driver’s seat to put some stuff on the passenger seat before I left for a business meeting in Cleveland. In that instant, my quadriceps muscle popped. I was on my back in the garage with the greatest pain I’ve ever felt.

Six years ago today. My first ambulance ride. First stay in a hospital since I was born.

You know, the pain was terrible. I remember being in pain. I don’t really remember the pain. Remarkable thing, our memories.

Thus began a series of unconnected events over the ensuing three years where stress affected my heart and I walked away from a couple of good-paying jobs.

An acquaintance told me sometime back there to pray with intention. Pray that God will open doors. Pray that people will come into my life when I or they need it.

And trust in God.

It’s amazing.

When I need some income, a project comes my way. When I was looking for a ministry, one came my way. People come into my life at just the right time.

The key must come from living life with intention. We don’t want to drift from situation to situation at the whim of whatever current swirls by. Choosing our intention is an ultimate freedom. Otherwise we are a slave to others’ suggestions or to our own emotions and desires.

Pray with intention and trust in God.

Choose Peace Not Stress

August 10, 2016

We live in a time of high stress according to many writers. I think that humans have always faced stressful circumstances. Think about living in houses or shelters ill-equipped for the winter with the constant threat of a near-by enemy who could come and kill you.

That’s stress.

But many of us live in a state of constant stress. A boss. A spouse. A job. Not having a job.

Dr. Henry Cloud spoke at Willow Creek last week. He’s a psychologist whose knowledge and wisdom has guided me through many of his books. His topic was stress. That started my thought process.

I’ve had periods of time over the last ten years or so where I was in chronic stress. I pride myself on knowing how to handle stress–meditation, Yoga, exercise, proper eating, sleep–you know the drill.

But some things just come back at you constantly. You have to find a way to deal with it to end the source.

Sometimes you are in a situation where you hold the key. In one of my cases, I could have solved the problem. But it involved work. Eventually I quit. In another case, the only solution was to leave the situation.

Today, I have the stresses that come from being at the end of a big project and struggling to finish the research and write the report. Then the annual stress of assigning referees to soccer  matches.

But these are manageable. You tackle one piece at a time and keep at it. The stress just keeps me sharp.

There is a difference in the stresses.

But Cloud pointed out that God will help.

I thought about Paul who wrote to the Galatians that peace is a fruit of the Spirit. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”

Or again when he wrote to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Interesting that Paul adds “with thanksgiving.” Taking time every morning or evening to remember all the things for which you are grateful is another great stress reliever.

Be Filled With the Fullness of God

August 2, 2016

I will be looking at Ephesians for a few weeks with a small group. We used to pride ourselves on how long we took going through a book. Now, they seem to rush through. The leader covered two chapters of rather dense thinking Sunday. I had to hold things up.

Yesterday I talked about unity in Chapter 2. Let’s look at Paul’s prayer for the people in Chapter 3 (14-20).

It’s a short prayer.

He says he bows his knees before the Father.

When I began to practice meditation a long time ago, we all thought you had to sit cross-legged with your hands on your knees and one finger and thumb brought together in a circle to complete the energy loop.

Nonsense. Lying flat on your back is an excellent posture. Sitting–any kind of sitting other than slouching in a soft chair or sofa–is an excellent posture. You can do cross-legged on a prayer cushion, a favorite chair, a park bench. Standing and walking are also excellent postures. Some people raise their hands. I feel ostentatious doing that. But that’s just me. I don’t like big displays.

…so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul introduces himself and his topic and then takes time out to pray. His prayer contains three petitions:

  • “that you may be strengthened in your inner being”
  • “that Christ may dwell in your hearts”
  • “so that you may be filled with the fullness of God”

Can you take a hint?

Envision what sort of person Paul wishes for us to be.

When Paul said “hearts”, that is the English translation into a term used by modern English-speaking people. Ancient peoples believed the seat of deep emotion came from deep within our gut.

Paul had just pleaded for unity in the church. Breaking down barriers between people. Then he prays (and repeats three times) that we have God filling us with power–I’m betting he’s thinking (using one of his favorite phrases) so that we can achieve that unity, break down those walls.

How We Can Pray Without Ceasing

January 18, 2016

Our friend, the apostle Paul, gave this advice to the disciples in Thessalonica, “Pray without ceasing.”

That sounds so simple.

But wait, how can you do that?

You wake up in the morning. Think of that first cup of coffee. Grab the newspaper or check news sites on the Web. Think of the commute to work. Get the kids ready for school.

We wake up and we’re already swamped with tasks, worries, planning.

Where is prayer?

Same with the day. We have things to do, people to see, places to go. Pray? You’ve got to be kidding me. Didn’t the first Century Christians have life a lot easier? A slower pace?  More time for contemplation?

The anonymous pilgrim in one of my favorite books, The Way of a Pilgrim, pondered that question as he traveled the Russian countryside. He discovered that realistically you cannot literally pray ever second of every day. But his continual praying brought a number of important people into his life just at the right time.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century Carmalite brother recorded in The Practice of the Presence of God, was another man who sought to pray without ceasing. He talked of praying while cooking, baking.

Paul linked praying with other commands (tips, suggestions?). 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 records, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These do not describe separate commands. They describe a way of life. We can call it attitude–the way we approach living. It could be habit–our response to life. It becomes imprinted on our DNA.

The most important thing is to start the day well. Rise 15 minutes earlier. Go straight to your favorite chair. Open your Bible, read for a few minutes. Pause, pray for a few minutes. Now you are ready for the day. Pray as we tend the kids. Pray as we fix breakfast. Pray as we commute.

Prayer means more than talking aloud. It can be done on knees, lying in bed, walking, driving, whatever we’re doing.

Talking is good. Listening is better. Attitude toward God–priceless.

Teach Us To Pray

January 14, 2016

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Writing about prayer yesterday dredged up some memories of teaching people to pray. Paul has much to say that is practical. Jesus’ disciples asked him point blank one day. He responded with the “model” prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.

Once in my idealism, I offered a class on how to pray to my church. There were a few takers. My idea was to, well, er, teach them how to pray. As in, let’s see an example of a type of prayer, then spend the rest of the class practicing that prayer. You know, contemplation, intercessory, supplication–the whole thing.

The trouble was–they didn’t want to practice. They wanted what we call “book knowledge.” But they were uncomfortable actually praying.

Did the same thing with a class on spiritual formation. We gathered a dozen people into our family room and I led them through Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. What I tried to do during those 10 weeks or so was to get them to start actually practicing some of the “Spiritual Disciplines.” Did we pray daily? Study daily? Fast regularly? Worship? Serve?

They just wanted to learn the words from the book. I don’t know if any actually changed their life practices by incorporating a daily habit of spiritual practice.

Funny thing is I read constantly. But when I find something worthwhile, I try to add it into my daily or weekly (depending) habits. I’m far from perfect, but it would take a book to discuss the growth in my life due to spiritual practices. More even-tempered. Discernment. Ability to recognize the needs of others.

I think when Jesus taught his disciples to pray that he expected them to actually pray. Pray to recognize God’s holiness. Pray for our daily sustenance. Pray for God’s kingdom. Pray for others. Even pray for ourselves.

So let’s lift up our hands and actually pray–and follow Paul’s advice to do it without arguing or anger. Prayer is so powerful; it will change your life.

 

What Happened To The End of Racism?

November 16, 2015

Many people in my all-white home town gave me some grief over my civil rights views in the 1960s. But it was mild, if pointed. And I survived driving through Mississippi a couple of times in 1970 with equal rights decals on my car.

But I thought momentum was building behind the idea of judging a person by their character rather than the color of their skins or other external differences.

There has been progress. Almost all laws in the US are now color-blind (and gender-blind–that was a problem, too). Most police no longer are a serious threat to the well-being, and even lives, of people of color.

The goal remains elusive.

We can change laws (good). Train people (good). Heighten awareness and provide peer pressure (good).

But we can’t change people’s hearts that easily.

Reports from Missouri suggest that the University of Missouri race relations have changed little since 1969. We still have too many incidents.

And now I expect my Facebook “news” stream to fill up with a reaction of hatred and verbal violence toward all people who are followers of Islam and/or of Middle Eastern descent because of the attacks by a few nihilists in Paris. (I quit reading most of that stuff  on Facebook. If you want to reach me in Facebook, you can use Messenger rather than just a post.)

I have some friends and many acquaintances among those groups. They are peace-loving people with a moral code not unlike many Christians (I wonder about the moral code of some).

It all makes me so sad. An entire adult life span, and we have actually progressed so little.

Can we take some time to watch what we say? Pray for those hurting? Pray for justice? Judge people according to character rather than this painting an entire religion and ethnic group with the same brush as brutal terrorists?

Thank you.

Grumbling In Their Tents

September 21, 2015

In Hebrew history there seems to be a recurring theme. As described in the Exodus story and the time in the wilderness carried forward into the Psalms, the people grumbled in their tents.

Americans are great grumblers. Check your Facebook feed. People are always complaining–unless you muted the grumblers. In that way they think they are still your friends, but you have ceased listening to them.

John Ortberg recently talked about quitting complaining. He identified two words used in the Old Testament–grumbling and groaning.

When the Israelites grumbled, the grumbled “in their tents.” They grumbled about God. I’m not getting mine. I’m not satisfied. I want more. 

If that sounds familiar, well 3,000 years hasn’t meant much to the spiritual progress of humans.

I stand convicted as I think about the grumbling. I’m not immune. When I catch myself, I’m sorry for the thoughts or words.

Organizations typically are filled with grumbling. The greater the vision that leaders get members to buy into, the lesser the grumbling. When you’re working on a mission, time for grumbling diminishes.

On the other hand, when you are discouraged and wonder if God is with you, you go into a private place and groan to God.

I may be groaning now as I think of this. 

Grumbler or Groaner. Which are we? Which do we want to be?