Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

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?

Do You Want To Get Lucky

August 27, 2015

An old joke from the Newhart Show set in Vermont. The handyman, Tom Poston, finds a stray dog and takes him in. He names the dog Lucky, because he is, well, lucky to have a home.

Enter Stephanie, the cute young woman. Says Poston in his dry voice and deadpan face, “Stephanie, if you’re ever feeling lonely, you can come to my room and get Lucky.” <badda boom>

I have a fried who has moved from writing about technology and business to writing about life. He’s questioning his Catholic precedents right now. Happens to all of us at some time, I guess.

His latest writing was on getting lucky.

Are some people just lucky?

Are they lucky because they have a positive mental attitude?

Are they not lucky but practice “active consciousness” bringing good things into their lives (he read a book).

Two answers

I go with two answers.

First is the obviously practical. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

If you get the opportunity to speak on a subject or finally play an instrument in the orchestra, then you had better have been practicing for years so that you can succeed.

Second is not so obviously practical–but in effect it is.

You still need preparations–the disciplines of study, practice, prayer, service.

However, you also need to pray with intention. Not just wishful thinking. Not just vague prayers to God.

No. It is the hard work of prayer. It is engaging your mind and strength and soul in prayer. You have intention. You pray on purpose, with purpose.

You pray, “God please bring a person into my life who….” Maybe it’s someone to whom you can share the gospel message. Someone who offers a chance at a service or ministry you’ve been searching for. Someone who needs a mentor or friend.

Or you pray, “Lord, I feel you nudging me toward a mission, a ministry. Open my eyes and show me the ministry you have in mind for me.” I did that over the  space of a year or more. Then I got a phone call.

Lucky? Or good? Or, ready when God calls?

Prayer Beyond Words

July 8, 2015

 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

One thing that has impressed me almost from the first time I read the Gospels is Jesus’ discipline. He went away to pray regularly. He attended meetings at the synagogue “as was his custom”.
In this story, his closest disciples were surprised. By the end of his ministry, they understood.

In the faith versus works debate, I do not consider spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices as works. Although, they can be. It depends, of course, upon attitude.

Did you ever here the phrase while growing up, “Please assume an attitude of prayer”? In the protestant tradition that I grew up in, this meant bowing your head and closing your eyes.

The attitude of prayer is more than posture.

T.S. Eliot, the American/British poet, wrote, “And prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.”

Someone asks you to pray. Your stomach tightens; your mind races. What will I say? Will I sound stupid?

Praying aloud is comforting to others, but that is merely scratching the surface of prayer.

The Renovare Spiritual Formation publication of the Bible discusses the variety of spiritual disciplines. Of prayer, it says,, “Interactive conversation with God about what we and God are thinking and doing together.”

Some of my most meaningful prayers have no words. God listens for my breath. I listen for God’s.

Conversation With God

May 26, 2015

I sit and try to meditate opening up myself to an experience with God. My thoughts distract me. 

I refocus, breathe deeply and regularly. Focus on God (I repeat the word to maintain my focus). My thoughts distract me.

Eventually I think, “I’m having the same thoughts. They keep repeating on me.”

That’s when it finally dawns on me–maybe, just maybe, God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I’d better explore those thoughts. Maybe he’s telling me to do something. Or call someone. Or prepare for an adventure.

Mostly, we are not taught to pray. Or, we are taught in the way of prayer during a church service, or the beginning of a class, or grace for meal. It is us talking, usually aloud, to God. We’re usually asking for something. Or complaining about something. Or ordering him around to get him to do what we want him to do.

But what if we listened?

There are people I have met who believe that God doesn’t talk anymore. It may have happened to Elijah. Maybe to Jesus. Maybe even to Paul. But, not anymore.

I feel sorry for those people. What is it that they are missing out on because they have not paused and listened.

What does God want from us in prayer? What he wants in general–a relationship. When you converse with someone with whom you’re in a relationship–unless you’re a complete narcissist–you expect the other to listen to you and you listen to them. That would be a conversation.

What will it be like when God says, “I’ve been telling you that for years!”

Praying Your Way Out

February 19, 2015

There is one God, the Father,

From whom are all things, and we to him;

And one Lord, Jesus the Messiah,

Through whom are all things, and we through him.

–1 Cor 8:6 (The sh’ma rewritten by Paul)

One of the guys at last night’s Bible study asked about the situation when you aren’t as “on fire” in the spirit as you had been for a while.

There was a survey of 17,000 followers of Jesus where they asked that question. Did you ever feel away from the spirit, and, if so, what did you do to get back? More than 3,000 said yes. Reading the Bible daily and praying were the path back into the spirit.

We call those spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices. They are a means through which you can rekindle the fire of the spirit. They also should become so habitual that they form your character.

Paul, good Jewish boy and eventually Pharisee, no doubt prayed the Sh’ma every day. “Hear O Israel, The Lord, the Lord our God is one. And you shall love The Lord….”

Paul, after his meeting with the risen Jesus, “rethought” his Jewish teaching in light of the coming of the Messiah. Recorded in 1 Corinthians is a new prayer with which to begin each day. A new Sh’ma.

There was a man who lived in 19th Century Russia. He lost everything he had including wife and kids. All that was left was his Bible and a teaching from a priest quoting Paul, “You should pray without ceasing.” The priest taught him the “Jesus Prayer,”

Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

You can say that prayer with breath. Inhale Jesus Christ, son of God; Exhale have mercy on me, a sinner.

This peasant’s story is recorded in The Way of a Pilgrim. He tried to live praying without ceasing. And people kept coming into his life at just the right moment with just the right assistance.

The Jesus Prayer is powerful. I am now trying to memorize the “new sh’ma” and incorporate it into my life. It helps maintain focus when all around is chaos.