Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Don’t Just Study It, Practice It

February 12, 2021

I’m deep into another book. It’s a class on taking a spiritual journey from a different perspective. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

Devoted as they are to the scholarly appreciation of art, most academics find the beast intimidating when viewed firsthand. Creative-writing programs tend to be regarded with justified suspicion: those people aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it! Who knows where this could lead?

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Once I had a bright idea. Going to the senior pastor of my church, I proposed teaching a class on prayer. Actually, the idea was not to teach about prayer; it was to teach and lead to practice the varieties of prayer. The students were not to view it as an intellectual enterprise where they would learn the types of prayer–intercessory, praise, complaint, or whatever–but they would become pray-ers.

The pastor was OK with it. Half-a-dozen people signed up. They all, each one, wanted to study about prayer.They did not wish to practice it. I never tried the idea on other people again.

I’m reminded of a scene in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Robert Pirsig, the author, has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at The University of Chicago to study philosophy. He proposes to the department chair that he focus his studies on rhetoric. “That is not a substantive discipline,” the chairman replied. And thus ensued the beginning of a long-running battle between the two.

You see, you practice rhetoric. You don’t study it like, say, Aristotle–the chairman’s favorite.

The ancient philosophers? As much as anything, they taught how to live.

The Bible–both the Hebrew and the Christian? Oh, you can spend your life intellectually parsing through the thing getting hundreds of ideas. You can develop inane theologies, philosophies, cults.

Or you can follow what Jesus’ brother James said, “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” Or, Jesus as quoted by John, “Those who have my commandments and follow them are those who love me.”

I went to graduate school to study political philosophy (OK, that was a mistake, but well, I was young and stupid). We graduate assistants developed a phrase, “Operationalize your Eschaton!” In understandable terms, “Get off your metaphorical butt, go out, and do.”

Prayer Is Life

February 1, 2021

Prayer is not a discourse. It is a form of life, the life with God. That is why it is not confined to the moment of verbal statement. The latter (verbalization) can only be the secondary expression of the relationship with God, an overflow from the encounter between the living God and the living person.

Jacques Ellul

We have thoughts, worries, concerns for others. Our minds are always busy with something. Even in deepest meditation, stilling our mind is impossible for long. Many think of prayer as a verbal outpouring of all these stirrings to God.

Ellul (a theologian/philosopher/sociologist whose work The Meaning of the City influenced me some 50 years ago) called that a discourse–speaking more than a sentence. But, he says, prayer is a form of life. I turn to examples such as Brother Lawrence, for whom life was prayer and prayer was life. He was a lay Carmelite brother whose teaching is found in The Practice of the Presence of God. That book, by the way, is not difficult to read. What is difficult is to order your life the way Brother Lawrence teaches. Or according to the idea expressed by Ellul.

It is too easy to pause a moment and rattle off a stream of consciousness discourse with God, relieving our minds and asking for miracles.

Return to the New Testament. Read through with an eye toward all the descriptions of people–both Jesus-followers and non-followers. Don’t look for rules and lists. Read as mini biographies. See what kind of life is described.

Go and do likewise. Live your prayer.

God Is With Us If We But Look

November 5, 2020

I’m currently reading again in the book of Daniel. I do not read it because of interest in future-telling. I know that some have woven fantastic and captivating stories about some future end-of-times. That’s not a new phenomenon, by the way.

No, once again I am captivated by stories of how a group of four friends, captured as teens, taken away to a foreign land, taught the language and culture of the foreign people, continued to live with God in the face of occasional grave danger.

The king has a dream. Won’t tell anyone what it was, but he wants an interpretation. His wise men tell him it cannot be done. The king says, then kill all of them. Daniel and his buddies learn about their imminent demise, turn to God, and God tells Daniel the dream and interpretation.

Tattletales tell on the three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the king orders them burned alive. When the king looks into the furnace, he sees four men. God is with them. They walked out unharmed.

The king gets mad a Daniel. Has him thrown into a cage with a hungry lion. God is seen with Daniel, and he walks out.

There are more–but do you get the drift. They live with God, and God lives with them.

Richard J. Foster called it the “with-God” life.

God takes care of his part. It requires awareness on our part. Even while administering a vast empire, Daniel had a rhythm to life of withdrawing three times a day to connect intentionally with God. Jesus also had a rhythm to his life of withdrawing to connect intentionally with God.

What about us?

The Practice of Prayer

August 1, 2018

How do we become proficient at something?

We practice. Of course, we don’t just go through the motions. We learn the model, the right way. Then we do it over and over until we are proficient almost without thinking.

I’m thinking of a baseball player who practices catching ground balls and making the throw. Over and over until she can do it effortlessly.

The golf pro practices a shot a hundred times a day until muscle memory takes over and he can make the shot in competition.

In Yoga, you don’t go to class, you go to practice. Whenever we roll out the mat, we are practicing.

I once offered to teach a class on prayer. From the beginning, there was a disconnect between the class and me. I wanted them to learn prayer by learning how to practice prayer. They wanted to learn about prayer. They just wanted to go through the Bible or other literature and read what others said about prayer. They wanted a Ph.D. in prayer–a research degree. I wanted for them to become a person in prayer.

When we pray, we should be like the publican or the prodigal, says John Climacus. Pray simply. Many words distract the mind as we search for even more words. People tell me they can’t pray because they don’t know all the words. I tell them, good. You don’t need all the words.

In fact, consider prayer like a conversation where you listen more than talk. You only need a word or phrase and then wait on God with God.

This is the 28th step of 30. We have learned to recognize and overcome the negative and evil emotions, desires, thoughts. We have practice the good habits such as humility , stillness, prayer. Now we are uniting with God.

Practice these and see how you grow as a person.

Your Biggest Challenge

February 14, 2018

Today is the confluence (or coincidence) of Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. Probably a better happenstance than the coincidence of Easter and April Fools Day coming up in six weeks. (No Easter eggs for you…April Fool.)

Henri Nouwen wrote a little book on prayer called “With Open Hands.” I see it on my bookshelf occasionally when I’m looking for some book in my library. He talks about approaching God in prayer.

What is our biggest challenge in living with-God?

One of the disciplines, such as study, worship, prayer, service?

Perhaps it is the same challenge as in relationships–like your Valentine (if you are fortunate enough to have one)?

Perhaps it is listening.

We pray–but we consider talking to God as praying. But, it does not end there. Just like talking to (or at?) your spouse won’t cut it with them.

Nouwen shares a story about an elderly woman transported from home to the hospital by the emergency squad. One hand was tightly clenched into a fist. When the medical staff was finally able to open her hand, they found she was clutching a quarter. It was as if she were clutching on to her last tangible belonging.

Opening our hands in prayer is a physical act that relaxes us, opening us up to the Spirit, a posture of listening.

We cannot listen while tightly clinging to our own cares and opinions and thoughts.

We must open ourselves to the Other. Focusing all our senses. Mentally alert in anticipation of hearing something important.

We are entering the season of Lent. Perhaps this can be a time of learning to listen to God with open hands.

Prayer Is Potent, And a Responsibility

July 26, 2017

Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent
instrument of action.”
 Mahatma Gandhi

“I’ll pray for you.”

My wife and I were in charge of a gate at the county fair Sunday evening. A woman came through. My wife knows her. I know the family. There is a health situation in the family. My wife said, “I’ll pray for you.”

A friend I know through the journalism community has faced severe health problems for several years. Actually, it must feel like a lifetime to him. I said I’d pray.

Then I thought, “What a great responsibility we’ve given ourselves. We had best pray.”

People of all faiths pray to their gods. Sometimes I think even atheists pray, they just don’t know to whom and probably don’t call it that. Even New Age people have their prayers.

My quote is from a Hindu who was well versed in Christianity. And a great leader.

We call the types of prayer I discussed intercessory prayers. We are praying for God to intercede into the normal events of the world and bring about what appears to us to be a miracle.

Some believe deeply in the power of connection to God and the power of God to intercede. I have experienced situations of health restored that has no medical explanation. I have a friend who teaches praying with intention. That is a good thought. Jesus would like that more modern word than he used.

Some of course probably see that phrase “I’ll pray for you” as just a comforting remark.

But do we take the promise to pray lightly? Do we really pray with intention for whatever situation we said we would?  Do we accept the responsibility that we’ve given ourselves?

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.