Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

Lonely or Alone – There Is A Big Difference

October 6, 2016

Here I am again in this mean old town
And you’re so far away from me
And where are you when the sun goes down
You’re so far away from me

So far away from me
So far I just can’t see
So far away from me
You’re so far away from me

–Dire Straits

Have you ever felt lonely? Not just a fleeting  sense of being alone, maybe on a trip. But really lonely. The kind you feel in your gut. The kind that just settles into your bones like a cold drizzle in the late fall.

I imagine that it is a rare human who has never felt that. But it could just be me.

David put it in a Psalm (22)–kind of a prayer wrapped in a song. Jesus quoted this song just before he died.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

It doesn’t have to end there. I’ve been reading lately in some books on personal psychology. Studies are showing that you need to somehow, slowly begin to make decisions. Decide to go out, for example. Talk to the local barista. Someone.

David didn’t end with that deep feeling. He remembered what God had set before him. The promises that God would fulfill if David kept his end. He wrote later (23)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

We sense the presence of God. We release the feelings of loneliness.

Paradoxically, we sense the presence of God often by being alone. Remember how Jesus often withdrew from the group to go off to a lonely spot to be alone with his Father? When we go off to be alone with the Father in prayer or meditation, it actually works to bring us out of that shell of loneliness. We can also then go out and meet people.

The Practice of Silence

September 12, 2016

I knew a guy who talked incessantly. Nice guy. He taught me many thing when I was younger.

At some point early in his adult life, he joined an order and entered a monastery. It was one of those orders where the key discipline is silence. “Can you imagine me, silent?” he would often ask with a smile.

James offers advice in his letter about the virtue and discipline of silence from the view of how much trouble you tongue can cause. When someone approaches and says “Let me speak the truth”, how often do you have that feeling of dismay?

Yes, often it is far better to maintain silence rather than say something.

There is another type of silence.

In Job we read, “Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone wrong.”

Again in Job, we read, “If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom.”

There is a silence that pairs nicely with waiting. If we could but be silent and wait for the Lord to speak to us, then we could hear and grow in wisdom.

That is a silence that comes in prayer when we finish talking and then sit and listen quietly for the whisper of God. That part, for me, is the best part. If only I did it three times daily like Daniel!

I love when the writer draws a picture. Imagine this (from Psalm 131), “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.”

What a delightful picture of rest and contentment.

In silence we grow in wisdom and quiet our busy minds.

Forgive The Other Person First

July 25, 2016

My wife had a question. She received a devotional email. It quoted C.S. Lewis. “We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us.” It is strongly worded that way in the Lord’s Prayer, said Lewis.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us.

In the first place, she was raised a Baptist. They taught you didn’t memorize prayers. You “prayed from the heart.” So, remembering all the Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessarily easy for her.

My thought was that Lewis was denying the forgiveness of sins that comes along with salvation. That didn’t sound like Lewis.

We decided that Lewis wasn’t talking about that. But he was talking on a practical, day-to-day level about our interaction with other people.

And forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.

We looked at the phrase. I said, first off this is a petition. Jesus is telling us we can petition God to forgive all the things we have done wrong.

But, said  Jesus, first we have already forgiven our debtors. Look at the order of the words. We ask God to forgive us in the same manner in which we have already forgiven those who have wronged us.

Do we forget that part of the equation? Do we just jump in and ask for forgiveness without considering the other part? Is it all about us?

Actually, do we really ask for forgiveness at all?

Psychologists would call this emotional maturity. God would point to spiritual growth.

Stop My Mind From Wandering

June 7, 2016

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering. Where it will go.– The Beatles

Listening to The Beatles for a while on the drive back from vacation Sunday. I’m not sure what they meant (John and Paul may not have known either). The words seemed to fit my vacation reading that focused on, well, focus.

Sometimes we have a hole in our consciousness that lets our mind wander where it will go.

Ever sit down to read the Bible or a study book on a Biblical theme, or again sit down to pray or contemplate on the words? And your mind wanders to things you need to do, conversations left undone, worries about what might happen tomorrow?

Or, worse, your smart phone attracts your eye. “I’ll just check Facebook or Instagram quickly and see if I’m missing any important news from my ‘friends’,” you think. Oops, there went a good 20 minutes and it’s time to go somewhere and opportunity to think missed.

I’m helping with the marketing for small coffee shop with a mission. You can “like” High Grounds Cafe on Facebook. I post messages regularly on the Facebook page (it is a great marketing media for local business). But…I’ll go to Facebook to post a message and my news feed pops up. Side note: they call it news, but there is no news–some updates on what people are doing and a stream of thoughtless political shots at someone. Anyway, a photo catches my eye. 15 minutes gone, poof, wasted.

Deep thinking and concentration are skills that must be developed and practiced.

Usually you need a ritual. For example, get up in the morning (early), fix a cup of coffee or tea, gather your reading material with a pen and paper, and sit in your favorite chair in a quiet location. Do it regularly.

Be aware of your mind. When it starts to wander, don’t panic. Just fix the hole gently and return to concentration. You will find that you can spend 15-30 minutes totally immersed in your reading and prayer.

If your job, like mine, requires thinking and writing, you can build up to 90 minute stretches of time, short break, and another 90 minutes of real work.

Fix that hole in the roof that allows your mind to wander. See how richer your life will be.

Achieve a Decent Existence

March 3, 2016

How do you become a great scorer in basketball?

You shoot a couple of hundred jump shots a day.

How do top golf professionals get there and stay there?

They hit a few hundred shots a day.

But it is not mindless repetition. It’s taking a shot. Thinking about it. Making slight adjustments. Practicing the same motion every time so that when they’re in the game it’s natural.

Same in our daily lives–both how we live and our spiritual life.

Why do you think Paul so often compares spiritual life to training in the gymnasium? Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines:

But thoughtful and religiously devout people of the classical and Hellenistic world, from the Ganges to the Tiber, knew that the mind and body of the human being had to be rigorously disciplined to achieve a decent individual and social existence. This is not something St. Paul had to prove or even explicitly state to his readers.

We must discipline ourselves in the sense of developing those routines of daily life including prayer, study, gathering together with others such that they become natural. The difference is that we are not practicing for the game–we’re in the game and practicing at the same time.

I set up routines such that it is only natural that I do certain things–rise early, read, have my coffee, think, plan the day. I try to do these when I travel, too. I crave routine.

My “virtual friend” Jon Swanson wrote today about Solomon who built a great and magnificent house for God. But he forgot the daily life of walking with God. And, in the end, it all came apart for him and his heirs.

It’s not the temple we build, it’s the daily practices that eventually build the temple that matters–our lives in service with God toward other humans.

Relationships-With Yourself Too

March 1, 2016

Sometimes I’m a slow learner.

Lately I’ve been contemplating relationships among genders and among diverse cultural groups. I knew the last one wouldn’t get as many “likes.” It’s difficult for many people to comprehend.

I guess the reason I don’t share many of the attitudes of my western Ohio peer group is that I didn’t have a close peer group growing up. Pretty much  a loner, although not be (my) choice. But then also, I’ve traveled extensively and learned to work with people from all over the world. You should develop a sensitivity to other people doing that. I know some retain their prejudices. But I really didn’t.

When I pray, I pray for lots of people. Today I was praying for a family where one member faced a difficult surgery. That was special. There are many more.

One day not too long ago I suddenly realized that I could pray for myself. It would be OK. In fact, I think God likes that. Kind of like the guy in the Temple that Jesus talked about who looked down at the ground and asked God to have mercy–on himself.

It really never occurred to me to pray for myself. I’m always living in the world of ideas or thinking about other people.

It isn’t narcissistic to think of yourself. Just don’t dwell on it. Or forget about other people. Or put Jesus first.

Guess what? I felt better. Actually almost somewhat relieved. So many people have so much worse issue than I. It seems trivial. But then, it is me who has to live with me. And if I don’t take care of that, then I can make life miserable for people around me.

While praying for your list, it’s OK to stop and say, God, I’ve got this little problem that I’d like for you to fix or show me the way. It’s a good thing.

Good relationships with others begin with a good relationship with ourselves.

Lent For Non-Lent People

February 10, 2016

Today begins the season that we call Lent. The season traditionally calls for sacrifice, introspection, and focus on God.

I grew up in a family and church that did not really call for much difference after perhaps an Ash Wednesday service. I have a virtual friend, Jon Swanson who writes a very good blog called 300 Words a Day and wrote Lent for Non-Lent People. He comes up with very good questions to ponder during Lent.

Lent points us toward Easter. Christmas gets huge society play as non-christians also celebrate with gift giving, food, and parties.

Easter gets less society play–although the “Easter Bunny” and candy are popular sales items in stores.

Do you give up things for Lent? As a Methodist in a Lutheran town (if you’re from a city you wouldn’t understand, but if you are also from a village, well), we sort of made fun of, or at least chuckled about, what the Lutherans gave up for Lent. I’ll never forget the guy who gave up watermelon. You couldn’t buy a watermelon in February if you wanted it in those days! Then last week I heard about another guy who is giving up watermelon.

That, of course, is not taking the season of life seriously.

I have another friend who gives up his daily can of beer, fried foods, and desserts. He’s in his 80s. He wonders why he feels so good physically during that time and loses up to 15 lbs. (All of which he replaces on Easter Sunday!)

Right now, I’m at a conference. I’m usually very busy during these things, but this year seems to be crazy. Monday I was up at 3 am to catch a 6 am flight from an airport 90 minutes away. I arrived at the site at 11:30 and immediately began meetings which included dinner. Back at my room at 11 pm. Tuesday keynote sessions and meetings non-stop all day. Back at my room at, er, 11 pm. Today, 7 am breakfast meeting, maybe a little break to catch up on writing this morning, and meetings all day.

How do I find 15 minutes to remember God? To ask what he wants of me today? To ask him to help people I know and people I don’t. It recently dawned on me that I could also ask him to help me. No, I can’t do it all alone.

How about you? Have you found time to be alone with God, his word, his companionship? Maybe Lent gives you a good excuse to start.

Preparation Forms The Spiritual Life

February 4, 2016

Teenagers watch their favorite athlete. They try to mimic his or her style. They fail miserably at becoming a top athlete.


They didn’t mimic what they didn’t see–the work ethic of the top athletes. They practice and work out and eat right as a way of life.

Unless…they are like “Johnny Football.” The curse from my dad was to make me a Cleveland Browns fan. Although I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the NFL, the curse lingers. And the geniuses drafted a known problem child but thought about bringing excitement to the town.

This is a kid who had one good year in college. Came to the pros as a cocky kid imitating the swagger of some top pros. Except–he forgot about the work ethic. And there is a lot of work that goes into being a top pro player.

Dallas Willard used the first example in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines as a metaphor for the life with Jesus.

We ask “What Would Jesus Do?” thinking about acting like he acted in public.

Do you ever think about Jesus’ preparation. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly. We know from a snippet of a story from when he was 12 and was studying with the great teachers at the Temple.

He studied, memorized, thought about the Scriptures. He could quote and interpret flawlessly.

We know his practice was to go off alone and pray.

Jesus put in the hard work of living a life of preparation in order to “be a pro.”

If we want to be like him, it’s not just asking what he’d do in a situation. Or wearing sandals and growing a beard. Or acting like we know it all.

There is the hard work of constant study. Reading and thinking about the scriptures. Praying, meditating, contemplation as we grow into a deeper relationship with God and our knowledge and wisdom increase.

That work need not be joyless. But it needs to become a way of life. Then we are ready to act like Jesus because it is just a natural part of our lives.

It’s easy to coast. But the fruits that come from a spiritual life only come to those who are prepared.

Leadership Through Mentoring

January 22, 2016

We think of a leader as someone who has many people reporting to them. Maybe 10 or maybe hundreds. We picture them out front of the infantry leading the charge.

Surprisingly, often a leader is someone without an official position, yet they exert influence and direction through their ideas, conversations, persistence, relationships, and character.

But we are still thinking about influencing many.

Great leaders often are also great mentors. They find someone coming along with potential and begin to nurture them. Think perhaps of Mr. Miyagi in the “Karate Kid.”

Think back in your life. People came into my life, often briefly, who guided me often without my even knowing it at the time. There was my first supervisor at Airstream, John, who put me in positions to learn. Then Jack came along. He did things for me to get me promoted into increasingly important roles, but I never realized it at the time. Awakening came later, but not too late.

Lately there has been someone where we share from our varied experiences.

When you mentor someone, it should be intentional on your part. But with full knowledge that you are not a teacher just taking knowledge from your brain and trying to enlighten the mentee. Rather, mentorship grows with a relationship. As you work together or have conversations, often it’s just a question you ask or a point you think that they should think about that works. You have to let them grow at their pace. Force does not work.

The quality of character counts for much. Paul, the apostle, described both in 1 Timothy and in Titus a good leader.

  • Not violent
  • Blameless
  • Not accused of debauchery
  • Not rebellious
  • Not arrogant
  • Not quick-tempered
  • Not greedy for gain
  • A firm grasp on the Word
  • Trustworthy

I get a picture of a strong, yet gentle, person. Quiet in demeanor. Observant of others. Passionate with being overly emotional. Intelligent and wise. Concerned for the welfare of the other before even his own.

Gosh, I’m describing myself—-I wish. Perhaps I’m describing you. If so and you do not have a younger person you’re mentoring, find one. Pray intentionally. God will provide someone.


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.