Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writer's Block

Romans 8:26-27--New International Version (NIV)

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Today's Question: Have I faced confusing situations where I did not know how or what to pray?

Answer: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Most writers I've known and many I've read report a common condition. Writer's block, where even the threat of a pending deadline does not unlock the flow of words to the written page. I'm sure many people face "prayer's block" as well, but Romans tells us not to worry, that the God who has mined the depths of our hearts will share His mind and offer in sounds unintelligible and inaudible to anyone else the exact right prayer that fits securely in the center of God's will. The right prayer at the right time in the right way. Could we ask for anything more?

To me, it's always been intriguing that the opposite of writer's block is something called inspiration. Inspired. Breathed into. Mouth-to-mouth. In college English class it was called poetic inspiration and writers would describe it as if the words were being written by someone else, that poetry flowed as easily as breathing in and out. In some cases the writer would report that in addition to the words, even the very ideas had been inspired. As if they had lost control. I've experienced something close to this as a song-writer. On some songs I've struggled for years, never finding the right words for the music or vice-verse. Then on those few occasions, the song has come fast and furiously as being born on the wings of wind, words and song from somewhere else but channeled through my mind to the page. It's awesome. Truly. Fun. Freeing. To quote the old chief from Little Big Man, "My heart soars like a hawk!"

Occasionally, a prayer will come the same way, with a life of its own, and even though the words are floating across my mind, they seem inspired by Someone else. It's awesome. Fun. Freeing.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for those times. The rest of the time, I welcome your groans.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Desiring God

I just watched a segment on the Today show that used the terms "Mama's Boy" and "Daddy's Girl". The commentator said the first one implied weakness and dependence while the other implied strength and opportunity. In our culture our God in heaven is mostly thought of as this huge father figure, with power and awesomeness, being able both to forgive and to judge. We think of Him less as a mother. But at least for me, that's what I seek from Him, a mother's love. The comfort of being able to crawl into His arms after making a huge mistake and know that, as tears are wiped away, that everything is going to be all right, that as I face an uncertain future, He will be there no matter what. My mom died when I was in my early 20s and I was in a period of rebellion at the time. One of the last things she said to me was "Why don't you cut your hair?" It wasn't really a question and at that point, I felt judgment. But I knew based on my experience of those prior 20 years, she loved me anyway and that as sick as she was, nothing would ever separate me from her love. Weakness and dependence supposedly describe a "Mama's Boy." Heavenly Father, maker of all, I want to be your Mama's Boy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Psalm 151

If I could write my own psalm about prayer...

"In Jesus' name" is so quickly tacked onto a prayer, sometimes all as one word, injezuzname, or highly syncopated "in JESus name." Like in Jesus' name is like some cosmic postage stamp without which no prayer will get past the ceiling.

I often feel so inadequate, my heavenly Father, when it comes to talking directly to You, especially in front of someone else. At the same time I can be so critical of others, I mean, when someone states the obvious like "Lord, you are so good," and yet You are so good. Or someone will pray with a formula as if it's said a certain way, You will be obligated to answer in some predetermined way. Yet You do act in a predetermined way, just not my way or any other human's way.

Your way. Yahweh. It's all about learning Your way. So much of what I do interferes with learning Your way.

But this name thing: hallowed be Your name. Holy is Your name. Your name is Wonderful, Marvelous, King of Glory, Immanuel, Lord, Jesus. And yet Your name was once unspoken, so majestic and mighty and beyond human wisdom that to utter it meant death. Yet Your name is who You are and You are close, inside, where language is unspoken, where words are not necessary. Lord, let me hear Your voice. Let me know Your name.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Expectations and Frustrations

I've learned from reading Philip Yancey that he rarely states things as purely black or white, so his first prayer journal suggestion does not surprise me. He suggests starting with my past experience with prayer, my expectations, even my frustrations, in essence establishing a benchmark as I pursue this journaling. I suppose, like many, I think prayer has let me down. As a child I learned to pray like many children "Now I lay me down to sleep," graduating to "Our Father who art in heaven" some time in elementary school. For me, real prayer started when the priest in our church ran off with another woman after counseling her through the convalescence and death of her husband. Father Mosher had left his wife and four children, and somehow I thought God would want to reverse this travesty. As one of the priest's acolytes I had witnessed the birth (figuratively) of three of his four children. What kind of priest would do this? What kind of man? I prayed fervently night after night that he would return to his family. Around the same time I prayed often that my dad would stop drinking. At that age I really expected that God was listening and that He would respond. These were cut-and-dried requests in my opinion. So as time went on, a divorce was granted and the priest moved to another state, his wife and family moved away and my dad continued to get drunk. I think I must have gone back to the Lord's prayer after that, which wasn't much different than the lifeless "grace" said around the dinner table on Sunday afternoons after church. Later, in college, I prayed often for "Jesus to come into my heart" because that's what had happened to my dad and he had quit alcohol right on the spot after 20 or 30 years of drinking. These prayers are something I need to explore more fully but suffice it to say, they did not work any better than the one to bring a father back to his wife and children. One night in my own drunkenness, I angrily told God that if Jesus wouldn't come into my heart, then I'd invite the devil in. And boy, did he ever...

Philip Yancey

When we lived in Colorado, we were fortunate to attend the same church as Philip Yancey, the acclaimed Christian writer. On a couple of occasions we were able to meet, share experiences and talk about life and spiritual living. Meeting him and knowing his physical voice has made reading his books more of a personal experience. When I read the pages of his books recounting an experience, I can hear his inflection, see the smirk on his face and read into it the subtleties of my personal knowledge of him. I appreciate him as a writer all the more.

Isn't that the way it should be with you, Lord, that when we read your Word we should see you face to face--to hear your intention, see the smirk on your face and understand the subtleties of my personal walk with you? In fact it should be better but I have to say that it's not. So, as of today, I have decided to apply a little personal discipline to that effort of knowing you better. Using the prayer journal "Keeping Company with God" as a guide, I am going to write my responses here for better or worse. I am not going to edit much, trying to keep the prayer thought flowing and in that way know you better. Thanks for giving me the life opportunity to meet Philip and know his voice. It will forever be in my head.