Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Constant Sorrow

Mention some experiences with prayer that remain disappointing or frustrating to you.

When I began this challenge of mine, to follow a prayer journaling guide, I vowed to answer each question and not skip. The purpose was to build discipline as a writer. But I wanted to skip this one. In fact as of last night I was determined to dodge this one and had already turned a page or two in the guide to see if the next questions might unlock something less unsettling. But the truth is, now is the time to share this disappointment which I call, after the song, My Constant Sorrow.

Last summer I received a long, long email from my son, a grown man with a family of his own. In this email he enumerated a long, long list of my failures as a father, some going back to when he was very, very young and some as recent as my last email to him. At the end of this long, long list, he gave me three ways to respond, and then explained how if I chose any of the three, I would be wrong. I was being disowned by my own son, my only son. I was being divorced from his family. He didn't have the time, energy or need to work on our relationship. He was through.

As one might imagine, this was devastating news. It's not that there wasn't some truth in his list of charges, but taken as an entirety, it certainly was not a fair picture of me as a father. I felt falsely accused even as I felt shame, remorse and sadness for those items which were in fact, or in his perception, true. Why have you forsaken me?

In the beginning I'm sure I prayed everyday--for my son, his wife, their marriage, their children, my grandchildren, to soften their hearts, that they know and show the Lord's forgiveness, that they know joy but mostly that they not forsake me in their lives. I waited for some sign, an email, a phone message or even a text. Over the next eight months the silence has continued. I've sent emails with no reply, gifts with no acknowledgment, and prayers seemingly with no results.

Lord, my son is a follower of yours. He says he has learned to deal with his anger but his words were so filled with rage. He seems unable to forgive. He is unwilling to even talk. Mine is a prayer without ceasing yet has no reply. A constant sorrow.

Last year my father died. What I miss the most is the sound of his voice. In the same year, I seem to have lost my son. What I miss most is the sound of his voice. God, I miss them both.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A High Priest Forever

Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

What are some weaknesses in your own life, for which you need Christ's mercy and grace?

Is this another trick question, Mr. Yancey? Are you really asking me to pinpoint some personal weaknesses that need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Is there a blog long enough or a band width wide enough? OK, you said "some," not "all." So I'll pick three: being a husband, being a father and being a leader.

My daughter asked me the other day whether God was really sitting on a throne all the time, which is a really significant and thoughtful question when you think about it. I attempted to answer, thinking about the pictures we have in our minds of, say, King Henry sitting there majestically as a conqueror or two stroll in from the outer reaches of the territory with some bag of riches or golden ring to fling at the base of the throne. The King is holding court; he is receiving visitors and he is settling debts. But obviously, the king doesn't sit on his throne all day long. He'd need a break. After all, a king, especially like King Henry, had many more personal things on his mind. That's what is so amazing about this scripture from Hebrews. We may come to His throne of grace confidently and on our time-table, not His. At our beck and call, He waits, ready to open court and mount His throne to hear our weary cries for mercy, ready to settle our debts (forgive our sins) and dispense His grace.

So, back to my weaknesses:
As a husband, I do not often "love my wife as Christ loved the church." I wish I did but this is one to lay at the base of the throne and ask God's mercy. Jesus was willing to lay down his very life for those he loved; I often cannot even say "I'm sorry."

As a father, I "exasperate my children," which I'm not supposed to do. My anger can snap to attention as fast as Gomer Pyle. Raising children, as I have now attempted for nearly 40 years, needs His grace, His provision. I cannot do it alone.

As a leader, I have not always led with integrity. I've let personal idols get in the way and have not sought the voice of God but relied on my own God-given talents, thinking they were really mine.

But I love the way God works. Just yesterday I pulled out the words to a song I'd written recently and began to apply a new chord sequence. I had written the lyrics almost verbatim from Hebrews 6 and had titled it A High Priest Forever and then today this writing assignment. Hmmm.

Thank you, Father.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Thanks for the Sloppy Joes

Why does prayer rank so high on surveys of theoretical importance and so low on surveys of actual satisfaction?

We were sitting around the dinner table the other night getting ready to enjoy our evening meal together (he said euphemistically) when I asked my youngest daughter to pray. She began reluctantly, "God, thanks...for our family...and thanks...for the food. Amen." Then I said something I wish I hadn't, "You were just petitioning the creator of the universe, the One who sustains all things. Do you really think that prayer got His attention?" My question got no answer nor should it have. It was a lousy question and I need to tell her I'm sorry.

Like my prayers are better? Like I choose better words or because mine are longer? What I was failing to recognize in my daughter's prayer was that already at her young age, there's a disconnect between that "theoretical importance" and the "actual satisfaction." She's wondering, probably, does it really matter? Is it real? Does He hear this or any other prayer? Even if He hears me, will it make any difference? Won't we eat the sloppy joes and won't they taste good even if we don't thank Him? Did He really provide the sloppy joes?

OK, those are not my daughter's questions. I am attributing my doubts to her, but I think they may reflect some of the discontent many people experience with prayer. Prayer should matter. Jesus said, "Pray like this" and then gave us the Lord's prayer. Paul said to "pray without ceasing." Jesus also warned about praying like hypocrites.  I am pretty good with words normally and so is my daughter. As a 12-year-old she reads and writes way beyond her years. But she struggles with prayer just like I do.

Heavenly Father, Abba, 
Can you help reduce the gap between how we know we should pray and how we actually do? Instead of doing all the talking, might we learn to listen more? Please help us so our words don't get in the way.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Breaking Bread

Yancey writes, "The word company, as in "keeping company with God," simply means "with bread," and comes from the ancient and universal tradition of hospitality. We connect with others by inviting them into our homes, by breaking bread and sharing everyday life.

Take some time to reflect on what is working and what isn't in your efforts to "keep company" with God. How can you invite God into your life and yourself into God's? Write in the form of a prayer, if you like.

When I invite someone to my home, I prepare, I think in advance, I try to see my home through the eyes of a visitor. Lord, help me to prepare myself for You. Let me view myself with "visitor eyes."

When I attend a meeting, I anticipate who will be there and what might be accomplished by our time together. Lord, help me to come away from our meetings together refreshed and with new purpose. Help me discover Your agenda.

When I invite someone to take a walk with me, I am looking for quiet company, just a time to stroll and take the conversation in many directions. Lord, help me to walk with You when the path You choose is different from my own.

When I plan a meal, I anticipate what the others breaking bread together with me will enjoy and I try to please them. Help me to bring You joy, as silly as that sounds.

When I anticipate a difficult conversation, I plan my words carefully and recognize that even my best intentions may go array. Help me to trust You when I am misunderstood by others.

As the song says, "Let me feel Your presence."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blind Faith

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 

Describe your faith. Has it changed over the years?

It's pretty common these days among Christ-followers (which is in itself a way to distance us from narrow-minded evangelical fundamentalists who know everything) to entertain periods of doubt. In fact to say you are absolutely sure about something is to invite an argument. Doubting is normal, many say, natural. Yet Hebrews 11:1 seems to present the principle that faith and certainty are synonymous, that even the word hope means sure expectation, not maybe. It all seems to hinge on that last clause: what we do not see. That's the rub. We say it's hard to believe in things we cannot see.

Some who would say they are not religious in any way seem to have faith. The person who would ridicule biblical creationism in favor of an evolutionary model has great faith that the "science" of evolution is true, that if we only had enough "time" we could "see" the evidence.

If God is the one who spoke creation into existence with a single word, could His spirit impregnate a virgin? If He holds the subatomic particles together, could He stiffen the H2O molecules for a few brief moments so that His Son might demonstrate his power and walk on water? I guess it takes a little faith to believe that.

We know a sperm cell must penetrate an egg cell for fertilization to begin. We can watch the cells begin to grow and then somehow ascertain the DNA make-up and even mess around with the results. But why fertilization begins...why life? We need some faith to answer that.

We can go outside on the deck on a dark moonless night to look at stars and the light impacting the back of our eyeballs is millions of years old. It least that's what they tell us. Few of us earthbound humans have seen the original. It takes some faith to believe that.

When we die, our flesh begins to decay at a much greater speed than when each cell was being fed by the complex interaction of organ and agent. The process is irreversible and life that was there is gone, over, kaput. Life has left the building. But we can't really document just what made life start way back then when cell met cell; why is it so difficult for some to believe there is life after death?

A good scientist will tell you there are more questions than answers. And when questions outnumber answers, is faith the answer?

Do dogs need answers...dolphins? What drives men and women and their need to know why? Some say it is intelligence that makes humans different than animals. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's faith.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Satisfaction Guaranteed

What are some of the most satisfying experiences with prayer? What made them so satisfying?

Here goes the olde English major in me again. "Satisfying" is one of those words that everyone knows but when I began to attach it to prayer, I just started shaking my head like "I don't know..." So I looked it up in Webster's online dictionary and here's what is says:

Definition of SATISFY

transitive verb
1 a : to carry out the terms of (as a contract) : discharge b : to meet a financial obligation to
2 : to make reparation to (an injured party) : indemnify
3 a : to make happy : please b : to gratify to the full : appease
4 a : convince b : to put an end to (doubt or uncertainty) : dispel
5a : to conform to (as specifications) : be adequate to (an end in view) b : to make true by fulfilling a condition <values that satisfy an equation> <satisfy a hypothesis>
intransitive verb
: to be adequate : suffice; also : please
As I looked at each definition, it reminded me of the Lord's Prayer. Forgive those who sin against you. But the definition that would best describe the most satisfying prayer would be 4 a : convince b : to put an end to (doubt or uncertainty) : dispel 
It's been rare. I could almost count them out on one hand, but there have been some moments in prayer, usually at my most distraught moments, that I've heard His voice. Only a word, maybe two. My doubt ends, I am convinced and my uncertainty is dispelled. It's such a great moment. 
Why are those moments so rare? I think it's because I keep it together most of the time, relying on my own resources, my own abilities, and my own cognitive and emotional tools to weave my way through this life. But in those moments when all my tools have failed and I'm at the end of my "self," I can pray with honesty, "Lord, I don't know what to do!" Then, maybe then, He answers. He satisfies. He satisfies.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Real Jesus

In Philip Yancey's prayer journal Keeping Company with God, he gives two biblical descriptions of Jesus as Messiah, one from Isaiah as suffering servant and the other from Revelation as king of glory.  

We are asked to list some of the differences in the contrasting portrayals and how prayer might help in reminding us of the "unseen" world.

I apologize but again I don't seem to be able to address these questions directly. It's not because they are not good questions; it's that these questions don't lead toward answers for me but rather, more questions. Without beating a dead horse, it comes back to this "trinity" thing, a word that attempts to tightly and neatly define each member of the Godhead. But before someone begins to think I might be teetering on heresy, let me say I believe that Jesus Christ, as God's only son, suffered and died as the ultimate sacrificial atonement for the sins of mankind, mine in particular. I believe somehow he was present when this all began, the Alpha and the Omega. The creator. The sustain-er. In Him all matter and energy are somehow held together when they should be flying apart. I believe all that.

But there was also the Jesus of the gospels, a man somehow, with a human mother and brothers and sisters. He's the one we learned to "color" in Sunday school and the one we saw depicted on flannel boards. He loved children and lambs. And then very mean people killed him.

So when we pray "in Jesus' name," do we picture the being with the blazing eyes of Revelation? Or is it the man of sorrows in Isaiah? Or the brown-haired, blue-eyed one with a bunch of children looking up adoringly?

I am taken back sometimes when I hear someone talk so casually of Jesus. "Jesus told me..." or "I just asked Jesus..."--you catch my drift. I want to interrupt, "Which Jesus? The creator of the universe? The one who inhabits eternity and holds the keys? The angry one who seemed especially upset with religious hypocrites like you and me? Or the one who willingly in some mysterious way took my sin and shame as his own and endured the death penalty that was meant for me?" Perhaps if we spent a little more time and thought on this Jesus instead of the one who punctuates the end of our prayers, we might spend a little less time on ourselves.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lookout Below!

Yancey writes: when I wrote about prayer I began with us, the pray-ers, rather than God, the one to whom we pray, because so many of us who pray come to the work awkwardly, self-consciously, as raw beginners. In attempting this strange act, we think of ourselves more than we think of God.

Do you ever feel as if you get in your own way when you're trying to pray? What keeps you from being authentic and vulnerable--naked--before God?

Our former church in Colorado was not too long ago one of those rapidly growing churches with an energetic, though enigmatic, senior pastor who could keep you spellbound by his sermons filled with "his-story." The slogan or tagline was A Real Church in an Unreal World. We used words like authentic, raw and vulnerable, and even now and then the pastor's message might talk about being naked before God, like David when he danced. Even longer ago, when I was a Baptist we would "pray through" an issue, "bathe it with prayer," "cover it with prayer," "take it to the Lord in prayer." In my earliest Episcopal days, prayers were read and we memorized them and then recited them in rhythm with the other pray-ers hardly conscious at all of the meaning behind the words. So by the time I got to the Real Church in an Unreal World, I was so darned happy to be there, on my way to the New Testament promised land. Two Sunday services became three, and then Saturday night was added. Soon the cute little building without a mortgage overlooking the Continental Divide was bursting at the proverbial seams. So we built an even bigger Real Church for the Unreal World next to the Interstate "Where the World Drives By" and church leaders banked on the idea that the pastor with superlative gifting in communicating Jesus would continue to fill the chairs and the coffers and help pay off what was left over after the capital funds drive.

Can anyone guess what happened next? Can you imagine what got Real and what got Unreal? Without going into detail that would be beneficial for no one, the pastor took some positions that were considered outside the conventional doctrinal stance within the denomination. Given the chance to retract some of those views, the pastor felt obligated to the truth as he saw it and would not retract in the areas of most concern to the denomination. Long story short: pastor lost his ordination, church leaders decided to stay with denomination and the church essentially split, if you can call the space shuttle Challenger disaster a split. Some followed the pastor to a new church down the mountain, some stayed urging those who had left to return, and others just left, gone who-knows-where. Just a week ago, the remnant church turned over the keys of its mega structure to its creditors and moved into a child care center up the road, not unlike the church's humble beginnings.

And here's my point--we prayed, oh, we prayed. Heart-felt, gut-wrenching, tear-dripping prayer. Sometimes the entire prayer team would meet in the room below the one where the leaders were meeting to take on the next problem. Our Wednesday night Living Stones Services were Spirit-filled and emotionally raw, no holds back and we petitioned our God in Heaven to bless our church, those who were leaving the church and even those who followed the pastor to begin a church in the city.

I had joined the team of elders shortly before the dismantling began. I had come on board with nary a clue of the impending doom. I was having a martini on the upper deck of the Titanic when someone suggested it might be getting a little colder. For the next three and a half years, I prayed alone, I prayed in groups, I prayed with denominational leaders, I prayed with christian leaders like Mr. Yancey himself because it was his church too. We prayed for clarity, wisdom, new leadership, resources, for Jesus to continue to reveal himself. We prayed--it was raw, authentic and we were vulnerable and naked, and God answered: He was not afraid and He was not surprised. Why does the pot say to the potter, why did you make me this way? The building has been lost to creditors, many have lost jobs, small groups were dismantled one or two at a time, but the praying was raw, authentic, real. And many now have returned into the shelter of His perfect Will, but that Will appears to be following a map of His own choosing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fertilizer or Weed Treatment?

Jesus warned to watch out for the teachers of the law. What modern parallels come to mind?

It's pretty easy, living in Fort Mill SC under the shadows of the decaying PTL tower (remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker?) to identify fallen religious leaders as hypocrites. In Mark 12, it says these "teachers of the law" often "for a show make lengthy prayers." Elsewhere Jesus says to retreat to a private room to pray, presumably in contrast to those who make pretentious public prayer.

I am very self-conscious when I pray out loud, especially in public. When I'm self-conscious I cannot be very God-conscious. When Jesus warned against lengthy prayers for show, it must mean there's a third type--people-consciousness--to be concerned about. That must be the worst kind because he is not warning against being self-conscious but for making a "show" of it. Some seem gifted for public prayer. The words flow like water cascading from clear pool to clear pool over rounded rocks. But Jesus wasn't warning against praying like those leaders; he was warning about the teachers themselves, that pretentious prayer might be a sign or signal there is something deeply disturbing about their message.

This week during a neighborhood bible study, as we discussed the topic of grace, someone brought up Jesus' teaching about the sheep and goats. Wasn't that proof there is something more than grace, something like law? Today as I was preparing to fertilize my lawn, I thought I had better double-check something. Should I fertilize first or treat for weeds? Most answers recommended fertilizing first to stimulate the growth even though that might mean jump-starting the weeds as well as the fescue. Then, the advice continued, after a week or so apply the poison to kill the weeds. I wished I'd had that illustration in mind when we were discussing law and grace in the bible study. Grace first, then law. Fertilize--give life--first. Kill the weeds--apply the law--second. The order is important.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Big Picture

Have you experienced times when you were able to see your own circumstances as one small part of a much bigger picture? How do you think prayer can be a gateway to this kind of "big picture" perspective?

When I was a boy living in the post-WWII era during the advent of television, one of the first TV shows I remember was called The Big Picture, a sort-of crude documentary by current standards which revisited the war with countless shots of bombs dropping from air crafts and big guns firing tracers into the night. It was very vivid despite the grain and the picture on the black and white 21" console television set. To me, the TV itself was "the big picture" so I'm pretty sure I never understood the dramatic significance of the title.

And now, as one of seven billion humans inhabiting our little blue ball, I'm pretty sure I still don't understand the BIG picture--that all of time and space hinges on a wooden cross on a rocky hill in an ancient country during a very brief moment of the time-space continuum. Seven billion of us each thinking we must matter more than the other ones, that our blink-of-an-eye existences have some significance to the One who spoke everything from nothing. At least that's the way we act.

So can my quiet words spoken only in my amoeba brain find their way through all of that? Heavenly Father, you tell us that it can. You tell us that we matter. You tell us that each of us, like a toddler bumping into the coffee table over and over again, that we can seek you and that you are delighted with us and that we are forgiven. Of course you offer glimpses of the Big Picture in other ways--starry nights, oceans, atoms, light-years, the Wonder of it All--but most of us cannot entertain those thoughts for long before we must retreat back into our much smaller, more shallow, but somewhat manageable existences. I hope this does not seem too existential. God, you are so big but still choose to inhabit my heart. Why?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Red Thread

"Prayer encompasses the epiphanies that happen during the day: turning a corner on a ski trail and seeing a gray fox skitter away, watching the pink alpenglow on the mountains as the sun sets, meeting an old friend at the grocery store. By incorporating those experiences into my prayers, I prolong and savor them so that they do not fall too quickly into my memory bank, or out of it." from Keeping Company with God
Twelve years ago today somewhere on the outskirts of Nanning, Guangxi, China, where the poorest of the poor live, a baby girl was born to a mother who for unknown reasons was unable to keep her. Four days later the orphaned baby was discovered in a box next to a deserted stand on the side of a road and taken to the social welfare institute in the city. That same day, March 7, 2000, I applied for my first passport so that I might travel with my wife Paula to pick up our adopted daughter, still unknown to us that day but known and chosen by you, Heavenly Father.

We had already chosen her name, JaneGrace, in memory of my mother and Paula's aunt. Six weeks later, on April 17, my mother's birthday, we received our long-awaited call that Chinese adoption officials had "matched" our American family with their Chinese daughter, complete with faxed pictures as an infant and a toddler. She was beautiful. She still is.

Father, you tell us that we have been "known" from before time, before creation, and it was as if we had known JaneGrace, too. She had been prepared for us and we for her, chosen in you and by you before the beginning of time. We are forever thankful. And bless her birth-parents this day.

 The Chinese have an old saying, the legend of the red thread.
Chinese folklore says that there are invisible red threads that connect a newborn child's spirit to all the people who will be important in the child's life.
As the child grows, the threads shorten, drawing closer those people
who are destined to be together.
The threads are said to never break or fray, binding families and friends forever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When Words Fail

Yancey writes, "My prayers falter, of course. Sometimes I feel at a loss, and must turn to Psalms or a book of prayers written by others, simply asking God to make them my prayers, because I have no words of my own. Jesus himself prayed the words of psalms in times of stress."

Question: What fits for you, when you are longing to reach God but find yourself at a loss for words?

I find it somewhat ironic (and ironic may not be the most exact word to use here but whatever) that someone who writes words for a living, and is pretty darned good at it, would at times be at a loss for words, just like me, when it comes to prayer. I guess there is reassurance in that. But the question also has a built-in condition, that I am "longing to reach God" in those instances where words just don't flow. I have friends whom I respect that would meet such a situation by "speaking in tongues" but at least up until now, God has not gifted me in that way. Do I "long to reach God?" Not nearly enough.

The suggestion to go to a book of prayers written by others takes me back to my childhood church experience where as a good Episcopalian, I recited verbatim many passages from the prayer book, and it's from there that phrases like "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" still leap from my brain when reading Philippians 4:7 regardless of the version I am reading. Growing up as an Episcopalian, there were only two kinds of prayer, at least for me--the ones said kneeling beside the bed at night and the ones read aloud during church services, mostly by the priest. So the prayer book to me never became personal and even today I would be unlikely to go there. I actually tried recently, at the suggestion of a friend, but it just reminded me of being an Episcopalian.

Unfortunately, sinning makes me pray. Call it what you will--screwing up, being selfish, greedy, lustful (I could make a very long list here.) When I sin and I know it, I feel bad and then I usually pray. Of course it's a selfish prayer because it's all about me. But at least it's a start.  

Father God, help me to pray, to long for you, to finds words fitting your glory, to know you more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Better is One Day

How lovely is your dwelling place,
   LORD Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
   for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
   for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
   LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
   they are ever praising you.

Psalm 84:1-4

After reading this passage aloud, slowly and thoughtfully, take some time to let it sink down into your mind and heart. What words or images linger with you?

The thought of reading out loud brings back a flood of memories, mostly bad. "Who wants to read the next paragraph? Todd?" Was I raising my hand? I don't think so. Sure I can read every word but when everyone is listening, I'll forget. I'll flub up. I can almost smell my grade school.

But there really is something to reading a passage like this aloud, especially if you are by yourself. Unless you are a lifeless drone, you have to give it some life as if it were a Shakespearean soliloquy. How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! That's easy to read silently, but reading it out loud, you've got to believe it or it sounds as phony as cardboard cheese. My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD. Do we wake up every morning thinking this or is it pretty foreign, like French?

My heart and my flesh cry out. I have come to know a young and very talented singer-song writer who leads worship where we attend Sundays. The opening verse to his song My Portion Forever is very similar--My flesh and my heart may fail me, but you're the strength of my soul. You're my portion forever.

So again, I am taken to a song. Most of us relate much better to songs than to poetry. Psalms seem more like poetry than music, but I think that's because of the way most of us first heard them. Now there are many songs written from the Psalms. Down a little further in Psalm 84 is the line Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.  

So better is one day, better is one day, better is one day...than thousands elsewhere. Words and images that linger with you. Songs from the Psalms do that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Stopping Time

Artists often speak of their creative experience as something where they can even "lose control," giving themselves to beauty, or truth, out of their pure love of it.

Question: Have you ever had the sense of "losing yourself" while doing something you love--such as an outdoor activity, listening to music, making a meal for friends, or creating something artistic? How could such experiences become a form of prayer for you?

Time marches on. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. So does Fleetwood Mac. Remember? Clinton's inauguration? Can't you still see Bill and Hillary on the dance floor?

I've already written about poetic inspiration a few posts ago so I won't travel that highway again. But "losing yourself" in some activity as a form of prayer?

I lived most of my life in the Colorado mountains so I have witnessed the rugged natural beauty of the Creator. On a hike through wildflowers in the crisp thin air of an alpine trail, time does seem to stop. In fact at altitude it can take forever to walk a mile. But the world with its worry and fast pace is long gone, dissolved into a place that for a brief time really seems not to matter. I've often wondered what someone thought when they climbed back into their car and turned on the radio on 9/11 after a trek to the top of a 14er, a crash landing on the peace of God which passes all understanding.

But for me, the creative act closest to prayer--closest to worship--is the performance, to be inside a song, a part among many, the rhythm, the harmony, in tune and on pitch, and the song could go on forever and it wouldn't matter. An hour passes in a moment. Time stands still.

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

Today's Question: What moments can you recall when you felt a deep sense of gratitude? Did it give you a longing for Someone to thank?

This one of those tricky questions. As I start to ponder thankfulness, I start with the obvious, like the birth of my children and grandchildren, the adoption of my Chinese daughters, the provision God has made for me each day. Here's the tricky part. As I begin to stretch, it's hard to find one single thing or person in my life that I am not thankful for. My grandmother Katherine who instilled in me a love of music. My brother Willie who for 65 years has been my big brother with all the emotional stability that brings. My dad Arthur who showed me the reality of how Christ can change a life. My mom, Jane, who instilled in me the pursuit of ideas and worth of writing. My dad's second wife Doris who cared for and loved my dad and family for almost half of his 93 years. My wife, my friend. My animals, all forty-one of them. Shall I go on?

What about all the misfortune that's come my way? My mistakes? My blunders? My failures? Yes, I've learned that I need to be thankful for those as well because, as trite as it sounds, they build character and perseverance. I've learned that if I am experiencing pray-er's block, I can start thanking Him. For my daily bread. For breath. For love.

When my daughter Sarah was about four, she learned a song If I Were a Butterfly. The chorus went like this:
You gave me a heart, 
You gave me a smile,
You gave me Christ Jesus and You made me Your child, 
But I just thank you, Father, for making me me.

So I just thank you, Father, for making me me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I'm a Whi-i-i-ner

Today's question: Are there ways of weaving prayer into your life that you have found particularly satisfying in the past?

Today's note: We can invite God into our lives and ourselves into God's. When we do that, putting ourselves on a personal footing with God, so to speak, relationship heats up and a potential for extraordinary friendship stirs to life. For God is a Person, too, and though a person unlike ourselves, One who surely fulfills more of what that word means, not less.

I am beginning to think I sound like a whiner. Anyone remember the bit on Saturday Night Live called the Whiners. "I'm a Whi-i-i-ner."

What does the question mean by "satisfying?" Satisfying to whom? To me? To Him? On the human level, how could anything I do be satisfying to God. On the spiritual level, He is "delighted" with me with or without prayer. The question must mean satisfying to me. So the answer is No, I have never found a consistent way to pray that has satisfied me. I always feel tongue-tied, even in private. If words begin to come, the thoughts don't. I've used the alphabet before, heading down A, B, C, praying for people with last names starting A, B, C but I would rarely get to D before succumbing to other thoughts or real distractions. I've tried to "pray without ceasing," but then I stop. I heard someone preach on that verse before saying to maintain an "attitude of prayer" or a consciousness of God's closeness. But when Jesus asked his disciples to pray, I don't think he meant maintain an attitude of prayer. Then there are the so-called prayer warriors. Talk about feeling inadequate. Attend a prayer meeting with prayer warriors.

To learn more about myself and prayer is the reason I am writing this. I hope by writing words down I might come to a better understanding of prayer. I hope God hears my written words as well as my spoken ones.

Then there's the subject of God as a person. When Jesus walked on this planet, I understand that he was a person, in that he was human, a God-man. In evangelical circles it follows that a person needs a "personal relationship" with Jesus. I understand that Jesus died for my sins and that as the son of God, he and he alone could have done that. He is God, he is spirit and truth, the word of God, light, and in Christ all the atoms and subatomic particles in the universe are held together. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity," goes the old song. Why am I having so much trouble getting this. Maybe that's also why personal prayer seems sometimes odd and strange to me. I am talking to the One who created the wind.
Numbers 23:9
God is not human, that he should lie,
   not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
   Does he promise and not fulfill?