Tag Archives: prayer

Talking With God: Not deep but still refreshing

9781601429445Sometimes praying is hard. If prayer wasn’t hard, then some of our greatest theologians, scholars and pastors wouldn’t have spent the time and energy writing books about prayer. In his book Talking with God: What To Say When You Don’t Know How To Pray, Adam Weber adds his voice to many others on the subject of prayer. Weber is the lead pastor of Embrace, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Weber writes a book that feels personal, even though it’s story-filled and light on in-depth teaching. Talking with God is theologically sound but basic. There is nothing earth-shaking in the book and, in a way, that’s refreshing. Weber doesn’t project to know a way to pray that “changes everything” or a “new” method of prayer, what he brings are simple ideas about prayer. They are ideas that the reader can put into practice no matter how long they have been a believer. This book is not for someone looking for an in-depth study on prayer, however, this book is a good introduction on prayer for a non-Christian, a new Christian or a student. But it does have good reminders on what it means to pray and how we can pray within the different circumstance in which we find ourselves.

Overall, it was a pleasant read and it is one that I’ll keep in order to pass along to someone looking for an introduction to prayer.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review.

 

 

 

The Same…Only Different

For the last couple of posts, I’ve been exploring the ideas of a faith fitness carryover. It’s the idea that we let each new struggle knock us down to square one in our faith. Instead of letting our faith carryover from one struggle to the next, we let each one knock us down. To explore this idea, we’ve been looking at three of David’s Psalms. These three Psalms were written decades apart, two when David was a young man and one when he was an old man. But they represent a similar circumstance in David’s life. In my last post, we looked at Psalm 18 and Psalm 59 which were written during the time in David’s life when he was on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him.

"David and Abaslom" by Marc Chagall

“David and Abaslom” by Marc Chagall

In Psalm 3, David again is on the run. This time he is an old man and he is on the run from his son, Absalom, who desired to take the throne early. Similar situations, decades apart. How is David’s prayer similar or different to his prayers as a young man?

The first thing we see is that David, just like in Psalms 18 and 59, begins by laying out his distress to God. He writes, “O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no deliverance for him in God” (Ps. 3:1-2). All these years laster, David still is not afraid to tell God exactly what’s going on from his perspective. I don’t know if if harder to be honest with God when you’re young or old? The young have ego while the old have resources and experience. That’s an interesting question to think about.

Also just like in Psalms 18 and 59, David calls on God to help him. There is a difference, however. Instead of asking/ telling God how he would like God to help him, in Psalm 3 David simply says, “Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God” (Ps. 3:7). He doesn’t ask God to come as a warrior king and destroy his enemies with lighting and fire. He just asks God to save him. This isn’t because he doubts God’s power. He goes on to say that he knows God can save him because he has defeated his enemies in the past and salvation only comes from God. Perhaps this is spiritual maturity on David’s part. Instead of telling God his problem and the means by which to solve it, David simply ask for God’s salvation, knowing that God has been his salvation before.

Finally, David still finds a space to worship: “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain” (Ps. 3:3-4). As in the other Psalms, David can still praise God in the midst of his distress.

These three Psalms are very similar. They contain the same parts: honest declaration of the problem, call for God’s help and confession of praise. However, the feeling one gets reading Psalm 3 after reading Psalms 18 and 59 is vastly different. David might have been in greater distress during the time he wrote Psalm 3 then when he was a young man on the run from Saul, but he’s less rash and more confident in God. This comes across in his words and also in brevity of the Psalm, he says more by saying less.

Perhaps that’s the greatest lesson we can learn from David; when we pray maybe we need to say more by saying less. That’s one thing we see in the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.

One of the marks of fitness in aerobic exercise is the ability to maintain a high intensity for ever increasing amount of time. A runner wants to run more miles at a quicker pace. A cyclist wants to ride more miles while producing more watts. Sometimes that mindset carries over to our spiritual life as well. We feel we are more spiritual if we can pray for greater amount of time or read more chapters of the Bible at one sitting. But maybe that’s not the best way to carry our spiritual fitness over from one circumstance to the next. Maybe it’s learning to say more with less. Maybe it’s praying short prayers where we don’t believe we will be heard for our many words. Maybe it’s reading a small section out of scripture but then reflecting on it and applying it to our lives. Perhaps the greatest mark of spiritual fitness is the ability to say: “God save me, I know you can do it because you’ve done it before.”

 

 

Praying Prayers Together: Why I Don’t Sing at Church

It’s been over two years since I’ve sang at church.

It’s not because my church plays one kind of music while I prefer another. It’s not because I’m angry at God. It’s not because I’m deathly afraid to sing in public. I just don’t sing at church.

But isn’t corporate worship part of going to church? Isn’t singing a huge part of that corporate worship- at least within the modern day church?

Yes, I guess you could argue those points and on one level I would have to agree with you. My response, however, is why? Why do we sing?

Bonhoeffer said that church singing is a way for a group of people to pray the same prayer. It’s a way for people of different ages, genders, social classes, education and spiritual maturity to all say the same thing to God at the same time.

I love the picture that Bonhoeffer creates. It’s the same picture we see in Revelation when people from every nation are gathered around the throne of God and sing “worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” If that were explained in church then I might be able to sing. Instead of standing to sing because standing to sing is what we do at church, the church was lead- shepherded, pastored- to the throne of God to pray the same prayer to God that would completely change how we sing church music.

Two other things also hinder our churches from realizing Bonhoeffer’s vision.

1. We must have prayers worth praying. In our conversation this means that we must have songs worth singing. Have you ever really paid attention to the words to some of the songs we sing at church? There are many songs that have well developed theology but there are many songs that do not, they just string a line of adjectives together and apply them to God. It brings me to the question, what does it mean to praise or worship God? Is worship merely describing God- God is holy, God is loving, God is full of grace? Is worship thanking God for what God has done? I’m not an expert on worship and I honestly haven’t done much research on the topic but when I read the Psalms or the early hymns of the church I see more than just assigning adjectives to God or thanking God for what God has done. Though I see those things, beyond them I see a change in the relationship between God, who is being praised and worshiped, and the one offering that praise and worship. In the Psalms we see the psalmist moved to steadfastness and action or we see evil crumble before God. When Paul writes or quotes an early Christian hymn, it ends with every knee bowing and tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. I may be wrong and I may change my mind, but I don’t see many of our church songs causing a change in the relationship between God and the worshiper.

2. We must have community that is worth belonging to. If singing is praying prayers together, then it reasons that we need to know each other. In Romans, Paul tells us to rejoice with those rejoice and weep with those who weep; if we don’t know who is rejoicing and who is weeping, how can we rejoice and weep with them? If I don’t know what is going on in the lives of people around me, how can I pray prayers of thanksgiving with them, or prayers of comfort, or prayers of distress, or prayers of hope? What happens is that I sing or pray my little song in the context of my world in my rejoicing and my weeping and you sing your little song in the context of your little world in your rejoicing or your weeping and we are singing two individual songs instead of singing one song together. It’s only though really knowing those around us that we can truly sing and pray together.

As I said earlier, I really love Bonhoeffer’s picture of what church singing is suppose to be. Above that, I think it’s the picture we see in the Bible and in the example of the early Christian church. God hears enough of us singing our individual prayers- everyone in the world can do that- what we need more of is singing prayers as one body and that means having prayers worth praying and knowing what prayers to pray by being in true community with each other.

 

You Don’t Know Who This Is, Do You?

images-3Last week I sent a text message to an old friend. My friend is one of the pastors at a rather large church that has services streaming on their website. After watching one of the worship services of that church, I shot my friend a text complimenting on how good the service was. When I received a quick reply, I began chatting and asking how things were- in the way friends do when catching up. From then on, all I received were generic responses like: “Working hard” and “Doing well.”

I wanted to text back, “You don’t know who this is, do you?”

I have to admit that I regularly feel this same sentiment when it comes to my relationship with God. This is especially true when I pray. I feel like my prayer life consists of reciting the same prayers day after day and I want to ask God, “You don’t know who this is, do you?” That question doesn’t come out a feeling that I’m somebody that God has to pay attention to, as if I’m somebody that is demanding God’s attention. Rather it comes from a feeling of disappointment. It’s similar to the feeling of when you meet someone at a party or a social event only to see them later and, while you remember who they are, they have no idea who you are. There’s a feeling of disappointment that comes because somehow you feel you aren’t worth being remembered.

Lately when I try to interact with God, it feels like I’m texting someone who doesn’t know who I am or I’ve run into someone I met at a party who doesn’t remember talking to me. Intellectually and theologically, I know God knows who I am, I know God knows my situations and I know God is in control and moving me closer to being conformed to the image of Jesus  but practically, honestly, truthfully, I feel disconnected.

I’ve written several times about the journey within a “dark night of the soul” (to quote St. John of the Cross) and how it’s made me doubt some things about God, rethink some things about God and explore some things about God. Every time I’ve worked through that process I have found myself wanting to know God in a fuller way but each time I’ve found that way elusive. It’s like trying to capture evidence of the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot; whatever equipment you use and however enthusiastically you search, the smoking gun that proves their existence always proves to be elusive.

Maybe that analogy is, in fact, part of the problem. I want God to give me the proverbial smoking gun that suddenly takes what’s out of focus and makes it clear. I want God to answer every question, satisfy every concern and give some validation or explanation for the ups and downs of life. I want God to say, “Yes, I know who you are” but maybe God wants to say, “Yes, now you’re who you’re supposed to be.”

Those are two very different replies to the question I’ve been asking. Truthfully, the second reply is much scarier because being is always harder and complicated than doing. Being involves a journey, testing, changing and not knowing exactly where we will end up. Being means that there is no easy answers, even if we desperately want an easy answer.

I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ [so that] I may know Him.” For Paul, none of the accomplishments of his life, all his doing, helped him know Jesus any better. It was only when God took him on a journey of being that he was able to find the God that was elusive before.

I still want God to remember me. I still want God to give some answers, clarity and explanation. But more than that I want God to make me into who I’m supposed to be, so that I, like Paul, can know Him. At the very least, I want to want that.

When I Doubt

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It’s amazing the small and seemingly insignificant things that make me doubt God. Just the other day, I needed to use my cordless drill for a small project at work but when I went to get it the battery was dead and the battery charger would not charge the battery.

The result was that my thoughts naturally went:

“Why won’t the battery charger work?” to “Why does this always happen to me?” to “Everything in my life is horrible” to “Why doesn’t God care?” to “God can’t be good” to “Maybe God doesn’t even exist” to “I’ll show God that I don’t need Him.”

That train of thought seems laughable and so ridiculous as I as writing but honestly that is how the conversation in my head went. And I bet I’m not the only one who has ever done that.

Why do we do that? Why does a broken battery charger or an extra long line at the coffee shop or a bad break at work automatically make us doubt God and doubt that God is truly good?

It’s because believing in God is hard. Yes I said it; believing in God is hard.

That is why love the honesty we see in a story in the Gospel of Mark. A father brings his son to Jesus so Jesus could heal his son. In the exchange between the father and Jesus, the father opens his heart and tells Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

That is an honest prayer.

At this Christmas season, we encounter people who reside everywhere along the spectrum of faith. They need to know that they can pray an honest prayer from wherever they are. Even Christians can learn from this prayer. We all have a tendency to doubt God and doubt God’s goodness to us. Doubting God’s goodness is, after all, an echo that resounds in our hearts from the Garden. If we cannot be honest with God about our doubts, then who can we be honest with?

Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

When I Want More

I think every person has the desire for more. Perhaps “more” isn’t the right word; fullness or fulfillment is probably closer.

Fullness. Wholeness. Completeness.

What is fascinating is that somehow we know that this fullness can only be achieved outside of ourselves. For a culture that claims autonomy as one if it’s highest values, we still know deep within ourselves that true fullness only comes from outside of ourselves.

We also know that fullness comes from something bigger than ourselves. We have the desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. When we don’t have fullness or completeness in our lives, we become anxious because we know that something isn’t right within our lives.

That anxiety can express itself in a variety of ways: anger, depression, apathy and hyperactivity- just to name a few.

What is also fascinating is what the Bible says is the cure of anxiety: prayer.

Prayer is probably the most confusing aspect of the Christian life. Prayer is mortal, finite, flawed humanity petitioning an immortal, infinite, perfectly holy God. Prayer is an ant crying out to an elephant. And yet, God listens when we pray and somehow, within God’s perfect knowledge and perfect will, prayer does something real within our lives.

A very, very small part of what prayer does is that it helps fill us, complete us and align us with God. This happens because it meets the two things that we lack in our search for fullness: it is outside of ourselves and it’s a connection to something bigger than ourselves.

When I pray for more, I am usually asking for more stuff. I think I’ll find fullness in a bigger and better life. But fullness isn’t from a bigger and better life, it’s found in aligning myself with a bigger and better God.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

Interior Castle Part 7

As we conclude this set of blogs, looking the words of St. Teresa of Avila in her great work Interior Castle, let me first say that I hope you have enjoyed reading what St. Teresa had to teach us on prayer. I have been reminded and taught several lesson by reading this book and reflecting on prayer in general. I have come to the conclusion that I am in the beginning stages of learning how to pray and have a long, long way to go to reach even a fraction of the discipline shown by St. Teresa in prayer.

Now as we reach the seventh and final mansion, we might expect to find rest and enjoyment in Christ and who Christ is and what Christ has done. We might expect that life and our prayer lives suddenly turns into roses and puppy dogs, but that’s not what St. Teresa describes as we enter into the Seventh Mansion. The Seventh Mansion is not accompanied by joy but by self-forgetfulness and suffering (SeventhMansion, Chapter 3). St.Teresa describes what happens in the Seventh Mansion like this: “First, there is a self-forgetfulness which is so complete that it really seems as though the soul no longer existed, because it is such that she has neither knowledge nor remembrance that there is either heaven or life or honor for her, so entirely is she employed in seeking the honor of God (Seventh Mansions, Chapter 3)…The second effect produced is a great desire to suffer, but this is not of such a kind as to disturb the soul, as it did previously. So extreme is her longing for the will of God to be done in her that whatever His Majesty does she considers to be for the best: if God wills that she should suffer, well and good (Seventh Mansions, Chapter 3).

St.Teresa is well aware that Jesus’ glory did not come through joy but through suffering. And if Jesus is working to make us like Him, then we should expect suffering as well. This is not the first time St. Teresa has mentioned suffering in the book, but all the mentions of suffering seem to be leading to this conclusion: “They have now an equally strong desire to serve Him, and to sing His praise, and to help some soul if they can. So what they desire now is not merely not to die but to live for a great many years and to suffer the severest trials, if by so doing they can become the means whereby the Lord is praised, even in the smallest thing (Seventh Mansion, Chapter 3).

We typically pray in order to tell God what we want: “God, please give me…”, “God, please help…”, “God, be with…” But for St. Teresa, prayer is a means to prepare the soul for the suffering that will come as God makes us more like Jesus and uses our lives to glorify the name of Jesus not to glorify our own names. This kind of prayer reminds me of the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 and in Mark 14:32-42. Read those prayers of Jesus and see if they don’t make you reorder your prayer list- it certainly made me rethink mine.

* Bibliography:

St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle. Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers. Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, NY. 1946.

© Ryan Vanderland 2012