Monday, March 23, 2009
Beginning to Pray
If you really want to begin to pray, don’t buy a book on prayer or buy into a formula on prayer, but begin like Jesus taught us to begin to pray in Matthew 6: 9-10: “Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—as above, so below (The Message).”
I was reading a book recently called Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom, which delved into how one begins to pray. I was surprised at how the book began. Some say that “You cannot judge a book by its cover.” Maybe they should say, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” I try not to. However, in picking up the book Beginning to Pray, as I always do, I read the back of the book, the front cover, and then I moved to the contents page to see what I was in store for. I got stuck on the following quote on the back of the book that set the tone for the remainder of my experience of the book: “The realm of God is dangerous. You must enter into it and not just seek information about it . . . The day when God is absent, when He is silent-that is the beginning of prayer (Bloom 1970).” I was and am turned completely off by this quote and it alerted me to read vigilantly throughout this work. I do not like what I found. Not only do I disagree with this quote, but I found myself disagreeing with a lot of Bloom’s text in Beginning to Pray. I will start with this fist quote from the back of the book, and my disagreement, and move inside the book to a few more problems I had, and then I will close with where I believe we should begin in our praying.
I am with Anthony Bloom about the realm of God being dangerous. As C.S. Lewis said in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about Aslan the Lion, referring to God, “He's not safe, but He's good.” This is true of God, and His “Wild Kingdom.” This is why prayer is so important and why it is so amazing. We can communicate with the God of the universe. “Prayer is a relationship.” as bloom says on page 26. Here is where my problem with Bloom begins in the second part of this quote, “The day when God is absent, when He is silent-that is the beginning of prayer (Bloom 1970).” God’s silence and His absence are not the beginning of prayer. God is the beginning of prayer. I also think that these previous two statements are false. God can seem to us to be absent, but is indeed omnipresent. In all fairness, Bloom does clarify this for us on page 26 when he says “God is never really absent.” As for the second part, God’s seeming to be silent can be our own hardness of heart, sin or distance from God. I was disappointed that God was not the beginning where Bloom began his work Beginning in Prayer. Instead of his book beginning at the beginning of prayer, we get a long, and I think indulgent, interview with Anthony Bloom by Timothy Wilson as the introduction, when I, the reader, was just looking to begin praying.
Another quote that I disagreed with in the first chapter of this book, The Absence of God, is this one, “As long as we ourselves are real, as long as we are truly ourselves, God can be present and can do something with us (Bloom, p. 30).” No. There is nothing right about this statement theologically. Again, the author is beginning with someone other than God, which is a non-starter. We cannot keep propping ourselves up, as if prayer were about us at all, or as if we even had the power on our own to pray. We are sinful and fallen people and cannot pray without God’s initiation. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he began with God. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. . . ” Jesus said nothing of us or being ourselves or of us being real. What does that even mean? It is prayer that could lead us to life change in Jesus, who could then empower us to look a little more as we should, or to be our true selves, or to be real. This idea that “I have to do____________ and then God will hear me,” Is works based religion. This puts the focus, the power, and the burden on us and not God.
Bloom saves this issue somewhat when he speaks of prayer needing the “fertile ground of humility” (p. 31, 35) and that God’s power is perfected in our weakness (p. 33). I agree with Bloom on this and really appreciate that he references one of my favorite prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18: 10-14 that clearly makes the point that prayer is an act of surrender to God’s power and mercy, in great humility, and that prayer is not at all about our doings (p. 32). This begins to put the focus back onto God. Bloom also addresses the fact that we must be kingdom minded in our thinking about God and prayer. Jesus also said this about how we should pray in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Bloom says we must “surrender to the king and that God is God (p. 30).” This is good, but it goes south, takes a turn for the worse, at the end of the chapter and into the second chapter, Knocking at the Door, where Bloom says that “We are outsiders to the kingdom of God (p. 36).” This is where we will pick up next.
In the chapter Knocking at the Door, Bloom says that “We are outsiders to the kingdom of God and that we need to knock at the door to be allowed in (p. 39).” Bloom does not want us to take for granted that we are insiders and miss something of God and I can respect that thought, but he takes it too far and it is a skewed thought and is a bad theology of who pursues who in the relationship between God and ourselves. Revelation chapter 3:20-22 describes Jesus knocking on our heart’s door: “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors! “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.” It is clear in this passage that God does the knocking and pursuing of us.
I know that Jesus also said, “Knock and the door shall be opened unto you” in another great passage on prayer that I highly regard in Matthew 7:7-11, but scriptures also tell us in Romans 8:26-28 that “the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” This scripture, coupled with 1 Corinthians 2:10, which says that “we have seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before us,” Illustrates that knowledge of God, and the propensity to pray, are all God’s works and not our own doing or knocking.
The ideas of poverty and kingdom, as they relate to prayer, come up in chapter two as well with a paragraph that stands out in a serious way. Bloom says, “This is the kingdom, the sense that we are free from possession, and that this freedom establishes us in a relationship where everything is love-human love and love divine (p. 41).” I agree, on the surface, with Bloom that poverty and simplicity may draw us closer with God, but I disagree that this is the kingdom. I am overwhelmed by this over simplification of kingdom here and do not think that it helps deepen prayer. A deeper thought is that we should be possessed by God in all aspects of our life and in our prayer.
It seems to me that Bloom is piggy backing off of A.W. Tozer’s idea of “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” in Chapter 2 of his book, The Pursuit of God, which I highly recommend for drawing close to God in life and prayer (Tozer 1949). To credit Bloom with some ideas that I appreciate here, it is worth pointing out that he seems to have influenced one of my favorite Catholic authors Henri Nouwen in his work on prayer, which I also highly recommend titled With Open Hands (Nouwen 1972). In this work Nouwen also hits on this idea that Bloom presents of keeping your hands open to what God puts into them and to what God may take out. Poverty is the beginning to receiving from God and not standing on your own.
Prayer is a relationship with the creator of the universe. He is the author of life and of prayer itself. The very nature of the incarnation, God coming in human form and dwelling with us, dictates that God pursues us and wants a relationship with us. God draws us to himself. God sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross and raised Him from the dead so that our sins could be forgiven and we could relate directly to Him and have a relationship with Him. Prayer has its genesis in the God who created us, and prayer itself. We begin with God in our praying.
When Jesus was hanging from the cross and dying for us so that we could know Him and enter into His Kingdom, He cried out, and the earth shook, and the Temple Curtain tore in two from the top to the bottom. This curtain separated the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt, from the rest of the temple populace and only the priests could meet God there to intercede on the sinner’s behalf. When God tore this curtain at Jesus’ battle cry from the cross, it gave us all direct access to God through His son (Matthew 27: 45-54). God is not silent. His cry allowed our cries to be heard and answered. This is where we begin to pray; at the foot of the cross.
The title of Anthony Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, let me down and then the content let me down. You would think that you could give a book with a title like this to a new believer or someone who is struggling to learn to pray. I can’t. I could not recommend this work to someone beginning to pray, because it does not start right. I would recommend to someone wanting to learn a lot about prayer so that they could set out on their own to read Richard J. Foster’s Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home (Foster 1992).
May we begin our praying in Jesus,
Bloom, A. A. (1970). Beginning to Pray. Mahwah, N.J., Paulist Press.
Foster, R. J. (1992). Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home. San Francisco, CA, Harper San Francisco.
Nouwen, H. J. M. (1972). With Open Hands. Notre Dame, IN, Ave Maria Press, Inc.
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Mt 6:9-10, S. Ro 8:26-28, S. Re 3:20-22, S. I Cor. 2:10
Tozer, A. W. (1949). The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA, Christian Publications Inc.
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Mt 6:9
Friday, March 13, 2009
Shabbat: to rest from labor
I love Grandma, but her Sunday religion used to tire me.
My Grandmother had a simple rule that was unspoken, but it was understood. Sunday meant you went to church. If the church doors were open, you were supposed to be there. There were no exceptions to this rule. Sunday was the Sabbath Day, which for her, and therefore us, meant you go to church and work hard for the Lord. You did not just go to church, but you were to be the first one there and the last one to leave. My Grandma gets up at 4:00am on a Sunday morning and her day is dedicated to church, all day, and then discipleship class all night. It is a marathon of a day. She unlocks the doors, prepares for the people to arrive, and when they leave she locks up and is the last one out, because this is what you are supposed to do. The woman is a saint, she does it all. Growing up and having to go to church with my grandparents, I always equated church with work.
Like I said, I love Grandma, but her religion makes me tired. It just seems like a lot of work.
In thinking about the Sabbath, I am wondering if Grandma and Jesus would see eye to eye on how to observe the Sabbath. As a matter of fact, Grandma and I have had, with mutual respect of course, this debate concerning the observance of the Sabbath many times. She does not always agree with my views, nor do I always agree with hers. I believe that the Sabbath is a day of rest that is different than any other day. It is set apart. It is Holy. It is a day that God has given us, or commanded us rather, to go “off the clock.” The Sabbath is a day of rest. It’s not just a Sunday. Sabbath helps us focus on the fact that God is God and that we are not God. Grandma would agree with me that the Sabbath is Holy and that she and I are not God, but she thinks that this is the day we should work hard for the Lord. My fatigue makes me disagree with this sometimes. I also wonder at times if Grandma even knows what rest is. Maybe working for the Lord is rest for her. If this is the case, I might be able to see eye to eye with her a little more.
According to Paul Achtemeier and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the word Sabbath (from Heb. Shabbat, ‘to cease, and desist’), is the weekly day of rest and abstention from work enjoined upon the Israelites. The origin of the word Sabbath, an etiological origin for the Sabbath is supplied in Gen. 2:1-3, which speaks of God Himself ceasing from the work of creation on the seventh day, blessing the day, and declaring it holy (Achtemeier). Jesus Himself, being both Jewish and God, observed the Sabbath. There are many accounts of Jesus withdrawing to solitary places to pray. These occurrences were not always on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, however. Jesus also chose to “work,” on the Sabbath, and healed, and allowed His disciples to pick grain and eat corn; one point for Grandma.
There is something about the Sabbath that seems to be less about the day as it is about a mindset of rest and ceasing work. Jesus seemed to be doing something more with Sabbath. As I mentioned before, the Jews celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday. The Bible Dictionary goes on to say, “Jesus’ claim to lordship over the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) was an important element in the hostility he aroused in those who felt that Sabbath traditions were incumbent on all Jews (e.g., Mark 3:6; John 5:18). Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath, coupled with the tradition that his resurrection occurred on the first day of the week (Sunday; cf. Matt. 28:1), meant that Sunday rather than the Sabbath (Saturday) became the chief liturgical day for Christians. ” This is two points for Grandma. So, we as Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday. So who is right? The one who observes the Sabbath is my answer.
This is where I am realizing something about Grandma that you should know. She loves to travel and vacation, to work in her yard, to help people out, to go on walks, to visit the sick, to take naps, to watch her daytime television, to work in her garden, to read her newspaper before anyone else is awake and to sip her coffee, and when no one is looking, this Baptist dances the Charleston. Grandma does many other restful disciplines throughout the week as well. These disciplines seem to me, the more I think about it, to be just like Sabbath. I see her in a very different light than Sunday in these times.
I love the words of Jesus concerning the Sabbath in Mark chapter 2, verses 23-28:
“One Sabbath day he was walking through a field of ripe grain. As his disciples made a path, they pulled off heads of grain. The Pharisees told on them to Jesus: “Look, your disciples are breaking Sabbath rules!” Jesus said, “Really? Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was hungry, along with those who were with him? How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, with the Chief Priest Abiathar right there watching—holy bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat—and handed it out to his companions?” Then Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath. He’s in charge!””
The implications of the Sabbath being created for man, not man for the Sabbath, are many. God Himself is in charge of the Sabbath and He has gifted it to serve us. This may even mean that Grandma and I are both right about the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is our day, if it is for us, then there seems to be some flexibility to it. Grandma must concede, and so must I. I don’t have any more right to impose my rules on her than she does imposing her rules on me concerning the Sabbath.
Part of stopping our working puts the focus on the provisions of God. God Himself has done the work and we can freely partake in His rest and His supply. We can stop and acknowledge His Lordship over us and our work. The grain is ours to pluck. The weary making religious rules and regulations of the law can be life giving and not burden producing to us. The one who is in charge of the law of Sabbath has given it to us for our enjoyment of His good graces. His life giving bread has been broken for our rest and nourishment. The Sabbath is not there for us to serve, but for us to be served. God is God and we are not.
In Matthew chapter 12 verses 9-12 the legalistic Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, were seeking to accuse Jesus and to discredit Him by questioning Him about the Sabbath day when He had the opportunity to heal a cripple man’s hand on the Sabbath. This is how the story unfolded:
“Jesus left there and went into their synagogue, where there was a man with a crippled hand. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they asked him, “Is it right to heal on the Sabbath day?” Jesus answered, “If any of you has a sheep, and it falls into a ditch on the Sabbath day, you will help it out of the ditch. Surely a human being is more important than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good things on the Sabbath day.” Then Jesus said to the man with the crippled hand, “Hold out your hand.” The man held out his hand, and it became well again, like the other hand. But the Pharisees left and made plans to kill Jesus. ”
As I look back over my Grandmother and I debating over the Sabbath, the reality becomes clear to me that I was that sheep in this story that Jesus told. My Grandma was getting me, and people like me, out of that pit on Sunday. I owe my Grandmother everything. If it were not for her and my Grandfather and their tireless service, I would have never been able to rest from my own labors as a lost sheep. I would still be working and striving to get out on my own. She led me to the Lord of the Sabbath. I cherish my Grandma’s faithfulness and example to me and the countless vacations that I drove them on when they were able to take their own Sabbaths.
Thank you Grandma!
May we all keep the Sabbath Holy and rest from our labors.
Achtemeier, Paul J. ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1985, S. 888
The Everyday Bible : New Century Version. Nashville, TN. : Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005, S. Mt 12:9-12
Greenberg, M. ‘Sabbath.’ Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 14. Pp. 557-62.
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Mk 2:23-28
Porten, B. Archives from Elephantine. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965. Pp. 122-33, 150, 173.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
1 John 1:8-10
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
When I was a kid a friend of mine that lived up the street from me had the most amazing toy that a boy could ever dream of. This thing was a megaphone for your bicycle, but it wasn’t just any megaphone, it was a siren and a megaphone. This device had a switch that allowed you to make the sound of a siren; it had the sound of a fire truck, a police car, and an ambulance, or you could simply amplify your own voice using the microphone that was attached to it. It was awesome! I still wish that I had something like this. It was a lot of fun.
Once I asked my friend if I could borrow his amazing device before he was scheduled to go out of town with his dad. I didn’t think that he would miss it and I was hoping to give it some use while he was gone. He agreed and let me borrow it and I played with this thing every day, and then, I broke the switch. I didn’t mean to break it, it just sort of happened. It came off in my hand seemingly without any cause. I guess I didn’t know my own strength. I was horrified at what I had done. For an eight year old this was the end of the world. “What would happen when my friend found out?” I wondered. Here it is that he trusted me and I let him down. I could not sleep and lost my appetite thinking about what I had done. I knew I had to tell him and I wouldn’t rest until I did.
When I thought that my buddy had returned home, I gathered all the courage and strength that I could muster and I took the megaphone to his house. I was terrified at what would happen. I would have to pay for his toy, I thought, or even worse, I would lose a good friend. When I got to the door I was so afraid. I knocked before I could think twice. His mom answered the door and welcomed me. My friend was not back yet. I shyly told her what had happened and how sorry I was for breaking the toy. She gently took it from my hand and assured me that it was ok and that she forgave me. I offered to pay for it or work to make it right, and she said that there would be no need and that there was nothing that I needed to do. She was so kind and gentle toward me and I can still remember her smile.
This was one of my very first encounters with grace, confession, and forgiveness. I have always carried this life lesson with me and will continue to carry this throughout my life. This event shaped me and continues to shape me to this day.
Years later in High School when I was working as a cabinet maker at a local cabinet shop I had an accident at a customer’s home. I had accidentally bumped her SUV mirror with our delivery truck. It was not at all damaged and no one saw it, but deep down I knew that I had to tell her and my boss. I remembered the siren, I heard its call. I had the same feelings going on in me that I had when I was a kid. I went in and let the customer know what had happened and said that I would walk her out and show her where I had hit her mirror. She said that there would be no need because I had just told her that everything was ok and that she trusted my word. All was forgiven. I was moved once again and the lesson became even further ingrained into my being. Confession is right.
Some of the major feelings that I felt after these two incidents were that of thanksgiving, freedom, release, joy, relief, and humility, just to name a few. Having come forward and come clean, I got the blessing of experiencing grace and forgiveness. This wasn’t easy for me, but without my confession, these feelings and this glorious grace and forgiveness that I received would not have been possible. If I would have hidden, or ran, or kept to myself, I would have been captive by my transgressions. I would have been a slave to my sins. They would have enslaved me to loneliness and despair, and distance from God and other people, kind of like the days leading up to the return of the siren and megaphone.
What we confess says a lot about what we believe.
Sounding and heeding the siren of confession and receiving His grace,
Confession: 1. Admission of wrongdoing, an admission of having done something wrong or embarrassing, 2. Admission of guilt, criminal law a voluntary written or verbal statement admitting the commission of a crime, 3. Open acknowledgment of feelings, a profession of emotions or beliefs such as love, loyalty, or faith, 4. Declaration of sins, Christianity a formal declaration of sins confidentially to a priest or to God, 5. Something admitted, something that is confessed or disclosed, 6. Declaration of beliefs or doctrines, religion a declaration of the beliefs or doctrines of a religious body, 7. Religious group sharing beliefs, Christianity a religious group that has a specific set of beliefs and practices (Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)).
Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)
The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995, S. 1 Jn 1:8-10
The Planet Wisdom Prayer
The Planet wisdom prayer is a prayer that was inspired and given by the movement of the Holy Spirit and was compiled by the prayers of the youth and adults who attended the Planet Wisdom Youth Retreat on March 6th and 7th 2009.
“God help us to fly the white flag of surrender. Turn our doing into being, knowing that you have graded us and have declared us your valedictorians in your Son Jesus. We cannot earn what you have already done on the cross for us. Help us to know our standing with you and in you. Turn our doubts into knowing. Help us to know you as our Ultimate Hero and turn us into heroes for those we love and serve. Help us to surrender, to listen, and to hear you. Help us to know how real you are and to see you how you are. Turn our knowing into deep belief and would the shadow of doubt and unbelief be eclipsed by your presence beside us, behind us, in front of us, and within us. May we worship you in deep intimacy and praise for who you are; would your music guide us along your journey for us; and instead of our fleshly doubt would we clearly see and obey your call and purposes for your life for us. Hear, oh Lord, our prayers and offerings of tears and joy of surrender to your way. Lead us into this way as your unlikely heroes. May we be quick to obey and enter into your adventure for us. Would we be led by you away from our fleshly temptations to be the sluggard, the mocker, or the know-it-all. Would you help us to see the path that you have mapped out for us along this journey that you have us on. May we follow this path without hesitation. Would we love and mentor one another along this journey and help one another in our lives and callings, because we are all in this together; we are learning and growing, together. Lord, you care so much about how we are doing and you give to us and bless us even in our sleeping. May we receive you in our sleeping and waking hours, and always. Would wisdom, your wisdom, visit us often. Would we be wise; not as Solomon, but as Wisdom Himself, Jesus. Would we walk in the ways of your wisdom without fear or insecurity and would we minister as we are ministered to by your Wisdom. In all things, Lord, we are your redeemed because of your strength and what you have done for us. Help us to see our redemption in you and through you and to live out of our redemption in you, always pointing our lives to you and others to your redeeming love. There is redemption in God!
It is in the mighty name and power of Jesus Christ that we pray this.”
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. ”
I heard some very interesting insights once from a psychologist friend of mine who claimed that you could tell a lot about a couple’s marriage by the way that they share a meal together. It was a little weird to hear him talk about this, but interesting none the less. He said that one of his favorite things to do was to observe people in restaurants. He would watch couples and theorize about how their relationship was going by their body language, by the way the couple looked at one another, by the way they communicated, or didn’t, by the way they sat, by the way the husband talked to the waitress, if they ordered dessert, and so on. My friend said that there was a connection in how two people were present with one another and how intimate their relationship is. I think that there is something to this.
My favorite band growing up was Led Zeppelin. They had an amazing album toward the end of their career that never got as much press as others called Presence. On this album cover, which always fascinated me, was a couple sharing a meal together with their family at what looks to be a fancy restaurant by the seaside at a marina. The family is dressed up, the couple is smiling, everyone has good posture and seems to be comfortable, they are leaning in slightly, and seem to be having a wonderful conversation while waiting on their waiter. This family looks like a model family with the perfect relationship and the picture makes you want to sit through this meal with them and be a part of the utopia. You want to be present with them.
I can’t help but wonder what my relationship with God looks like from an outsider’s perspective. Is God at the table with me? Am I there with Him? Have I left Him waiting? If I were sharing a meal with the Jesus in a fancy restaurant down by the seaside, would I be present? What would people be able to observe about my intimacy with the Lord by us dining together? How comfortable would I be? Would I be present?
Brother Lawrence, formerly known as Nicholas Herman, wrote an amazing work entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. In this work Brother Lawrence, a member of the Discalced Carmelite order in Paris, set out to record his own living of every moment in “the presence of God (Foster, Devotional Classics, p. 369).” Lawrence worked in the kitchen as a servant of his fellow servants of God. He sought to have no difference between prayer time and everyday living and working. All was the same to him. He sought to possess God in all that he did in equal tranquility as if he were on his knees in prayer.
Brother Lawrence blended work and everyday mundane living into a time of intimacy in the presence of God almighty. As Richard Foster puts it in Devotional Classics, “Perhaps no other writing in all of Christian literature so beautifully and simply expresses the joy of living in the presence of God (Foster, p. 369).” Brother Lawrence sought one thing and that one thing was to “to become wholly God’s.” Lawrence said, “I resolved to give my all for God’s all (Foster, p. 370).”
As I reflect on Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and Led Zeppelin’s album Presence, I am struck by the stark contrast and the striking comparison. In the lyric of the song Tea for One, on Zeppelin’s album Presence, the song says, “There was a time that I stood tall, in the eyes of other men. But by my own choice I left you, and now I can't get back again.” I love Brother Lawrence’s resolve to always practice God’s presence and to never leave God’s presence. It was a choice for Lawrence to open the door to God constantly and to dine intimately with Him. It is, after all, our choice to “leave God” or to practice His presence. By God’s own nature and attributes He is omnipresent, all present, so it is our choice to acknowledge and practice His presence.
May we dine with God in a perpetual present intimacy as Brother Lawrence sought to practice God’s presence and may it never be said of us and may we never utter the words of sorrow from a “Tea for One” “But by my own choice I left you, and now I can't get back again.”
Omnipresent: 1. always present everywhere, continuously and simultaneously present throughout the whole of creation. 2. found everywhere, present or seemingly present all the time or everywhere (Encarta Dictionary: English).
Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)
Foster, Richard J., Smith, James Bryan. Devotional Classics, Revised and Expanded. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 1990.
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Re 3:20
Monday, March 2, 2009
“I don’t even have time to hear myself think.”
Have you been there? I have. I have been so busy that I find myself thinking, if not saying out loud “I don’t even have time to hear myself think.”
If this is true of me, then how would I ever have time to hear what God thinks?
I get so wrapped up in what I am doing and everyday living sometimes that time alone in solitude and prayer becomes almost nonexistent, if not extinct all together.
A disciplined and prayer filled Christian life is one of solitude with God where a disciple of Jesus can carve out time to listen to God’s still small voice breaking through the clamor and distractions of our chaos and noise filled driven lives.
In His work Making All Things New, Henri J.M. Nouwen equates discipleship with discipline when talking about listening to God’s still small voice. He says, “Discipline is the other side of discipleship.” Nouwen speaks of the spiritual life, which I will refer to as the Christian life, as being hard work. He says, “Setting our hearts on something involves not only serious aspiration but also strong determination.” He goes on to say, “A spiritual life requires human effort.” Nouwen says, “A spiritual life (or a Christian life) without discipline is impossible.” How true. The Christian life is hard work and does require an element of human effort. We must be determined to carve out time and space for God to speak and work in His life for us.
Nouwen points out Jesus’ words to us in Matthew 16:24, and rightly so, which says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I like how Eugene Petersen puts this verse, and the surrounding verses, in Matthew 16: 24-26 in The Message:
“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? ”
In these verses, especially in verse 24, there is a subtraction and an addition happening. Jesus says that a disciple, a disciplined follower and student of Christ, must deny him or herself, or as Petersen puts it, they must “sacrifice themselves.” This is the subtraction, the denial of self. Then Jesus says that the disciple must pick up his or her cross and follow Him. Here is the addition, pick up the cross, the hard thing, or as Petersen puts it, “embrace suffering.” The implication of these verses, as they pertain to what Nouwen is saying about solitude and prayer, seems to be that the Christian life of discipline, solitude, and prayer, requires subtracting self and adding discipline, or the cross, the adding of “the hard thing,” in an effort to set our hearts on hearing God and receiving God.
In a sense, this is addition by subtraction, and subtraction by addition. We are always making choices in our lives about what we are thinking about, how we spend our time, what we listen to, how we spend our money and resources, and so on. When we make a choice to fill ourselves with one thing, we are also making a choice not to leave room for another, and vice versa.
If it is not God that we are filling our lives with, then what is it that we are being filled with?
Solitude and prayer require discipline and the Christian life is impossible without this discipline.
When I find myself at my wits end with my self-centered busyness and distractions and make the comment, “I don’t even have time to hear myself think.” I would be wrong to not see this thought as an invitation to solitude and prayer. This statement is, after all, false. If I can think that I do not have the time, then I without a doubt do have the time to think. And if I am capable of thinking, why would it not merit thinking about something of value and worth, like time in solitude and communion with God as His disciplined beloved.
In reality, “We don’t have time enough not to think and spend time alone with God in solitude and prayer.”
May we be disciplined enough to take time in solitude and prayer.
Wrestling with time,
Nouwen, Henri J.M., Making All Things New, HarperOne, 1981.
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Mt 16:24-26
Matthew 6:16-19 (The Message)
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well. ”
I hate Split Pea Soup.
Why would you split a pea anyway?
The Lenten Season has begun. As I reflect on this season I realize that my wife is more disciplined than me and has a better grasp on the Lenten season than I do. She is the one who invited friends over and prepared the Lenten meal of Split Pea Soup the Friday after Ash Wednesday. When I heard of her dinner plans, I responded like a child in the grocery store that was told by his mother that he could not have the candy that was conveniently located at his eye level. It was pathetic. I was pathetic. My flesh is in control, or at least fights to be.
I want steak.
I started right this Ash Wednesday with a fast. I do not tell you this to get a reward, or so that you will think that I am “so spiritual.” I tell you this because it is relevant to the subject at hand. This fast was the first time in a long time that I had fasted. This Lenten meal was only two days from my fast on Wednesday, the day I had control over my body and my focus on Christ. Two days later, I threw this tantrum over the Split Pea Soup. You would have thought that I would have learned something or that I would have gained some ground, but no. Sin runs wild in me and rears its ugly head. “My spirit is indeed willing, but my flesh is weak.”
Fasting and abstinence denies the body and points to a God that is bigger than you are. It points to a God that you can trust for your provisions and true spiritual food. Fasting and abstinence puts life, especially the Christian life, into perspective.
In the end, the Split Pea Soup reminded me of how lucky I have been for so long enjoying whatever food that I wanted and whenever I wanted it. Some people eat worse than Split Pea Soup every day and are thankful for it. They would do anything for the green slosh that I was partaking of on Friday and they would have enjoyed it immensely. I am a fortunate and blessed person. I am rich.
I was talking to a friend the other day that is from this area, Northern Virginia. We were talking about poverty and how someone close to him was worrying about it. I made the comment almost instinctively that “We don’t know what poverty is around here.” This is so true. Here I was thinking poverty was the Split Pea Soup. How wrong I am.
The thought that I am pondering here is abstinence and fasting.
What is the purpose of the two? Why would someone abstain and fast?
Perspective, this is my answer to the question, “Why abstain and why fast?” When we abstain and fast everything about ourselves, our sinful condition, and the character and power of God is put into perspective. We realize something about who we are and who God is. We realize what we have and what we do not have. We realize our riches and our frailty that exist so seamlessly and paradoxically together. We see our selfishness and our need for the power and strength of God. We realize our brokenness in our fasting and abstaining.
I enjoyed the Split Pea Soup, but not without a fight. I missed completely the concept that my wife was trying to help me with about abstaining and fasting with a simple Lenten meal. The resolution to us having the soup and me coming along with this in harmony was that I got to choose the dessert. I chose Oreo Cream Pie. So there we sat at dinner on Friday night with a humble and fitting Lenten meal and an out of place self indulgent dessert. This about sums up my human and sinful condition for me and just how far I am off the mark.
This was a Lenten Meal that I will never forget and I am drawn deeper to Christ through it.
So, why would someone split a pea anyway?
Because they can? . . . Because they should? . . . Because they cook faster that way. . .
Realizing how much of me there is to deny,
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Mt 6:16-18