Is This a Good Time To Pray?

“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

I keep bumping into people these days who are suffering. Or at least, for some reason, our conversations seem to turn to this subject. Probably because I’m not doing a good job of hiding my grief. I’m working on it.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis,

The truth is that we are all going to experience times of suffering. Even very religious people. Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton has a quote in his book Half-Truths that makes a lot of sense:

  • Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life.
  • Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn.
  • Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgement.
  • Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened.
  • God does not depend upon human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved.
  • Suffering can either destroy us or it can add meaning to our life.

This helps me as I frame my own experiences and try to help others with their own hard road.

“It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.” ― Santa Teresa of Avila

When on the topic of suffering it always leads to more conversations about praying.  American Christianity has too often reduced praying into something small and practical, like a pocket knife. You only use it every now and then and after a while you even come to forget it’s even there in your pocket.

Praying gets reduced to something that’s too small when we only think of it as a means to get our problems solved. Maybe it’s not a pocket knife but a fire extinguisher? Here’s a third metaphor I often use for prayer, a drive up fast food window. When we pray, we place our order, do our duty (pay at the first window), and expect results at the second window. Sounds very transactional, very practical. I’m not sure that’s really the point of praying.

Why do think God wants us to talk with him?

We studied religion in one of my classes this past summer. Sociologist Christian Smith has formulated a definition that fits all religion:

Humans are religious because they hope for superhuman powers to help them realize human goods and avoid bads, especially to grant them blessings, prevent misfortunes and aid them in crises; and because they wish to enjoy the various forms of identity, community, meaning, expression, aesthetics, ecstasy, control and legitimacy that practicing religions offer.

What I think sets Christianity apart from religion is that its central focus is about a relationship between God and humankind. Certainly all the other elements of Smith’s definition are a part of Christianity, but the relationship seems essential. The story of Adam and Eve paints us a picture of this first relationship. Of course at this point they’ve been eating on an apple…

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:8-9) 

Could it be that at the heart of our prayers is an answer to that very question? Is God desiring to walk with you and asking “where are you right now?”

I think we pray mostly out of our broken experience. If we will keep on praying, just like working on any relationship, we will build something, something essential. There is much that praying can accomplish. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Praying can help you turn loose of problems. When you pray and share them with God, you are no longer the only one to carry each one. As you talk through what’s heavy on your heart, you will notice that each problem seems to loosen and even grow more distant.

    “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.” ― Earl Wilson

  2. Praying can remind you of God’s eternal presence. He doesn’t go to sleep or ignore you to tend to other business. The conversation that is prayer can start and stop at any time. He is present during all of  your feelings as well. Your mood is not going to chase him away.

    “Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.” ― J.C. Ryle

  3. Praying can help you to care and love others more. Remember, your own problems begin to fade as you pray, you then have room to attend to others. When you pray you can be strengthened and encouraged to help with the burdens of others.  You can even be used by God as an answer to prayers.
  4. Praying enables you to process what’s happening right now and in the past. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. Talk it out with God. Let your feelings and frustrations even your fears flow out in a stream of conversation with God. Believe that you are being heard. Believe that God desires to get involved in your life, right now. That includes all the baggage you’ve been hauling around.
  5. Praying helps you to grow up in your perspective. It really isn’t all about you. But sometimes, when everything is crashing in, it can seem like it. Praying, over time, can help to remind you of the long road you’ve already marched on. This long view will enable you to keep life in perspective, to remind you that this world is not your home and that what’s eternal is what really matters.

    “Praying demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

  6. Praying, over time, builds a long term relationship with God. Any relationship that matters takes time. You know this. How are you supposed to hear back from God in this sort of relationship? Listen to the Holy Spirit that resides in all believers. Read your Bible all the way, all the time. Open your eyes to signs and wonders that might be happening under your nose.
  7. This one is important. You don’t have to be religious to pray. You don’t have to be in a church, have all your sins confessed, be in total agreement with God or quit all your nasty habits first. Praying can happen right this second no matter who, what, where or how you are. God is already listening.

    My favorite lesson about this truth is when Jesus is having a break the rules conversation with a Samaritan woman at the water well. She is not at all on the right track in her life but the Son of God is right there in front of her offering her more than she knows she wants… Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  (John 4:10)

“Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.” ― Phillips Brooks

Advertisements

How Many Hairs Do You Have Left?

I had another blog idea driving in to work today, but I forgot it five minutes later, once I got to the computer. My friend called and I answered the phone. That in itself is a miracle. We came up with this as an alternative blog. It’s probably a much better idea!

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched a film the other evening about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. They had to trace back not just the definition of each word but the word’s origins. They began in 1858 and didn’t really finish until 1928! Have you ever used the word “fret”? It’s another way to describe worry. It’s origin is found in the words like devour. We sometimes say that “He was eaten up with worry.”

Your prayer isn’t supposed to be “take away all my problems!” That’s not going to happen. Welcome to planet earth. Welcome to the land of death and decay.

My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass. – Psalm 102:11

No, your prayer ought to be, take away my worries. I know who holds my hand. 

Jesus sending out his disciples ahead of him said:

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

  1. They may have been sitting at the Temple looking at the cages of animals for sale to be used for sacrifice. The cheapest animal to buy was a bird. Yet God knew all about their lives.
  2. God is so intimately acquainted with each of us, he’s even keeping up with our diminishing hair supply.
  3. What’s the big lesson here? Don’t be afraid. You are of great value to God.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any  way you can manage it.” ― Mark Twain

These days, while putting my new life in order, I’m often going to bed at night with a full brain still running around with things to do and issues to resolve. Mostly about the basics of living. While giving his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed worry and the cares of life:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  – Matthew 6:31-33

I don’t think he means not to address and manage the issues of living. I think he means not to worry and let these consume your life, moment by moment. Not to let your thinking about living become worries that dominate. We all need to figure out the balance, keeping our mind on riding that bike while simultaneously pushing the fear of falling out the window.

So, I’ve been asking people who want to pray for me to for this very thing, ask God to help me not worry while I’m working hard at reordering my life. 

The big lesson is: take care of your business, do it in thoughtful ways, always put people ahead of yourself, but don’t worry – even about the most important and essential things. Put these in God’s hands and then go about the work he has left for you to do.

“It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!” ― Alice Caldwell Rice

I’m Living in a Haunted House

“Ghosts are the manifestation of the longing of loss.” ― Stewart Stafford

I got to babysit my 18 month old grandson last week. We had a great time together. it was just the two of us in the house. Each time he heard some creak or the “haunted refrigerator” he would stop and prick up his ears. He wondered if someone else was here with us or maybe if his parents were coming back to get him.

Now, every evening, I spend alone in my house. It seems haunted not by sounds but by memories and by empty places that were once occupied. I too keep wondering if the front door will open and someone will come home from a late night at work.

My wife has finished her five year battle with cancer. She has passed away to heaven. We spent all of our energy and attention on this ongoing battle – it was going very well right up until the very end. I hadn’t planned on being here alone when the war was finished.

There’s so much to do. I stay very busy but that never fills in all of the empty places. The house isn’t really haunted. It’s my memory, my heart and soul that’s trying to find a new peace.

We live in a world that works very hard to try and make heaven on earth. When we can’t find it, we often react in terrible ways. We quit, we divorce, we sulk, we walk out, we lose our faith. Heaven isn’t here on earth. Heaven can be brought to earth when we carry its truth in our heart and let it, like a flood, flow out of our life. My mission on earth is to bring the truth of heaven to people I meet each day.

I’m walking on a haunted road of grief these days. But I’m walking. None of us is exempt from pain and suffering. But we must all walk through this world as it is. God has made promises to his people again and again about his constant presence:

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  – Isaiah 43:2

While these days of grief seem strange and haunted they are passing away. The future, filled with hope, is always approaching. Make sure that you are that representative of heaven’s hope to everyone around you every single day. Grief is always too near.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Scars on Your Head

My wife had a gruesome scar on her head. It was her second. She had brain surgery twice. Her hair grew back and the scar was nice and hidden, but we both knew it there. Now, right after surgery, it’s very obvious. Makes me think about scars in general. All sorts of scars that we all carry around in our heads. Mostly hidden from others.

  • Sometimes our past leaves its mark
  • Other people hurt us and make a mark that never leaves
  • We keep making the same mistakes and those marks keep making scars on our lives
  • Life can deal us a terrible blow that wounds us deeply

Scars can make your life a misery. They can remind you of harm and hurt. But they can also be reminders of healing and hope. Life becomes what it is for the most part because of the way we decide to look at it, to carry it around with us, to use it (instead of letting it use us!).

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

You can keep your scars all to yourself, hidden away, feeling some sort of shame or you can do something else. You can take your scars out of your pocket and help someone else on their road to healing. Take your pain and suffering and offer it as a healing reminder. One day this will be behind you!

“Scars. A sign that you had been hurt. A sign that you had healed.” ― Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Let someone else know they are not alone. Offer a helping hand to someone behind you on the road. Sometimes, only another person who has been where I am truly understands and knows just what I need. Be available as that kind of person. Don’t let your scars get in the way.

Whatever you do, don’t let your scars turn you into a monster, inside and out. Stop looking in the mirror and start looking for someone else who needs some love. They’re probably lying right there on the side of the road you travel every day.

“You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”― Frederick Buechner

 

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

Psalm 103:1-5

 

 

 

Another Day To Be In Love

“We don’t need love to be eternal, only to be in our lives here and now.” ― Marty Rubin

One more day to lay in that bed and suffer in silence

One more day to watch from the fog as your world passes by

One more day to see the long train of visitors pass by, unable to express your heart

One more day to sleep alone in a different place, in a new darkness, while your mind slips out the door a little more each night

One more day to be tossed and turned by strangers, no more humiliation left to bear

One more day to see history pass by, a photo at a time and try to remember when you were once so happy

One more day to hear and see from a distance in the shadows

But one more day to be loved by so many

One more day to be the center of the universe

One more day to draw attention away from so much pettiness toward the things that really do matter when all is said and done

One more day to make sacrifice the only option and only tribute

One more day to remind each one of us of what we know in our hearts that all our hope longs for – that eternal home on the other shore

One more day to come awake and in so doing awaken in each one of us one more chance to live transformed

One more day to see what the Kingdom really looks like here and now

 

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  – 1 John 4:12

What If It All Depends on You?

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

God will always bring you to a point of having to get past yourself when it comes to helping people who are in real need. The parable of the Good Samaritan addressed the question, “Who really demonstrates what it means to love your neighbor?” The religious establishment spent its energy trying to help people determine who was and wasn’t actually considered a neighbor. They ended up teaching all the different ways it was possible to NOT live out your faith.

Jesus used this story to demonstrate that God’s love was to be extended to everyone, even the least of these, even when it came at a cost. Helping people who suffer, especially when it comes at a cost, is one of the most essential ways we come to fully understand our own beliefs about God.

The suffering of others can get overwhelming. It can discourage and depress when it doesn’t seem to end. Especially when we don’t know what to do, how to fix it, the right words. One word for it is Compassion Fatigue. Typically this is used to describe people who are directly involved with others who are suffering. Sometimes, networks of family and friends can start to feel drained and at a loss as the suffering of a loved one continues and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

The Good Samaritan lived out loving his neighbor, even as a despised outcast, by putting his money and time where his faith was. He demonstrated his belief and was willing to go even farther by promising to return and continue to fund the recovery. Sometimes recovery comes at a greater cost than we imagined:

  • You have to be faithful and follow up
  • People have emotional needs that they’re not even aware of
  • Stop asking, just do something that you’d want done for yourself
  • Every little thing really does count
  • You don’t have to be friends to be a Good Samaritan
  • Don’t stop praying, pray right now, send a prayer

“They never fail who die in a great cause.”  – George Gordon Byron

The greatest cause you can commit to each day is to find a way to love your neighbor in a real way that matters. You will soon learn that if you make this commitment you and most of your own problems will begin to disappear.

 

 

Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” ― Peter S. Beagle

You never really know who you are, what you’re really made of, deep down at the root, until you are forced to make sacrifices. Not sacrifices that you get to choose out of free will. I mean when you are backed into a corner and your choices are taken away and you’ve got to set up all night, go without, give it away and keep your big fat opinion to yourself. You’ve got to clean it up again and again just because that’s the way it is right now. No one is asking you to fix it, just help us endure this for now.

Real magic comes when my own suffering fades away into the background as I draw my attention and efforts toward someone else. Not when it’s convenient, but when it really costs something. Even my own blood and guts. Wonder what tearing out your liver feels like?

Transformation always seems like magic in the end.