Why Do We Pray? Part 2

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. – Psalm 34:8

This one is for you Rosemary…

I’m sharing in the mourning of a sister in the faith who has had her mother suddenly taken away from her by the flu. A friend from the past has just posted that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer. Our own family lives every day wondering what will happen next in our own battle with cancer.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

I’m certain that one of the reasons we all pray is that we have been attacked by terrible enemies and we run to safety. We run to our Heavenly Father who promises us that He will always be near to us. Despite all of the fear, sorrow and uncertainty – what we really want, deep down is to know that God is not a stranger, He is not far away, He knows our pain, His desire is to bring comfort and hope.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. – Hebrews 10:23-24

One of the reasons we all pray is because of our need to experience the nearness of God. Praying puts us in the very presence of God. When we pray we can pour out not just our words, but our torn up feelings, burdens of the heart and deep dark questions. All of this can be done in the best place of all, right at the feet of God.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  – Hebrews 4:16

There are a hundred other places you see people run when difficulties arrive. Our friends can help, but only so far. Soon we come to the end of what they know and how much they can bear. We live in a world full of experts just a tap and a click away. But who can you really trust? A stranger in a book or online?

The world that we pass through each day is more and more filled with strangers. Our families are fragmenting. We change jobs too frequently to make lasting friendships. We compete with more people than we can be friends with. Our neighbors remain strangers behind closed doors. Where do we go to share our broken hearts?

When you carry around a broken heart all that ever happens is an ever deepening infection of the soul and bad country western lyrics.

Your church can be, should be, a place where there are people who unconditionally love and are eager to help bear your burdens. You need to go to church, there are all kinds of people there who need you. There are people there who you need.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

 

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Why Do We Pray?

“When life caves in, you do not need reasons – you need comfort. You do not need some answers – you need someone. And Jesus does not come to us with an explanation, He comes with Himself.” – Bob Benson

Why do we pray? There are many answers to this question. On most we could all agree. Still, I think there are some reasons that are hidden and secret, known only to God.

Here is my start at addressing some of the reasons why I think we pray, why I pray, why God has called all of us to pray.

We pray because we are alone and powerless.

We have all drifted away with our busy lives and then a crisis strikes. There is so much we can fix on our own. These may not be perfect solutions but they are ours. Then something strikes at us that’s just too much. Our self-sufficiency cannot protect us. Most of us want answers right away. An easy and painless solution that will solve the looming threat. Don’t you?

Instead, what we need is a nearness to the living God. The great distraction is the search for a fix. Unfortunately, it is an endless quest, to find answers to problems for a life that keeps coming unraveled. Isn’t there a way to live and experience less aloneness and accomplish more?

For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

Here Jesus is teaching about the vine and the branches. He is the source of our life and we are to live attached to him, branching out from him, growing out of his will and way.

  1. It seems that we are meant to be doing something with our lives, something that matters.
  2. The plan all along has been to be with God, to live a life that is always in fellowship with him.
  3. To live apart is a disaster, not just a preference (life choice). Read the rest of the parable. Do you smell smoke?
  4. When we pray, we are joined with God – our heart, mind and soul. We all need to live a daily life of prayer so that we will be less prone to wander away from our Heavenly Father.

Our aloneness isn’t the cause of our inner struggles, it’s the effect of living separated from God. What are you doing, thinking, worrying, planning, auto-piloting, judging, failing, reaching? Why are we living any aspect of our lives apart from God?

I doubt most of us consciously make decisions to wander away from our relationship with God. Instead, I think we get distracted by the cares of life. Fast-paced living sets my spiritual attention into an automatic mode. Rituals and routines lose their meaning and purpose. Sometimes I look up and wonder about all the miles and sights that I’ve missed. My attention and soul was somewhere else. What about you?

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10

Apart from walking with Jesus each day, you cannot live the rich and satisfying life that he intends for you to live now.  You cannot live in fellowship with God unless you are living in a conversational and transformational relationship. You have to be on speaking terms. You have to realize that things are never going to stop changing. This is an essential reminder that I must look in the eye each day.

Look at what Paul wrote about a life lived in fellowship with God:

“When I think of all this (God’s mysterious plan), I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”  – Ephesians 3:14-21

Paul had to remain conscious of what God had, was and will do in His great plan. That consciousness on his part was a constant reminder that he was never alone and God’s transformative power was always at work.

Lasting transformation isn’t going to happen on my own. No matter how many self-help books I buy at the airport. We all need a supernatural relationship. Living near to God matters. Living away from him is a fully furnished house you walk around in all alone at night.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. – Psalm 73:28

Seeing is Believing

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich

Another wonderful sermon on Sunday. We were reminded about “Doubting Thomas” who had to see in order to believe.

Faith and doubt is difficult to write about. We all believe right up until we start to doubt. Our doubts can  help us to keep a check on our faith, never taking it for granted. You can imagine the theological discussions that Thomas must have had with his fellow disciples after he declared he’d have to see to believe.   

“If you don’t have doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”― Frederick Buechner

Our doubts center on how far we should wade in. How much are we willing to risk by stepping out and living parts of our life according to our beliefs. Doubt describes this tension between risk and trust.

Poor Saint Thomas. More like all the rest of us than perhaps any other disciple. At least during this event. He had been left out of the visitation of the Risen Christ, off doing something else and had missed the glorious moment. What must he have been thinking, what could have been more important? He’d been left out of the big adventure and must have felt lonely, angry and/or even discouraged.

Maybe we spend too much time being miserable about our past mistakes. Future hopes and dreams can dull the here and now. We miss so many chances because we’re not living in the present. Thomas was literally absent. So to can we be absent from our faith and miss the very presence of Christ.

Sometimes God will come and get right in your face. Jesus certainly did that with Thomas.

 “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” – John 20:27

Thomas paid attention to his encounter and it changed his life forever. He was ready to believe.

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. – John 20:28

I’m afraid that I’ve too often been looking in the wrong direction. Too often filled up with myself. Thomas put all that aside and reached out with faith and grabbed a hold of his Savior. What about you? Are you always ready to believe?

The Christian faith is a lot like that encounter Thomas had with Jesus. It’s very “hands-on.” You can’t coast along on the faith of someone else. You can’t sit in the pew for too long and hope to make it when that 800 year flood hits. You have to get up and wade into your belief.

Thomas was challenged to stick his fingers into the very side of the Risen Christ. What must he have thought as Jesus looked him in the eye and grabbed his hand? If you are going to follow Christ, you are going to have to take some risks and even get uncomfortable. Where are those boundaries in your life?

Thomas had to see with his own eyes. He had heard the words of faith for for three years. Now it was time to put it into real practice. He just didn’t realize the time was now. Everything was moving so fast. Walking in faith is often like that, it can sneak up and suddenly challenge us to get out of the boat and step into the storm.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” – John 20:29

Are you becoming one of the blessed?

There’s nothing wrong with doubts. Jesus didn’t reject Doubting Thomas, he made a special visit to assure him. God isn’t mad because we don’t believe enough, he’s instead offering so much more, encouraging us to believe more and more each day.

For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

It all makes me wonder, why am I not demonstrating my faith so that others have something more to see? What might walking and talking my faith produce?

  1. It would increase my own eternal health. Each time I take a step of faith, I confront my own doubts. I reassert in my heart and mind why belief is so crucial.  Putting faith into practice confronts my own weakness and lethargy of spirit.
  2. Instead of blending in all the time I could provide an alternative. I can live my life as an example to the unbelieving elements of my culture. My life choices can serve as a beacon.
  3. My walk of faith can inspire the faith of others. There are people in my path who need to be encouraged to live a life of faith. I can be like Thomas to those around me and demonstrate doubts converted into undying faith.

 

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Days of Our Lives

“The only journey is the one within.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

The next year has arrived. This is when people typically think about making new choices and changes. It’s an annual place marker that reminds everyone to take stock of things and perhaps make some course adjustments.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.” 
― T.S. Eliot

I recently read a devotional that grabbed my attention as I thought about making resolutions for another new year. Here is a sentence that struck me between the eyes.

“The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him.” – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

It’s not really a matter of repairing my outer life. Making changes in my life is really a matter of facing up to God. We fool ourselves by thinking that we can just make an adjustment here or there – stop eating cheese or be nice or even go to church more often.

Where is God interested in taking you this next year? He’s not going to do it without first having a long sit down conversation – maybe even several. You can’t waste another year putting God on hold.

What are the broken places in your life that need to be repaired? Which habits need to be faced? In which direction should your life be heading? God is ready to keep transforming your life. He is ready to resolve things. He is able to take you through the storm that’s here today.

God always has something bigger and better to resolve in my life than I would ever have thought possible. I tend to settle too often for the here and now. He always wants to transform my fears and failures into something I never dreamed possible.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6

 

What about this year facing your own big obstacles? What about joining forces with God to bring about some eternal changes in your world?

“If you are a Christian, you are not a citizen of this world trying to get to heaven; you are a citizen of heaven making your way through this world. ” ― Vance Havner

Favorite Words from 2017

Here are some of the words of wisdom that helped me get through 2017. Maybe something here will help you in 2018.

God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

We don’t follow him to be loved, we are loved so we follow him. – Neil Anderson

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth. – Charles Dickins

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

Mostly it is the loss which teaches us about the worth of things. – Arthur Schopenhauer

The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our hearts on the black horse of affliction. Jesus uses the whole range of our experiences to wean us from earth and woo us to heaven. – Charles Spurgeon

We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words. – Romans 8:26

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. Faith is the belief that God will do what is right. – Max Lucado

Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were – Paul Tillich

The Golden Rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience. – Oswald Chambers

A religion without mystery must be a religion  without God. – Jeremy Taylor

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. – Victor Hugo

Most of us are not spiritually coherent because we are more concerned about being coherent externally. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

Sometimes the Lord rides out the storm with us and other times He calms the restless sea around us. Most of all, He calms the storm inside us in our deepest inner soul. – Lloyd John Ogilvie

The very best and highest attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and speak in you. – Meister Eckhart

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:13

Anyone who has ever known Him has known Him better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often. – Frederick Buechner

So when the troubles begin, don’t be afraid. Look up – raise your head high, because the truth is that your liberation is fast approaching. – Luke 21:28

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light and He will put it right. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

People who are crucified with Christ have three distinct marks: (1) they are facing in only one direction, (2) they can never turn back, (3) they no longer have plans of their own. – A. W. Tozer

Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence. – St. Augustine

What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not. – Martin Luther

When you have nothing left but God, then for the first time you become aware that God is enough. – Maude Royden

We must alter our lives in order to alter our hearts, for it is impossible to live one way and pray another. – William Law

I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. – Martin Luther

God is never too late, nor too early, but just in time. – R. T. Kendall

Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for? – Leonard Ravenhill

I call you friends because everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. – John 15:15

I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me. – Matt Groening

You can’t depend upon your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. – Mark Twain

Christians must learn again what Christians have always known – how to live without immediate hopes in the world. – T. R. Milford

I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once. – Thomas Wolfe

Nothing under God’s control is ever out of control. – Charles Swindoll

God is not interested in our spiritual life. He is interested in our life. – John Ortberg

 

 

 

 

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)

Over the past several years it seems like our decorating style has gone to the birds. We got a new couch a year ago and picked out a fabric with giant birds all over it. I didn’t have to work hard at all to sell it to my wife. I think because it had a black background. Her favorite TV decorating show has a “everything is black” theme to it. We just re-wallpapered in the kitchen and breakfast area. A very busy and colorful bird pattern. Guaranteed to make you car-sick if you’re not careful.

Yes, a theme is definitely appearing in our house everywhere you look. All because something bigger has happened several years ago – we’re just documenting it in our living space.

About five years ago I was in the middle of a terrible dark time that I experienced almost every day. It felt as if I was on a runaway ride that I couldn’t control. Like shooting down the rapids in an inner tube. Other people were making decisions about me and my future. Things were not proceeding the way I had always thought they would or had planned. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.

Sleepless nights, worrying and being angry were getting me nowhere just deeper into a hole. I knew I couldn’t control what other people were doing. While my life headed off in directions I had never anticipated I just stood there in disbelief. I was shell-shocked for several years. When would this end?

[Little did I know that cancer was right around the corner ready to strike us and wage a terrible war we still fight every day.]

Then I remembered – was prodded to remember – that Jesus told his followers to stop worrying about their lives. He directed their attention to the birds. God takes care of them, won’t he also take care of you – He loves you so much more!

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” – Matthew 6:25-27

Of course I had read this scripture many times before. But as is often the case, this time it became a handle to hang on to. Then a series of events – signs, if you will, started over approximately two years. These experiences served to encourage and communicate to me that God is present and very much interested in my survival and transformation.

“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ― William Sloane Coffin Jr.

The tribulations only got worse! But I began to calm down. I was consistently reminded of the truth of God’s presence and care for me.

Well, what happened?

I began to see birds in all sorts of locations and (most importantly) at significant times. I didn’t look for them (as Jesus had instructed, they would just show up at just in time.)

  • Right in the middle of an important decision about two people – there are two birds on the window sill.
  • Rushing out of the house overflowing with anxiety – confronted by a mockingbird at the frontdoor who will not move out of the way.
  • There was a bird who would perch on the corner of my neighbors roof day after day and sing at me when I came and went. He wasn’t there at other times, no one else ever saw him. For about a week or so I felt like he was there to meet me (and remind me).
  • Then there’s the little brown bird who would spend the night in the wreath on the front door and sneak into the house when we came home – never happened before, never since – but he came into the house several times (spent the night once) and reminded us how near is God.

There were all sorts of small and subtle encounters that kept me aware that I was not going to go through this terrible time alone.

Maybe when I was too near stumbling and fumbling my faith, God drew near and reminded me of what was always true?

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6

I teach a course that helps students to understand some of the reasons why people have these kinds of experiences. Often our thinking and perception of the world around us is distorted. We can sometimes experience:

  • Confirmation bias – a kind of selective thinking that happens when we only notice those things that tend to be consistent with our current beliefs – we also fail to notice things that contradict these same beliefs.
  • Pareidolia – seeing significance in random and meaningless phenomenon

Even knowing that these biases in thinking often occur, I am convinced that what has happened to me was not caused by my own crooked thinking. I think I needed some help and there it was.

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” ― John Berger

God has promised to be present with us, especially during terrible times. This fact is not dependent upon how we feel or how firm we believe. He has promised it, this makes it true.

Sometimes, because of God’s grace and nothing else, he makes his presence known. He has certainly put reminders in our path every day Jesus said to look at the birds – a sight we all see and maybe never notice.

When you open your eyes of faith and practice looking for the truth, there’s no telling what you might see.

Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” ― J.I. Packer

What Has Come to Your Life?

It’s Advent Season

Advent means coming – the coming of the Messiah, the long awaited one.

There’s always something coming around the bend, isn’t there?

  • Your annual scourge of the flu
  • A job transition
  • New neighbors next door
  • A new and revolutionary software upgrade
  • An 800 year flood

As you reflect on this past year, what came into your life? What welcome events made your year that much better? Which disasters appeared over your horizon?

Christmas is now here, arriving as it always does – too soon but also full of just the right hidden messages that we needed to hear every day of our lives. The Good News of Christmas, the advent it introduces every year, causes us to stop, if we have the courage, and think about the things that mean the most to us, and maybe what we ought to do about it.

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An advent of some sort or another is always appearing. This year, remember that nothing is going to arrive in your life that will surprise God or that can overwhelm his presence and power.

Even before the Good News was proclaimed in Bethlehem, God had promised his constant presence and protection.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 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 43:1-2

God has not changed and his promise remains.

What has arrived in your life this past year? Perhaps it was something really big that disrupted everything you thought was so certain. Maybe your life was right on its normal track but when you think about it, it’s really going nowhere.

We celebrate the advent of the Messiah at Christmas, as a reminder that our lives in Christ are no longer the same and that nothing will ever arrive to put our lives out of his order. Christ is now with us. No matter what else arrives in the years to come, Christ will always be here with us. We celebrate this reality every Christmas.

“And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20 (The Voice)

“Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope…” – I Peter 1:3 (The Voice)

Christmas is the advent of every single day of hope that you and I have been living ever since. Be reminded this year that this hope is real because we live it out in front of the whole world each day (the good, the bad and and the ugly days). Jesus arrival, life, death and resurrection means that we can walk confidently in hope every single day.  It arrived and never left.

“The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.”  ― G.K. Chesterton