Tag Archives: Prayer

I don’t know the answers…

Lately I’ve been wondering:  How does God speak?

How does God speak to you?  Does He speak the same way to everyone?  Did He speak the same way to everyone in days of old?  Is Scripture the only way God speaks?

How can God speak through Scripture when it’s not in front of us?  If we have committed Scripture to memory just a little bit wrong, can that create a problem?  If He speaks to us in other ways, how can we hear Him?  How can we discern what is God what is Not God?  How can Satan distort what we hear?  What’s the danger of saying, “God told me…”?

If God’s Word is living and active, can it have both a primary meaning for the original audience and many layers of meaning for new situations and generations?  How does the Bible intend itself to be used?

How do you approach the study of Scripture?  Systematically?  Scatter shot?  Have you ever been surprised by the relevance of a passage you came upon in a regularly scheduled reading plan?  Does God have sovereignty over the calendar?

If you hear no direct answer when you seek God’s will, guidance, or counsel, what does this mean?  Is He not listening?  Does He withhold an answer sometimes?  What should we do in that circumstance?  Is it disappointing when He is quiet?  Can we find an answer in His Word?

Is it better to keep asking under the theory that it is good to persevere, or to remain silent under the theory that He already heard and is firmly in control?  How does His silence present an opportunity for relationship?

What does it mean that Jesus is the Word?  The Word is a person?  What’s the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer?  How does He assist in decision-making?  How do you know?  Jesus said His sheep know His voice — what does it sound like?  Is it easily duplicated?  Is ear-tickling the tactic only of bad preachers, or also of devils?  Does God speak through our emotions, our minds, our circumstances, or in our ears?  Does He still use visions and dreams?  Is there anything that constrains God to use particular means in speaking to us?

If you felt like God did indeed impress something on you, would you take action immediately?  What if you don’t?  What if you do?  Does God ever say one thing at one time and then contradict Himself?  If God never contradicts Himself, why do we, over time, stray from what we believe He first said?  If God never contradicts Himself, how can Scripture be useful in approving what we feel we have heard?

Do you listen to the Lord?  Do you expect to hear Him?  Do you diligently keep a pen handy to write down what you hear?  Do you expect to hear Him on a range of topics, or only certain things?  How detailed is God?

Does He care what cereal I eat for breakfast?

Does He care what music I listen to, which route I take to arrive somewhere, or whether I speak to strangers at the grocery store, or are certain things outside His purview?  If He does care about these things, do I ask His opinion about them?  How do I tune my heart to hear Him?

If you knew that God would speak to you 100 times today but you would hear him only once or twice, how would you feel?  Is this the state of things?  If you believed that the Bible had specific things to say to your situation moment by moment, would you treat it differently? If God spoke to you every day for thirty thousand days, would there be paper enough to write it all down?

If He spoke to me just once, would I be all astonishment?

Have I paid attention to the ways the created world speaks, giving God glory?  How does the Bible unpack the redemptive analogies present in nature?  Does God continue to speak in metaphor through advancing knowledge of creation?  That is to say, is there more to hear?

How do different faith communities approach these questions?  What is there to learn from different camps?  How did heroes of the faith, theologians, and sages, understand these things from different angles?  Am I dogmatic about this?  Should I be?  How earnestly do I seek wisdom in hearing God?  Is there perhaps uncharted territory for me in listening to Him?

What might God have to say to me today?

From Annie Dillard, The Writing Life:  “Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg, it was told, never really heard his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, finish a thought because as soon as the latter would say ‘and the Lord spoke,’ Shmelke would begin shouting in wonderment, ‘The Lord spoke, the Lord spoke,’ and continue shouting until he had to be carried from the room.”

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

That prayer is weak sauce.

Maybe you’ve prayed it, too —  Dear God, please don’t let my kid become an illiterate hobo.  Please don’t let me kill that woman, not today.  Please let most of the regulars show up this week.  Please don’t let us elect Hitler.

Maybe it started out as a joke — she’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached — and turned into a plea — Dear God, just let her be gainfully employed someday.  Or maybe — well, I’ve successfully ruined everything — Dear God, please don’t let me ruin everything!  After a while it’s not a joke anymore.  After a while it’s a settling.

I found myself last week praying one of those prayers for my children.  A tired prayer, a low expectations prayer.  And as I was muttering the words, I suddenly heard them.  Is this the best God would do for His children?  Can He, would He, not do more?

The problem with weak little prayers is that they are a barometer of the faith speaking them.  Puny prayers pour out of weak faith.  Sad little prayers betray resignation and disbelief, or perhaps a whittled-down God.  Years ago I copied a Eugene Peterson quote into the front of my Bible:

“‘Fears the Lord.’  Reverence might be a better word.  Awe.  The Bible isn’t interested in whether we believe in God or not.  It assumes that everyone more or less does.  What it is interested in is the response we have to Him:  Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds…?”

Little prayers whittle.  They shrink down our view of God, bit by bit.  We fail to see God as Redeemer — one who redeems, one who transforms, one who picks up the rubble and with it builds a temple.  Asking God to just please not let the worst happen is like asking Michelangelo to please cover up the crude, unfinished block of marble with a nice drape and hide it in the corner.Calacatta-Quarry-Header

It’s not that Jesus taught us to pray entitled prayers, you-owe-me-God prayers.  It’s not “God is a piñata and prayer is the stick,” as one pastor memorably put it.  He’s the one, after all, who gave us “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Humble.  Simple.  Daily bread, not lavish feasts.  Your kingdom come, not my own.

But Jesus’ simple prayer is nevertheless huge.  Imagine if you prayed that way for your strong-willed child, your broken marriage, your floundering career, or your insignificant little church.01dx5075-edit

“My good, good Father, who reigns over everything, who controls every last detail, even your name should amaze me.  Oh, Lord, may your crazy, beautiful, upside-down kingdom come.  May all you set out to do triumph over all that your enemy tries to screw up.  May all that you had in mind when you made me and put me here at this exact moment come to pass — I want what You want for my life, and I believe that Your imagination is bigger and better than mine.  Lord God, You know what I need better than I know it myself — do that.  And help me to be completely, deeply, joyfully satisfied in You.  Give me the power to forgive, to believe the best, to hope all things, to love the way You always, unfailingly love me.”

We named our firstborn Joshua, with a confident prayer that he would be strong and courageous like his namesake.  Now two of our kids are teenagers, and I’m the one with knees knocking.  Now I ask God to make me brave, to give me strong and courageous prayers.  That prayer I prayed last week?  That was weak sauce.  The God of the universe is chiseling a masterpiece.  Get out the camera, folks, it’s going to be amazing.prisoner-atlas

One Small Prayer

platitude, noun:  a remark or statement (especially with moral content) that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.  Cliché.

It has happened a hundred times.  At gravesides, hospital beds, over coffee.  Tears are falling, someone is looking for answers.

He won’t be with us much longer.  

I’m going to lose the baby.  

We’re living in our car.  How did this happen?  

It’s really over this time. 

Where is God?

The questions come fast and thick, stumbling over one another in the race to be asked.  A lifetime of doubts and puzzles have accumulated and been ignored too long; now, in the moment of crisis, they all rush out at once.

Is God good?  Does God care?  Is God powerful?  Can He help?

We stand tongue-tied and awkward in the force of the deluge.  How can we adequately respond?  What can we say in the face of cancer or abuse or prison or divorce that can possibly reach wide enough to embrace that kind of hurt?

And we know, we really know, that it isn’t enough to say the usual things.  “It’ll be all right.  I know what you’re going through.”  Will it?  Do I?

And so, yesterday.  Again we turn on the radio to hear bad news, the senseless kind, the how-did-God-let-this-happen, is-He-on-His-lunchbreak kind.  And we most of us stand there kind of stunned and try to think what can possibly be said, while a few of us, the Important People, are handed a microphone.  And deep down, they’re feeling the same way.  What can they say?  How can they help?

So they say the only thing they know how to say, they mouth the words.  “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.”  And no doubt they, too, have the same flood of questions behind the brave face:  where is God?  why has this happened?  when will it end?  But Important People aren’t afforded the luxury of confusion.  Important People need to have all the answers.  Important People need to DO something.

New-York-Daily-News-front-page-Thursday-December-3-2015-san-bernardino-shootings-474x620

Of course, that’s just ridiculous.  Because none of us have any answers, do we?

Or maybe we do.  Maybe prayer is the right answer after all.  And when we’re stumped and we don’t know how to pray, we look to the pray-ers of the past.  We cry out, “How long, O Lord?” with a chorus of heartbroken voices.  We call out, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”  We name our fears, our despair, our confusion, and we rob them of their power over us.  And then we name our Deliverer.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.”

We kneel precisely because we know the magnitude of our problem and our complete inability to fix it.  How could we?

What is it the Important People are expected to do?  Heal the broken and bleeding human heart?  Turn anger and hate into kindness and love?  Legislate hope?

But there is a vast difference between real prayer and “good thoughts,” between kneeling and posing for the camera.  I saw someone sign off a webcast the other day with the closing line, “vibes to you.”  I’ve been laughing about that ever since — vibes, baby.  But it’s a sad thing when we send our positive and encouraging willpower across the miles as though there is any whiff of restorative power in it, any chance of redemption unfurling in our fond thoughts.  When candidates send empathy over the airwaves or tear up for a photo op, it’s no wonder it makes skeptics cringe.  No one’s fooled by vibes.

A god that stood aloof and watched tragedy multiply through the ages, the unmoved mover, well, prayers to that god wouldn’t fix a thing.  Prayers to a cold and stoic deity would be an exercise in foolishness, spitting in the wind.  But a God that hears?  A God that, say, gave up His throne for a manger and exchanged a palace for a broke-down stable?  That God, who endured the senseless violence and suffered the bad news personally?  Well, that’s good news.  That’s great joy.  And we name that God,

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders.

We name that God Emmanuel, because He became one of us, and yes, He did fix us.  Anyone who wanted fixing, that is.

And so I pray today to the Lord of Broken Hearts, the Lord of Sacrificial Love, the Blood Donor God who split a vein to pour out hope for all of us.

How long, O Lord?  We wait for You.

Dreamer or Pragmatist, Part III

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about prayer, the bringing to God of our deep desires. You’ve got to be willing to hold them loose and let them go. I suspect Dietrich Bonhoeffer would give an earful to anyone who claims God is in the wish-fulfillment business. A Christian life is the life of the cross, right? But at the same time, prayer is all about hope. And how do you continue to hope without losing heart, when hope can be awfully painful? How do you know the difference between faith in the answer to a prayer versus faith in the Answer-er?

So a few weeks ago I was praying and suddenly felt like God was speaking. Go ahead, he seemed to say, tell me what it is you really want. Ask away, and I’m going to give you what you ask for. It was a sunny day, chilly out, and I was walking on a snowy Colorado mountainside, on the edge of a forest. It was gorgeous, a happy-go-lucky day. Wow! I thought. Hmmm… and I rattled off a few things that had been on my heart. I didn’t give it much thought, and I certainly hadn’t shown up with my list of big picture goals to ask God for. My prayer was simple, thankful. Within the week, I began to see answers. Wow — and wow again! It got me thinking — did I ask for the right things? Maybe I should have asked bigger. What would you ask for?

A few things struck me. One, what spilled out of my heart that day was a tumble of deeply felt desire, my simplest, truest wishes. They were not over-thought. They were not anxious. They left the details, and the how-to, to God. I was trusting, and joyful, feeling a great sense of being a beloved child. Two, God seemed really pleased to be having that conversation with me, and more than willing to answer me. It reminded me of a verse I’d just come across in John 15: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you…” I was having a little chat with God, and hey! He loves me! And the great delight and anticipation I have felt all month, watching and waiting for Him to answer like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, well, that pleases him, too. Three, if I’d been given a week to carefully reflect and consider what I would ask for at that moment, I would have asked all the wrong things. I would have tried to outsmart God, to ask strategic and savvy things. You know, don’t ask for enough money for XYZ, ask to win the lottery (in case there are other things you might need the money for later.)

But it didn’t seem like a wish list, it seemed like a heartfelt conversation. And isn’t that the point?

Sorry for the long delay. We are still on sabbatical, and internet is tricky to come by.