Tag Archives: prayer

Pamphlet

A Life of Prayer

(A four-minute read)

Some days I wake up with unanswered questions. These aren’t questions for research, but they are life-changing. Or at least perspective-changing. They’re questions God pops into my head. They’re questions I can’t immediately answer. They are meat to be chewed until the flavor comes through in the form of insight.

A Life of Prayer

Today’s question is about prayer. Do I have a prayer life, or do I lead a life of prayer?

No simple question, and it immediately leads to more questions:

– How would I tell the difference?
– Is the former adequate?
– Is the latter more desirable?
– If I have the former, and want the latter, how do I get it?
– What transforms me from a man who prays, to a praying man?

Inevitably, I have more than a mouthful; it’s now turned into a meal.

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonian church to ‘Pray without ceasing.’ 1 I get a vision of someone on his knees from morning to night, getting up only for food or relief.

There are stories told of great prayer warriors who spent so much time in prayer that there was a groove worn in the floor where they knelt, and a rubbed-raw forehead-sized spot on the wall. Or they would kneel in the snow long enough to come away with bloody knees.

Do I really need to do any of that to ‘pray without ceasing’?

I could. But not necessarily. There may be a more subtle answer.

Some Useful Advice

Theologian N. T. Wright describes the verses in and around ‘Pray without ceasing’ as a type of memory device for the young Christians in Thessalonica:

‘Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies.
Examine all things.
Firmly hold onto what is good.
Abstain from all appearances of evil.’ 2

Wright says in his ‘Paul for Everyone’ series that these are aids such as we’d use for learning grammar rules, like ‘I before E except after C’. The reason we have them, he says, is so we learn them until they become second nature to us, and we no longer have to think about them.3

Back to my original question then. Do I have a prayer life? Or do I live a life of prayer?

A Life of Prayer

The term ‘prayer life’ describes something I take on and attach to my inner world through some motivation. Like my ‘sleep life’ or my ‘eating life’ or my ‘work life’ or my ‘sex life.’ I’m involved in these things, but they are, in a way, detached from my personhood.

So a ‘prayer life’ seems like the rest of them. It’s like a garment, something I can don or doff at will, as it seems convenient, when it suits me.

A ‘life of prayer’ – now that sounds different. Internal. Personal. All-consuming. Imagine it in relation to the idea of a ‘life of sleeping’, or a ‘life of eating’, or a ‘life of work’ or a ‘life of sex’. All of them sound pretty radical, and would eventually lead to various levels of dissolution!

A ‘life of prayer’ though, would be in a class by itself. Because it’s not about being obsessed with prayer to the exclusion of all else. Rather it’s looking for God in all the places of my life, even the broken ones (especially the broken ones) so that the idea of prayer infiltrates all these other ‘lives’ that I live and builds them up.

In other words, I bring my prayer life (which is my conversation with God) into the parts of my life that seem on the surface to be ‘non-God’: work, eating, sleeping, marriage, exercise, tying my shoes, taking out the rubbish, complaining, fearing, lusting, apathy, judging, scorn.

Yeah, especially those last ones. Prayer is the only tool I have for making progress against them.

It’s not coincidental that ‘Pray without ceasing’ is sandwiched between ‘Rejoice always’ and ‘In everything give thanks.’ Being grateful and full of praise leads to a light heart. And that makes the conversation of prayer much easier.

Now, to work on ensuring it’s a two-way conversation.

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
3. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, Tom Wright, pp 130-131

burger and fries

Eat Hearty, Christian. Lent is Coming!

A four-minute read

“Each year, around the latter part of winter, Lent arrives. It nearly always surprises me. Here it is, once again, summoning me to change how I typically live.” — W. David O. Taylor

Why should I bother changing the way I live? Isn’t life hard enough? I’m just trying to get along after all. Coping with lockdown and separation. Wondering when the sun will return, and the air will warm, and I can hug you again.

The good news in all this madness is that Lent is coming.

Lent is yet another reminder that what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but what happens on earth doesn’t stay on earth. We get to take it with us on judgment day.

It’s difficult to have an eternal perspective when death, dead-ends, poverty, moral failure and other evils seem to trump every card I play. My theology gives out on me sometimes when Perceived Life (what you probably think of as ‘Real Life’) seems to have the advantage.

What is actually Real Life is something much more than this Perceived Life in which I’m trapped. What I see in front of me is temporary, but the things I don’t see, the things I have faith in, are eternal.1

That’s why I need Lent. It’s a reset, where I turn my attention back to those few things that are truly important. The journey is simple and traditional. Traditional Lenten observance means prayer and repentance, fasting and almsgiving. These three things reconnect me with God’s heart.2

Lent is a journey. And, when I take a journey, I need to pack, and check the map to see what might be in my way.

That’s easy to see. It’s the same old rubbish: Pride, self-sufficiency, dishonorable thoughts, judgmentalism, greed, among others.3

‘Wait a minute’, you might say, ‘I thought your Christian faith says “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.” 4 Don’t you have this thing licked?

You are correct about the first part, but not about the second part. The Bible also refreshingly points out that I’ll face temptation. And, I’ll suffer. I’ll feel like falling down. I’ll feel like giving up. It’s a giant Free Will Problem. Whether I stand or fall is up to me. Fortunately, I have supernatural help.

Jesus said ‘In the world (Perceived Life) you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.’ 5 There’s that Real Life I mentioned earlier. The one I can’t see, but which bears me up when I stumble. It’s His life.

How do connect with it? That’s where prayer, fasting and almsgiving come in. I’ll be engaged in all three between Ash Wednesday (17 February) and Easter (4 April), and that will guide my writing journey the next 7 ½ weeks. You are welcome to come along.

I’m not telling you these things to boast, rather to set a backdrop against which you can view an unfolding story. After all, even a superficial study of Matthew 6 shows that Jesus says we should do all these things in secret.6

And I will. It’s just that, since Jesus expects it, and I follow Him, it’s probably not so secret then that I might choose to do these things.

Just to be clear. Lenten practices are not about earning some sort of favor or to make up for whatever rotten stuff I’ve done. Only Jesus’ sacrifice pays for any of that. Jesus alone.7

Lent is not about punishment. It’s not about self-denial either. It’s about emptying myself out so I can be filled afresh. So I can stuff myself with His goodness.

It’s about sharpening my senses. It’s about building a better relationship with God.

Here’s a metaphor. Because the church is described by some as the bride of Christ and the Lord as the bridegroom,8 think of Lent as a marriage retreat.

Or perhaps, a honeymoon.

1. 2 Corinthians 4:18
2. See Isaiah 58-60 for a discussion of this concept
3. Galatians 6:19-21
4. Galatians 6:24
5. John 16:33
6. Matthew 6:3-6, 17
7. Matthew 8:17, Romans 4:25
8. There’s an excellent discussion of this at the Berean Bible Society. I use the metaphor here just as a literary device. It’s a secondary issue and I won’t argue with anyone about it.

Photo by Jonathan Borba via Pexels

US Ballot

Love Your Enemies

(A six -minute read)

It was a couple days after the US election. A lot of us were grumbling (always about ‘the other side’ of course). I had a spirited (but respectful) back-and-forth with a friend who is a self-professed Donald Trump hater. He bristled at my idea that he pray for him.

He said, ‘I’ll join you in prayer for millions of traumatized Americans to help us all heal, but Trump is not on the list.’

I suggested to him that if I hate Donald Trump (or any other person for that matter), the hatred is of less consequence than the fact I am willing to allow myself to hate.

When I amass hatreds and resentments and harbor unforgiveness, I only hurt myself. Here’s what I told my friend:

One of the main things Jesus talked about during his time here on earth was how we rid ourselves of unforgiveness and bitterness – things that block us off from receiving God’s grace and peace. Only by doing that can we fully receive God’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings.

Has Donald Trump lied as my friend suggested? Of course he has! So have I! So have you! But there’s grace for that. When we catch ourselves doing it, we turn back to Jesus, say ‘sorry’ and know that we’re forgiven. Then we move on and try again. We don’t prove ourselves through our own actions. We let the Lord guide and correct us. Over time we get better.

As to praying for those we may despise, God was very clear on this. In the Old Testament the rule was ‘If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.’ In the New Testament Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’

The instruction is pretty clear. Pray for your enemies, don’t hate them. And that last bit, about the rain falling both on the righteous (those who love God) and the unrighteous (those who don’t) is a way of pointing out that God loves your enemies as much as He loves you. He wants Donald Trump to follow Him as much as he wants you or me. He plays no favorites. Let’s not forget that to some out there, you and I may be seen as the enemy!

You’ll find a longer discussion of forgiveness between Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 18. Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive someone – seven times? Jesus says ’70 times seven’ (or 77 times, depending on your translation). The point is that Jesus is exaggerating for effect, to say we should always be ready to forgive. Why is this? Three reasons:

1. Because it releases the person who harmed us from any curse laid upon them for their sin.

2. In a practical way, it releases us from bitterness and resentment. It gives us freedom.

3. It sets things right in the spiritual realm.

Think about the Lord’s Prayer, where it says ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ You can’t have one without the other.

That idea of setting things right spiritually may seem murky. Here’s a practical example. If someone robs me and takes my wallet, I’ll certainly file a police report. I want my wallet back and I want justice to be done. But I also pray for the thief and forgive him.

Here’s why: If the thief is caught and I get my wallet back that’s worldly justice and that’s good. But the thief, even if punished, is still a thief. His heart is not transformed. Only God can transform his heart and change him from being a thief. My prayer helps with that.

It’s the same thing that happened all those years ago when I prayed to God to transform my own heart, and he delivered me from a life of drunkenness. Before, I was one way; I was a new way afterwards. It was night and day. So who am I to deny this gift to anyone else?

If I don’t forgive the thief, whoever I perceive him to be, then my lack of forgiveness works against God’s ability to transform the thief’s heart. Prayer has power. We are born into a spiritual battle and live in one all our lives. If we pretend otherwise we are deluding ourselves.

Prayer is one of the most effective weapons we wield on this spiritual battlefield – not to bring down others, but to protect them and ourselves. Also, to release us from the burden of resentment and bitterness we take on as we we attempt to judge others.

Only God knows all the facts and only he knows what is in our hearts: yours, mine and Donald Trump’s for that matter. I’m content to leave any and all judgments up to Him – He’s designed for it. I’m not.

Since this began on a political note, I’ll close on one: In politics, someone wins, someone loses and then life goes on. God remains in charge. ‘He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know understanding.’

And that’s a very reassuring piece of knowledge.

Photo by Salar Farji via Wikimedia Commons