Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category
Along with other reading I am doing in the Bible, for example, just today I finished reading the book we call Isaiah, I am reading the Psalms and the Proverbs. I'm not sure I remember exactly where I picked up on the idea, but when I read the Psalms and the Proverbs I do so like this: five Psalms per day, 1 chapter of Proverbs per day. This enables me to read both books entirely in 30 days. This is a good practice for anyone, at any time, but it's an especially helpful practice during Lent given that we have 40 days to work with. So even if one gets behind a day or two, the books can still be completed in a relatively good amount of time.
Personally, I think the book of Psalms is likely the book that persuades me of the veracity of the Christian claim. Perhaps that sounds strange given that New Testament books speak directly to and announce rather loudly those claims; perhaps even speak primarily those claims. It's true. I don't deny that. At another level, however, there is the working mind and all of us, regardless of who we are, have a mind that functions in different ways. For example, as a man my mind is, according to some theories, supposed to connect with and be moved by a sort of raw masculinity, a blood and guts kind of appreciation for dirt and adventure. To an extent, I suppose I am. I love watching Rambo and Terminator movies for example. But if I told you I watched them for reasons other than the violence and blood you'd probably call me a liar.
But I do.
I watch Rambo, at least First Blood, because it is a redemption story and it moves me. Emotionally. I watch Terminator movies because they evoke in me a sense of hopelessness that only finds solace in someone outside the film. I do not watch any film for the sake of mere bloodsport or violence–which is why traditional horror films do nothing for me at all: there is simply no emotion. Jason Vorhees killed to kill and we never saw any emotion. Same with Michael Myers. At least Freddy Krueger had the scars to prove his emotion. Funny how the killers in these horror films always have to have their faces rearranged, isn't it?
I watch movies for the story they tell and because in movies I am permitted to experience the full sway of my emotions without repercussion from anyone. Truth? I still cry at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke throws away his light saber and chooses certain death over unlimited power and during the last scene of Return of the King when the king bows before the hobbits of the Shire and at the end of The Shawshank Redemption when Andy and Red share a hug on a beach. Hope. And don't get me started on The Sound of Music. That film wipes me out with each note they sing.
There are many other movies that do the same thing to me. It's not sentimentalism and since I don't watch cheap romance films, I am scarcely moved by simple boy-gets-girl or girl-gets-boy stories. I am moved by love–raw, uncontrollable, undeniable, sometimes angry and proven love in movies. I get that from heroes who die for those they love. I get that from characters who make hard choices in the face of evil or have to take matters of justice into their own hands and wrestle with that decision frequently. I get that from justice being done and the world being set to rights. I get that when dragons are slain and color returns the gray void. It's like seeing Dorothy open her door for the first time in Oz and seeing color–which is a scene, perhaps more than any other in The Wizard of Oz, that moves me.
I connect with those people and the story they tell. I connect with the emotions they share–and some actors are far better at it than others which is why I gravitate towards their films rather frequently. I have even seen Tom Cruise emote in a way that moves me.
So, the Psalms. The Psalms are like little films to me. Each one tells a story and yet each one is part of a fabric woven together to form part of a greater quilt. And the Psalms are nothing if not raw expressions of emotion and love. As a man, I'm not supposed to be in tune with my emotions, but I promise you there are times when the Psalms have made me weep. Each Psalm is a script in a movie and there are heroes and goats; there are gods and men; there are women and men; there are props and animals; there is a soundtrack; there is a back story. Not all of them feature each element yet some have all of these elements.
I love the Psalms because the Psalms are raw emotion. There is virtually no emotion the Psalms avoid. There is no scenario the Psalms haven't explored. There is drama in the Psalms–in every one of them. And for some reason, I like it.
I like that these men who wrote the Psalms were not afraid to let that emotion pour out in a very public way to God. Whoever put the book of Psalms together was a pure genius because they understood that YHWH invented emotions. And the writers of the Psalms–whether they knew they were writing Scripture or not is beside the point–understood that God was not afraid of their anger, their fear, their sadness, their joy, their anxiety, their boredom, their bloodthirsty-ness, their hunger, their tears, their uncertainty, their loneliness, their exhaustion, their guilt, their sin, their shame, their love, their hate, their hurt, their shame, their exaltation, their indifference, and much more besides. And for this reason, I connect deeply with the Psalms. Jesus did too given that he quoted from them even as he hung on the cross. In these drama filled, emotion laden scripts Jesus found a voice for his own emotion: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22)
The Psalms are a roller coaster of emotional outpouring. We can relate to the Psalms because these are all the things we feel and experience everyday of our lives and the Psalms tell us that we can pour out all these things on God, that he hears, that he (eventually) answers, and that at the very heart of things: God cares about his covenant people; deeply. Deeply enough that there is scarcely a word we can utter that offends him. The message of the Psalms: Pour it out and if you don't have your own words, pilfer from these 150 poems.
And for this same reason, in my mind, the Psalms more than anything else persuade me of the truth claims of Scripture: because of their raw honesty and their childlike expression of this honesty. The Psalms are not out to 'prove' anything even if the Psalms happen to demonstrate many things. The Psalms' only objective, and of course I recognize that the Psalms are doing more than this, is to lay out this deep yearning and longing that finds no resolution here on earth or among people. They take us to the very heights of the world to the very depths of hell, they leave us with unanswered prayers, they leave us weeping on couches and suffering bouts of insomnia.
What I like about the Psalms is that for all their perfection and beauty they teach us that the world we live in is not perfect, is not always beautiful, that life is not always predictable, and that YHWH is not a cosmic vending machine who is at our beck and call. Sometimes he waits….off in the distance…maybe just to see if we have the nerve to cry out to him and trust him while we wait. He cares; yes, deeply. Yet ultimately even the Psalms tell us a story with a greater plot–a story in which we are characters who play a vital role. In his short book A Case for the Psalms, NT Wright wrote:
In the same way, the story the Psalms tell is the story Jesus came to complete. It is the story of the creator God taking his power and reigning, ruling on earth as in heaven, delighting the whole creation by sorting out its messes and muddles, its injuries and injustices, once and for all. It is also the story of malevolent enemies prowling around, of people whispering lies and setting traps, and of sleepless nights and bottles full of tears. (31)
I like the Psalms because they allow me to drink deeply of the emotions of others and to pour out my emotions. They are a place where my masculinity is not called into question when my emotions are on full sleeve display. I know of a congregation or two where the preacher was not allowed to be so emotional. I distinctly recall him being told to 'fake it' because it's not 'professional' to be emotive. It's not professional to weep openly or to express deep grief and sorrow and hurt. I think congregations like this bore God. Most preachers are accused of being liars; this one was accused of being honest. I think these are also congregations where preachers are constantly on edge because the congregation constantly wants him to subdue his emotions–imagine telling Jeremiah, the weeping prophet to stifle his emotions.
I also think these congregations are the ones who pour salt into the wounds of the preachers or twist the knife in his back a little harder and deeper. These are the congregations who have no clue how to come alongside one who is suffering and just sit and mourn or laugh or sing. These are congregations who are very unfamiliar with the man who 'took up our sorrows', the man acquainted with suffering and grief, the man who cried out to God in desperation, and wept openly at a funeral.
I suspect that congregations like this should spend more time reading the Psalms. Or the Bible in general. They should become acquainted with the people who poured out such emotion before God. They should become acquainted with Jesus who affirmed them.
Another of my theme verses during this Lenten season is Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and please to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Like the passage I noted from Hebrews 12 here, this verse begins with the word 'therefore' which indicates that what came before it must have led to the conclusions that are about to follow. In this case, at minimum, from chapter 8 on (where we also see a section led with the word 'therefore') we must consider that the present verse (12:1) serves as a conclusion or 'so here's what you ought to do with your life' kind of verse. "If everything I said previously is true, then, therefore…" And so it goes.
And chapters 1-8 are heavy, heavy teaching.
Therefore….offer yourselves to God. In view of God's mercy–'For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all' (11:32)–offer yourselves back to God. Give yourselves over to him. Make a sacrifice back to God–of yourselves. Offer yourselves to God…your bodies. This is the first step. I don't think it means that we are literally to die; I don't think it means we are not literally to die.
I wake up each day and I wonder about what life means and how I am going to manage yet another day…especially after yesterday. The thing is, living sacrifices have a tendency to crawl off the altar. I think the thing here is this: we have to be continually offering ourselves to God. Even after we crawl off the altar. We have to get right back up on top and bring the knife down again. I think anyone reading this, anyone reading who takes Jesus seriously, will agree that dying to the self is very, very difficult. We continue to struggle.
One of the hardest things for me to recognize and confess is this: I will always be a sinner. This will never change as long as I am encased in this corrupt flesh. What can I do? I'm starting to really understand this constant struggle….this wanting to be near Jesus every minute…and knowing every same minute that I am a sinner and that I will continually fall, fail, and forget that I want to be near Jesus every minute. We are walking paradoxes. It probably doesn't bother us enough that we are to worship God in this way–you know, asked to offer ourselves as living sacrifices who are prone to crawl off the altar.
Living. This is key, isn't it? We are to die each day we are living. I take this to mean that every second after we fail is another second we have to offer ourselves back to God. So long as we are alive…living…we are to offer ourselves to him; holy and pleasing.
So Paul goes on to write this, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
There are a lot of ideas floating around the world just now–as there always has been. It is very easy to just go with the current and conform to the thought patterns and processes in this world. It is very easy to succumb to the valueless values of this world. It is very easy to give up and become another drone forgetting to whom we belong. And every single minute of every single day our minds are bombarded with the latest philosophy or idea that is making the rounds. I am finding that, frankly, all of this clouds my mind and makes understanding God's will profoundly difficult. So much media, day in, day out is stifling me. If I may be honest, it is killing me slowly because the brain is flexible and susceptible to conform to whatever we allow into it.
This is the problem…the same problem I think when it comes to prayer (I mentioned this in another post). If we are not allowing our minds to be filled with truth, then our minds will become full of lies and the only language we will know how to speak is lies. If we never fill our minds with the Word of God then our prayers will be little more than 'thank you God for the day and thank you for keeping us safe and bless the gift and giver' kind of prayers (these are good thoughts, yes, but there is a lot more we can pray about, don't you agree?). I know what my problem is: my mind knows a lot of Scripture, but my mind is not saturated with it. My mind is filled with a lot of words of God, but I'm not thinking about it deeply enough day in and day out.
I understand all too well how easily how the day in day out business of living crowds out all thoughts of holiness and righteousness. Dare I say that we have to make the effort, we have to create space, it is imperative that we make time each day to renew our minds with the Word of God. We conform to the world when all we take in all day long is the world, but when we allow something contrary to the world, something diametrically opposed to 'the world,' to break in from the outside our minds then start to become renewed. Frankly I don't think we can survive very long if all we are doing is taking in the world. "Did God really say?" I recall it was Jesus who won the battle we constantly lose precisely because his mind was saturated with the Word of God.
We might have to put something else away if we find ourselves losing more often than we are winning. We might have to stop with all the input from the world and dedicate more and more time to the Word of the Lord. We might need to carry a Bible with us and read it at work. Or add the app to our phones so we can read it.
Why do you think the Psalmist wrote, "Blessed are those…who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). It's this person who meditates day and night who prospers–and by prospers I think he means what Paul wrote in Romans 12: this person is able to test and approve God's will. This is also what Moses told the people of Israel in his great sermon Deuteronomy:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; see also Deuteronomy 11:16-21)
I'm reading this book called God in the Whirlwind by David F Wells. Part of the early pages of the book were dedicated to exploring something similar to what I'm talking about here in this blog. "It is Scripture alone," he writes, "that is God-breathed and, therefore, it is the source of our knowledge of God. Is it not entirely sufficient, then, for all we need to know about God and his character?" (17) He then goes on to answer his question this way:
The answer, of course, is that Scripture is indeed sufficient. However, there is a proviso here. Scripture will prove sufficient if we are able to receive from it all that God has put into it. That, though, is not as simple as it sounds. The reason lies in what Paul says elsewhere. We are to 'be transformed by the renewal' of our minds–which is surely what happens when we take hold of the truth God has given us in his Word–but also, he says, we are not to be 'conformed to the world.' The shaping of our live is to come from Scripture and not from culture. We are to be those in whom truth is the internal drive and worldly horizons and habits are not. It is always sola Scriptura and it should never be sola cultura…Being transformed also means being unconformed. (17)
All of our ideas and thoughts are to be formed and shaped and daily renewed by our intimate contact, study, memorization, and meditation upon the Word of God. I confess my own failure. There is a huge difference between knowing the Word of God and depending upon it second by second. I think to dig deeper into these thoughts, but I suppose for now it is enough to know these things, to stop writing, and open my Bible.
Maybe you should too.
I have posted new prayer thoughts and homiletical points at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
I have studied through Mark in depth five or six times and taught it in various situations at least four or five times. It is my favorite Gospel of the four perhaps because of it’s quick pace, literary value, and brutal honesty. The Gospel itself is marked (no pun) by the constant use of a small Greek phrase ‘kai euthus’, which means something like ‘and then’ or ‘immediately’ or ‘at once.’ The NIV, as do most translations, I noticed translates it differently so as to give the Gospel ‘flavor’ (although it appears that the NASB is fairly consistent in its use of ‘immediately’). This creates a sense of urgency in the Gospel as if Mark were always in a hurry to get us from one point to the next, never content to leave us lingering too long at one scene. In the overall picture, we know where Mark is in a hurry to get us and by the time we get to the crucifixion the pace has slowed (in my judgment) considerably. He wants us to drink deeply at this point.
The thoughts are from Mark 1 and 2.
I have posted prayer thoughts for this week. The focus here again is Psalm 40 and this is part 2 of the 3 part series I am writing on Psalm 40. I hope you will stop by and be encouraged in the Word. Click the link below and be transported as if by magic to A Pastor’s Prayer Journal.
Continuing my series of posts at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal, Prayer Thoughts, I offer you my latest post: Prayer Thoughts, Septembr 8, 2008.
In this post, I offer prayer thoughts on the following Scriptures: (Adoration) 2 Samuel 7:1-29, (Confession) Joshua 7:1-26, (Thanksgiving) Isaiah 7:1-17, (Supplication) Matthew 7:1-29. Thanks for stopping by.
Tonight I updated A Pastor’s Prayer Journal with a new entry on my ongoing series of prayer thoughts. In this latest post I share prayer thoughts from the following Scripture: Revelation 18-19 (Adoration), Psalm 38 (Confession), Psalm 95 & 100 (Thanksgiving) and Ephesians 6:10-20 (Supplication).
If you are seeking help praying the Scriptures, this page will be of much help to you. I am an advocate of praying the Scripture as you will see in the newest post.
Always For God’s Glory!
I have started to regularly update A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. I am in the process of developing a seminar on prayer. I delivered my first session this past weekend at Family Camp at our local Christian campgrounds. The session was titled: Praying the Scripture. (I will be producing a semi-transcript of the hour long session soon and posting it at PPJ.
This new feature I am posting is simply called ‘prayer thoughts’. During my morning devotional time I have been following the ACTS pattern of prayer and reading the same four passages of Scripture for one week at a time. (This is also in conjunction with my practice of praying the Scripture.) My first installment of this series of posts has been posted tonight and is available.
The four parts include: Adoration (Habakkuk 1-3); Confession (Daniel 9:1-21); Thanksgiving (Revelation 4-5); Supplication (Acts 4:23-31). Click herefor an online Bible.
Join me in prayer.
Always For God’s Glory!