Posts Tagged ‘Praying’

Prayer pointsThis is a very nice book as far as its aesthetic value is concerned. I like very much the compact size and the faux leather appearance. The cover is also imprinted with a verse of Scripture (Psalm 145:18) and some trees along the spine. The copy I received also contains a small dust cover which covers about 2/3 of the book and repeats the title of the book and other important information. I like the dust cover and I am typically loathe to dispense with certain features of a book such as dust covers; however, if I am to use this book as I think it is intended to be used, I will have to dispense with the cover.

Inside there is a nice ribbon like book mark to give it an even deeper appearance of biblical spirituality. One might even mistake this small book for a Bible.

So much for appearances. Let's move on to the more important aspect of a book: content. First, the book is, to be sure, a collection of prayer points arranged topically so that seemingly whatever problem the reader is having, there is a prayer at her fingertips. So, are you feeling empty? There's a prayer for you. Are you feeling overwhelmed? There's a prayer for you. In a car accident? There's a prayer for you. Are you struggling with worldliness? There's a prayer for you. Just imagine you are having some sort of trouble in life and there's a prayer for you in this book: emotional, physical, relational, spiritual–they are all there. Sometimes the topics seem a bit contrived, but they are there.

Therein, however is the main problem with this book: it presupposes that the only times we will (or need to) pray are when life really, really sucks. There are no prayer points in the book for times of joy, blessing, gratefulness, for thankfulness, finding a job, for having friends, for good health. There are no prayers of thanksgiving for Jesus, for the cross, for resurrection, or for God's provision. Why is there an assumption that the only time we pray is when things are not going well?

Second, there is nothing terribly wrong with the prayers as such. They are thoughtful and worded well, generally refer the reader back to Scripture, and stay close to the topic being addressed. Sadly, this presents another point of criticism: the topical arrangement of the prayers and associated Scriptures. The Bible was not written topically. Don't get me wrong, because I understand well the point and I understand well that Christians 'use' the Scripture in this way far too often and far too comfortably. It's like we are afraid of the big picture/story the Bible is painting for readers so we break it up into small, seemingly comprehensible, pithy statements we can absorb in a single gulp.

But this is not how the Bible was written and I will continue to mark down every book I review that uses Scripture in this way. It's not even fair or right to do this to books of the Bible that lend themselves to this sort of game–say, for example, the Psalms or the Proverbs. Even those two books were written/edited with a singular purpose in mind and it seems to me that it is unfair to yank passages out of that context to make a point about to pray when you've been in a car accident. In my opinion, this does damage to Scripture and to the intentions of the authors who wrote the books we call Scripture. I have no problems with praying the Scripture and I think we should pray the Scripture, but what I have in mind is something substantially different from the manner in which most books use Scripture.

Third, if I recall correctly, nearly every single prayer in the book contains some version of the words 'Lord…I claim your promise…' I do not come from a tradition of Christianity that has embraced this way of praying so I'm not saying it is necessarily wrong to 'claim' a 'promise' that is in Scripture. (The editor used many different variations of this phrase such as 'seek,' 'claim,' 'embrace,' 'long for,' 'hold on to,' 'cherish,' and so on and so forth. Frankly it became kind of boring after a while.) It might just be me, but I think there is a better way to pray. I didn't see Jesus saying this was how we are to pray when we do. Again, this is not to say it's 'wrong', it's just to say that I have not been taught to pray in this way and it may sound awkward to some people who are learning to pray for the first time using this book. Which takes us back to point two which is the way we understand the point of Scripture. Are those promises we are 'claiming' promises in context? Are they in line with God's plans and purposes in this world? We must be very careful, in my opinion, when praying in such a way.

On the other hand, it's a book of prayers that someone wrote, collected, and published. It's terrible difficult to be critical of a book of prayers because prayers are not generally offered to other people for review purposes. Prayers are meant to be prayed, not reviewed, and as such they are offered to the Father. So my review here is of a 'book', not of the prayers per say. Whatever else may be said about these books, I say this: if they draw the reader into a meaningful prayer life with the Father, then who am I to criticize? If the out of context Scripture references draw someone into a meaningful reading of entire books of the Bible, then who am I to criticize? At the heart of this book is someone's thoughts and prayers written with the Lord in mind. This is a good thing.

Someone, somewhere is going to benefit from this collection of prayers. Of that I am sure. And with that in mind, I am glad Tyndale published a book of prayers. For this reason, I happily award the book three stars. One star is deducted for the way it 'uses' Scripture and another star is deducted because of the overall gloomy feel to the book, i.e., the lack of prayers for the good times. We do not always have to be in a funk in order to pray and that's what I think this book lacks the most.

3/5 stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Prayer Points: Praying God's Promises at Your Point of Need: Amazon (Imitation Leather, $13.99)
  • Author:
  • On the Web:
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor: Ken Petersen, General Editor
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Pages:
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: 324
  • Reading Level: High school
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.
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I wish I could do this for a living–blogging or writing or spending all my time thinking about Scripture and helping others discover kernels of delight and morsels of joy. There's so much to take in on every page and it sincerely makes me happy to share it with others.

My Psalm reading is still going strong and I am discovering new things with each turn of the page. I wrote a post called Learning to Talk in my Lenten Reflections series about learning how to pray the Scripture and making the words of Scripture the words of our prayers. I found some more notes I had made on the subject and something I came across struck me as a compelling piece of evidence for my thoughts.

It's a very simple thing concerning Jesus, the Psalms, and his prayers. The book of Hebrews tells us that 'during the days of Jesus' life, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission' (Hebrews 5:7). Sadly, we do not have a written record of these prayers. Wouldn't it be kind of neat to know that while he was on earth, 2,000 years ago, he mentioned you or me or our friends by name?

Well, even if he didn't mention us by name back then, we can take comfort in the fact that he is mentioning us by name right now, today, in the Father's presence. Consider Romans 8:34: "Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Or consider Hebrews 7:25: "Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." I love that when I struggle, He is praying for me. I love that when I sin and condemn myself, He is interceding for me.

I love knowing that Jesus is mentioning me, and you, by name.

But back to my main point which is simply that we have only a very small written record of the actual prayers of Jesus. Of course John 17 comes to mind. John 12:27-28 too. John 11:41-42 also come to mind. Maybe we can also include Matthew 6 and it's parallel in Luke 11–what has been traditionally called 'The Lord's Prayer.' I think also Luke 22:39-46 and it's parallels in Mark 14:32-42 and Matthew 26:36-46.

There may well be others, but my point is that there are not many examples of Jesus' prayer words. Even in Luke 6 where we learn that Jesus 'went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God,' we do not have a recollection of his actual words. I think it's probably safe to assume that he had spent the night praying about the Twelve and perhaps mentioning them by name, but in truth we do not know. Yet, we are not entirely without hope in this area of Jesus' prayer words. There was one other occasion when I specifically recall Jesus praying and what is interesting is the words he used when he prayed. It was on the cross.

Jesus famously spoke seven times on the cross. Here's the catalog:

1. John 19:26-27: Jesus asked one of his disciples to care for his mother.

2. John 19:28: "I am thirsty."

3. John 19:30: "It is finished."

4. Matthew 27:46 (Mark 15:34): "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"

5. Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

6. Luke 23:43: "Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise."

7. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

It is probably understandable that Jesus wasn't preaching sermons while on the cross and that his words were few and choice. What is amazing to me, however, is that four of the times he spoke, he was praying. What is more amazing, is that three of the four prayers were quotations from Scripture. Numbers 3, 4, and 7 are all from the Scripture.

1. Number 3, when Jesus declares 'it is finished,' I take to be a direct reference to the creation account found in Genesis 1-2: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."

2. Number 4, when Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 22:1–a Psalm laden with allusions and imagery of crucifixion. But it's not a mere 'cry of dereliction' as some would have it–not if Jesus quoted the first verse while having the entire Psalm in mind. The entire Psalm ends on a note of triumph: "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" It gives me chills reading that. "He has done it!" Wow.

3. Number 7, when Jesus breathes his last. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 31:5: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God." It is a Psalm of trust that God will 'preserve those who are true to him' (23). It is a Psalm of confidence, 'But I trust in your, Lord; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.' (14-15) It is a Psalm of hopeful expectations. Yet it is also a Psalm that seems to be saying, "I will not exercise my will in these matters. I will trust you Lord to do that for me." Again, all I can say is, "Wow!"

As a side note, number 5 (and perhaps number 7), when Jesus asks the Father not to hold this sin against his enemies, I find a parallel in Acts 7:59-60 when Stephen is being executed. So even early in the church, the Church was praying the Scripture. Stephen was not only praying the Psalms, but he was praying the very words of Jesus as his own!

Amazingly, the church practiced this earlier too in Acts 4:23-31. There the church prays Psalm 2 and claim the words of the Psalmist as their own: "Why do the nations rage and the people's plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one." So we see the church and individuals in the church using the words of Scripture as their own words of prayer. It is profound to me that so many of the occasions in Scripture when the church is praying they are praying the words of Scripture right back to God, making the Word of God their words to God.

And it makes me wonder why we do not do the same thing in our prayers–especially in our public and corporate prayers. It makes me wonder sometimes why we complain about God not moving in our churches or in our communities–I mean maybe it's because we a) don't know the Scripture well enough, b) trust our own ideas more than God's ideas, or c) think our own words are more powerful than those that the early church prayed.

Let's be honest, the prayers we pray in the church are anemic and empty. I'm not even going to say this is a matter of 'well, church folks are simple folks and we don't need to worry too much about the depth or quality of the prayers they pray; we should be happy that such folks even get up in front of people and pray at all.' I call hogwash on that. The point is that we should know Scripture, we should pray Scripture–Scripture should be infused into our conversations and prayers and thoughts. Those leaders who lead churches should take this very seriously and teach the members of the church the Scripture and teach them how to pray the Scripture and how to make God's words to us our words to God.

If it was good enough for Jesus and the church in the Bible, why isn't it good enough for us? Maybe we are afraid to pray the Scripture? Maybe we are afraid that if we pray something like Psalm 2 that something will happen in the world and we might be the blame? Maybe we feel if we are suffering and praying Psalm 22 people will think us arrogant. But isn't that the very point of those words existing? Are they just for us to read and take note of and perhaps hear a sermon from every now and again?

Or is there something deeper in the Words of God that we should be praying?

Are we as a church truly committed to the Scripture? Do we really believe what God says in Scripture? Do we really believe the Bible is God's Word to the church? Are we really committed to praying these  promises of God back to God? It's not that God needs to be reminded, it's just that when we do this very thing we are saying, in effect, that we are more concerned about what God wants than we are about what we want. It is our way of saying to God, "Father, into your hands we commit our church." It is the church's way of saying we trust more in God's word to us than we do in our words to him.

It's not that God needs to be reminded of his words as much as it is that we need to be reminded of his words. Praying the Scripture grounds us in the reality of God's working in the world, grounds us in the reality of God's plans for the world, and grounds us in the reality of God's purposes for his church in the world. We can set our own agenda or we can pray God's agenda.

This is the point.

Here I am in the midst of the Lenten season. I have been reading my Bible, trying to pray, avoiding social media, and really working hard to get myself into a routine that is conducive to good faith practice–that is, I've been working real hard to root our sin and draw closer to Jesus. It is necessary because I know myself and I know when I am off-balance my tendency is to let it affect everything in my life. I can still function, but it is not a robust functioning. It's more like a robotic, going through the motions kind of functioning devoid of joy and verve.

I mentioned in a previous post, Lenten Reflection #6, that I have been reading the Psalms and the Proverbs as part of my Lenten reflection. I learn something new every time I read the Psalms. They are without doubt one of my favorite books of the Bible for reasons I have mentioned elsewhere: they are raw with emotion and powerful naked humanity on display. DA Carson, in his book How Long, O Lord?, writes this about Psalm 6 in particular and the Psalms in general:

It is overwhelmingly important to reflect on the fact that this psalm and dozens of similar ones are included in Scripture. There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, the complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.

David…does not display stoic resignation, nor does he betray doubt that God exists. Even when he feels abandoned by God, his sense of isolation issues in an emotional pursuit of the God who, in his view, is slow to answer. (67)

So this morning as I was reading my Psalms for the day and jotting a few thoughts in my journal, it struck me that frequently the Psalmists cry out to God, "How Long, Lord?" Well of course I have know it was there because I have read it before, but for some reason this morning it stood out to me like a rose on a thorn bush.

Psalm 6:1: "My soul is deep in anguish. How long, Lord, How long?"

Psalm 13:1: "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?"

Psalm 35:17: "How long, Lord, will you look on?"

Psalm 79:5: "How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?"

Psalm 89:46: "How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?"

Psalm 94:3: "How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long with the wicked be jubilant?"

And if that isn't enough, this is only one way the Psalmists ask where God is at any given moment. Sometimes they are even more to the point, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22).

Tough to figure out this God–this God who is 'playing hard to get' (R Mullins). I mean think about it, why would the Psalmist have to cry out, "Answer me when I call to you my righteous God?" (Psalm 4:1) if God is already active in this world and in our lives? Why do we have to ask God to answer us? It almost sounds like a parent scolding a child who stubbornly refuses to answer: Answer me when I am talking to you! The child of course, will not be cajoled into speaking until he is ready to speak and there is nothing the parent can do but wait….wait….wait….

"Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless." (Psalm 10:12)

I wrote in my journal this morning a few thoughts about this 'How long, Lord?' question I keep seeing in the Psalms. I have to be honest: I find this question the most frustrating of all the questions the Psalmists ask. You know why? Because there is literally nothing I can do to force God's hand or to open his mouth. I can pray. I can sing. I can offer myself daily as a 'living sacrifice'. Nothing. God opens his mouth when he is ready and until then…the righteous, the faithful–whoever they are–wait.

And it get's no better in the New Testament. I recall twice, at least, when I hear this question asked. One indirectly in Acts 1: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" I take this as an indirect, "How long, Lord? How long?" The other time is more direct and is found in Revelation 6: "They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'" Wow. Even New Testament people are not answered, always, directly or quickly.

I came to a couple of conclusions in my journal notes.

First, it seems safe to say that the people of God must wait. We wait a lot. I guess, however, that we are willing to wait. We must wait. What else is there to do but hope…and wait? (That's the last line of my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo.)

Second, the people of God complain a lot while they wait. I don't see that God anywhere in Scripture ever faults his people for their anxious prayers or the words that make up the prayers. In fact, God seems to desire our prayers.

Third, I'm not sure what God is doing with all those cries. I think about Israel in Egypt for 400 years. Then the writer of the Exodus tells us, almost casually, "The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them" (Exodus 2:23-25). Really? He saw their oppression and looked on them? Meanwhile, Moses had to grow to about 80 years before the prayer was answered.

Fourth, read Hebrews 11. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised" (11:39). None of them?!? Seriously? Then in almost the very next breath he writes, "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith."

Fifth, you ever just get tired of waiting?

This week has been Dr Seuss week at the school–perhaps all across the country. Each day we have been reading different Dr Seuss books and completing little projects to go along with the book. Tomorrow's book is Oh, the Places You'll Go. This is a great book, but for some reason I haven't been able to find my copy so I decided to look up a youtube version and let the kids watch it. I always  preview these things and while watching it after school today, here's what I heard:

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

On the one hand, it seems to be the thing about being a Christian. We spend a lot of time waiting. I don't think I wanted to wake up today and think another minute about waiting. I certainly didn't want to work on a Dr Seuss project this afternoon and think about waiting. I typically hate when Valentine tells her husband at the end of Monte Cristo that we have to 'hope and wait.' I hate waiting. I'm tired of waiting. I wish God would hurry up and make some kind of revelation about what he's doing or going to do or whatever.

On the other hand, we do seem to spend a great deal of our life waiting. Maybe that's because God thinks we need a lot of mid-course corrections. The trick, I think, is to press on through the waiting, through the times when we are seemingly standing still. Maybe when it seems we are standing still is when we are actually making the most forward progress. Maybe.

I don't think waiting is 'wasted space'. Or wasted time, for that matter. Waiting is waiting and we occupy our time with thoughts (think about Hebrews 11 again) and the business of the Kingdom and with creating space for God to move within us. Waiting is a way of unfettering ourselves from all that keeps us moving in the wrong direction. Waiting allows us to re-evauate, re-assess, and re-direct our lives or, better, to allow God to do so.

I don't know who said it or where it came from, but in the front of my Bible I once scribbled these words: Maybe what God is doing in you while you wait is more important than what you are waiting for.

Now, once again, I am undone.

Undone. And waiting.

IndexTitle: Aloof

Author: Tony Kriz

Illustrator: Jonathan Case

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2014

Pages: 228

[Disclaimer: I was provided a reader's copy of Aloof through the Thomas Nelson BookLook Blogger program. I was not compensated for my review and I was not asked to write a positive review. My review is only to be fair and unbiased. And so it is.]

See also: The Parish Collective

I'm gonna be honest when I say that I really have no idea how I feel about this book. Kriz is about the same age as I am and, based on some of his anecdotes, has had some similar experiences in church and life as I have; although, while he seems to have grasped a theoretical atheism at some point in his life, I think I grasped a more practical atheism at some point. I don't say that lightly about myself because making such a confession might cast a negative light upon Jesus and I am not about that at all. As Kriz makes clear, this was more about himself than it was about God. Maybe what Kriz experienced was a practiced atheism and mine was simply an indifference towards God. I base that conclusion on the way I chose to conduct myself for a number of years after an incredibly difficult season of ministry that ended with my leaving local church ministry altogether and having no church home for the better part of 3 years. I'm not sure.

Whatever the case, Kriz belongs to an imaginary group of writers that I try really hard to understand and appreciate. Yet for some reason I cannot seem to fully do so. I say that in no small part because I have lived many of their experiences, I have suffered just as much if not more, I have wrestled equally with my doubts and fears, but for some reason I continue to wait upon the relief and peace they seem to have found after so many years of the same–a sort of rest and peace about where God has led me and a certain uncertainty about where the path may lead in the future. You can read that for what you want: jealousy? my own unresolved angst? my own sense of lostness–being 40something and caught between two generations and feeling the (sometimes misguided) compulsion to correct the generation that brought us up and the (equally strained) need to train up another generation correctly so they avoid all the missteps we have made? It's all so much a burden that people my age sense. Maybe the problem is that I see too much of myself in Kriz's book and I'm uncomfortable staring in that mirror too long.

All that aside, I will confess that I was immediately turned off when I opened the book and before I read anything else I was confronted with 6 pages worth of 'Praise for Aloof.' I'm all about praise and accolades for well written books, but 6 pages? Seems like overkill to me. OK. That's a small thing, but it's a thing nonetheless. If the book is good, slay with me with a couple of quotes and let it go. I'll find out for myself after I have read it.

So here's how this book went for me: By the time I arrived at page 96 I was still marking in the margins something like, "I'm still not sure what I'm reading about…" By the time I finished page 104, I was thinking, "Oh, another book by a well traveled, angst ridden, spoiled brat." I mean, seriously, by then I had read about his trips to the Philippines, to Bangkok, to Albania, and someplace in South America. It gets a bit tricky keeping track of the itinerary. He tries to help a few pages later, "Across the world, these buccaneer maps led up to places as exotic as the capital cities of the Middle East or as provincial as forgotten villages in Albania's rugged frontier. The destinations were always unexpected. The maps might even lead to the second floor of a Greek embassy" (111-112).  Here I'll own my jealousy because God's buccaneer map for my life hasn't moved me beyond the tri-state area of Ohio, West Virginia, and Michigan. I probably couldn't eat the food in those places anyhow. Maybe God has spoken to me after all.

But I still wonder why so many of these author who write these books feel so compelled to share all their travels to exotic places us mere mortals only dream in dreams we have in our dreams? I'd settle for a month long retreat at Lake Erie let alone the Cascades (p 144).

The first three parts of the book, and the fourth part to an extent, read like an autobiography of how a person came to something that might be called 'genuine faith.' I'm not sure what that means because the way he writes about his struggles only led me to believe he was never far off from God anyhow and I'm not sure that Kriz would use the word 'genuine' to describe where he ends the book because in his mind his faith was always genuine. So take that with a grain of salt. Or perhaps his quotation from A Grief Observed at the head of chapter 1 should have tipped me off as to the nature of the book. Kriz watched his nephew succumb to an inoperable tumor much like CS Lewis watched his wife also succumb to cancer. Maybe this is Kriz's version of A Grief Observed for another generation. Maybe it's both.

I didn't really 'get' the book until part 4 when Kriz started to think more 'theologically' about his story. The first three sections were too autobiographical for me because until I read this book I had never even heard of Tony Kriz. So his grief observed seemed too distant and I wasn't really able to attach myself to it quite the way I did when I first read Lewis' story (because I had read several other of Lewis' books by then). I wish it were different, but it's not. I'm not sure that's necessarily an indictment of the book as much as I think it might be a limitation to those Kriz may wish to read this story. Those who know him will undoubtedly be touched. Those who do not know him might not. I wasn't. I was simply unable to attach myself emotionally to this story–even though I share many of Kriz's experiences up to, and including, watching a loved member of my family succumb to a brain tumor at the age of 30, being terminated from a ministry position, near destitution, and wandering in and out of serious conversations with God for a long while.

Part 4, then, 'Reanimation', is the part I like the best because it was the only part of the book that left me with any hope. I speak for myself here and not a single other person who may read this book. I remember preaching a deep series of sermons one year–about a year or two before being asked to resign my ministry. The series was all about suffering for Jesus–something I took seriously when I was safely behind a pulpit; something I failed at miserably when I had to regroup after my security went to someone else. I went through all the hows and whys and questions about what I did or didn't do and second guessing and angry diatribes at God and shaking my fist and weeping and quoting Job and trusting and faithlessness–I went through it all. It's a lonely time when God is gone or feels gone and one just wants Jesus to hold them. It's a lonely thing to feel abandoned by the only person in the universe we thought would never, ever fail us or leave us or forsake us. It's a terrible thing to feel so forsaken. It's difficult to see clearly when blinded by so much anger, bitterness, and weeping. Tears cleanse and blind.

In the fourth part of the book, I think Kriz does a yeoman's work (I know that's a bit antiquated) bringing home all the angst and turmoil of the first three parts and showing, however quickly, that God isn't so quiet as we sometimes think him to be. And like Kriz, "…slowly I am learning to more fully submit…" (193). Which is another thing very difficult to do.

I come full circle and confess that I'm not sure what to do with this book. I relate to it in many ways; it aggravates me in a number of other ways. The main question for me is this: Does the value I find in the four part of the book outweigh the struggle I had with the first three parts of the book? Can the weight of hope vanquish the weight of despair, the angst of God's hiddenness? The short answer is…yes. I say yes because, if the truth be told, the first three sections can be the story of any person who reads the book. Change the names, change the places, change a little of this or that and what one ends up with his their own story. And all of us need the fourth part, the hope part, the part where the scales fall from our eyes and we experience the full weight of God's presence in 'ten-thousand places.'  Why? Because we all go through these things in life, because all of us have our own buccaneer map we are called to follow. And if I am honest with myself and those who read this review, then I have to confess that I have squandered most of the grace God has poured out on my life and then I have turned around and shook my fist at him wondering where he was or why he didn't give me more, more, more!

That's not God's fault; that's mine. Learning to own that is a long struggle.

In the end, I think Tony Kriz tells the truth: God hides, but that doesn't mean he is not there. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will do those very things. In the end I agree with Kriz that God has 'created a system of mostly silence' (218). There are times when God does speaks with deafening volume, as through a megaphone and yet as a whisper in the midst of a storm. We do well to tune our ears.

This is a helpful book that many people will enjoy. They might struggle a wee bit through the first three sections of the book, but for the hope that is found in the fourth section, I think the struggle is worth the effort.

4.5/5

PS–I enjoyed very much the illustrations by Jonathan Case. They were a great addition to the work and complimented the writing well. They were neither an intrusion nor unnecessary but rather well placed and well done.

Prayer scripturesTitle: Pray the Scriptures When Life Hurts

Author: Kevin Johnson

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

Year: 2014

Pages: 128

[Disclaimer: I was provided an electronic preview copy of this book through NetGalley. I was not compensated in any way nor am I required to positively review the book. Thanks for reading.]

A few years ago I had a startling revelation while I was preparing a sermon or a Sunday school lesson or reading for devotional purposes that a great deal of the Scripture is actually prayers that were prayed by real people at some point in history. I think of people like Hannah, Mary, Miriam, Moses, David, and Jesus. John 17 is an entire prayer. Look at the words Jesus spoke on the cross and you will see that many of them are prayers lifted directly out of the Old Testament. Or look at the church praying in Acts 2 or 4 and see how they do it: the words of their prayers are lifted directly from the Old Testament.

So when I saw this book offered for review, I was actually very, very excited. I had actually started writing a series of Bible study lessons for my church at the time where we would learn to do just this: pray the Scriptures. By that I mean far more than looking to the Bible for ideas about what to pray and rather directly praying the words we find in the Scripture. Again, look at the prayers found in the Revelation and you will be surprised how many times the author of the Revelation quotes or alludes to Scripture and how often those words are in the form of prayer.

So, to reiterate, I was very excited about this book, so I started reading. Each chapter begins with a verse of Scripture followed by two or three pages of thoughts about the particular verse just quoted. The author also works this verse and his thoughts around a theme for each of the 9 verses explored. So, we learn, Psalm 22 is about agony; 1 Kings 19 is about loneliness; Psalm 73 is about resentment. I think you get the idea. At the end of each chapter there are prompts which the author gives us full leave to 'cross out and respond with [our] own thoughts.' These prompts are based on a more comprehensive quotation of the Scripture. So, on chapter 5 where the author talks about 'resentment' from Psalm 73, he begins by quoting verses 2-3. At the end of the chapter, he quotes the entire Psalm, bit by bit.

I use the same procedure every time I review a book that deals in any way at all with the Scripture: I look carefully to see how the author 'uses' Scripture. The way an author, or preacher for that matter, 'uses' Scripture tells me a lot about what they think of Scripture. Well, as it turns out there isn't anything necessarily wrong with the way Johnson uses Scripture in his book. And there isn't anything wrong, necessarily, with what he wrote. My only real grip with this book is that it is shallow.

Look again at the way the people of the New Testament pray Scripture. Look again at the way the people of the Old Testament wrote their prayers and what they prayed about when they prayed and when those prayers were written down for us. They are much deeper and far more revelatory about Jesus or about God's goings on than Johnson's book would lead us to believe. Now that's just my opinion. I'm not saying this is not a good book and I'm not saying it's not worth the time. I am saying it is shallow and that in my opinion he could have delved much, much deeper into the meaning of the passages than he did because I'm not quite so certain that what he says is what those passages are always about when context is taken into consideration.

Scripture is filled with a singular idea from the first verse to the last: God living in peace with his creation and his creation bearing his image and the work he did to restore that peace after humans made a mess of it. It's just my opinion, but I would like to have seen more of the revelatory power of praying the Scripture than the counselor side. Right now the world does not need counseling and Christians do not need therapy. What both need is revelation.

In that regard, this book fell short for me.

3.5/5 stars

I will be honest: I struggle with prayer. Eugene Peterson wrote in one of his books that's quite OK if we struggle and that when we don't have words the Holy Spirit prays for us. Many people struggle, yet for some reason I find little comfort in that. For some reason this is the one area of my life where I take little comfort in the company that loves my misery. I wish, I wish I had the fortitude and strength to pray like David or Paul.

Luke's Gospel begins and ends with prayer–that is, if prayer is defined as talking to or responding to God. The first prayer (1:38) is Mary's: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word." And the last prayer is either that of Jesus (24:30) and is simply a matter of giving thanks or it is that of the disciples and is a matter of worship (24:52). Maybe it's both.  Scattered throughout Luke's Gospel are other prayers–important prayers of people like Zechariah, Angels, Jesus. Prayers are sometimes rather long and drawn out (Luke 1:68-79) and other times prayers are short, simple phrases like, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:38). Sometimes they are utterly confessional (Luke 18:13; "God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), and other times utterly desperate, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

There's more. Sometimes when I think about it I realize that, given these examples, I pray a lot more than I think. Prayer need not be so formal–with all the hand folding, head bowing, and knee dropping. Prayer is not something we need to fear. I confess that I struggle because I'm not like those prayer warriors we read about in books on spiritual disciplines–you know the ones who say they wake up at four AM and pray for three hours before they eat breakfast, read the paper, shave, use the toilet, and go to work. Nah, that's not so much me.

I like these simple prayers I see in the Gospels–short little quiet prayers that demonstrate to God my minute by minute dependence or at least serve to remind me that I am no island. Even when Jesus taught his disciples to pray the prayer he used is a skeleton: basic, simple, and we have mostly memorized it (Luke 11:2-4). Jesus simply says for us to ask, seek, and knock. I find myself pounding on his door a lot–sometimes the hand is bloodied from so much rapping on the oak–yet like the mighty widow we persist (Luke 18:1-8).

I try not to be afraid of praying. I don't want to disappoint the Lord who wants us to pray. So the other day before I did my reading for the day, I wrote out my prayer. They are never long and this was true on that day. Yet I was feeling especially thankful for the simple things in life so I prayed: Dear Lord, thank you for this delicious Lender's Bagel I'm about to eat.

Day 9, Colossians 1:10: A Life that Pleases God!

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

“Christian living is that which, through the knowledge of God, is constantly bearing fruit and increasing in good deeds. Here, the emphasis is on the essential link between right beliefs and righteous conduct. In the end, false teaching is known by its fruits, or rather lack of them, for observation does not discover a clear link between claims to possess gnosis and actual goodness: whereas an awareness of God’s gracious acts towards us should lead to many gracious acts from us towards others.”—RC Lucas, Colossians, 39

Prayers have a point. We are not merely whispering into the wind and hoping that our prayers land somewhere or near someone. Nor, for that matter, was the apostle content to pray prayers that were the mindless ramblings and incoherent mutterings of someone who has no knowledge of the true God. Everything Paul did was to an end; prayer was no different.

I take the two phrases, ‘live a life worthy of the Lord’ and ‘please him in every way’ to be parallel ways of saying the same thing. I might also say this: How does one please the Lord? How does one live a life worthy of the Lord? Then he goes on: Bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Let me take each one at a time.

First, live a life worthy of the Lord. I don’t think this is terribly complicated, but I think we make it terribly complicated. We seem to forget, for some reason, that we are not being asked to do something we have not been empowered to do. In other words: We can live a life worthy of the Lord! We are expected to continue living, but now the manner in which we are living is different. It used to not matter if we lived a life that was worthy of the Lord; we used to have no power to do so. But now things are different: Now we should because we can. We don’t quit living once we find ourselves in Christ. There’s a lot living to be done and those in Christ must do so in a way that is worthy of the Lord. I’ll leave it at that. ‘Worthy’ is a loaded word. Doing something now that was once simply beyond our imagination, capability or desire still strikes fear in many. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the longer we walk with the Lord, the more we know Him, the more we will understand what ‘worthy’ means.

Second, we are to please him in every way. Pleasing. Not only are we living, but we are to be pleasing him also. Here is what Jesus said concerning this: “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus’ ambition, his goal, was to please the Father who sent Him. I think what this means is that Jesus would never do any such thing that might notplease the Father. This means he was perfectly fair, just, and reasonable. It meant that it pleased the Father for Jesus to die; Jesus died. It meant that Jesus did not seek to go about satisfying his own ambition or desire, but only that of God. It means that Jesus was the first to ‘take up his cross and deny himself.’ Well, I won’t argue with you if you say that it is not always easy to ‘please God in every way.’ On the contrary, we wage war against the flesh because there are pockets of resistance. We still, even after we find ourselves in Christ, want to please ourselves. So he expects us, too, to reflect God’s character too in all that we do. It means the often difficult and terrible work of self-denial. It means that disturbing work of not pleasing the self. It means the complicated work of learning when it is appropriate to do so.

Third, we are to be bearing fruit. The New and Old Testaments are filled with this idea that a good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit. It is also consistent that fruit will be born in some way, and that by our fruit we will be identifiable. The Fruit we bear is a strong indication of our identity and to whom we belong. Jesus expressed it this way in Matthew 7:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

I wonder if Paul is making this statement, ‘bearing fruit in every good work’ because it is possible that some Christians might just get lazy and forget that we are called to living, that once we have been raised up from the grave, we are not to find ourselves slumbering therein any longer. If false prophets then are recognized by their fruit, how much more will the Christian be recognized by hers?

Finally, and here is where everything comes together, Paul writes that we are to be growing in the knowledge of God. This growing seems to be the catalyst by which all of our living, pleasing and bearing get their start and get their energy to continue on day after day. Growing in the knowledge of God. Here’s what else Paul wrote about this:

33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

What better way to live our lives? Living, pleasing, bearing and growing. It sounds like quite a remarkable manifesto for living the Resurrection life, doesn’t it? As we grow in our knowledge of God, won’t our living a life worthy of him become much less complicated? As we grow in our knowledge of God, won’t our pleasing him in every way become far more important? As we grow in our knowledge of Him, won’t our bearing of fruit become far more productive? Yet also, as we do these things—living, pleasing, and bearing—won’t these things lead us to a greater understanding of God?

And these are the things that Paul never stops praying about for the Colossian Christians. It sort of puts a new perspective on the nature of prayer and on what our priorities ought to be during prayer. These things give meaning to our prayer that is far greater than the mere stringing together of words that some prayers are. Here’s what he prayed:

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Does this, in any way, resemble our prayers? Is this, in any way, the content of our own conversations with the Lord? Perhaps if we find ourselves struggling with living a worthy live, pleasing the Lord, bearing fruit, and growing in knowledge of God—perhaps, it has something to do with the content of our prayers, the intent of our prayers, and the purpose of our prayers. Perhaps the apostle ought to be our guide in these matters.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 3 Colossians 1:3 The Prayers we Pray

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Prayer is language used in a personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want to respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses—these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, 12)

In a sense, much of what Paul writes in this first chapter is prayer. He starts a prayer here in verse 3, talks about many of the things he is thankful for, and then, in verse 9 starts praying all over again. Then in verse 10 he offers more prayer and I might go so far as to say that Paul will offer yet another prayer in verse 24. When he gets near the end of his letter (what we call chapter 4) he concludes with this exhortation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray…Pray…let your conversation…” So he opens the letter with prayers, and he closes by inviting the congregation he is writing to to join him in his prayers.

The depth of the prayers that Paul offers in the first chapter though is simply astounding. Here we read of a man who is struggling mightily in his prayers for these people. There is a richness to his prayers that language barely expresses. He ‘invents’ words to capture his ideas. There is a vastness to his prayers, not content is he to merely pray about every broken bone and every dying person, Paul opens up the heavens and prays in cosmic, universal language to The firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things, the Image of the Invisible God. Paul is not praying to some lesser deity about some lesser thing. Paul is praying about the church over which Christ Jesus himself is the Head. Paul is praying about the church and for the church to the one who ‘holds all things together.’ Paul is praying for the church to the one who is the beginning and end of creation. Do you think Paul is concerned for the church? And do you think we should be?

Yet how often are our prayers stifled by a cacophony of ‘organ recitals’? How often are our prayers muted by the overwhelming sickness and disease rampant among our members? How often do we pray in galaxy type language—borders wide, depth unimaginable, expanse limitless; Christ’s Lordship unquestioned? How often are our prayers constrained by time? How often are our prayers determined by the course of world events instead of being catalysts for world events? How often do we pray in the uncertainty of God’s will instead of praying for God’s will to simply be confirmed—regardless of what it is? How often do we pray prayers of thanks for others because we have heard of their faith and love that they have for the saints? You see, our prayers can be too limited and often are restrained and unrefined. Here in Colossians 1 we see an example of the sort of prayers that are refined by the Word of God and honed to a sharp perfection. Here are the prayers of the saints!

But he is also not merely content to pray to God. No, Paul also feels compelled to tell the church what he is praying forthem. And to this end we see the apostle’s agenda, that is, what he thinks it is important to pray for and about on behalf of the Colossian Christians. Don Carson well notes,

“Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions as God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around the equivalent items? If the center of our praying is far removed from the center of Paul’s praying, then even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the processes of paganization in our life and thought” (DA Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 96-97).

We will explore in more detail the specifics of the apostle’s prayer later as this series progresses so for now I’ll simply note a couple of the ideas.

He thanks God because of their faith which was, evidently, well known in the world at the time.

He thanks God for the love they have for the saints.

In verse 9, he prays specifically that God will fill them with ‘knowledge of his will’. In fact, he says, ‘we have not stopped praying’ this.

In 10, he prays that they might live a life worthy of the Lord, please him in every way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power so they might endure and be patient and joyful and thankful.

This is the tip of things, but as you can see the apostle’s prayer priorities are far different from the typical prayers that are uttered in prayer meetings or from the pastor on Sunday mornings. DA Carson calls this the ‘paganization’ of our christian prayer life and thought. I say it is the minimizing of our thoughts, or it is prayers to a lesser god. When our prayers are merely the same repetitive, boring pap that the pagan world offers, “Oh, god of wood and stone, let me win the lottery,” then our defeat is complete. But what if our prayers were suffused with the sort of language the apostle uses here: “I pray that you will be filled with the knowledge of God so that you might live a life worthy of God and please him in all things.” What do you suppose would happen if those were the sort of prayers, biblically informed and biblically formed, that we prayed?

What if? What if our prayers were prayed to the God who is the Creator of all things? What if our prayers were prayed for God to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves? What if our prayers were unmasked and unfiltered and unashamed of the glorious authority that is in Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church? What if our prayers were filled with the remarkable content of grace? What if our prayers were concerned more with the Gospel bearing fruit all over the world, and even among us, than with mere churchgrowth? (Don’t you think that if the Word grew and did its job church growth would be a necessary corollary?) What if our prayers were that the people of God be filled with wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God, God’s mystery in Christ, and God’s will? In other words, what I am saying is this: What if our prayers were Christocentric and not man-centric? What if our prayers focused and centered on God in Christ first and only on ourselves as a distant second or third? Do you think this would change the way we act, behave, live, and pray?

And what if we truly considered who it was that we prayed to? Paul is praying these things to the God who rescued the Colossians from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son he loves (13-14). Paul is praying to the God who reconciled us by way of the cross (22). Paul is praying to the God who has now made known the mystery of Christ in us (27). Paul is praying to the God who lives in fullness in Jesus Christ (19). Paul is praying to the God who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (18). Paul is praying to the God who forgives sins and redeems people (14). I could go on, but the point is clear: This is no pagan deity that Paul is praying to, and the nature of Paul’s prayers indicate that this is no God to trifle with. These are serious prayers. They further indicate that this God is powerful enough to effect the prayers that Paul is praying. There’s no point in praying such things if the God one is praying to is unable to hear them or answer them.

I also notice this. Paul is praying to someone specific: The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This goes along partly with what I just wrote, but in a different way. Paul is praying to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that he is praying to the God who acknowledges the work that Jesus Christ has done. He is praying to the God who acknowledges and confirms that Jesus is Lord. Arthur Patzia writes, “This emphasis upon Christ’s exalted status as Lord certainly would reinforce the idea that Christ is not an inferior deity but one in whom God himself is Found” (NIBC, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 17) James Dunn notes, “God the Father is the one to whom prayer should properly be offered…just as he is the ultimate source (‘Father’) of all creation and all being, including the dignity and authority of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.” (56) In other words, Paul is praying to the One who has acknowledged and established the authority (Lordship) of Jesus Christ. What if we prayed with the acknowledgement that Jesus truly is Lord and that we were praying under the auspices of his Lordship, because of his Lordship, and acknowledging his Lordship? Would this change our prayers?

Finally, there is this little word ‘always.’ There is a constancy about the prayers of Paul. This word ‘all’ (and its cognates) is used constantly in this first chapter and will play an important role in helping us understand the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ who is exposed in this letter. But for now, it is safe to note that Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church are specific in content, specific in direction, and specific in duration. If nothing else, we can say that the apostle was a man of prayer who believed that prayer made some sort of difference in the lives of those he prayed for.

And he wanted them to know it. This is the glory of it all: Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know what he was praying, to whom he was praying, and why he was praying it. I think by extension, he wants us to know as well so that our prayers will become biblically formed and biblically informed; that the language of Scripture will be the language of prayer. He fills his page with words and meaning and direction so that our prayers will not be the vacuous, meaningless devoid of content mumbling and ranting that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6 when he said, ‘When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites or the pagans.’ Here the apostle is giving shape and content, focus and direction, meaning and purpose to the words that we dare utter back to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!