Never Have To Beg

“Remember, Daddy: you promised me a Freeze!”

That was what my daughter said to me this afternoon.  We were pulling into Taco Bell, our traditional Saturday lunch spot.  She had missed out on a chance to get a Yoo-Hoo earlier, so I compensated by promising her a Freeze at the Bell.

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A couple hours later, we were there and she was reminding me of my earlier promise.  And reminding me.  And reminding me.

After the third reminder, which came less than 30 seconds after the first, I realized that I was experiencing one of those proverbial “teaching moments”, and I determined to seize it.

“Listen to me, hun,” I said as we stood in the Bell parking lot, taking both her hands in mine and keeping my voice as even as possible so she would understand I was intense but not angry, “I do remember my promise to you.  And even if I didn’t, I would only need a small reminder.  You don’t ever have to beg me for anything.  I am happy to give you anything you need.”

That (more or less; I think I was a little more eloquent at the time) was what I said to her in that instant.  And I did so not because I wanted her to know something about me.  I did so because I wanted her to know something about God.  I wanted her to realize that she doesn’t have to beg God for anything, doesn’t have to plead with God for anything, doesn’t have to beseech God for anything, doesn’t need to bang on the door of Heaven for anything, doesn’t need to be anxious for anything or afraid she won’t get something.  She doesn’t need to do that because God, like me but to an infinitely greater degree, is happy to give her what she needs.

This is something I have recently begun to realize.  I’ve been routinely praying to God for twenty-five years, a quarter of a century.  I’ve been sporadically praying to God longer than that.  And for most of those years, my prayers have had a desperation to them.  I have pleaded with God, tried to bargain with God, persuade God, reason with God, make my point, etc. ad infinitum.  It suddenly dawned on my sometime this year, though, that all this is unnecessary.  If God is good (which the Bible repeatedly says His is and which nature strongly suggests), He will simply supply these things.  He will supply them not because I have successfully begged them out of Him.  No, He will supply them because He is a supplier.

Now I know you might question this a little.  After all, doesn’t the Scripture talk about “wrestling in prayer”?  Yes, it certainly does.  Paul uses that phrase in Colossians 4, and Jacob demonstrates the idea in Genesis 32.

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Paul doesn’t say what Epaphras was wrestling in his prayers, though.  It may well be that he wasn’t wrestling with God (which is how I imagine many interpret this verse) but rather with those spiritual forces who oppose the will of God.  And, yes, Jacob wrestled with God until he was blessed, but I’m not sure the Scripture says that his wrestling was what really got him blessed.

No, I think God gives because God is a giver.  I think God gives apart from begging and desperation.  I think God is exactly like the father in Luke 15 who told his eldest son:

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That son didn’t need to beg.  He did need to ask (which is how families work but apparently not what he was doing).  But he didn’t need to beg.  He didn’t need to get desperate or fear.  My daughter doesn’t, either.  Nor do we.

40 Hours of Prayer

I am part of a interdenominational church group called Church Without Shoes.  Every year, this group starts Holy Week with a forty-hour period of prayer.  We call this period “40 Hours of Prayer”.  Pretty straightforward, right?  The prayer is hosted at a church called Sanctuary Ministries, a church that is centered on worship, prayer, prophecy, and artistic expression.  This church has really put their talents into this forty-hour prayer period.  They divided the period into 40 1-hour segments, each led by a different pastor (I did two periods this morning as the pastor scheduled to take over for me couldn’t make it).  They further divided this hour into stations based on Jesus’ teachings in John 13-17.  I wanted to share these stations with you, so I took some pictures.  Here they are:

20180326_085651This is the first station.  I and the people I led repented here and reminded ourselves of God’s promise of forgiveness.

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This is the entry to the prayer room.  It is designed to replicate the door to a Jewish household on the night of Passover.  You can see the blood above the door (not real, of course).  The idea is that we were interceding for our valley (our area is a valley, and we pastors often speak of it in that way).  We were asking for the destroyer to pass over our valley and God’s blessings to flow in.

20180326_084204The first station.  We read Jesus’ “new command” to love one another.  We thought about someone who needed His love, wrote their name on a card, and asked Him to fill us with His love for them.

20180326_084216The second station.  We had the names of people suffering from anxieties given us by the churches over the past several weeks.  We asked that Jesus would comfort them in their anxieties (see the hands of Jesus coming out of the troublesome headlines) and then we moved their names into His green pastures beside the still waters (Psalm 23).

20180326_084225Third station.  We read Jesus’ teaching on abiding in Him from John 15.  We prayed for those who have lost connection with “the vine” and then connected their names to the vine.

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Fourth station.  We asked the Spirit to direct our attention to one of the pictures (all of which were hands in some state of action).  We then reflected on what God was saying to us in those pictures.  Some of us wrote what we heard down on paper and clipped it underneath the appropriate picture.  I heard God telling me to be more open to people, especially those that seem like “lost causes”.  (My paper is the second one under the picture of the open hands.)

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The final station.  We prayed for unity among all the churches in our valley, the same thing Jesus prays for in John 17.  There were church names on cards.  We each picked a name, prayed for that church, then attached it to the cross.  I did not know most of these churches.  Many of them were far different from my church (more ecclesiastical, more denominational, etc.).  I prayed for them anyway and ask for unity with them and with all followers of Jesus Christ.

20180326_084256We ended with communion.  I took communion three times with three different groups of people, and I loved Jesus every time.

40 Hours of Prayer is a highlight for me.  It would be even without all the artistry, but it is especially so with it.  I experienced joy, hope, peace, faith, etc. while leading people through these stations.  If you’re in our area, stop by before 5 PM tomorrow and pray yourself.  If not, pray where you are.  You may not be in our valley, but we want all of God’s blessings to be upon you as well.

God bless us all as we move to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday!

Evensong

I just finished Tim Keller’s Prayer.  I bought the book several months ago, but just got to it in the first couple weeks of this year.  Knowing how my frugal mind words, I probably bought it after Keller tweeted that it was on sale for $1.99 or something like that (he frequently tweets deals like that, and I frequently act on them as I am cheap).

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I didn’t buy the book just because it was cheap, though, nor did I buy it just because I am cheap.  I bought it because I wanted to learn to pray differently.  I say differently, not better.  I’m not sure words like better apply to prayer.  I think prayer is an honest interaction with a personal God, not a ritual which manipulates an impersonal force, so I’m not sure it is possible to do it better; I think an interaction with a gracious God like ours is an interaction; it can’t be described as better or worse, just like the time I spend with my wife or my daughter can’t be described as better or worse; it is time with them and thus always good.

But I thought I could do it differently.  I thought I could do it more honestly, could make these honest interactions more honest and more interaction-ish (?; sorry, that’s the best description I could come up with).  And I thought Keller could help me with that.

He certainly did.  He particularly helped me in the final chapter, “Practice: Daily Prayer”.  I this chapter, he gave a brief history of daily prayer as practiced by believers throughout the centuries.  He briefly mentioned that daily prayer and times of daily prayer are “biblical” (which is, of course, very important to a Bible-based guy like me).  He mentioned the “Daily Office” with its seven times of prayer.  He also mentioned that this office was “proven to be physically insupportable” (this, incidentally, is what I thought about the office when I first learned about it in college; how can people keep waking up in the middle of the night to pray?).  He discussed changes to the office after the Protestant Reformation, changes which reduced the times of prayer from seven to two (Morning Prayer or Matins and Evensong).  Keller then said that Protestants in modern times dropped down to one time of prayer they called “Quiet Time”.

These comments about Quiet Time were particularly enlightening to me because this is what I was taught in college and what I have been continuing to do ever since: have one time of prayer and reading called either “quiet time” or “devotions”.  I may pray and read at other times in the day, but that morning time is the only scheduled, directed time.   I was surprised to realize that I was not just following a pattern which had handed to me by my college professors but that I was following it uncritically and had been doing so for the better part of two decades (yes, I have made some significant changes over those decades, but I’ve still just been following this basic pattern).  I was surprised to realize this pattern was far weaker than patterns followed by centuries of Christians before me and did not have much to commend itself, either biblically or otherwise.  And I was surprised to realize that I was doing these devotions more as a duty than as a devotion; that is, I wasn’t really interacting with God because I wanted/needed to as much as I was going through the motions because I believed I had to in order to be a “good Christian”, because this is what my professors said I needed to do to be a “good Christian” (yet another phrase which does not apply to interactions/relationships with God).

This revelation led me to the big change I am going to be making to my way of praying.  I plan to add another time of prayer to my daily schedule, to have two times of prayer as the early Protestants did.  I will continue to do my morning prayers  pretty much as I have always done them: I will read a section of the Bible following my new reading plan, then I will pray through the Lord’s/Model Prayer of Matthew 6, personalizing it for whatever topic I happen to be praying about that day (myself, my family, my church, etc.).  I will also do what I call “my memory work”, reciting one of the epistles I have memorized.

In the evening, though, I will be doing a prayer more in line with the format Keller gives.  He suggests five parts to prayer: evocation (realizing we are coming into God’s presence), meditation (reading a passage of the Bible), word prayer (praying through the biblical text that was just read), free prayer (praying about anything else), and contemplation.  I will be using the Moravian watchword and doctrinal text as my Bible passage, thus keeping me in contact with the Moravian plan as I wanted to.  I’m going to call this second time of prayer “Evensong” in the Protestant tradition (a term I first heard from a girl I dated during Bible college and which was always attractive to me).  It won’t nearly be like the Evensong services of some churches.  If fact, it will actually be more like the Daily Office time called Compline as I will be doing it around 9:30 PM after my wife and daughter have gone to bed.  But I think it will be good.  In fact, it has been good the first couple times I have done it.

In addition, I will also adapt another practice Keller mentioned briefly.  At one point in this final chapter, he said, “Luther, as we have seen, believed prayer should be twice a day, while Calvin advised prayer to be brief and even more.”  I like the idea of more and brief prayers, little words to God offered throughout the day.  I have been doing this anyway, but it was encouraging to hear the word brief.  I was taught in college that prayers should be long.  Our professors were always concerned about the duration of prayer for some reason, telling us that if we were “good Christians” (yeah, that again) we would pray for an hour a day or more.  I like Calvin’s idea that duration is unimportant, that brevity is in fact more desirable.  Offering quick words to God as I go about my day (again, honest words, not rote ones) seems to me to be a genuine walk with Him, which is what I am looking for.

I think these challenges will help me have the honest interactions with God I am looking and longing for.  I think they will allow me to keep what is good about the “quiet time” I’ve been doing while simultaneously incorporating the numerous good things Keller talked about.  I’m very happy and thankful, then, that I read the book and gave it a chance to influence me.

Church Without Shoes Prayer Meeting

I’m a part of a group called Church Without Shoes.  Most of us in the group admit that the name is silly (it refers to the fact that under our denominational “shoes” (distinct practices and doctrines) our feet (faith) all look the same), but we love the group and the idea behind it.  The group started when several pastors/ministers from several denominations 1) became aware of each other, 2) saw some similarities in each other, and 3) began to trust each other enough to first pray together, then cooperate together, and ultimately do life/the life of faith together.

Each month the group meets for prayer.  Yesterday, we had our monthly prayer meeting at our congregation (First Christian Church – Pleasant Hill).  While we were praying, I managed to grab a couple pics.

I really need this group.  Do I have differences and disagreements with some of the pastors?  Absolutely!  Do I see those differences/disagreements as worthy of breaking fellowship with them?  Absolutely not.  What I have learned after nine years with these men and women is that their faith is as genuine as mine.  They are clearly followers of Christ.  Maybe the are in error about some things (maybe I’m am, too; I doubt I’ve got the faith perfect in doctrine and practice), but they are still clearly followers of Christ, members of His family, my brothers and sisters in the faith.  I believe I have to fellowship with them (1 John 5:1ff), and I am very happy to do so.

If there is a similar group in your area, you should consider participating.  You will get more than you lose.  If you’d like to check our group out, you can find us on our website and Facebook and Twitter.