Perspectives

poor man praying

A man kneels to pray in his living room and notices a rip in his leather sofa and asks God “why don’t you bless me more?” Another man kneels at an old wooden chair in a run down lean to and prays “Father, I am unworthy to receive such blessings”.

A teen slams the refrigerator door shut in anger over the selection of leftovers from previous meals and heads to the local grocery store. Across the globe a little girl grins from ear to ear because a stranger has given her an apple and some oatmeal for the day.

A middle aged man has grown weary of his marriage and can’t understand why God trapped him in a bad relationship. Across town another man sits alone after laying his long time wife to rest after a battle with cancer and offers prayers for others who are experiencing the same.

A couple changes churches for the third time in 2 years because they don’t like the music and aren’t feeling anything from the message or the worship. In a dark room lit by  single candle believers huddle in secret to share a few pages from a smuggled Bible, risking their lives if they are discovered.

A social activist burns an American flag in protest of current policies, claiming freedom of speech. An armed police officer who lost his only son in the recent war stands in guard over him and protects the activist from harm from other protestors while the activist exercises his rights.

A Pro athlete sits out training camp over a contract dispute over the eight-figure guarantee amount. A young father of three is denied Federal assistance because his $12.00 per hour job disqualifies him for aide.

Perspective is everything. Compared to many I have little worth.  Compared to countless others I am exceedingly wealthy. We in America are blessed beyond description to be born into a country of freedom and wealth, so much so that we are sometimes ungrateful, feeling we are entitled to so much more through citizenship. We complain about food prices but still eat three or four times each day. We want that built in pool but sleep in cozy beds in temperature controlled homes. We complain because our preferred house of worship is twenty miles across town.  I am guilty. God forgive me. We want our kids and grandkids to be perfect but overlook the fact that they are all alive and healthy. We want our spouses to change when in fact if they ever did they would have the sense enough to leave us. What a silly, arrogant, ungrateful people we can be.

In a letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul lays out for us what our attitude and response should be for the blessings we have from God.

“Meditate on things that are true, noble, authentic, compelling-the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.  I’m just as happy with little as much, with much as little.  I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the one who makes me who I am”–The Message Bible.

My personal perspective needs refocusing every day.  For me that means taking time over coffee to just sit with God and say thanks. It shouldn’t take the unfortunate state of others for us to recognize our blessings. It just takes a different perspective.

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Prayer for Dummies-A Simplistic Privilege

Prayer9

I’ve often heard of prayer being described as a spiritual discipline when in fact, it’s a holy privilege afforded us by the brutality and suffering of our Savior which we will be remembering in a few weeks.   There seems to be misconceptions about prayer, who prays better, what catch phrases to use to get God’s attention, the secret tricks to getting your prayers answered and so on. There is no mystery in prayer, no seeds of faith that must first be planted, no prayer hankies to purchase, no holy water from the Jordan River. It’s not snake oil, it’s simple and honest dialogue between us and our Father. Yet many remain intimidated at the concept or waiver thinking they don’t know how to pray.

What exactly is prayer?  Simply put, prayer is nothing more than communicating with God.  It isn’t something you have to study and learn, it’s not a dialect you have to master.  All my life I’ve heard people say they are not good at praying, or say something like “I wish I could pray like that person”, or “you pray, I’m not very good at it”.  I walk away scratching my head.  So, for all of you who may feel you don’t know how to pray, I’m going to give you the real secret.  If you can put words together is some recognizable form, whether vocalized or in thought, you have mastered prayer!

Do we fully grasp the privilege we have in approaching God directly in prayer? How did we came to acquire this privilege?  Before Christ, only High Priests were allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, a special place within the temple, to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then, only at certain times of the year.  After Christ’s death and resurrection, we read that the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn completely from top to bottom, symbolizing our new direct access to the throne of grace, by anyone and at anytime! We can instantly be in the presence of God, on holy ground.

In many of the Catholic, Orthodox and other faiths, you won’t find a schedule of services-you’ll find instead a schedule of liturgies.  Liturgy  comes from the Greek leitos, the people of God, offering up their ergon, or energy and efforts to God in prayer.  There should be a compelling desire on the part of all Christians to be a people of prayer, to want to stand in the presence of our Lord and spend time with him daily in our personal life, and corporately in our churchesMartin Luther King Jr. said that being a Christian without prayer is like life without breath.

When I met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence all the time.  It wasn’t enough for me to stand in front of a picture of her and think about her, or call her up on the phone once a week for 30 minutes or read a biography about her written by someone else.  My days were brighter because I knew I could see her and spend time with her everyday.  And when I was with her, I wanted to talk to her, and to listen to her talk back.  I wanted to know what she thought about things-I wanted to know more about who she was.  I put in the time and energy to make this happen.  God desires our time alone with Him more than we could fathom.

In Luke Chapter 11, verse 1 we read “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he had finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray”. What do you think the disciple was asking him?  These disciples did life with Jesus-they watched him perform miracles-they listened to his teachings, and they observed his prayer habits.  They didn’t just want to know how to pray-they wanted to know how to pray like He did!  They watched as he spoke to his Father-they witnessed him bask in the glory of God’s presence.  The disciples wanted their prayer life to have the same impact on them as they saw on Christ.

At that point Jesus responded by giving us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for-the model prayer.  He responded to the request by saying, “when you pray, pray like this”.  After that, we read the Lord’s prayer, recorded both here in Luke 11 and in Matthew 6.  Note here that Jesus didn’t say, “pray this prayer”.  Jesus understood what the disciples were asking him, and he gave them a model to fashion their prayers around.  Let’s take a look at that model we call The Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer can be broken down into 5 parts, all important ingredients for powerful and effective prayer.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

  “Our Father in Heaven, hollowed be your name”.

It’s important that we recognize the deity of God.  It’s a beautiful thing to know that by virtue of the cross, we have been given the right to call him Abba, or Father, on the same level as our Brother, Jesus Christ.  But, oh, how important it is to remember that we are in the presence of Holiness when we approach God, and we need to express that gratitude reverently and in awe when we pray.

Any of you who have kids or in my case grandkids, especially girls, can relate to this.  When your little girl, daughter or granddaughter climbs up in your lap and throws her arms around your neck and says I love you Dad, or I love you Papa, you know that at that moment there is nothing in the world you would not do for her if she asked.  Why-because she just got your undivided attention.   Jesus said,” if you dads on earth know how to give good gifts to your kids when they ask, how much more does the Father want to give you good things when you ask of him”.

SUBMISSION

Your kingdom and your will be established on earth just as it is in Heaven”.

It is important that when we approach God, that he knows we want and seek his will for our lives, first and foremost-that regardless of what we are about to petition him for, we submit to his perfect plan for our life.  That’s a tall order.  Whenever we talk about “God’s will for our life”, we almost always assume it’s different than our will for our life, and few of us want to know that.  We need to remember Christ’s example when he prayed in Ghesthemane before his arrest.  He knew what he was about to endure and asked if there was any other way for this plan to unfold, that he wanted the choice, but prayed, “nonetheless, not my will but yours be done”.  If we are to be like Christ, we have to submit to God’s will.

In the very same chapter where we find The Lord’s Prayer, in verse 33, we read “seek first the kingdom of God, and then everything else will be added to you”.

PETITION

Give us our food for today

AFTER we have acknowledged God and his deity, and AFTER we have requested his will over ours, then can we make our requests of God.  Let’s go back to our little girl for a moment.  If you’re sitting there reading the paper and she comes in and knocks the paper out of your hand and says “Daddy, why won’t you buy me a new pair of shoes”, your immediate response would be for her to step off and remember who she’s dealing with.  But if she comes over and climbs in your lap and gives you a big kiss, and then asks you, you give in, even if you recognize the ploy, because she’s your little girl and you love her that much.  Remember, our emotions are God given-if it works for us, it must work for him.

Note that in the model, we are to ask for our provisions for the day.  I think sometimes our petitions look more like a Christmas wish list than daily necessities.  Yes, James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not, but this is not to be understood as a blank check promise, but willingness to be blessed as God sees fit to better serve Him and His kingdom.

REPENTENCE

Forgive us of our sins as we forgive others”

This is a prerequisite to effective prayer.  Mark 11:25 says “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins too”.

Some in the body have been led astray by a false presentation of the work of Grace and eternal salvation.  The Apostle Paul had to address this even in his day as many thought they had a license to do anything because of a grace covering.  Paul said, “should we sin more so that grace may abound more?  No Way”.  A humble and repentive spirit is required for effective prayer. God’s mercies are made new and fresh every day because we need them every day!

DIRECTION

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one

Psalms 19:13 reads, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.  Then I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression”.

God does not put stumbling blocks before us-that’s the work of the evil one.  Sometimes, however, we put ourselves into positions or situations where we are tempted or attracted to doing what we know is wrong.  Prayer is a great weapon against the daily onslaught of the tempting situations we face. In Ephesians 6:11, we read “Put on all God’s armor so that you’ll be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil.” It then tells us in verse 18 to “pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit.” God knows what we’re up against, and has given us all the weapons we need, working together in prayer.

There is a final key to developing a reverent fear of God through effective prayer.  Quite simply, there are times when we need to know when to just shut up!  Psalms 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God”. It may be coincidence, but again maybe not, that both times in the New Testament when the Lord’s Prayer is recorded, there is no modeled ending to the prayer, no “amen”, etc.  I see this as my invitation to sit patiently in the Lord’s presence and listen for his voice.  His voice may come as a peaceful holy silence; it may come as an inner voice in your heart; it may come as an urging or sudden thought or inspiration.  One thing is for sure, it won’t be detectable unless you are giving God an opportunity to speak as you wait and listen.

“Pray without ceasing”; “in everything give thanks”. What an awesome privilege to spend time alone with the creator of the universe in intimate prayer.

 

 

To Reach New Heights You Must Dive to New Lows

Blackwater

I am completely fascinated by a video I viewed recently recorded by a team of biologists with  National Geographic. The Great Cormorant is a large majestic bird that lives high along the trees or cliffs near the ocean.  The cormorant lives off of eels and fish caught deep on the ocean floor.  Biologists attached a camera to the back of one of these big birds to study their eating habits and eventually posted it to YouTube.  The cormorant dove into the water and descended to a depth of over 150 feet, a level that would cause most humans to pass out without proper diving gear. The deeper the bird went the darker the waters became and it was hard at times to make out the video.  Upon reaching the ocean floor the cormorant actually walks the bottom looking for food, following his senses when it’s too dark to detect the surroundings, until it finds just what it wants to satisfy its craving.  When it catches its prey it swims back to the surface in record time and takes less than 10 seconds to decompress, at which time it enjoys the catch of the day.  The food source these birds rely on can only be found at the rocky bottom of the oceans where they live. Only by navigating deep ocean levels for its sustenance can it enjoy living high in the cliffs.

Earlier this year during my prayer time I asked God to take me to a new level of faith uncommon to the status quo of everyday Christendom. I asked this not to become better than others in the faith, but that I may have an uncommon revelation of who God is and who I could become through Him.  It sounded like a genuine request-I wasn’t asking for material blessings or a better life, just a deeper walk, expecting voices and visions and mountain top experiences.  The past year of my life has been the darkest, coldest, loneliest and most silent period of my Christian journey, one from which I have yet to completely emerge. If you have read my earlier posts like God in a Steel Cage or God’s Deafening Silence, you may have a clue to what this period has been like for me.  I have definitely sank to new spiritual lows in the process.

I discovered only what I think I already knew about God but I mistakenly gave Him permission to prove it to me.  So consider this fair warning if you are serious about your faith and tempted to ask God to do the same for you.  I had already learned about patience earlier.  Patience is NOT one of my spiritual gifts.  I don’t like lines, I don’t like being late, I will stand by the microwave counting the seconds for my instant oatmeal and all speed limits are merely suggestions.  I was only smart enough to know I needed more patience.  God didn’t grant me my request with a sprinkling of holy water or twenty Our Fathers. No, He put me in situations that demanded patience. I have to admit I firmly believe God finds humor at times in testing us-didn’t think it possible for God to be sadistic. He sent me fender benders on the only freeway out of my section of town that added thirty minutes of waiting.  He would send me to the shortest check out line at the store only to find it was either the line for training new cashiers who had no computer skills or the line with that person, you know the one, who finds every item in the store that has no price tag.  He would make me take the call from that customer you’ve taken care of successfully for years who goes ballistic when 50 of his 5000 brochures weren’t folded just right.  Ask and it shall be given thee-for reals!!!!

Given what I knew about the patience thing I should have expected as much from God when making my lofty request for a deeper experience.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happens when God gets serious.  I can only attempt to describe in words my spiritual journey this past year.  I liken it to the dark portion of a haunted house, minus the screams, you know that portion where there is total darkness and many built-in dead ends and sections where the floor underneath your feet gives way and you can’t find your way except by holding on to the shirt of the person in front of you, except I had no shirt to hold on to. Darkness, silence, no direction, no voices, no clues or hints of light to guide me, and decreasing confidence with every step, having nothing to lead me except for my knowledge of His Word, which I had to force myself to recall.  I had asked God to take me to new heights and He took me first to all time lows.

As Christians many of us have false conceptions of what our faith walk and life in Christ are to look like.  Through false teaching and itching ears we want to believe that our journey should be one of ease, one of peace and one of tangible Osteen type blessings where our healing is just around the corner and our favorite parking spot at the mall is just waiting for us to pull in and claim.  But without explanation or justification God allows the righteous to suffer illness and the nearest parking spot to be blocks away on a rainy day. Or perhaps we aren’t nearly that gullible and we realize that wanting to grow deeper in our faith requires that we be willing to endure situations too uncomfortable for us to eagerly choose on our own so that settling for mediocrity and the path of least resistance is preferred.  Given the options, I can certainly understand.  I felt and still feel at times like asking God what I did to cause these trials.  The irony is that God was in fact answering my request and honoring me by driving me to the ocean floor where I would find just what was needed to sustain me and allow me to live at a higher level.  It is the method God uses for all of us.  I can’t build muscle by looking at pictures of ripped men in magazines, but by going to the gym and tearing down the smaller muscles I have now through pain and exertion.

There is yet another bird that has recently been discovered that can fly at an altitude of over 21,000 feet over the Himalayas and at commercial airline heights.  I’m not sure if I want to soar that high, at least not yet.  For now I’ll settle for flying over the Smoky Mountains and a diet of food at my current altitude until I catch my breath.

When There Are No Words

love words

Have you ever been in a situation when you were at an absolute loss for words? Perhaps it was when you saw your child in their first school or church play, or maybe their first musical recital.  Maybe you were left speechless when friends threw a surprise party for you.  With most of us there have been occasions in our lives when words simply escaped us. For me it was the moment I realized how in love I was with the lady who would soon be my wife. I have always loved writing and thought I possessed a fair mastery of the English vernacular, that is until I tried to put into words the depth of emotions  I was feeling for her. Yes, I wrote her a poem or two-even had one of them published in a poetry anthology. But even with that, I still felt I could not come up with adequate words to express my love for her.   After seventeen years of marriage I am only more aware of this observation.

As much as I love my wife, imagine with me if you can how much more of a challenge I have in approaching God.  There are no words to describe the challenge of having no words!  After all, one can’t even describe God.  When He sent Moses to rescue the children of Israel, Moses asked Him “who should I tell them is sending me?”  God replied “tell them my name is I Am”.  I almost believe even God couldn’t describe Himself in a way that we would understand.  I Am pretty much covers it all with an infinite number of fill-in-the-blank descriptions.   There are no textbook definitions that are remotely adequate to express the person and deity of God.

So if we can’t even find words to describe God, then how can we possibly find words to express our loving response to an indescribable God? It can’t be done. There are no words. Oh many have tried-the writings of the early church fathers are masterful and the hymns written over the centuries have moved us to tears when reflecting on all we know and don’t know about God.  Yet all who have tried have come up short in their attempts.  The created can’t capture in human language the Creator.

When you are with someone you truly love there are those times when just being in their presence is enough. Love is shared and expressed at times when words would get in the way. How cool is it that we can approach God with the confidence of knowing the same holds true for us. In our intimate prayer or reflection time with God we can be assured that God sees our hearts and knows our deepest thoughts so that are linguistic inadequacies are not an issue. We are told in scripture that there are times when His spirit in us prays for us in groans that need no words. There is dialogue between our inner spirit and God’s heart that we wouldn’t understand even if it were somehow audible.  Thou shouldest not have need of  expressing thyself to the Almighty with Shakespearean prose thou canst comprehend or a language thou knoweth not of!

With people we may feel at a loss in trying to relay to them the depths of our emotions, but with God, there is no shortage of understanding even when there are no words.

Father, let my words be few.