In the ancient church pastoral prayer was nonexistent. Prayer belonged to the people and arose out of the congregation.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

Thinking through this as we include more time of open prayer at our church.  We read scripture and then pray through it, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide our hearts and minds.  What do you think…thoughts?

A Prayer Experience from Psalm 6

The Lord is merciful.

He is full of unfailing love.

The Lord hears our cries and hears our prayers.

He takes away our sins.

This is a prayer experience for Lent based on Psalm 6.

A Prayer Experience from Psalm 142

I wrote an arrangement of Psalm 142 for my one man musical, DAVID.  The line, “When my spirit grows faint within me / It is you who knows my way” grabbed me. As we continue this season of Lent, I thought this was a good psalm to share.  I recorded it in the desert room of the Botanical Gardens because David wrote it while hiding in a desert cave on the run from Saul.

Hiking to Glory

As I got out of the van, I saw the sign at the trailhead.  “Warning!  Bears frequent this area.  If you come across a bear, this is how you should handle yourself:  Don’t run.  Make loud noises…”

“Shouldn’t be a problem”, I thought.

I was in Virginia on a family vacation.  The out-and-back trail was a little over 2 miles and ran along the ridge of the mountain.  Snow had fallen the night before so my feet crunched in the snow and there was a holy hush over the woods.  Rocks stuck out from the snow and the trees wore the newly fallen snow like brand new clothes.  As I shouldered my back pack with my water bottle, snacks and camera I hiked along as snow flakes continued to fall from the grey clouds hanging low overhead.

As you hike, there is a rhythm that comes over you.  One step leads to the next step.  My breathe matches that rhythm and comes out of my lungs in regular bursts that I can see in the crisp, cold air.  The rhythm is only broken by the large boulders that periodically rise out of the ground forcing me to climb over and around them.  As I climb over one large grouping of rock, I look down to see a small cave that is dry and protected from the falling snow.  I looked down and thought, “If I was a bear and was hungry for some “hiker-jerky” after a long winter’s nap, this is were I would hide…”  Thankfully, no real bears had a similar thought so I kept climbing.

Arriving at the summit, a sense of awe came over me.  I remembered that God created everything stretching below me and everything hidden by clouds above me.  I could almost hear Him ask me like he asked Job,

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

…Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?

…Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread its wings toward the south?
Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is its stronghold.

And like Job, I realized that too many times I set myself up as God.  I try to set boundaries in places that I know nothing about.  I try to control my world.  I think I know about the world, while in reality, I know so little.

As I stood there on that mountain peak, the snow cleared and I could see down into the valley.  The snow still covering everything.  And I thought, maybe even as a prayer, “God, I have tried to set boundaries that only you can set.  I have tried to control my world.  I have believed in you.  But now, I have seen your glory in a new way.  You are God.  I am not.  Forgive me.  Help me.”

I turned around and hiked back to the van.  I didn’t see any bears, but I did see God’s glory in a new way.

And for both of those things, I am thankful. 😉

Prayer is…

“Prayer is abandoning my reliance on me and running toward the rest that can be found only when I rely on the power of God.” -Paul David Tripp

My son, stands there with his hands in the air and cries, “ah, ah, ah, ah!”  He doesn’t know many words, but he still has needs.  And right now, he needs his Daddy to pick him up.  When I scoop him up into my arms, he points at the light above our heads.

“Good pointer, Z!”  I say, because we’ve been working on being able to point with one finger.  “Do you want to see the light?”

And then I lift him up so he can reach out and touch the ceiling lamp over our heads.  He smiles and laughs as I bring him down.  He can’t do any of these things on his own.  He needs his Daddy to pick him up and then lift him up to the light.  He needs his Daddy and he knows it.

The crazy thing is that we grow up and then somehow think that we don’t need our heavenly Father.  We can do this.  We’ve got everything under control.  But the truth is that we can’t do it and our lives aren’t under control.  If we’re honest, we’re a sinful mess.  We NEED God and the power of his Holy Spirit.  The other crazy thing is that God has already promised to give us what we need.  Jesus knew that we would struggle with this, so he said,

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I would never give my son a snake or poisonous insect!  And yet, I forget that my perfectly loving heavenly Father wants to give me even more.  All I need to do is run to him, with my arms outstretched, and ask.  That is what prayer is for you.  Or as Paul David Trip said,

“Prayer is abandoning my reliance on me and running toward the rest that can be found only when I rely on the power of God.”

Prayer in Process…

Every week we walk through doors at ECC we see four words.

Pursue.  Prayer.  Preparation.  Participation.

Recently, we started asking some questions.

“How are we doing with those words?”

We have had a variety of answers, but one of them haunts me and is something our staff is working on.

Prayer.

The last two weekends, we talked with our teams about focusing more on God’s worthiness in our prayer times before service.  Our church staff is also meeting with Daniel Henderson throughout the year to learn and grow in our leadership.  Our first meeting with him was a week ago and helpful for us.  We are also reading Henderson’s book, “Old Paths / New Power” and a few quotes have jumped out at me.  He writes…

“If we have not time we must make time, for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty…”

“To be effective, these priorities must relentlessly shape your schedule.  Each week the calendar must be organized around these commitments.  Otherwise distractions will tank effectiveness.”

This is true.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we make time for the things that are important to us.  Last week was busy for me, but I made sure to run out of the office in time to see my daughter’s soccer game in the late afternoon.  (They lost.)

How will it change us if we take time out of our schedule?  I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.  We will take a bit more time on the weekends to praise God for who he is.  I am taking a 1/2 day once a month to get away and pray.  Now, I might miss a month here and there and it doesn’t have to be a whole 1/2 a day.  The point is that I am working on my awareness of God’s presence in the normal parts of my day and redeeming time even if it’s just in the car or running outside in the morning.

So like I said, I don’t know how it will change us or myself.  I’m guessing that the process is the point as much as the outcome.

But we’re going to see…

Prayer by Dana Gioia

I discovered this poem and it touched me deeply.  I don’t know the situation or the circumstances that birthed these words, but I resonate with them.  The joining of grief, art, faith, lament, hope…

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young.

Sleeping through Lent

The grass never sleeps.

Or the rose.

Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,

and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,

and heaven knows if it even sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe

the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,

maybe

the lake far away, where once he walked as on a

blue pavement,

lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not

keep that vigil, how they must have wept,

so utterly human, knowing this too

must be a part of the story.

-Gethsemane, by Mary Oliver

Can you guess the first question people ask me when it comes to having a new baby?

“So, are you sleeping yet?”

That is because the sleeplessness that comes with a new baby is a universal experience.  Yes, I know, sometimes a baby sleeps 6-7 hours at a time after 6 weeks, but MOST parents deal with sleeplessness.

It’s also the season of Lent.  You might be wondering what kind of connection there might be to be made between Lent and sleeplessness.  Well, I’m glad you asked…let me tell you, as a Dad who is missing sleep I’ve been thinking about it!  Lent has historically been a time when Christians give up something in order to force themselves into a place where they have to struggle and therefore rely on God.  When we give something up, we join with Jesus in the wilderness or in the Garden of Gethsemane…and that is what makes me think of sleep.   Jesus was talking about sleep in the Garden before his betrayal by Judas.  In Luke 22:46 we read,

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

And what did the disciples do?  They did exactly what I do after changing my son’s diaper, feeding him 5 oz of milk and walking him.  They fell asleep.

Now, if I was trying to be “holier than thou”, I would claim to be giving up sleep for Lent!

I’m not.

But as we go through this season, I am reading a psalm before I go to bed.  It’s just one attempt to focus myself before a night of interrupted sleep.  While I’m not giving something up (I’m actually adding something to my life!), I’m inspired by Psalm 119:148.

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

May all of us take time during Lent to meditate and ask the question, “What will draw me closer to my God in this season?”

Ask the question.  Maybe it’s sleeping less or maybe it’s not.

But if it is…do you want to come over to my house at 3:00AM and change a diaper?

___________________________

Painting by Yulonda Rios

Prayer Helps Us See…

Once a month, a group of staffers from ECC head out to the woods at Fox Island for a two hour prayer retreat.  This week it was a bit cloudy, but there were still five of us who met in the parking lot to walk the trails and get away from the craziness of our lives.

As I headed into the woods, I saw someone walking ahead of me.  I thought to myself, “it’s up to us to follow Jesus on our own.  But, we don’t have to be alone on the path.”

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However as I walked down the path, I found my thoughts were resolved not to be tamed or calmed.  I struggled to focus on the Lord.  Instead, my to-do list, Christmas projects, family conversations, the cool temperatures and road noise all competed for my attention.  The thoughts snaked around me like the roots of an uprooted tree.

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The ground was soggy so instead of taming my thoughts, I tried to observe the things around me that God had made.

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I thought I knew where I was going, but got temporarily lost until I ended up at a small lake.  I could see it through the gaps in the bushes.  I walked out onto a small pier and looked down at my reflection.  There was a stillness there that I longed for.

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But as I continued to make my way around the lake, trying to find a good place to sit, the road noise got louder and louder.  Now there is one thing you need to know about Fox Island Nature Preserve:  the backside sits directly against I-69, a four lane highway running north/south through Indiana.  By the time I got to the end of the small lake, I could hear the trucks rushing past on the other side of the bushes and even smell the diesel exhaust.

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“Isn’t it ironic”, I thought.  “All these people are rushing past in their cars on the way to someplace and they have no idea how close they are to a quiet, restful nature preserve.  How many times in my own life do I do that?  Too often.”

I finally found a dry, picnic pavilion and took out a book on prayer.  Removing the bookmark, I started to read,

“Prayer is a mirror in which we are called to contemplate our spiritual state.  Since it is a real encounter with God we can in prayer see ourselves as God sees us” *

I underlined it for later and continued to read.  Then I set my book down and thought about how God was seeing me today.  I realized that I had been working in my own strength again and was carrying stress that I hadn’t been aware of because of it.  Picking up the book, I started walking back down the trails again.  I tried to listen for what God had been saying to me through his word and through his creation.  I realized that while he called me to holiness, he had also made a way.  Instead of trying to do everything myself, I needed to rest in Jesus.

I looked up.  The gloomy sky was clearing.  I could see blue.  And then I started to pray,

“Father, I believe in you.  I trust you.  I put my faith in you.  No matter how much I try to do things in my own strength, it never works.  Help me to surrender.  Help now my unbelief, in the work of Jesus.  Help me to see.  Amen.”

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*Quote by Jacques Ellul in “Prayer and Modern Man” (119)