Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prayer and the Pray-er (Prayer #2)

A friend told me this morning that he'd been praying for me. I was touched by his generosity with his time, and encouraged that someone was talking to God about me (in a positive way!)

Which brought to mind the question of what our prayers accomplish. Again, as we talk about prayer we're discussing how we talk to a Being who already knows more about the situation than we can tell him, about a friend or family member he already loves infinitely more than we do. So as we pray, are we convincing God to do something good for this person for whom Jesus has already died?

My best understanding, as of May 27 2008, is that prayer for the good of someone else does several important things:
--Reminds me to love that person, since God already does
--Keeps that person in my mind during the week, rather than simply saying that I care about him or her, but forgetting all about their needs later
--Allows God to bring to mind things that I can do for that person, over and above prayer
--Encourages that person, when he or she learns how many people are praying and concerned about their needs
--Shows me my un-Christlike attitudes about another person.

There are probably more, but those are pretty powerful already.

When I actually wrestle with God in prayer over the needs of a friend or family member, I have to work through some of those parts of my thinking that aren't like God. Praying through those things is like taking the flour and other ingredients from the cabinet and working them slowly into the dough that will be good bread; in this case, finding places in the Bible that help me see the mind of God, especially as revealed through his son Jesus, and working that into my thinking to replace the selfish ideas and motivations.

Jesus said "the Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33). That works on the macro-level (that is, all through the world) and the micro-level (all through me).

Good prayer, like good bread, takes work. But it's worth every second. Why don't you give it a try? And let me know how it comes out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's the Point? (Prayer, #1)

Prayer. Sometimes it sounds like a chore, sometimes an entrance requirement for something or other. Some of the prayer I hear sounds like people are using it as a weapon against something, or a way to beat up others who don't agree with their ideas, or a way to impress others with their spiritual depth.

If you believe in this God who is all-knowing anyway, why bother praying? I mean, after all, if he knows what you're gonna say before you say it, what's the point? You could be boring God by saying it all. You could be irritating him by letting your thoughts wander, or by using wrong grammar or being disorganized in your request list. What if he only listens to glib talkers, or the deeply introspective, or the dramatic? Or those who haven't sinned yet today?

Does God have an emotional need to hear from us, or maybe he forgets we're still here unless we make noise? I don't think so. Then prayer is more for us than for God. He sees us wherever we are. We're the ones who don't see him. He doesn't need us, but we sure 'nuff need him.

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, got to talk to God all the time, face to face. Then of course they decided they'd grown up and didn't need him anymore, and the whole human experience went downhill, fast, from there.

I think one of the important parts of prayer -- and there are many -- is to be reminded that I don't know it all. Psalm 25:4-5 says it this way: "Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me."

Prayer gives me a chance to admit that there's a lot of stuff in life -- okay, all of it -- that I can't do, and need his help to accomplish. For that matter, even to know which thing to be working on, let alone how to do it. To admit to God, not just to myself, that I need him and always will. (Now, he already knows that, but it helps me to face the fact that I do.)

For a lot more perspectives on prayer, I recommend Philip Yancey's excellent book Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?

What is it that you need to admit to God today? He know you're there, he knows what's on your mind, and he's listening. What's more, he loves hearing from you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Something you can't earn

Grace is called "undeserved pardon" in some circles. That's part of it, to be sure. But there's more.

Grace -- which comes from absolute love -- is the foundation for the way an eternal, limitless, perfect, holy God interacts with a physical, limited and very much imperfect humanity (that would be you and me both). Hey, God is perfect and we aren't, so how else would he deal with us, than by grace? Would you let the Three Stooges into your house??

I'll give you an illustration from my own life (I know, you didn't ask for one, but it's here anyway). Years ago, I was divorced. It wasn't pretty. Divorce never is. I figured, well, that's it for me, God won't ever let me be married again. Or it will be five or ten years of being single, and I'll finally find someone I can be moderately happy with.

Wrong on both counts. God is gracious, not vengeful. It was only two years, and I met somebody that has absolutely taken my breath away, over and over, as I see God's hand in our relationship. I'm happier than I ever thought possible, and more fulfilled in this marriage than I thought marriage could be. It's still work -- it always is -- but it's amazing.

Grace is something we can't earn and couldn't qualify for in a million years. It's a gift, that's all. And I'm here as one of the prime examples of God's graciousness. Like Paul said: 'This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.'

I'm glad it's grace not works. How about you?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why do it?

A few years ago, when I was first caught up in a total revolution of my concept of God and what he meant in my life (including whether I must capitalize "he" in writing about God) I fell in love with something called 'worship'. Now, I know I've been worshipping God all my life, but the topic of worship -- what it is, why do it, how, and so forth -- became a focus for me and some of my friends.

Others of my friends completely didn't get the concept of worship, even tho it's written up in the Bible. I mean, looking at it from a human viewpoint, what kind of personality needs to be praised and complimented all the time? If one of my friends acted that way, I'd have to have a long talk with him or her about insecurity and peace. Do you really want to have a person like that around you? I don't! And how about those megalomaniac rulers in this world, who demand their followers tell them how great they are? If God is like that, and wants to burn me when I don't give him enough of it, I don't think I want anything to do with him. Would you?? But if God is love, why does he need all this praise stuff?

C.S. Lewis, one of the clearest writers in English on Christianity in the 20th century, asked that question too. He wrote a book, Reflections on the Psalms, and wondered aloud why so many times the scripture says something like this, in Psalm 8:1 -- "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

Lewis's conclusion in that book was, worshipping God is simply to recognize who he is and what he's like, and respond accordingly. "To worship God is merely to be awake, to have entered the real world," he writes. So to be truly paying attention to reality, seeing how great God really is, would that help us worship?

Two metaphors that help this make sense to me: one is my memory of walking into a room at a museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a huge painting was hanging, depicting a morning in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with a lake and deer in the foreground. It filled my whole field of view, and just took my breath away. I was stunned by its beauty. The other idea is what it means to show appreciation to someone (I think first of my wife, The Amazing Joanne) for her traits or a gift she's given me.

If we apply those ideas to God, what do we have? Being bowled over by how great he really is, when we get a glimpse of that; and being filled with appreciation and excitement about all he has done for us; those are some of the ways we can be aware of reasons to worship him.

Who he is, and what he's done; both of them knock me over every time I really hone in on them. It makes me want to dance, sing, shout, kneel, bow, reach up to him in love, and a lot of other actions and thoughts.

How about you? Have you had a glimpse of him lately? How did you react?