Monday, February 20, 2012

A Little about Prayer

Many Christians think of prayer as our list of requests, worries and admissions of guilt with requests for forgiveness, given to God in a one-sided stream of words and thoughts, and we hope we get it right.  But that's only part of the Bible's teaching on prayer.  In my reading, I've found more than a dozen different types of prayer, each appropriate for a specific time or use!  Today I want to outline two of them for you.  I am grateful for the detailed descriptions given in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's excellent work, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook:  Practices that Transform Us.  (The link will take you to where you can purchase it if you like, but I don't get any commission or anything.)

But first, why pray?  Jesus said "your heavenly Father already knows all your needs" in Mat. 6:34 shortly after teaching the disciples how to pray.  So prayer is not informing God of our needs or worries or fears or pain.  To paraphrase many different authors over the centuries, prayer is entering into an intimate conversation with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, where we may freely speak but where God also may freely speak to us.  It includes becoming quiet before God so he can respond to all our temporary concerns with his eternal love.  

Breath Prayer:  perhaps the simplest form of prayer, certainly the shortest.  A breath prayer might consist of breathing in while thinking of one of God's names such as "Lord of heaven's armies" or "Jesus, Son of David;" then breathing out and saying "Hear my prayer" or "You are my God forever" or another term of praise or a request.  It's helpful to do the same prayer several times in a row as a way to slow down and focus, perhaps in preparing for another spiritual activity.

Conversational prayer:  you may have experienced a prayer group, where people take turns praying, often about many topics at once.  In conversational prayer, like in a discussion among friends, everyone takes turns, briefly, praying about a specific topic and listening to one another pray.  It is like a discussion with God and one another, prompted by the Holy Spirit moving within each of us, until we feel prompted to move to a new topic. It's a type of prayer that takes sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's voice in ourselves and in one another. 

These are only two forms of prayer that you may not have practiced.  I suggest you give them a try, though, as they can enrich your prayer life and your appreciation for the Lord's intimate concern for you and others. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God's Love, Our Life

I've been writing about how God tells us he has already redeemed us through Christ, and we don't have to earn his love.  So how we can more fully live in that amazing reality of God's love and acceptance?  How can we deal better with everyday life, with its struggles, temptations and failures, learn to "imitate Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1) and show God's power and love to others?  We will find that the answer to all these questions is the same:  a more focused daily walk, using some common and very useable tools.

We were created "in the image of God" (Gen. 1:26) with the capacity for a relationship with God.  But because of humanity's initial and ongoing rebellion against God, we have been wandering around in the dark and subject to death (Rom. 5:12-14).  It took another "Adam" -- Jesus Christ -- to set things right, including restoring that broken image of God in us (1 Cor. 15:45).  Because of Jesus, and only through Jesus, we have a new, clear and open relationship with God.

A few points to remember before we start to talk about specific tools:
First, these are 'tools' not 'rules.'  These help us on our journey, they're not more and burdensome commands (sigh) to remember. 
Second, these are not ways to convince God to reward us; they are part of "a process of involvement in God's gracious work" through the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, according to M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. in his well-written book, Invitation to a Journey.  
Third, we don't change ourselves; we are changed by God in the process of walking with Jesus, caught up in his relationship of love with the Father.  We are not in control, God is; so the best thing we can do is surrender to his plan for us "to become like his Son" (Rom. 8:29.
Fourth, these are ways to remove the veil that is over our eyes so we can see Jesus more fully.  Paul writes in 2 Cor 3:16-18, "But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."
Fifth, it's a process, not something we do just once.  Life with Jesus is a relationship, like two friends taking a long walk together, or a marriage. 
Sixth, being conformed to Christ means new and renewed relationships with others.   As we become more like him, we will be able to relate to others with his love and not our own brokenness.  (Isn't that alone worth the whole journey??)

So as we look at these tools one by one, we will see why each one fits into God's plan to conform us to a whole new Person, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13). 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Facing Jesus and Reality

Last week I wrote about spiritual reality:  that we have already been given "every spiritual blessing in Christ," and that we can learn to live in those blessings every day, by perceiving and focusing on that reality.  In this pattern of life, when God speaks to us, we actually hear his will for us and are ready to respond. 

The Triune God said "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us" (Gen. 1:26), and we were created as relational people, so God could have a mutual relationship of love with us.  We are, at the core, spiritual beings (1 Thess. 5:23) so having a spiritual connection with God should be a natural part of life.  The Holy Spirit, who is our guide and helper (John 14:16-17) has come to help us perceive and live within that.

Some think that, if they "get more of the Holy Spirit" then they will achieve mastery over life, sort of like a Jedi in Star Wars.  But that's emphasizing our self-will, when in fact, it is God who gives us both the idea of pleasing him and the strength to follow, Phil. 2:13.  Our life with God is a matter of becoming quiet before God and surrendering our will to his; placing ourselves before God, deliberately, day by day, through practical, useable tools of spiritual development.

These tools are not mysterious matters that can only be practiced by monks in a cave somewhere in France.  They are exercises any of us can do, nearly anytime or anywhere, to experience a deeper Christian life:  "And this is the secret: Christ lives in you" (Col. 1:27).  Human life gets chaotic and broken because we neglect this spiritual journey we are on with Jesus.  Wholeness, the repair of our thinking and our emotions, can only take place as we surrender our self-will in the only truly safe place there is:  the arms and heart of the Father, as we are brought there, in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit's guidance.

We're going to continue exploring, slowly and one little piece at a time, what that spiritual journey is like.  This is not something any of us achieves in a short time, dear reader, so as we journey together with Jesus, let's allow him to lead us one step at a a time, being patient with the process and with ourselves.  I believe we will both find spiritual riches as we go.