Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pray Until You Pray

“Our greatest claim to nobility is our created capacity to know God, to be in personal relationship with him, to love him and to worship him.  Indeed, we are most truly human when we are on our knees before our Creator.” - John Stott

I came across this quote during the week while reading the book for our Sunday school lesson as I prepared to come to class this week. We are using The Gospel Project from Lifeway, and we are studying about “The God Who Is” this month. Very encouraging discussions, and I’m thankful for this class and the people I get to join with each week.

While thinking about prayer, I think it may be one aspect of the Christian life that I’m not sure I’ve always understood or practiced as well as I want to. I’m catching up on old podcasts as I’m quite behind after the whirlwind summer we’ve had so far, and I was listening to Alistair Begg teaching a sermon he called, “Lessons From the Flyleaf of My Bible,” and he made a comment about how he suspected many of us would be embarrassed for others to know how little we actually prayed. I think that’s probably true. I know that for me, I don’t find it hard to be faithful to read my Bible daily anymore. That has become a joy and a comfort and I look forward to it, and often I do pray as I read, but honestly, I have not been as diligent to set aside time daily to really labor in prayer, calling out to God fervently, if you know what I mean.

In the past few years there have been controversies and disturbing trends about so-called prayer techniques and contemplative practices and ‘spiritual formation’, that I do not endorse or think are appropriate or even biblical. I think I understand the motivation behind some of it, at least from some well-meaning people I’ve known, in that we all know we need to be praying and we want to experience a relationship with our Creator. Because we find prayer kind of mysterious and often difficult, yet knowing it is vital, I think we are always looking for SOMETHING that will spur us to the ‘next level’ of being a praying people. But I think those methodologies and man-made approaches to look within and use of creative props and whatnot are not the answer. I think many of us have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to pray and what prayer is. We come to prayer meetings and bring our laundry list of requests that focus mostly on temporal concerns, and we expect to feel something immediately and we expect prayer to come naturally. The thing is, it doesn’t always. 

I heard once that there was a Puritan saying, “Pray until you pray!” I tried looking it up and came across this blog post that sums up what I’m wanting to get at here pretty well, I think. I think the sentiment behind that exhortation is that prayer is not an easy, quick thing. It takes some work. You have to pray long enough, purposefully enough, fervently enough that you move beyond checking a box that says, “Well, I said my prayers, done with that ritual, on with the day,” you move beyond the merely formalistic notions of prayer, the initial inertia that if you’re anything like I am which is sometimes hard to overcome, and get to the point where you are actually crying out to God in a purposeful, meaningful way. 

One thing I have found is that when I first bow to pray, I often have a hard time settling down and praying with a purpose. I find myself thinking about anything and everything that can distract me away from prayer, and rambling, and even sometimes wandering to where I at some point come back to it and think, “What have I been saying? Am I even connecting with what I’m thinking and saying here?” I have found a tool that, for me, has been very helpful in ordering my thinking as I go to pray. I received a book called, A Way to Pray by Matthew Henry, some time back from Alistair Begg’s ministry, Truth for Life, and I’m finding it to be helpful in teaching me what kinds of things to pray as I work through it. It’s divided into helpful sections like praise, confession, petition, and some others, and I don’t read it straight through, but I have markers in each category and I usually take a short section from each and pray through that, which informs my thinking in such a way that I am often able to springboard into praying about more specific things that pertain to what I need to be praying about. What I like most about the book is that it basically takes scripture and writes the prayers using scripture, so I am not praying random rambling thoughts, but Bible saturated prayers, and as I spring from there, my thinking is clarified and I am much more able to pray effectively - when I am disciplined enough to use it, that is. Because, ultimately, I want to pray prayers that please God, that I can truly say, "In Jesus' Name," as I pray. Prayer really isn't about how I feel, but to Whom am I praying.

Anyway, I just thought that it might be good to share this resource that has helped me, and I pray I will diligently seek Him in prayer as I continue to grow in Christ. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Everyday Mercies

Have you ever been overwhelmed, blown away, speechless, just in amazed awe at the kindness and compassion and mercy of God? I had such a moment today. 

To give a little background, I’ve just finished reading a book called The Gospel is For Christians by Mitchell Chase. I was encouraged by that book and recommend it, and I think the biggest take away I got from it is the reminder to be preaching the gospel to myself, reminding myself, daily, moment by moment. The gospel isn’t just something we teach as an entry point into the Christian life then we move on to pulling up our bootstraps and attempting to live that life by sheer act of our own will. No. The gospel that saves us is the same gospel that sanctifies us. As we focus on and remember the gospel, we grow ever more aware of the love of God for the world in that He saves sinners, and He’s not a reluctant savior! He delights to save sinners! He LOVES His redeemed ones. And that changes us. 

Something I subtly struggle with, and I’m being painfully transparent in this, is in truly believing that God loves me. I believe He loves me, believe He sent His Son to save me from my sin, but something in me has a hard time truly resting in the understanding that it is not a grudging love. I do not deserve grace. I am a sinner, still. I fail Him daily. As I’ve been reading through 1 Kings in my daily Bible reading, I notice that a statement about King Solomon that is devastatingly heartbreaking when I read it is, “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.” (You can read more about it in 1 Kings 11) That makes me cry whenever I read it. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and I realize I fall short.

And the awesome thing is, that’s the point about grace, isn’t it? That we don’t deserve it? What does it say in Romans 5:8-11? “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 

God loves us so much He gave us Jesus to save us and reconcile us to Himself. It isn’t because I’m so wonderful that He loves me. He loves me for the sake of Jesus. His love for me is lavish and secure and solid because Jesus died to reconcile me to Him. Jesus is precious. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. And that, my friends is real, and truly secure love. The favor of God rests on those who are hid in Christ, who place their hope and trust in Him alone. Now that I am reconciled to God, He doesn’t roll His eyes and sigh and reluctantly accept me. No. It was all His initiative. I am His and He is mine and He delights to save me. That’s awesome, truly.

Now, in light of that understanding, here’s where I’ve been in the nitty gritty everyday part of life recently. We’ve had a lot of stuff and changes going on in our lives here, the details of which I don’t think I need to go into here for the purposes of the post, but which are ultimately all good things, but hard in the short term, nonetheless, and part of that has involved selling our house and moving into something smaller for the next year while the Army stores a lot of our stuff for the year until we find out what the next adventure for our family will be.

Anyway in the midst of the upheaval of the past few months and my trying not to get depressed over things that I don’t think I should, but change, any change, is hard sometimes, now that we’re settling into our new place, I had to make decisions about what to keep with us and what could go to storage for the next year. The other night I was having a particularly low time, feeling lonely and blue and just downright down, my husband was out of town on top of it all for temporary Army assignment (not a deployment), and I thought, “You know, a nice pot of tea sure would be comforting right now.” Then it occurred to me that I was pretty sure that I had not opted to bring it with me to the smaller place. I sure didn’t remember packing it, anyway, and it’s the kind of thing I could see myself deciding I could do without for a while. Feeling bummed, I checked the cabinet just in case. There it was. My cheerful little teapot was right there. And I cried, and thanked God for allowing me sometime in the past few weeks, not even remembering I’d done it, to have the forethought to pack and bring it. You might think that’s a small, silly thing. But I don’t. I'm not trying to be all weird or make more of the little things than I ought to, but I believe God is sovereign in all things, and I believe He granted that to me, not from a wonky prosperity gospel kind of perspective, but from His kindness.

And this morning, before church, now I know these are ‘first-world’ kinds of things, but I have been really feeling low this week, and I was looking for a computer disc that went with a keyboard I’d gotten for my daughter for her birthday. It’s loaded with lessons I was going to use to help her learn to play her piano, and when I couldn’t find it, I realized I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to get it out of the office cabinet at the house - which had been packed and loaded by the movers on Friday. I sighed, sucked up my lower lip and realized that there was nothing I could do about it, so just accepted I won’t have it this year. Then I found it in the basket it was supposed to be in on my kitchen desk here with me in the new place. And again, I cried. It was such a small thing, really, an insignificant little thing, but seeing that disc there just reminded me that not only does God delight to save us from sin, but He loves us in the everyday things of life, too. Whether I’d found that disc or not, it’s true that He loves me in the everyday things of life, and I recognize that, but finding it when I was feeling so low and lonely and blue, that was a mercy and it reminded me to thank Him for His kindness and grace once again.

I’m not saying that believing in Christ means I’ll always find lost things or that everything will always be sunshine and roses and there will never be any problems. If you’ve read my blog long at all you know I don’t think that way. Life can be hard sometimes, and being a Christian doesn’t guarantee a problem free life. Like I said, I know the teapot and the lost disc are not deep and abiding and serious problems. It’s not the teapot and the disc I needed, but the reminder that I must worship and rejoice and delight in God in the everyday moments of life that I needed so much this week, and by allowing me to look to Him when I found those little things, He granted me that reminder. 

As we worshiped God together with our church family this morning, I was overwhelmed by God’s great and awesome kindness. He has saved me, not only has He reconciled me to Himself, but He LOVES me and has made me His own. It is not reluctant love, but agape love that transcends even my low days. I don’t deserve such love, but He lavishes it anyway, for the sake of my Savior, Jesus. It is enough and more than enough that He has saved me and reconciled me to Himself. I don’t even deserve that, but He goes even beyond and continues to grant His mercies which are new every day, and today, I couldn’t even sing I was so overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for His daily mercies. 

We talked in Sunday School today about remembering the great truth that Jesus is coming again. When we are tempted to get bogged down in the tyranny of the everyday things, REMEMBER that we can and must worship Him and remember His coming as we go about those everyday things and live in the light of the fact that this is not all there is - live a life of expectant anticipation, day in and day out. 

Today I am thankful for simple, seemingly insignificant little things in the everyday that remind me to worship such a kind and compassionate and saving God.