I want to be a person of prayer. But not the typical definition of what you may be thinking of. Often times I think about a person of prayer as someone you want to bring your requests to. Someone who will get ahold of heaven until heaven answers back. But I am not sure this is the person of prayer I want to be.
I want to be a person of prayer. But not a person who prays selfish things or for the world to get easier or for life to get better. I want to be a person who prays for God’s Kingdom come in earnest. I think that if I pray for this then it changes the words I say and the way I look at the world. If my prayer for God’s Kingdom becomes my heart’s desire then I start to see it in action all around me.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want to learn to pray like Jesus did. He got away and prayed in solitude and I’m not sure what he prayed for but I imagine it was for people to understand that living life to the fullest is not the easiest life. Jesus came to give us life to the fullest but his life ended in death…and not just a death where you pass peacefully into the next life but a violent horrific death because his life lived to the fullest was misunderstood. And yet Jesus was a person of prayer.
I want to be a person of prayer. And I believe this requires action. But I also think it means inaction. Being a person of prayer may require me just to be quiet and think and listen because prayer is about hearing from God as much as talking to Him. I don’t think this will be easy, but I think it’s necessary.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want my life to be characterized by prayer and for it to be evident in how I live. I want prayer to be a defining characteristic of how I see the world and how I help others to see the world.
And as I become a person of prayer I want to pray like Jesus taught us to pray…
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’ – Matthew 6:9-13
I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…
After thirty something changes. I am not exactly sure what it is. But every birthday since turning thirty has been a time where I inadvertently contemplate my mortality. I realize that some of you reading this will simply think I am ridiculous and have many years still ahead of me….where-areas some others of you who may read this actually think of me as older;) But contemplating your mortality always leads you to a unique place. And for me thus far in life I think it is safe to say that I have lived a life free of regret. I love my journey and where it has taken me so far. I see each day as potentially my new best day ever and I can’t imagine my life having gone any other direction.
That being said though, I want to do something. I realize that bucket lists were fashionable a few years back and so I am relatively late on the scene, but I thought it might be a good exercise for me today as I contemplate my life and where I am headed. So here is a list. A list of things I would love to do, but don’t necessarily have to do in order to be fulfilled. (And please feel free to comment on this post or on Facebook if you think there is something I need to add)
Purchase and learn to play a Banjo
Hike the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian trail…though not necessarily all at one time
Swim with sharks…I don’t even have to have a cage
Live for some amount of time in another country
Write a book…being published would be a bonus
Visit all 50 states in the US (I think I am at least half way there)
Get to see my kids grow up
Watch a game from The Green Monster
Visit and tour the United Kingdom
It’s not altogether to extensive of a list. But these are some experiences I would love for myself and for my family, although I am not sure my wife would concur on the Banjo. At the end of the day though I really just want one thing….to pass on to my kids the wonder of seeing the world for what it can be instead of what it sometimes is. I long for them to live life with the imagination of seeing God’s Kingdom come to Earth. After all…that is why we are here.
Grace and Peace
Today was the day…and it has been awful. But in order to save myself embarrassment and to be able to continue to enjoy the existence that I am used to, it was a necessity. You see, I have begun to wear a hole in the right back pocket of my jeans where I usually wear my wallet. And these aren’t just any jeans…these are my jeans. The all American-made denim that I enjoy on an almost every day basis. The jeans that because of their raw-denim make-up have rarely seen the inside of a washing machine but have been worn into oblivion. And so, in order to go on with life as I know I switched my wallet pocket. And it is awful (first world problems, right). But seriously…it effects everything. It effects the way I walk, the way I sit, the way I drive…almost everything. I am having to re-orient little portions of my entire day. I may even have to visit a chiropractor after this.
But as my morning continued I began to think about the significance of today being the day for this: Ash Wednesday is the day I switched my wallet? Ash Wednesday; a day of repentance and reorganizing our life into the rhythm of God. A day when we begin to look at our life in terms of mortality, eternity and grace. A day when we reorganize our life by a calendar based not on human happenings but rather on the life of Christ. We begin to mark our days in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord and the celebration of love conquering the powers of death and hell. And I think that maybe this is a great day to switch my wallet.
You see, the liturgical calendar was put into place to remind us that this is not our home. While we are busy living our our lives in meetings, appointments, dates, months, years, etc. all of a sudden the life of the church breaks in and reminds us that this stuff does not define us. It really is meant to be a physical and blatant reminder that we are called to reorient our very existence around Christ. Colossians 3:1-2 puts it this way, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Lent and the practices surrounding the liturgical calendar prod us into setting our minds on Christ and not on the cares of this world. And this focus allows us to move and live and have our being with the singular goal of establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.
Sometimes in this life we need reminders as to why we are here. Sometimes we need seasons like Lent and Advent to break in and remind us of whose we are. And although reorienting our life around these can be difficult at times, I assure you, it’s a lot better than switching your wallet pocket and it has far greater impact.
I come downstairs to a greeting much like this every morning. The signs of my son’s latest obsession. Ever since we started watching the Polar Express before Christmas we have started a journey of train exploration like none other. When my son plays, it is with trains. When he watches a movie, it is The Polar Express. When he talks about what he wants to be when he grows up, it is a conductor or an engineer (I so hope these jobs are still available when he grows up). And so every morning when I begin my day I am greeted with the signs of the previous day’s train adventures. I am reminded that my son has been hard at work acting out a world that matters most to him.
I could probably stop there and let the inference be enough…but that’s not my style;) In II Corinthians 2:14 the apostle Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” As captives in the procession of Christ. Think about that imagery. We are so caught up by the person of Jesus that we are like prisoners following after him. Paul then goes on to say that as prisoners we are spreading the ‘aroma’ of the knowledge of Christ. The word in Greek is better defined as ‘stink’. I know that is a hard one to swallow, but go with me here. I can think of one ‘stink’ that might illustrate this best. Have you ever had a skunk linger outside your home (or worse been sprayed by or had a pet sprayed by a skunk)? The smell permeates, it lingers, the evidence of the skunk’s presence is inescapable.
Like the skunk’s aroma, the evidence of my son’s train obsession is easy to identify. Sometimes my feet even provide proof as I step on a toy in the early morning light. Sometimes my ears are flooded the reenactment of scenes from The Polar Express as the conductor attempts to right the train while skidding on ice. Sometimes my mind scrambles for answers as I am quizzed on the intricate inner-workings of a steam engine. But I wonder if these same evidences exist with us and our Christ journey. Do people find our Jesus moments littering the places we have been? Does our proclamation of how Christ has changed our life linger in the air for others to hear after we have left our places of business and recreation? Do our peers and loved ones become overwhelmed by our Jesus talk and questions of how best to bring the Kingdom to earth? Do we ‘stink’ of Jesus?
I know at first that may seem like a crude thought but I guess what I ultimately want to ask is….are we leaving toy trains?
It started in late summer. Just snip-its of an idea for reviving a youth discipleship retreat at our church that hadn’t happened for a few years. And as it would be the eleventh time this retreat would take place the theme would have to somehow revolve around the number eleven. For me, being a fan of mockumentary’s and rock music I immediately thought of the scene in This is Spinal Tap where Nigel is explaining that their amps are more impressive because they go to eleven…one louder. So it just made sense. The eleventh time that this retreat would take place would have the theme ‘One Louder’ with the theme verse of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” But what began as a theme and a theme verse became so much more.
One Louder became a code word, a manifesto even for living out the Kingdom of God in everyday life. Sometimes it seems that the church doesn’t always do such a good job in bringing heaven to earth; they stop at ten. And One Louder takes it to eleven and has that extra call to be true to our calling in Christ. One Louder is buzz language for living out of ones own comfort zone and reaching outside to those who don’t yet know the love of Christ. One Louder is the acceptance of the outcast, the defense of the oppressed, the standing up for the bullied, and the love for the unlovable. Ultimately One Louder is a life lived for the other.
But it doesn’t stop there. One Louder is a life lived to eleven. As Paul is nearing the end of his ministry he writes to his young protege Timothy and says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:6-7 Paul had lived a life One Louder and he compared it to being poured out like a drink offering. I don’t know about you, but when I pour something out there is usually nothing left. Paul is pleading to Timothy that to live the life we are called to that we constantly pour ourselves out for Christ. A life lived One Louder leaves one empty…a life with space for more of God. This is where the faithfulness of God comes into play. As we pour ourselves into a life lived One Louder, God fills us more and more with His presence.
So we find our calling…so we find our purpose…so we find our fulfillment in living a life One Louder.
I was recently privy to a conversation online where someone had taken a passage of scripture of the Quran and used that one piece of scripture to paint a picture of what the entirety of Islam looks like. Now I realize at this point I may have lost some of you, but I beg you to stay with me because I think this discussion leads somewhere important. The problem I had with the conversation had nothing to do with Islam really at all, but the danger of taking something out of context. Take for instance some of our scriptures. If you took Psalm 137:9 out of context it could really be detrimental to our message.* How can you communicate a story of grace with a verse like that being taken out of context? But we do it all the time. We love to judge people by small representations of their groups and then it is much easier to avoid them. I mean can you imagine what would happen if the entire world judged the church by the likes of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church? I shudder at the thought. And yet, we demonize all sorts of groups of people just because of the actions of a few, or their words/stories taken out of context.
It kind of reminds me of a story in scripture where even Jesus’ encounter with another leaves us wondering. In Mark 7:26-29 we find the following encounter. “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” Jesus initially came with a message for the Jews and even seemed apprehensive at getting involved with a Greek/Gentile woman. But all the same as her imploring took on a note of a plea for compassion, we see Jesus attitude towards her change and he relents and brings healing to this woman’s house. Now I realize that some of this is up for interpretation and debate, but doesn’t it seem like Jesus perception of this non-Israelite was changed by the above encounter? And if God allows change to occur in his human interactions then how much more should we?
What I guess I am saying is this…We should never alienate or distance someone until we know their whole story. You never know how someone may have been judged or mistreated all because of an off-chance word or misaligned ideology. We are all God’s children and Christ has died for all. So shouldn’t we be willing to extend arms of grace and fellowship to all? And maybe that is as simple as hearing the whole story…
* Psalm 137:8-9 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. This verse is of course alluding to the judgment of Babylon for all they had done to Israel, but still tough to read.