Why Pray? (prayer, part 2)

From my previous post, it could appear that I don’t believe in prayer…or that I’m skeptical about God’s ability or desire to answer our prayers.  Neither of these is true.  I believe deeply in the power of prayer…and I practice it every day in a variety of forms.  I pray sometimes with my eyes closed in “traditional” ways…like before or after meetings or reading scripture.  I also pray with eyes wide open…especially in nature.  By far, my most meaningful times of prayer are during runs and bike rides.  I do believe that prayer works, and the Bible is absolutely full of examples and commands about prayer.  Here’s one:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
So yes, totally, God answers prayer! However, prayer is not a cure-all formula that obligates God to intervene in our favor.  For example, the above quote was written by the Apostle Paul.  The Bible doesn’t specifically say how the Apostle Paul died. We know he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, during that time, Christians were being beheaded for their beliefs. Therefore, it may be safe to assume that Paul was beheaded too.  So, did God become unfaithful by letting those early martyrs die?
What I believe about prayer tends to be a bit different than the norm.  I don’t think prayer is about getting God to do what I want, or to bless my favorite team, or even to favor my own country.  I think prayer is about setting up a communication line between my heart and God’s for the purpose of CONFORMING MY WILL TO HIS.  This is different because I think many people pray for comfort…either their own, or for others they care about.  And, although it is totally obvious in scripture and in my experience that GOD DOES ANSWER THE PRAYERS OF HIS PEOPLE, it’s not because He wants us to be comfortable.  In fact, I think that denying our comfort is often on God’s priority list…not because He likes to cause pain, but because He knows that we grow in Him most deeply out of need.  Our discomfort drives us to fill the hole, and we often choose easy counterfeits instead of pressing into the struggle He has us facing…and we can actually short-circuit the will of God by praying for and chasing other solutions….then calling those things His will.
So…..why pray at all? 
1)      As stated in the scripture above, and in many others, it often does move the Hand of God in miraculous ways
2)      Obedience & surrender to God’s Kingly Reign in our lives
3)      To experience His peace that passes understanding……

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6–7

Faithful Prayer v. Superstitious Manipulation

I recently heard of an account of apparent physical healing as a result of praying in Jesus’ Name.  This came through a friend of a friend of a friend.  I found myself feeling skeptical immediately.  Not because I don’t believe that Jesus does, in fact, exist…or that He no longer heals….but because of the way the whole account was described.  I sometimes hear of undercurrents within Christendom where people will take 1 or 2 verses from scripture that seem to say something totally radical, and form their entire worldview around it.  This happens a lot with healing.  Jesus did, indeed say:

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt.17:20)

“I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt.18:19-20)
And James, the Lord’s half-brother, says:
“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16)
Yes, but.
Fill in the blank.  Yes, but.  What about the people who love God and actually follow Jesus with their lifestyle, and they die in a car crash, or lose a child to cancer?  What about the people who get hurt in an accident, and then live in pain for the rest of their lives in spite of the prayers of the elders, and many others, for years?  I believe all these scriptures, but I struggle because for every story I hear of miraculous healing there are several others where it doesn’t seem to “work.”  What does that mean…that Jesus is a liar?  That the Bible can’t be taken seriously?  These are important questions, and it has to be OK to ask them.  Too often, those of us who ask questions are condemned as blasphemous, and told to just shut-up and believe.  Usually they say it nicer than that.
John, the Apostle closest to Jesus, says:
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”
HIS WILL.  What difference does that make?  Huge.  I think this verse sheds some light on the background code behind prayer.  It’s not something we can manipulate, nor is it an easy 5-step program to get God to do whatever we want.  Here are some of my beliefs about this.  Feel free to agree or disagree….I’d like to hear from you:
  • God DOES want us to pray for the miraculous, but not for the sake of the miracle…but for the sake of our believing dependence upon Him.
  • God DOES heal and work miracles in Jesus’ Name…but not in every case because our prayers are often either selfish in nature/against His will for our character (“God, give me a new Camaro”) or they go against God’s foreknowledge/predestination that only He can see.
  • You can’t build a solid theology about something without taking into account the “whole counsel of scripture.”
Why am I so passionate about this?  Because often, well-meaning Jesus followers blast others because of their “lack of faith” when their prayers don’t work.  Or they go to great lengths to develop & prescribe deeply detailed strategies for how & when to pray for stuff you want…almost like Jesus is at our beck & call.  But this does not mean we should not pray in faith, or seek to have more faith to pray.  Do you feel the tension between these two points?  What say you?

Brokenness Can Lead to Blessing

I have to share these amazing words I read last night from pp.97-99 in Nowen’s book “Life Of The Beloved”:

     “When we have cursed ourselves or have allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression of confirmation of this curse.  Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: ‘You see, I always thought I was no good…Now I know for sure.  The facts of life prove it.’
     “The great spiritual call of the beloved children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  The powers of the darkness around us are strong, and our world finds it easier to manipulate self-rejecting people than self-accepting people.  But when we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us.  Physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the curse…
     “This explains why true joy can be experienced in the midst of great suffering.  It is the joy of being disciplined, purified, and pruned.  Just as athletes who experience great pain as they run the race can, at the same time, taste the joy of knowing that they are coming closer to their goal, so also can the Beloved experience suffering as a way to the deeper communion for which they yearn.  Here joy and sorrow are no longer each other’s opposites, but have become the two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved.”


Today, Choose Your Master

God issues a call for all of us to leave behind our natural, instinctive desires in order to be drawn into something much deeper, higher.  Indeed, we were created by God with a strong sense of desire…yearning.  But this sense was built with purpose, and this direction of this purpose is hijacked continuously within us and veered off-course into all kinds of other alternatives that take us nowhere except farther away from where we really need to go.  Do you know what I’m talking about? 
Contrary to what popular culture seems to proclaim all around us, we humans are not the center of the universe.  There is a God, and it’s not you or me.  He created and sustains this world with deep, specific purpose, and He created us with purpose that goes way beyond our limited perspective.  We get so enamored and obsessed with the things we desire – whether it’s things money can buy, pleasures we can experience, or even relationships we can savor – that we naturally, instinctively focus beyond the purpose of the desire.  Desire was built into us in order to connect us with God!  Our relationship with Him, guiding and providing each day, is the purpose of desire itself.  Desire is a tool…but we humans have a long, long history of worshiping the wrong thing, don’t we?  This misguided, conflicted, calloused tendency is a snare that threatens to derail us from the path of God every single day.  So staying on the course toward Him is a constant decision that often goes against our grain.  It’s important that we understand and accept that, remembering that these two paths – focused on God or releasing focus to embrace desire – represent two masters.  We must choose wisely…every moment of every day.
Some days we need more heavy reminders of why & how to walk in the ways of Jesus.  Today is one of those days for me.  These words from Ephesians 4 kicked my but this morning, in a very good way.  I hope they help you too:
“17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;  24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Reminders from Ephesians 5

“Living in the Light”
Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to him.
3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the terrible anger of God comes upon all those who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8 For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But when the light shines on them, it becomes clear how evil these things are. 14 And where your light shines, it will expose their evil deeds. This is why it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

“Living by the Spirit’s Power”
15 So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. 19 Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Performers Draw Crowds, Leaders Make Disciples (Pt 2)

Yesterday I shared a blog from Dave Rhodes that I really liked…and got some good feedback.  Here’s Part 2 of Dave’s thoughts about how we position ourselves to disciple others rather than entertain them.


Performers Draw Crowds, but Leaders Make Disciples

I really liked this post by Dave Rhodes of 3DM.  Check it out:


Rescued From Self

If there really is a God, and He has revealed enough of His character and plans in scripture that we can truly understand what His priorities are for His creation, then why do we not look into God’s Word with more fervor and consistency?  And why, after discovering His ways and weighing them against our own, are we so apt to disregard them and do what we want anyway?  Most of us really don’t have room for God on the throne of our lives.  It seems that we instinctively want everything, especially control.  Truly, we are an incurably proud race.  As the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer.17:9)

Thankfully, God’s understanding of us, His mercy & grace for us, and His plans to redeem us go way beyond our hearts!  Today, this sinner is thankful for God’s grace in Jesus!

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25)


What is Discipleship?

What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it look like?  He calls us to come alongside Him to be His “disciples”….to “make disciples”…and to be engaged in “discipleship.”  But what in the world is discipleship, anyway?  Ask 20 people and you may get 20 different answers.  I really liked this definition by Dallas Willard:

“Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if He were you.”

What do you think?


Meditation in the Pool

My workout this morning provided an object lesson about walking with God and growing in character.  I got into the pool for a swim, and within 3 lengths I started feeling some cramping in my left calf! I was totally frustrated, because this has been a thing lately and I was careful to hydrate and get some electrolytes this morning, in addition to eating a good breakfast.  I could tell it wasn’t injury related, but just my muscle fibers whining.  So I pushed through and it got better, though it never completely went away…sort of nagging me like a 4-year old in the back seat whining “how much longer?”  Honestly, this is just part of physical training.  The body is a divine masterpiece which, barring illness or injury, will do whatever we demand of it with surprising speed & efficiency….IF we don’t give up!

Like Paul reminded his protege’ in Timothy 4:8 – “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  Some of my most inspirational realizations and moments with the Lord come to me while I’m sweating and gasping for breath.  Today’s lesson was a reminder to avoid the temptation of running away from discomfort.  We falsely believe that God wants us to be comfortable, when in fact He wants us to grow…and discomfort is most often required to catalyze the process. 
“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” (James 1:2-4)