How I Improved My Prayer Life

Every morning I go to the same spot on our living room floor and get on my knees and I pray for 4-5 things. These prayer sessions never last more than 10 minutes and I am usually praying for the same things each day.

There is nothing unique about this other than the fact that for most of my life, my prayer life was never this regular, consistent, or expectant. Yes, I am a Christian blogger who writes about spiritual things whose prayers were mostly little more than worries with wings. I would float them out there occasionally or when I was driving or walking to my car. My usual pattern would be to worry, which leads to a prayer something like this, “Father, may your will be done in this matter.” It wasn’t specific or very intentional.

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What changed is that I started to read Mark Batterson’s book Draw the Circle and was struck by how intentional and direct he encouraged the reader to be about their prayer life. I had heard all of this before but this time I decided to just test some of his suggestions out and see what happens. So I made a list of four things I was going to pray for every day.

I start brewing some tea each morning and as the tea is steeping, I get on my knees and pray. I have been doing prayers this way ever since July and for the first time in my life, I look forward to praying and see it as a privilege and not a burden.

Why has this worked? One, I don’t have a blank slate. I know what I am going to pray for and don’t have to fight off mental distractions just to get started. Two, I don’t stress about all of the things that I am not praying about. I am just one person and I don’t think I am called to pray for everything that my wife is called to pray for or my pastor is called to pray for. I hope that as this progresses, I will expand my prayer list but I am not wanting to be an endurance pray – er right now. Three, I have seen result after result. From my Dad’s fight with cancer, to my fund raising efforts, to work situations, my prayers are being answered. I am inspired by these successes and take to prayer now with expectancy.

I have a long way to go and I know that I will probably always have some deficiencies in this area, but I am no longer ashamed of my meager prayer life. If you share these struggles, try this:

  1. Make your list of 4-5 things that most need prayer. Don’t feel bad if your list doesn’t include your best friend’s co-workers cousin-in-law. This experiment isn’t a test of your empathy but a means to progress and build momentum between you and God.
  2. Go to the same spot each day. Don’t worry about the time so much as the location. Just as you have a favorite spot to drink coffee or to read, find a favorite spot to pray. This will quickly become a sacred space.
  3. When you are done praying, get up and do something else. Make this about your list and not the time. Don’t be done in by people bragging about their 45 minute prayer sessions. I don’t even pay attention to how long I am praying, I simply start when I start and end when I end.

Let me know how this experiment goes for you.

 

photo: Grace by Enstrom

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An Alien Looks At Christmas

If you dropped an alien into a medium sized American town on Christmas Eve, down the street from a church, what would he make of the scene?

He would probably report back that Earthlings are obsessed with light.

He would first notice that houses and buildings have lights attached to the walls of the structure. Looking closer, he would see a tree inside of a house with lights covering it. If he began to observe strings of cars pulling into a nearby parking lot, he would step into the church and observe some kind of ceremony centered around light.

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At the front of the church, there are small flickering lights at the end of a colored cylinder like stick and more of the electric lights illuminating the room. If he was able to understand human speech, he would hear words about “the Light of the World” and “the people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Then, more small sticks of light would be passed around and all of the people would hold up the sticks in a posture of salute and worship.

This alien might walk back to his ship not understanding that it is not light that we worship but The Light. “This Light signs in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” If our alien friend was really observant and intelligent, he might recognize that those who follow The Light are children of that Light. That we possess the Light of the World and any darkness that we have inside of us is slowly being quenched by this Light.

So let us live as people of light.

 

photo credit: Geri

A Year of Waiting

One of the hardest things to do in the spiritual life is wait.

Waiting for answered prayer, waiting for God’s will, waiting for direction, waiting for inspiration.

The last year has been a year of waiting for me. I am only good at waiting when I know God is involved. Of course, God is involved in everything but, in my life, there always seems to be certain areas that are so far beyond my abilities and expertise that I just resign myself to let God take care of it.

One area I have learned to let God handle is my career. At 22, and with a 22 year old mindset, I had my dream job. It fell out of the sky for me. That job led to another job which led to my first library job, which I received without having finished my library degree.

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A few years later, and thinking my days as a librarian were over and I was about to move into ministry, I secured another library job that paid all the bills that ministry couldn’t. Still, I waited for God to move me away from libraries and into ministry. Instead, I got another library job that better suited my ministry heart and landed me where I am now and have been for more than 10 years.

Still, I waited, for clearer direction and purpose, for something new perhaps, for another path all together.

That season may be over. I can’t go into details because I don’t know much at this point and there are many questions and doubts I have for God. But, when my wait is over, I always know because God has pulled all of the strings and opened all of the doors and all I have done is prayed and waited. God has been moving. Now, I must catch up to all of his activity.

Are you in a waiting season? Be encouraged. It is actually a pretty comforting place to be because everything is in God’s hands and you have no choice but to trust him. And when he moves, it will be a miraculous thing not a human thing.

Neglecting The Need To Be Good People

At the very points where Christians should be obvious lights of better living and treatment to others, they are often demonstrating the opposite. For example:

  • In a recent Barna poll, 49% of Unchurched people could not identify a single positive contribution made by American Christians.
  • Baylor University, a place that touts leadership and faith on billboards and promotional materials, sold its Christian soul to the idol of football, prestige, and wealth and neglected the welfare of its own students.
  • Many Christians rallied around a political candidate who has demonstrated anger, flaunts his lusts and sexual appetites, lies repeatedly about himself and others, shown no signs of humility, and has made large sweeping judgements about entire groups of people. Many of these Christians tried to rationalize their support with some thin Biblical claims about God using bad and immoral leaders for his purposes. As if this was somehow a preferable scenario to a more noble and honorable person.

Where did we go wrong? We could just blame the timeless culprits of Money, Sex, and Power and move on for hopefully better days. But what if our current state of character deficiency is a result of neglect?

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My browse through a Mall bookstore showed two whole columns of the Christian section on Heaven but nary a book on lying. The library where I am a librarian has twice as many books on the End Times than it does on anger. When have you ever heard a sermon on blessing those who curse you?

Yet, the most read sermon of all time talks extensively about anger, lust, lying, worry, giving to the needy, and judging others.

It is not like Christians don’t know these things. I have always been haunted by the words of a Harvard student who was continually mistreated and propositioned for sex by a classmate. She stated to Robert Coles, well-known researcher on social issues and ethics, “What is the point of knowing good if you don’t keep trying to become a good person?”

Are you, with the help of Christ, trying to become a good person?

Part of the hesitancy to speak up on these things involves our own fear that we will be found out and made to look like a hypocrite or torn down by the slightest personal failing. I am not above being fearful of perceptions of hypocrisy, even of the words I am writing now. But, I am also not above doing my part to push myself and others to Grow Up to represent a Christian life that seeks to obey Jesus’ words and be a light to the world.

Won’t you make 2017 the year that you work on becoming a good person. In the coming weeks, I will present some ideas that will help you work with Christ on this goal. The world needs our character, our values, our love, and our compassion. It is time to let Christ transform you and Grow Up.

The Time I Prayed For A Girlfriend

I was an 18 year old college Freshman and I was sitting on a rock looking out over a lake. I had started to come to this spot on a weekly basis to contemplate life, even pray occasionally in my very immature way. My life was good, I had great friends, great parents. I was attending a college that was the perfect size and environment for my own mentality. But I was lonely.

I had never had a girlfriend and my quiet and kinda serious persona was not conducive to making the kind of impression needed to change that. I thought I had a lot to offer in a relationship but I just had never really had the chance to show that side of me. So, on that rock, I prayed that God would send me a girl that I could be close to, someone that I could share something unique and special.

My whole life, my prayers have had a tendency to be a little generic. They go something like, “Lord, I pray for my time at work today, may you be present.” There was nothing generic about my prayer that evening on the rock overlooking the lake. I don’t know what I was expecting and I didn’t know if this prayer would even be answered but I was lonely and I sought God’s specific help.

Six days later, I am in the cafeteria when a girl comes up to me and asks if I was going to church that night. Apparently, her and I went to the same church occasionally. I had seen her around but we had never had a conversation up until that point. I stated that I wasn’t going to church that night and the conversation ended abruptly. I didn’t think much of it.

The next afternoon, as I am in the Student Center watching a baseball game, this same girl sits down in the opposite chair and starts talking to me again. This time, we have a real conversation and she seems nice and has a wonderful smile. Thankfully the conversation was long enough for me to start running the reel of memory back through my mind. This is the same girl who approached me the night before and now she has come out of nowhere to speak to me again. Then I remembered the prayer and it hit me that something bigger may be going on here. So I asked, “I was planning on going out to the lake tonight, do you want to go with me?”

One week to the day of my prayer, I was sitting on that same rock looking over the same lake but this time their was a pretty girl next to me as we talked about our lives and marveled in a moment that doesn’t happen everyday.

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I can’t promise you that all prayers for girlfriends will be answered or prayers for new jobs or money to pay off that debt. All I can tell you is this happened to me and that God answered my prayer. There have been many times when my prayers didn’t get answered so quickly or obviously or even the way that I wanted them to. But, I always have the reference point of God working in strange ways to answer my prayer and to do his will.

Oh, and I also have the daily reminder of this answered prayer in my beautiful wife, Leah. December 27 will be our 19th wedding anniversary.

Why Righteousness Is A Really Good Idea

We were studying Psalm 23 during our week in Kansas and the following statement was made, “Righteousness is a really good idea.”

This statement made me pause. Sure righteousness is required, is provided by God, is the goal of faith but how is it a really good idea?

The verse that sparked this conversation was this: “God leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.”

First, righteousness is something that is God led. Our own paths of righteousness will be dead ends. We need God to lead us on the right path. So, righteousness is a really good idea because it is God driven.

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Second, he leads me in paths, not just a path. This means that there will be much leading and many more paths than what I am experiencing right now. Also, it could mean multiple paths right now. I am not talking about multiple beliefs but choices that are set before me have the potential for good and with God’s leading, will be righteous. Many of the college students that I have encountered are paralyzed by major decisions because they fear that if they make the wrong choice, God will not be with them. Sometimes you just need to make a choice and know that Christ is with you in that path and that this decision will be righteous because Christ is there.

Third, these paths of righteousness are for God’s glory and not my own. So, a good test of righteousness is whether it brings glory to God and his name. If our choices and actions are all about me and draw attention to me than I am operating from my own path and not God’s. Our righteousness is for our benefit and God’s glory.

So, righteousness is a good idea because it is God driven, is ongoing, and brings glory to God and not myself.

May you seek after God’s really good idea today.

 

photo credit: tciriello

Treasure or Clay Pot?

I work at a Christian university that has developed quite a culture. A culture that they are very proud of. I have worked at two others Christian, Baptist universities and DBU is unique in its commitment to Christ-centeredness and Servant Leadership.

Maybe you have been a part of a church with a rich culture with many admirable qualities and distinct elements of what is good.

What we have to guard against, though, is mistaking these institutions as a way of life. Let me explain.

I might be prone to thinking about being a servant and sacrificing some of myself to help the students at DBU because our culture has instilled that idea in me. Or, I may have a community surrounding me at my church that is inspiring and uplifting. But the reality is that these institutions are mere vessels. Scripture says that we have treasure in earthen vessels.

We have to ask ourselves, is being a good member of my church more important than being a good follower of Christ? Is being a good Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran more important than being a good Christian? Is being a good parent more important than being a child of God?

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You see, we are called to be obedient to Jesus with all that we have have and nothing else.

This is important, as Dallas Willard has said, “The problem comes when we mistake the vessel for the treasure, for the treasure is the life and power of Jesus Christ.” Willard goes on to say, “A culture can capture us and shut off our access to the supernatural spirituality of the Kingdom of God.”

So, praise God for these institutions that are doing good work, even excellent Christian work, but let us not substitute these good things for the great goodness that comes from a life with Christ. A life that is filled with power, creativity, conviction, growth, and grace. This life is what is worth our complete allegiance and obedience. Everything else is just a vessel.

 

photo credits: Alexandre Dulaunoy

 

My Letter To God

Our Apprentice Experience Community has started our second round of readings and questions in preparation for Gathering 2 in March. One of the first Soul-Training exercises we were asked to complete based on our readings was to write a letter to God starting with the words, “Dear God, the life I want most for myself is…” I thought that I would share my letter on the blog.


Dear God,

The life I want most for myself is a God-breathed life; a life where those that know me, know a little of Jesus.

I want decisions I make to have a hint of the special and holy and divine. I want to be inspired daily and not live a hum-drum existence. Without you in my life, my life is full of limits and boundaries and roadblocks. With you in my life, I can accomplish many things I couldn’t accomplish on my own. I want to lean into that reality and watch you work. I want to be as amazed by your work in my life as everyone else.

I have seen so much in the last few months. All of it has been a surprise but yet your presence has been there, moving me to the next thing. I can’t believe I am here in my life right now. I wouldn’t have predicted this scenario at this time. I need you Lord. I need the best of me to be all of you. I have so many questions and concerns. Please don’t turn those into worries. Worries are no friend to growth, they try to stifle it. I put my worries behind me and your transforming power in front of me.

Come Lord Jesus.

Your indwelt and loved child,

Scott


I encourage you to write a similar letter to God. And don’t misplace it. Returning to the letter a year from now should be a keen reminder of what God has done in your life and how you have Grown Up.

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photo credit: Lukas.bO

My Journey: Letting Go of Failure and Shame

During Gathering 1 of the Apprentice Experience, Keith Matthews listed out nine obstacles to Spiritual Growth (Growing Up). When he was done, he asked each of us to rank our top two obstacles. My top obstacle was the last one on his list – Lacking the confidence that God will really speak to me.

As I did this exercise, I was thinking of four somewhat recent failures, mostly of the spiritual kind. The guilt and shame associated with these situations have recently affected my ability to grow and minister to others because I am fearful that I will be inadequate and lacking.

These four instances can be divided into two groups – ministry to individuals and decision making. The decision making situation involved several others and our decision would affect a large number of people. During this time, I tried to practice spiritual discernment and not lean on my own understanding or some kind of worldly management strategies. I wanted God to speak through me and guide our decisions. The outcome to all of this was largely disappointing and I felt it had lasting negative effects. I felt responsible.

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This has led me to question my ability to hear God and to trust what God is doing in my life. I felt a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football with all of the sincere determination and intent only to have Lucy pull up the ball at the last minute over and over again. Was I just destined to be well-intentioned but largely lacking in my ability to do any good?

But then I went to Kansas. Here, through exercises like the one above, and other conversations and teachings, I let it all go. I let go of my sense of failure, guilt, and need to be successful in only a limited set of parameters.

Before we arrived, we were asked to bring something to Kansas that we can place in the middle of the room during our classroom time that symbolizes why we were there and our desire to Grow Up. I brought a letter that represented one of these instances of “failure.” In my rush to prepare to leave for the week, I left it there. But, I am glad I did. You see, I needed to leave my guilt and shame and start fresh.

We learned two important truths that week in Kansas. 1) I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and 2)I live in the strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God.

I brought my failure and shame to Kansas, but left with the reassurance of God’s work in the my life and God’s provision and blessings. This was a good and beautiful thing.

 

photo credit: Michael W. May, some rights reserved