The Prayers That Get Me Through The Day

I never thought of myself as a prayer warrior but then I started to count up all of the prayers I say that get me through the day. I realized that I consistently pray memorized prayers. For some of these, they surface without me even trying to pray them.

I use the Jesus Prayer the most when I am in line at the grocery store or trying to get food in a buffet line. Apparently, these are very anxious moments for me.

I say a prayer of St. Aidan’s, “I am going now into the sleep: O be it in Thy dear arm’s keep, O God of grace, that I shall awake” at bedtime. I say this not just for myself but everyone of my kids has had this prayer said over them throughout their life, especially when sick or disturbed.

The first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer always seem to be on my lips when I have my prayer time each morning.

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I say Philippians 3:10-11 when I want to be reminded of my deepest desire and the sacrifice I need to be able to endure. Sometimes I just say, “Lord help me,” over and over.

When I am at church I ask for God’s power to be present. This is my prayer because I once read a book about deep Christian spiritual experiences and it seemed that this was a common prayer voiced by great Christian leaders of the past.

When I am in a deep quandary and despondent about the state of the world and the hopelessness I see, I pray some of the final words of the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

On long runs, I will recite the 23rd Psalm. There is something about saying, “He leads me on paths of righteousness…,” while actually on a path that helps drive home the point.

This is my way of praying without ceasing. These prayers are half out of desperation most of the time but they keep me connected to God, keep me looking around for God’s work, and convict me when my thoughts and my worries, instead of God’s promises and reassurances, have taken over.

What are your go to daily prayers or Godly reminders?

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The Right Thing To Do Should Never Be A Luxury

Have you heard about the psychological study of the seminary students and the Story of the Good Samaritan?

Researchers had seminary students prepare a talk/sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students were then asked to go to the next building and deliver their message. On the way to the other building, a man was placed who was slumped, moaning, and coughing. The researchers wanted to know how the students would react to the needy man, especially since they had just been studying and thinking about the Good Samaritan.

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Watts, Manchester Art Gallery

Overall, only 40% of the students helped the needy man. One thing the researchers did that changed the results significantly was tell some of the students that they were running late and they needed to get over to the other building quickly. The students who were not in a hurry helped 63% of the time while those who were in a hurry helped only 10% of the time.

One of the conclusions of the researchers was that thinking on a particular ethical lesson does not mean that our behavior would match that ethic. The authors of the study stated, “Ethics become a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases.”

This study was not done two years ago in the age of mobile devices and social media but in 1973, before the Walkman was even invented!

I love this study because it convicts me in all the right ways. Have I studied something important but failed to live it out? Yes. Have I left others in need because I had more “important” things to do? Yes. Does hurriedness shape my choices and reactions in a negative way? Yes.

We aren’t capable, at least I am not, of treating every moment as a sacred moment but we are capable of treating every moment as an opportunity to demonstrate our love and faith in Jesus. Why do you think the Gospels are full of the miracles, service and compassion of Jesus? It is not just so we can feel proud of this God we serve but so we can have an example of what it looks like to live out what you believe. Without the willingness and effort to act out our beliefs, we really don’t have much belief to speak of.

What Most Small Groups Are Missing

I don’t trust myself for honest feedback, so I was skeptical at Gathering 2 of the Apprentice Experience when we were asked, in our small groups, to provide feedback to others in the group.

We were asked to think about a person in our group and say one thing about them that has been a blessing. Then, we were asked to share one challenge of something that we would want to see more of from them.

A very churchy phrase in my circles is “accountability partner.” This is someone or someones that we can confess our sins to and they will hold us accountable to not do these things, and vice versa. While we all need someone like that in our lives, I discovered that groups can do much more than hear and provide accountability for our battle against sin. They can help bring growth and be a place that cultivates maturity and the work of the Holy Spirit.

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Keith Matthews presented to us what he calls A Cycle of Transformational Learning. Envision a circle with Content/Information at the top of the circle; Spiritual Practices/Exercises at the bottom of the circle; and Feedback/Debrief along the side of the circle.

I like this cycle idea because I have seen how information without practice can be so dry and lifeless and, on the flip side, practice without proper information can be directionless. But what about feedback ties these two together? Because we don’t know what we don’t know and we need others to bring insights to the table that we might need to consider and think on.

When my small group mentioned some things about me and what they needed to see more of, I was surprised and doubtful but then I began to hear these same words echoed from other people as well as in other situations. So there words have led to an area of growth and discovery in me and I am truly grateful for their feedback.

photo credit: Portland Seminary

So You Want To Be A Superstar

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to do something great. I wanted to be known for my accomplishments, to be sought after for my significance, to be well known, even famous.

There is no denying the pride, greed, envy, and jealousy that is inherent in such ambitious thoughts. And I am guilty of all of these. But lately, I have tried to come to terms with this particular character trait of mine. I have worked to determine if God has placed some of this desire in me for a purpose or if this is just a thorn in my side that I will struggle with for a lifetime.

Before I begin to rationalize a dangerous character flaw, it might be good if I studied the life of Jesus and looked to see what he had to say about ambition, quest for greatness, and significance. I came across a story where two of his disciples, along with their mother, ask Jesus for special places of power when his kingdom is fully realized.

Jesus first ask if these disciples are willing to follow Jesus into hardship and difficulty?Then he tells them that in order to be great you must be a servant. You must not seek to be served but to serve. He even mentions himself, and his mission on Earth to serve.

I don’t know what you think about when you read this story but what hit me is that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be great as long as I am working to be great within the Kingdom of God and not the world. Also, am I willing to follow Jesus into suffering if that is required? Finally, am I willing to be a servant?

For the two disciples, James and John, that Jesus spoke to in the story, each one received significance and are considered great in the history of Christianity. But their greatness came about through their focus on Christ, through their suffering, and their quest to serve. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about them.

As for me, part of my quest for significance is partly a quest for a calling from God. But once I find that calling, and I think I might have, I better be willing to suffer and to serve others or my efforts are little more than selfish fulfillment seeking.

 

‘The World He Claims, Claims Him’

I continue sharing some excerpts from Francis Spufford’s book Apologetic. I hope this helps you see the sacrifice of Jesus in a fresh way so that Good Friday and Easter are profoundly inspiring to you. I would suggest that you read the words below as a meditation on Christ’s work, his death, the reason for it, and the great sacrifice he carried out for you and for me. This is hard work and we often avoid this kind of dark reality but we do enough avoidance of reality.

It is true, the joy of Sunday is coming so maybe you need to linger on Friday a bit more to make Sunday that much sweeter.spufford

And yet he goes on taking in. It is not what he does, it is what he is. He is all open door: to sorrow, suffering, guilt, despair, horror, everything that cannot be escaped, and he does not even try to escape it, he turns to meet it, and claims it all as his own. This is mine now, he is saying; and he embraces it with all that is left in him, each dark act, each dripping memory, as if it were something precious, as if it were itself the loved child tottering homeward on the road. But there is so much of it. So many injured children; so many locked rooms; so much lonely anger; so many bombs in public places; so much vicious zeal; so many bored teenagers at roadblocks; so many drunk girls at parties someone thought they could have a little fun with; so many jokes that go too far; so much greed; so much sick ingenuity; so much burned skin. The world he claims, claims him. It burns and stings, it splinters and gouges, it locks him round and drags him down.

…There is nothing to keep him company there but the light he’s always felt shining beneath things. But the light is going. He’s so deep down now in the geology of woe, so buried beneath the mountains’ weight of it, that the pressure is squeezing out his feeling for the light. There is nothing left of it for him but a speck, a pinpoint the world grinds in on itself, a dot dimming as the strata of the dark are piled heavier and heavier on it. And then it goes out…This is the first time in his life he’s ever felt alone. Now there is no love song. There is no kind father. There is just a man on a cross, dying in pain; a foolish man who chose to give up life and breath to be a carcass on a pole.

I’ll Take The Blame

I have spent so much time in the last few months reflecting on the teachings and miracles of Jesus that I felt like I was ill prepared for Easter week. I wanted to feel connected to the reality of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion, and resurrection. I immediately thought of a book I read several years back called Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. His chapter on Jesus is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. His description of Jesus’ crucifiction is the kind of raw, stark, and beautiful thing I needed this week. So, I thought I would share a few of Spufford’s words and offer a little meditation for us to get in line with the level of love and sacrifice present in Easter week. More to come this week.spufford

Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration…

Place yourself in the crowd that morning. What is going through your head as Jesus stumbles by? Are you saddened? Angry? Ashamed? Disappointed? Relieved? Glad? Are you being swept away by the jeers and cat calls from those around you? Do you want to spit at him like the person beside you? Or are tears rolling down your face? The pure humiliation of Jesus’ parade through the streets is shocking compared to the promise of just a few days before. Isn’t that just like us humans. We will turn on a person for no good reason other than our personal preferences weren’t met that day and we might as well take it out on something or someone.

…he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told… I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness…

What do you fear you deserve? What has my sin done? What should be in store for me? Jesus takes the blame. He embraces our faults and takes them in on himself. That is the picture of Jesus as he heads to the cross.

 

 

When I Grow Up I Am Going To Be A Good Parent

I am the father of three girls, ages 17, 13, and 8. Parenting is hard enough but having kids at such distinct phases of growing up forces me to wear different hats each time I try to be a father figure.

For my 17 year old, I am thinking about all the things I need to tell her so she can survive a complicated and hard world. For my 13 year old, I am thinking about how can I instill in her how precious she is and that today’s frustrations will be forgotten tomorrow. For my 8 year old, I am trying to demonstrate to her what a father’s love looks like and that she is safe in this world because she has strong parents who love her.

The above paragraph makes me sound so good and noble but the reality is that I am thinking about these things and maybe even acting on these things in the midst of eye rolls, shrugs of disinterest, raised voices, and little patience.

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So much of my work in personal spiritual growth is to be able to manage life as a husband and father. My family is the great laboratory for measuring Christ’s transforming power in me. Everyday I am given a status report as to the improvement I have made in being more loving, or being more merciful, or being forgiving, or being a servant. The old cliche of “parenting will keep you humble” is so true.

The results are not always negative. There are times when I have said something kind and loving that I knew came from a place of Christ transformation and change. There are times when I was willing to sacrifice and extend myself for my children out of care for them and not for myself. There are times when I see past whatever I have planned next and provide words of encouragement, or advice, or teaching that might even resemble what Christ would have said.

I am grateful for my kids and what God has taught me through them and by them. I am grateful that all of my reading, learning, praying, meditating, studying, and work on my own growth in Christ isn’t locked away in a closet but gets a chance to be lived out in a way that stretches me and helps me grow but also, just maybe, benefits the ones that are closest to me.

Be Honest With Yourself

One area where I have struggled in my writing on this blog is properly explaining what a mature Christian looks like. I don’t think I provide a very clear picture of the goal of wisdom and maturity.

In one of our sessions in Wichita, Keith Matthews went through what he called The Super Seven. This was a questionnaire to gauge “the habituated actions and attitudes reflected in my daily living.” We were to rate our level of maturity (1-10) in the following areas:

Confidence and Faith in God in all things

Our life witness as a fact (not words)

A confident and expectant prayer life

Being a conduit of God’s power

Freedom from worry, anxiety, and fear

Mercy and compassion for those in pain or suffering injustice

Participation and service to the body of Christ

Forget our tendency with things like this to nitpick and talk about what should be on the list and how our own pet doctrine isn’t fully represented. And just honestly work through each item on the questionnaire and reflect on your own level of maturity in that area.

Where do you need work? Or, maybe a better question is what area have you become prideful in your level of maturity? Could that pride be preventing you from growing in other areas?

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For me, my prideful area is probably the last one, “Participation and service to the body of Christ.” I sometimes like to look down my nose at other’s unwillingness to serve in church and pat myself on the back for the things I do among the body of Christ. But I am woefully deficient in areas such as having a “confident and expectant prayer life” and “freedom from worry, anxiety, and fear.”

If we are not willing to stretch ourselves and be challenged then true growth will never happen. I think of Peter, who was willing to wield a sword in the name of Jesus but wouldn’t acknowledge Christ to a little girl. He was willing to serve Christ but lacked confidence in God in all things.

Take a look at this inventory and be honest with yourself. Where do you need work? What are you going to do to work towards growth?

May we all make that effort today and see what Christ does with it.

Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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photo by: Ricardo Romano

I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people, no matter what we try to tell ourselves.

When Jesus comes along and says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, we have to take notice, right? Because in our our way of doing life there is no comparison to the reality of the things above. Our truth will barely reach higher than the rims of our glasses. Our life will likely hurt those around us at some point and at best provide only glimpses of joy and peace.

We need Jesus’ way of life, his truth, and his life sustaining us.

In my 30 years of being a follower of Christ, I have learned to count on Jesus answering prayers. I have learned to count on his teachings being the wisest and most beneficial words in human history. I have learned to count on love never failing. I have learned to count on Christ moving in profound but mysterious ways. This is my reality with Christ.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”