Prayer Struggle

Romans 8_26

Lately I’ve been struggling with prayer. Oh, I can go through my lists of requests as well as the next person, but the struggle is the deeper prayer; the soaking in the Spirit prayer. Maybe it’s my age or the season of life I’m in; maybe it’s the listening part or all of the distractions. Maybe it’s something else entirely; even so, I find it both interesting and disturbing. It’s interesting because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time; disturbing because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time.

Struggle and Soil

Perhaps the struggle is part of God’s plan for me. Instead of fretting over the struggle I need to be okay with it and recognize it as a normal part of growing in my walk with Jesus. The struggle is where the refining of my faith occurs. Outward struggles are obvious opportunities for faith-building, but the interior struggles are invisible to the material world but are every bit as real, maybe even more so.

It is in the unseen where the Holy Spirit does his best work; that is, if the person in the midst of the struggle leans deeper into God rather than turning away. The struggle is where the soil of my soul is being tilled for the deeper things of God.

Painful Reveal and the Crucible

The struggle also reveals weak areas of my faith. Such as being too focused on today’s list of to-dos, or tomorrow’s dreams, or my worrying over the “what ifs” of life, “what ifs” that may never come to pass. It is revealing to me that my mind is not quiet, my soul is not settled and I am not waiting patiently.

The struggle then is honing the discipline of waiting; waiting on God to speak, or not to speak. The quiet is the crucible that is forging the fragile yet precious patience required to truly hear from God.

The struggle helps me better understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 8: “And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children … And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (verses 23 and 26, New Living Translation).

So struggle goes on, but at least I know I’m not struggling alone.

More to Do, Little to Be

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“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

—Luke 6:12

“To be in His presence is gift enough.” This is a phrase I heard last week at the Hope Pregnancy Clinic banquet. It is a compelling quote, especially when feeling distant from God. Personally, my life is so full of stuff needing to be done that life itself has become a series of to-do lists. I’m slowly and sadly morphing into the recent cliché of living as a human-doing rather than a human being. Perhaps an overused phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it.

Jesus spent hours just being with His Father, I’m sure He had requests but given the amount of time spent with His Father it is likely that much of the time was just basking in the presence of the Lord. Jesus was longing to hear the voice of His Father rather than His own voice. Conversely, much my time with the Father is nothing more than a ten minute “prayer session” of requests and laments. I don’t give enough time to listen to anything other than my own voice. There is no presence of God because I monopolize the time with my own presence.

Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine states in Sensing Jesus that life for a Christ-follower is an apprenticeship with Jesus and “apprenticeship needs meditation and time” (p. 26).  Part of this time is spent in prayerful meditation on the character of God or on a portion of Scripture, such as the one mentioned above. It takes time in any conversation to move into the deeper waters of relational richness and soul-moving transformation. It reminds me of strolling with Jesus down a leaf-strewn path, kicking and crunching through the fallen foliage just talking…talking about the deep things like longing for Heaven, or enduring through chronic pain or fearing the future. It is asking Jesus to speak into the darker areas of my heart; the areas of selfish ambition, or the desire to be in control or my covetousness. It is intentionally opening the doors and windows of my soul to the refreshing and cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit wafting through unhindered, removing the stench of sin and clutter. This opens up spaces for healing and transformation, and for two-way conversation.

Be More Than Do

Instead, Jesus is kept at arm’s length with carefully crafted to-do lists and requests. We have accomplishments next to little check-marked boxes of things we have done; but Jesus is interested in transforming our being, not our doing.  We are called to be lights, not do lights (Matt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:15).

What if our mindset was to be healing rather than do healing? And being bathed in the presence of Jesus is in itself healing; yes, the aches remain and things needs to be done for employers, school, and ministry—but that time of being with Jesus can help us become a healing presence for others. But when we focus on doing, our soul shrinks to the size of our check boxes; Jesus wants to transcend us above such a small soul to become more like Him. To become more of a healing light, drawing others to Jesus’ healing presence.

We are to be more than we are to do.

Challenge and Proverbs 4:23

Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” This proverb demands the reader to examine what is truly in their own heart. If my heart is harboring anger or bitterness that will eventually spill out; likewise, if my heart is full of good things that will spill out as well. Therefore, what is the condition of my heart (cf. Mt. 12:34b-37)? What’s more, how does the condition of my heart change relative to my circumstance or with whom I am keeping company? These are important questions for gauging the depth and authenticity of my walk with Jesus. I need to truly examine why my heart is bitter when I discover that it is. Could there be jealousy or an unresolved issue? If so, what do I need to do to repair the problem? This will take wisdom from God that has already been explained in previous sessions.

What I have seen is when a person does not check the condition of their heart, especially toward their spouse or child, their relationship deteriorates often to disintegration via harsh words and actions. I believe if people spend time in quiet reflective prayer upon discovery of an unhealthy heart, then many hurtful words and actions could be avoided. This is also true for the workplace and even among friends.

As we ponder this verse, we need to consider the questions in the first paragraph. We need ask ourselves what is the true condition of our own hearts? Does our heart change when we’re with different people? Why? Also, do we take time to examine our hearts? If yes, how? And, finally, how should we answer someone that asks us how they should examine their own heart?

Getting Back to Joy

hose

I am fascinated by the idea of joy. Actually, truth be known, I’m more chagrined by the lack of it. Joy, by definition, means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (Dictionary.com). Jesus says that “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

What things did He speak to them and subsequently to us about? He spoke that He was the way to the Father and about the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He spoke about His peace being given to us and about abiding in the Father. Then after He speaks of us having joy He then calls us friends.

First John speaks to joy as well: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jo. 1:4). This encouragement comes after he has reminded us that we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But notice that in both verses God desires our joy to be full; not half full, not a whiff of being full, but fully full!

Stepping on the Hose

It is also interesting to note that the word ‘joy’ occurs over 150 times in the Bible. God desires us to have joy; so much so that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). ‘Joy’ sits between ‘love’ and ‘peace.’ God wants us to have joy. And since joy is part of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it can just flow through us if we leave the Holy Spirit unquenched. However, if we are always downcast or morose, then joy is obviously not being manifested in our lives. This should lead us to ask, why? Somewhere, somehow, we are quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is as if we are stepping on the garden hose supplying the refreshing water to the soil of our hearts; we are somehow resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Are we harboring some secret sin, hatred, or fear? Are we overworked, overbooked or overwhelmed? Where are we stepping on the hose of God’s refreshing?

If we live joylessly, then is it any wonder we’re not winning others to Christ? Who wants to become part of a dark cloud society when Jesus Himself is light and life?  And how do we get back to joy?

Unquench

Prayer, that’s how. We need to honestly approach God in prayer and plead for him to search our anxious hearts to reveal all that is contrary to his light in our lives (see Psalms 51:7-12 and 139:23-24). If in raw sincerity of our will we approach God with this request he will honor it even if it hurts a little. But the end result is the restoration of the joy we have in our salvation that will seep out of our lives to draw others into the same joy of the same salvation (Psalm 51:12-13).

Proverbs 3 and Prayer, Scripture and Counsel

Bible stackProverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” This verses are also reiterated in Proverbs 16:3 and Psalms 37:3-4. Trusting in God is seeking his guidance via prayer, Scripture, and sound counsel from mature believers. This process (prayer, Scripture, counsel) is preferable over merely making key decisions in isolation. In other words, as Scripture says, pray about everything (cf. Ph. 4:6-7) then trust God to guide in the planning and responding to whatever is at hand. If we are still unsure then seek wise counsel from those that are biblically mature.

Prayer, Scripture, Counsel

This demonstrates humility and dependence on God and the cycle of prayer, Scripture, counsel is something we can incorporate into our lives and even teach to our children and grandchildren. However, not trusting in God is relying solely on the self which produces questionable, if not disastrous, results. Over the years I’ve seen this play out in poor relationship decisions that caused years of contentions, legal entanglements and damaged children. I’ve also seen this play out in poor purchasing decisions that resulted in years of debt; such as using credit cards to buy material things that wear out long before the bills are paid. These are two significant examples that result in great emotional and financial damage over long periods of time.

A Little Exercise

How much simpler and more fulfilling would our lives be if we reigned in our impatience, got quiet before the Lord and sought his counsel and then the counsel of other wise, mature Christ-followers? Maybe it would help to think of times when you made rash decisions without seeking counsel and then answer these three questions: How did it effective your life? What could you have done differently then? How are you doing things differently now?

A Cognitive Dissonance of Faith

Caleb_bush_treatmentBless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:14-15

Blood Cries Out

I feel a little strange today. Right now my youngest son is riding his bike around the cul de sac bellowing like a siren; he’s pretending to be a paramedic. I rejoice at the joyful heart of my child and his innocent imagination. I am also proud of my oldest son as he makes a life of his own in North Dakota. He’s a grown man now that makes his father proud. And yet there is a heaviness in the pit of my soul; it is like a mournful cry rising out of the earth itself as little children like my own are being murdered for their faith. The dust of the Middle East is muddying up in the blood of the innocents. God have mercy.

Dissonance

Amidst this I still have a paper to write for my Old Testament class, on God’s grace, oddly enough. I will eventually get on my bike today to enjoy the countryside, the sunshine and the feel of my body laboring in the love of cycling. We will probably grill up some tasty steaks on the back patio with an avocado salad.

And yet the pit of my soul beckons me to pray..pray for the children, pray for their parents, pray their faith remains strong, and, yes, pray that the murderers wake up to the wrong they reap with their own hands; no matter what they do, Jesus is still Jesus, and they will someday meet Him. I pray they come to faith prior to their meeting. Even so, I pray for God’s justice to reign through all the cruelty humanity heaps upon humanity.

A New To-Do List

How, then, am I to live my life? Do I hang my head in guilt that I’m not suffering as they? Do I pack, leave my family and head into the danger zone? I don’t think so. I think part of what I’m learning about this pit in my soul is the Holy Spirit encouraging me to pray as mentioned above. But He is also using this to remind me to be thankful for the life I am living, to love my sons with all I have, and to protect my marriage and my Bride by not taking her for granted, or having a wandering eye, or by thinking of her as anything less than a dear daughter of the Most High God. And to take care of myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I can rejoice and I can weep. I can pray and I can celebrate. I can rebuke guilt and embrace the love of God that washes clean each heart of faith. I can go on with my day with a new motivation to never take for granted the life I live and the people I love and the people that love me.  And I can pray…

Trees, Forest and Eternity

Tree_forestI am fascinated by the both/and nature of Jesus. So often we are tempted to put Him into a box; even pastors from the pulpit put Him into a box of theologically constructed rules and regulations. But Jesus has none of that.

 For instance, in John 14:2-3 Jesus is teaching to both the disciples present and to you and I today. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Trees

In the foreground in the picture above is a single tree. It is an alpine tree so it is not as full as trees at lower elevations. This tree represents the person to whom Jesus is teaching. That person is the disciple in the upper room sitting at His feet in rapt attention and it is also the reader of Scripture in 2014 riding the subway to work. It is a timeless message to each individual that has accepted Jesus into their lives. It is a promise that has not yet run its course. It is an equal promise to all that have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is a promise of an eternal destiny with Jesus for evermore.

Forest

In the background is the forest—a whole bunch of individual trees gathered together in an evergreen community, withstanding all that the elements of climate can throw at them. The trees are the community of Christ-followers. This community is both local and global. It is both then and now. It is past, present and future. This is the Kingdom of Christ being built throughout the centuries one tree at a time.

The Mountain and Eternity

The mountain sits in the very back of the picture. The mountain is immoveable, ever-present, majestic and beautiful. That is our destiny, the mountaintop of forever existence with Jesus.

Yes, it is true, that we can’t really see the final destiny with our eyeballs; we can, however, sense it in our inner being by way of the Holy Spirit. And yes, many of us, myself included, suffer pain of some sort every day this side of our Eternal Destiny. Yet we know that one day when we do finally arrive at that Eternal Destiny that all pain will cease, we will be completely redeemed, restored and made new (see Rev. 21 & 22 and 1 Cor. 15).

 Endurance

But like the bike ride it took to get to place to take this picture or to climb the mountain in the background we need endurance. Marathoners need endurance as do backpackers and parents. Those that suffer chronic pain or unspeakable persecution need endurance. Jesus needed endurance. We get our endurance with proper care of our bodies through nutrition, training and rest; but we also need to prepare for spiritual endurance by absorbing Scripture, spending time in prayer—which is really communion with the Father, and by being connected to our local forest whether it be a church, home group or a huddle of refugees.

 But to all of us, both then and now, the promise still holds true, that Jesus is preparing a place for us and one day we will all be with Him for ever more, amen.

Cycling to Sisters and: The Why

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Climbing up Tombstone pass, portions of which pitch to a ten percent grade, causes one to ask the question: why am I doing this? My lungs weren’t exploding but my quads were. Even though I had already put in nearly 1,000 base miles, I had not trained for hills this big, especially in the altitude we were moving into. Again, the question, why?

 I don’t know.

 The day before Tombstone, we had ridden from Keizer to Sweet Home, about 58 miles and change. And of course, there were hills, big hills; but nothing like Tombstone. In fact, it was uphill for 40 miles from Sweet Home to the top of Tombstone, 11 miles of it between six and 10 percent in grade. What am I trying to prove?

I don’t know.

Maybe it was the thrill of the adventure, the challenge of pushing my body beyond anything I’ve done in 25 years, or maybe it was the fellowship with friends or the scenery, or wanting to see how far I could push my triple-fusion neck. Maybe it was a combination of all the above. Maybe I need to see a doctor.

 Before the trip even began I thought maybe I’d get some nice quality prayer time while spending hours in the saddle. But that didn’t happen. I was suffering too much to truly pray other than pleading for help up this massive mountain that seemed to head straight up into space. I prayed I wouldn’t get hit by the many cars speeding by. I prayed my dizziness wouldn’t all of the sudden cause me to veer into the speeding traffic or off the side of the gravelly canyon. Oh yes, I prayed, it just wasn’t the prayer of solitude, but more the prayer of panic. Why?

 I don’t know.

 But I made it. Granted, I didn’t turn a pedal on every mile but I rose to the primary challenges while also being humbled—humbled by the hills, humbled by my slowness, and humbled by the loss of former physical abilities. I am not 28 anymore and I do have a compromised spine. I also have a loving God that allows me to participate in such endeavors.

And perhaps this is the answer to the why, deepening humility while also, as ironic as it sounds, deepening my gratefulness to God. I did draw closer to Jesus if only in recognizing that, yes, He was with my in the terrifying descent down the Santiam Pass and into Sisters. He was with me on the last arduous climb the day after Sisters where I swore I’d quite riding (although I was riding less than 24 hours later after we got home). He was with me as I was so dizzy I could hardly keep my bike in a straight line. And He is still with me now, even after such a quest; a quest I didn’t need to do other than verifying to my own soul that, yes, even now, I am alive, I am well, but even more, I am alive and I am living life, not letting life live me.

 That I do know.