Christian, prayer

More Than We Ask

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3: 20-21

Sometimes I find it difficult to pray. It’s easy to ask people to pray for me, but to actually pray myself is hard. I know a lot of this is rooted in my lack of faith. I feel that what I’d be asking for is impossible, or at the very least highly improbable. What I truly yearn for would require serious intervention by the heavenly host, countering science, and literally being supernatural. I know that God is capable of this, and in fact specializes in this, but I can’t bring myself to ask. Maybe I’m afraid that not getting what I asked for would lead me to doubt my faith; so it’s better to not ask than to be disappointed or disillusioned. It’s not that I have never asked for something spectacularly impossible, it’s just that I’ve never gotten a “yes” answer to those big requests. So now I just send up some token prayers to the general effect of what I desire, but I don’t really petition heaven. 

Tonight, as I read these words from Ephesians, I felt some comfort. It doesn’t let me off the hook in my cowardly failure to fervently pray, but it’s good to know that God can meet me even in this place. “Far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” He knows what I’m thinking. He knows what I want. He knows my fears, my fragile faith, and my weariness hidden behind those token prayers. He can still answer my meager offerings and my broken dreams couched in, “If it’s God’s will.”

God can meet me in my imagination even when I’m too afraid to ask him to make it a reality. 

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ministry, prayer, social justice

Living Passionately With Boundaries

In Father of The Bride (1991), George Banks (played by Steve Martin) is talking with his daughter’s ex-fiancé following a dramatic break-up scene. George is trying to smooth things over when he says, “Annie’s a very passionate person. And passionate people tend to overreact at times.” He is using the word “passionate” as a nice way of saying she is a little crazy at times. After seeing this movie, my husband started using the term to describe me. He uses the word a lot.

While my passion is selective, it is impossible for me to only partially commit. This applies to a project I am working on, but not to cleaning my house; which at times can be problematic.

“You need help with summer camp, sure I can help and of course I will plan the activities for my station and buy goat to roast over the open fire. “

easter eggs

“Why yes, my mouth is all bruised and swollen. I was blowing out 2 dozen eggs for my 1st graders to hand paint as a lesson on Russia. “

“We’re taking a trip to New Orleans (from New Jersey), so I planned a few other stops not too far out of the way like, say, Austin, Texas.”

“You know, these lesson plans had a great idea for making food from ancient Egypt, I bet I could do that with every place and time we study. I just need a map and I can check off the countries as I cook.”

 

My husband has just gotten used to these crazy ideas, God bless his soul. Our house is filled with crazy things like a miniature steam engine, wood burning tools, painted backdrops of volcanoes and jungles, and quill pens all because, “I might need them for a lesson some day.” (and I DO!) Our kids eat whatever is put on the table and have simply requested I not tell them where it’s from. Our road trips are EPIC!

The problem comes when I get passionate about something, but I can’t do anything about it. I become conflicted. I mull it over in my mind ad infinitum. That was the case for me with issues of justice in the world that I was seeing: slavery, poverty, violence, inner-city education, oppression of women, and the list goes on and on. Before I could even wrap my head around one problem I would learn about another problem. These are all vast issues with many facets, often deeply entrenched in culture and religion. Sometimes the depravity of what I was seeing would haunt my thoughts day and night.

I felt helpless, conflicted, and at times almost paralyzed or apathetic, because how could things change?

How does one live passionately with tasks so overwhelming? How does a passionate person not burnout when confronting immeasurable injustice and oppression around the world? How?

 

I’ve found myself at times caught in a downward spiral of anguish over some injustice. I’d get stuck in learning about some horror and I couldn’t let go.  I needed boundaries. 

Boundaries I have found helpful:

  1. Everything in life must be centered on Christ. This is both a reminder to myself and the crux of my being. I can only fight injustice when I understand the Creator of justice, when my mind is renewed by Him DAILY, and when I am strengthened by the Holy Spirit who resides within me. I forget this truth often and must be reminded of it regularly.
  2. I don’t watch/read the news. Not that I don’t keep up with world events and politics, but I limit my consumption. I don’t need to read every news report on every child molester. Nor do I need to hear every survivor’s tragic tale to be informed. I don’t need to see everything for myself. You just can’t un-see something. Sometimes less really is more.
  3. “Look for the helpers,” just like Mr. Rogers said. I read of rescuers, of survivors, and of hope as much as possible so I can envision the change I am working towards.
  4. “When I was a boy and I would see scaryI surround myself with supportive, faithful Christians who lift me in prayer, teach me the Word, and hold me accountable. A safety net is a must.

 

If you’re going to join in the fight for justice you need to set up some boundaries. You aren’t any good to the fight if you are worn down and feel defeated. Your boundaries might be different from mine. You might need to steer clear of some particular injustice. Don’t feel bad. You aren’t alone. Someone else will take up where you aren’t called to be. Take the time to set up boundaries now before you get too entrenched in this battle.

 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.-1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook-2

 

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Bible Study, prayer, Proverbs 31

My Dirty Little Quiet Time Secret

I commited my life to Christ 24 years ago. For the first few years, I was just trying to figure out what that meant; for the rest of those years, I have tried to be a good Christian. I have grown more like Christ in the way I live and the choices I make. I have faithfully attended church, been invloved in Bible Studies, Home Fellowships, and ministries that serve others. I even spent many years running my church’s Jr. High youth ministry. But all this time, I have kept this shameful secret.  Well, it’s not completely a secret. I have confessed it to people from time to time, but certainly not quit as openly as this. So here it is.  I don’t have quiet times.

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Now, before I am completely thrown out of any leadership position in my church, I should be more specific.  When I led youth group, I would frequently lead Bible Study, and every week I would faithfully spend quite a bit of time reading and studying to prepare for my lessons.  I even prepared (though not as much) for the lessons that other people were teaching just in case they couldn’t make it.  I have been invovled in quite a few Bible study groups where there was homework, which I dutifully did.  In addition to these things, I pray, read the Bible, and Christian books that have all helped me grow in what it means to follow Chirst.  In my attempt to be more Christ like by having daily quiet times, I have over the years set up plans to read the Bible before I even get out of bed in the morning, before I would let myself eat breakfast (sort of a fasting idea), or before I went to bed at night. All of these plans would last for a while before I would relapse into my non-quiet time life again. At different times in my life, I have been more successful than at other times, but usually my success has be related to two factors: 1. Did I have a task that needed to be completed? or 2. Did I have a lot of free time (such as summer vacation)? For almost my entire life as a Christian this has been a dark cloud hanging over my head. This shame that I am not as commited to Christ as I should be. If I was a good Christian I would get up early before my kids and spend time with God (early morning seems to be more spiritual a time of day), I would never watch a movie after the kids were in bed if I hadn’t done a quiet time that day (free time can only happen after obligations are fulfilled), and I certainly had no business leading others in ministry if I couldn’t be faithful in my own quiet time with God.

Yet always in the back of my head I would remember my Dad saying that God didn’t want so much from people as they seemed to think.  He said that God asked for one day a week, that’s all. He didn’t expect us to be in church every single day. He wanted us to of course follow Him daily, but not live in church services. I thought it was a pretty good argument, but still I thought that a daily quiet time was part of that friendship with God, the time that we would spend together growing closer.  After all, friends want to be together, they want to have the time to just sit with one another and not just one hour a week on a Sunday morning.

 

Then I left leading ministry and found myself in an unusual place in my life. For the first time in many years, I had nothing and no one telling me what to read or study. I wasn’t teaching so I didn’t need to prepare a lesson, and I wasn’t enrolled in a Bible study with homework; it was just me.  What was I going to do in my time with God, with no agenda, and no tasks to complete? So I went back to the basics. I read Luke. Inspired also by the book Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, I began looking at the gospel trying to see what things we have added to the gospel as modern day American Chirstians. I looked at what Christ’s life was like, and how we have added to or taken away from that in our faith.  One thing I saw was the quiet time.  The expectation that is placed on us by Christian society is that we should have a daily quiet time.  We are shown verses about the manna in the wilderness and in the Lord’s Prayer asking for daily bread. We have  been told that quiet times are the way that we get this daily bread and are reminded that we shouldn’t eat only once a week. There are countless books and thoughts on exactly the proper format for this necessary quiet time to nourish our souls. But is that what it meant?

Let’s think about history. For most of history the average person has been illiterate, or nearly so. Books (or scrolls) have been rare. They were hand written on tablets, parchment, or paper taking a great deal of time to create thus making them too expensive for the average person to own. The scriptures were often only read by priests and by a few other learned men. The average person wasn’t expected to sit and read the scripture or even in some cases to know what it said outside of a few baisc rules that were memorized. As history progressed, we see Guttenburg creating his printing press and many  more books, the Bible in particular, becoming available (of course still not in a language that most people knew). When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theseis to the door of the church in Wittenberg (1517 AD) the majority of people neither had access to a Bible nor the knowlege to read it if they did.  It was Martin Luther who translated the New Testament into the language of the people, well his people at least, which was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Chruch.  As time goes on, the Bible would get translatated into different languages and printed so that the common person could access it.  Yet, still many people didn’t own books.  Also, many of the Christians throughout history have not had the amount of “free” time to devote to daily quiet times that we have in our society. (Think  of the African slaves, the Medieval peasants, or even the more modern day immigrants working in the factories of the industrial revolution. Heck, think of the single working mom with three jobs.) I don’t know the origin of the quiet time and when it became the thing for good Christians to do, but I must think that such an idea could not have come into play until access to the Bible was common for people, so sometime in the last 300, maybe 400 years.  This means that for the first 5500+ years of world history, it wasn’t part of the plan.  It wasn’t part of the early Christain church. And it wasn’t part of the instructions that God gave his people in the scripture.

prayer

Now, that said, I am not arguing that quiet times are unGodly, unBiblical or bad in any way. I am all in favor or quiet times, of spending time with God, in sudying the scripture, and even memorizing passages. The more you put into a relationship, the more you will get out of it. In having a discussion on this with a good friend of mine, my friend offered me the best argument I have heard for quiet times. She said, for whom much is given, much is expected. (Thanks Jenn!) We are a generation greatly privlidged to have the Bible available to us to read and we must not waste that gift. I have acess to every translation of the Bible, study tools, and commentaries and I have 20 mintues or more a day that I could devote to quiet times. However, we are also the generation that has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. We have the scriptures written on our hearts. I try to sit down and have my quiet times as often as possible. I enjoy it so much more that I am doing it as I am moved rather than as a task to check off the list. But I also know that some of my best friends I don’t see daily, I don’t even see weekly.  These are friends whom I have connected with on a deep level and we are bound forever, despite sometimes not getting to see one another. Do I like seeing them more often? Do I miss them when I don’t? Of course. I meet with God at least once a week at church, but certainly most weeks more than that.  I also live in a state of prayer.  I don’t think when Jesus said to pray continually he meant in quiet times, he meant as we go about our days.  I pray as I go through my day, remembering people and things, encountering difficulties, counting my blessings, asking for guidance, even telling Christ about my life and the things that I’m thinking. Do I take time out to pray more indepth? Sure, but I think what draws me to God more is my constant prayer not my seperate times of prayer.

Coming to an understanding that God did not command quiet times has helped me free myself of the shame that I have felt for many years. When I would be consistant in my quiet times and then “back slide,” I felt shame.  I would feel guilty that I was too self focused in my life and not enough God centered. It is this guilt and shame, this condemnation that does not come from Christ. I want to spend time with Christ and I am certian that he wants to spend it with me. Without this dirty little secret plaguing my heart, I find that I am more inclinded to reach for my Bible, curl up on a chair, and spend some time reading and praying, like friends, not like a task to check off my list. Right now I am reading Acts and how the early church did devote themselves daily to teachings, prayer and fellowship. (Acts 2:42-47) Perhaps I will become more consistant and faithful in my quiet times, not beacuse I feel obligated to out of Christian deovtion, but becauses I desire to. Right now, I am basking in the freedom that quiet times are a man made invention (that very well might be an excellent tool to help me in my walk), but they are not a mandate from God, a mark of my faith, or a measurement of how good a Christian I am.

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