Sunday, November 29, 2009

Living Prayer

Take my life and let it be, a living prayer, my God to Thee.

As far as I know the above lyrics from the Allison Krauss song were not written in response to Henri Nouwen's book With Open Hands, but if they were, it would certainly fit. After all, both the song and the book are essentially about the same thing, learning that prayer isn't a moment, but a manner of being. Sculpturally this makes sense, as we are instructed to "Pray continually" (I Thess. 5:17) something that simply can not be if prayer is a single act. Instead, prayer must be something beyond a formal appeal before our Heavenly Father. Allison Krause's song, and Henri Nouwen's book explains how this can be.

For readers unfamiliar with Nouwen, I must first tell you, rectify this right away. Nouwen is the author of many books including my two (so far) favorites, Life of the Beloved, and Here & Now. Reading Nouwen though is all the more meaningful when you know a little about his life. As the jacket on With Open Hands reveals, Nouwen was an Ivy-League professor before he gave up his life of ivory-tower privilege to spend the balance of his Earthly time serving in a community of developmentally disabled men and women. This is important, because as you read Nouwen's book on prayer, you realize that he's not merely writing theological theory, but you are perhaps getting a glimpse into his own journey of Heavenly conversation. The book developed as a result of a series of exchanges with some of his students, but one also gets the impression that it developed as a result of a life educated through practice.

What does With Open Hands have to teach us about a topic that is nearly as old as the Earth? They are four main lessons that will have a profound impact upon your life of prayer.

Prayer is exposure - True prayer is being open before God - acknowledging our complete unworthiness in the light of His holiness. Prayer, therefore, is not a time to merely speak, but to listen. To acknowledge who God is, and that we are not Him, and to, with gratefulness, remember that we while we shouldn't be able to approach Him, He has provided a way to make it so.

2) Prayer is acceptance
- As Nouwen writes "Those who live prayerfully are constantly ready to receive the breath of God and let their lives be renewed and expanded." (p. 54). Prayer, therefore, is not about getting God to bid to our will, but is about aligning our will with His. In doing so, "you become a person...capable of standing open to all the gifts which are prepared for you." (p. 52).

3) Prayer demonstrates faith -
It is common to say of prayer, "there are no athiests in the foxhole." This is becuase even those that choose not to acknowledge God in their daily lives, turn to Him when life feels like a war zone. In other words, they choose to trust that something greater than them can intercept their lives and change the perceived trajectory. Continuous prayer, is a demonstration that not only do we trust God in the trying moments, but that we "put our lives in the hand of God." (p. 77)

4) Prayer is not primarily about us
. - Nouwen writes, "If you are to have a future, it will be a future together with others" (p. 81). Profound words from a man who would give up Earthly comfort to live in a community of need. C.S. Lewis is given the attribution of writing, "I do not pray to change God; I pray to change me." The more we faithfully come to prayer and risk exposure, the more we align ourselves with God's purposes in our lives. And God's purpose is that our lives would be use to change the lives of others. Prayer therefore is not primarily a means for us to get what we want, but is an opportunity to be more like Christ as we intercede for the needs of others.

"With Open Hands" is a quick read, but it is by no means an easy one. Nouwen will challenge and stretch your concept of prayer, and in doing so, you will gain a new perspective on what it means to converse with God.

Question for comment: Why do man find it so hard to be faithful in prayer?

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why The Me Monster Can't Worship

In most church services today, the time where people are called to corporately sing is called "worship." This might be because traditionally most of the songs reflected on God and His character and therefore they were accomplishing the mandates of worship - that is acknowledging and honoring who God is. However, it seems less and less true that this is the intent of many songs. More and more, the melodies and harmonies resound with personal pronouns as we sing about who we are in relation to God and the warm fuzzy feelings we may experience as we think about our relationship to Him. Now humbly acknowledging who we are as sinful beings is a right response to God's revelation, however, the focus of our singing should be on honoring Him as Creator and Redeemer. It's a distinction that is difficult to describe, but it would be as if a lover wrote a letter to the beloved and never said one word about the recipient. Instead, the writer focused solely on the good things that happened in his life as a result of the courtship. Most people might accept this type of letter once, but if the relationship only existed as a response to how the beloved made the other feel, apart from who the beloved is, most would accept that there wasn't much substance to that relationship.

For example, a currently popular worship song, in the midst of acknowledging Jesus as the center of our lives, contains these lyrics "We wrap our lives around your life." While the sentiment is understandable, it doesn't seem Scriptural. After all, God's Word frequently is talking about how we should be in Christ, not that we should be taking our lives and overlaying them on Christ's. "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) which means our lives aren't merely cocooning His, but our very existence is found by placing our lives within His. Again, its a distinction that may be difficult to see, and may, quite frankly, seem like I'm being overly nit-picky. However, when our worship music is not rightly reflecting God, then it just becomes lovely melodies, and not a pronouncement or acknowledgment of who Christ is. In other words, it ceases to be worship.

When I was younger, people would talk about "Jesus as my boyfriend" songs - songs that seemed to minimize Jesus by describing Him in terms that would characterize a good suitor. The songs were derided because they didn't accurately reveal the elevated state of Christ. May we not be accused of something similar by using worship to talk about our lives. May all of our worship always be focused on Him.

(A note - I started this post weeks ago. However, as I wrote it, I realized that it was too much for one post and I was stymied on how to edit it so as to make it so. Because of this writer's block, I took a break from blogging and like any practice, the longer you go without doing it, the harder it is to get back in the swing of things. My apologies for the break. Hopefully, the post proves worth it.)


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Privilege of Praying

Hang around Christian circles long enough and you're bound to hear someone say "I'll pray for you." It's words that are often uttered with very good intentions, and I'm afraid are also frequently accompanied with a lack of follow-through. It has become the godly thing to say when someone is faced with a situation or affliction which we are ill-equipped to assist with. Offering prayer has become routine rather than responsive. It's become commonplace instead of being a commitment.

Some people have recognized the blitheness by which we often offer to pray and mitigate their response. They say things like "I'll try to remember to pray" or "I'll pray if I think of it." By couching their response in less unequivocal terms they do well to not bind themselves to a commitment they may be unwilling to fulfill. However, it seems this equivocation is not the answer. For I'm convinced that if we truly recognize the privilege it is to pray for someone our response would be one of gracious gratitude not obligation.

Prayer, after all, is the way we communicate with God. Through Christ's sacrifice, we're able to talk to the Creator. Praying for someone means not only do we get the joy of conversing with our Father, but we are joining alongside Him in the work He is doing in that person's life. Praying for another is our way of ministering - not only to them - but in interceding with God for the work He is accomplishing in their lives. Prayer then becomes a privilege and I"m convinced that the more we recognized this, the more earnestly we would pray on other's behalves.

For most of us, we will never have the opportunity to advocate our position to the president, or present our plea before a head of state, but for Christians, we have the joy of asking for someone else's good from the Ruler of the Universe. May we not foolishly minimize the great responsibility and the great privilege that this opportunity is.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hurrying Love

I've always loved the song "You Can't Hurry Love." Who among us hasn't song along with Miss Ross as she belts out "but mama said..."? Many times in my single days this song would remind me that I had to "trust, give it time, no matter how long it takes."

The song, is catchy, and is, I believe, in some respects true. I'm a firm proponent that waiting for who God has in store for you is a much better idea than rushing around to find someone. I know for certain that it worked in my case. A husband like mine is a rare jewel indeed, and looking back, every bit of waiting was definitely worth it.

However, while the romantic implications of this song may be true, there's another aspect of it that doesn't resonate. Sure, maybe we shouldn't be rushing to make someone into our soul mate, but I do think that, in a sense, we can hurry love. Now, before I lose you, this isn't another blog about how "you have to put yourself out there" - a horrible phrase if you ask me. Instead, I think we can hurry love of a different kind, the kind of love that calls people to Christ and displays His glory.

"How?" you may ask, and rightly so. The answer is that we must be that dispenser of love. Now, this doesn't mean that we will always get love in return. Christ expressly says that if we love Him, we will be persecuted. However, it does mean that as we reflect Him, and His love, we hasten people's reception of Him. We hurry love by acting like the One who is love personified, and in doing so, more people love Him.

Miss Ross's mama may have been right, but the Word of God is righter still. It says we should love others as Christ loved us. Let's hasten towards that goal, and in doing so, hurry others toward Him.

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Better Things Ahead: November 2009

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Better Things Ahead