A Prayer Book for the Home

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When thinking about prayers, I’m sure everyone has a famous one from Church History that comes to mind. Maybe you like “Patrick’s Breastplate.” Or if you’re less inclined to admire past saints, then Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer probably rank pretty high on your list. Father John McGuckin must have been aware of this when putting together his little book. Rather than rehashing prayers that are common place in coffee table books and Facebook posts, McGuckin offers his readers a glance into the early Church. Formulating a familial liturgy (as opposed to a congregational one) seems to be one of the main purposes behind McGuckin’s work, and I think he has hit the nail right on the head.

Starting off with some very practical advice for everyone, ranging from the experienced Catholic who grew up saying the liturgy or the novice Southern Baptist who has no liturgical experience at all, McGuckin makes entering into the morning and evening offices accessible for everyone. As someone whose experience is limited to a cursory knowledge of the Book of Common Prayer, the Prayer Book of the Early Christians has been a blessing in my home. Offering a simple way of engaging in prayer with my family, and a beautiful translation of Ancient prayers from some of the early Church Fathers, this book serves a wonderful launching pad for those looking to unite their entire household in prayer.

It should be noted that Father McGuckin comes from an Orthodox Christian background, which colors his theology and his selection of prayers from the early Church. While there are aspects of that which may been unsettling to some, as in the Hymns to the Virgin or McGuckin’s suggested usage of icons, these are things that are easily accommodated to fit one’s worship preference. It took me a couple of times through each set of prayers to find a rhythm that fits my home, but it was a worthwhile endeavor.

While working my way through McGuckin’s book, one of the early Church prayers really caught my attention. Saint John Damascene’s “Evening Hymn of the Resurrection,” penned sometime around the 8th century, was a beautiful prayer that I have sought to incorporate into my nightly routine. I’d like to share a bit of it with you:

Come, my people, let us sing a hymn
Venerating Christ,
To glorify his resurrection from the dead.
He is our very God
And has redeemed the World
From all the Enemy’s deceit.

That’s a powerful way to close out a day. Overall, this book is one I would suggest all Christians keep on their bookshelf at home, right next to the Book of Common Prayer and Mere Christianity (and maybe The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards, if you’re really holy). Father McGuckin’s work will not disappoint.

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Limited impossibilities

It amazes me the things that motivate me.

And one of the things that motivates me most is when someone tells me: “that’s not practical.”

Maybe it’s a false sense of rebellion. Maybe it’s a shallow, John Locke moment of yelling at the Island, “don’t tell me what I can’t do!” But I doubt it. I think ultimately, I simply desire to rise to the challenge.

With that in mind, what is next in line to get a Bible School open and running? Well, lots, actually.

The first step: getting others on board with the project. I do not doubt that God is calling others to this school just as He called me. Locating them, and figuring out how to put their individual talents to use in building God’s vision, is a necessary forward motion. Moses needed Aaron. David needed Nathan. Paul needed Timothy. As a new friend once said, “you can’t do anything great alone.” And so, I need an Aaron (or maybe three).

The next step: really trying to nail down numbers. This is hard for me, as I have always lived by the adage, “there is nothing to fear, but math itself.” But I’m resolved to move past this fear, and teach those intimidating absolutes, known as numbers, that they won’t stop me. I think I have a new teacher in that regard, and the prospect is exciting.

After that? Well, the tough stuff starts.

Through all of this, holding everything together, will continue to be my ultimate dependence on God. Without God, this dream would fade into obscurity just like so many others. I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together right now, and it speaks so loudly in my mind that I can only handle so much before I feel like I’m being yelled at. It’s convicting and inspiring in the same breath. I cannot wait to see what fruits God will bring through this study.

So as things move slowly, pray with me. Pray that I will not abandon God’s vision when things get difficult, and that regardless of what happens along the way, that God will receive the glory. After all, just because it looks like I’m not working, doesn’t mean I’m idle.

Indeed

Once again Easter has come and gone. It was the first Easter I ever celebrated with a “big” church. It was also the first Easter for my budding family. It came and went like most days, without too much fuss. It makes me sad that I’m in a place in my life where something like that might happen. It should have been a day of celebration, of rejoicing in the triumph of Christ. But it’s just so easy to become worn down and tired from the day to day of work, school, blah, blah, blah.

As I was reading this morning, I came across someone who had a similar sentiment, yet they handled it in a very different way:

We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work.  And everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways.  And I admit that my plate has been full as well. The inbox keeps on accumulating.

But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.

And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world — past, present and future — and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.

In the words of the book Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this “Amazing Grace” calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of his Son and our Savior.

I don’t have a high regard for President Obama (yes, he said that and you can read the remarks in their entirety here), but I’m chastised by his wisdom this morning. God’s grace is truly magnificent, and it certainly calls us to prayer.

I’m hoping, and praying, that as I have time over Spring Break to return to a habit I used to revel in every day (and feel remiss about if I skipped it), namely my coffee with God. It’s not enough to merely “study” His Word, I know I need to enveloped in it like a man walking through a dense fog. There may be times when I feel lost like that same man, but there is not doubt as to Who my guide is.

Here’s to a new season: may His resurrection be visible in each of us today!

A New Year’s Suggestion

As New Year’s approaches, and many set their sights on some kind of renewal or resolve, I’d like to offer some advice. It’s not mine, but it is a beautiful suggestion that I believe many of us could use.Including me.

The resolution: to pray for five minutes a day five days a week. It might sound hard, or might sound too simple, but it’s a start for sure. Choose one, or mix and match. However you go about it, there is no greater place to begin anew than with God.

1. write your prayers in a journal. This helps you keep track of your prayers and see progress (or areas where you might be stuck).

2. meditative prayer. which means that you memorize a prayer, like the Lord’s prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or the prayer of St. Francis.  Then, having memorized it, you say it slowly, offering a phrase (aloud or silently) with each exhaling breath.

3. contemplative prayer. which means, practically, sitting silently and envisioning the reality that you are wrapped in the arms of a loving God.  You don’t need to say anything, and when your mind wanders (it will) you simply return to pondering God’s loving presence.  Another way of doing this is to repeat a word that God might give you.  I’ll sometimes pray this way:  ”I receive your wisdom Lord – thank you” or instead of wisdom, maybe ‘peace’, ‘patience’, ‘courage’ or whatever is needed for the day.

4. identity prayers . read through specific bible verses that declare your identity in Christ, thanking God in prayer for each truth as you read them.

5. talk to God. if you’re not a journal keeper, then just talk with God.  If you need some structure to the conversation, try categories:  a) Give thanks for a blessing you’ve experience (whether a sunrise, or good conversation, or….)  b) confess where you’ve failed or are struggling, and thank God for his forgiveness  c) request from God things that are own your heart, as you express your need for provision, direction, healing  d) pray for others, asking God to respond to situations in your sphere of concern.

Maybe New Year’s resolutions aren’t your thing. That’s fine. I still believe we could all greatly benefit from five minutes with God.

It’s definitely worth trying, right?

Advent Season, Part II: Longing for…

This time of year sees Americans rushing out to stores to purchase gifts for those they love. Even if the intended recipient knows what gift they are getting, family and friends insist that they wait until Christmas to get their gift. Some families have traditions that allow for a single gift to be opened on Christmas Eve, in order to enhance the already mounting anticipation.

Longing is a part of Advent. Many long simply to open their gifts. But that is not where the Christian tradition of anticipation began. After all, Jesus did not come to grant us all a Nintendo 3DS. So what does the Christian long for? What exactly does it mean to long?

For starters, listen to the Christmas song “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” If you don’t have it, you can download a beautiful rendition here. Often when we listen to Christmas music, we want something poppy or upbeat. That is all good and well, but we miss something when we leave out the songs built upon agony and yearning. Are you listening to the song yet? Pay close attention to the first stanza:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

El Greco (Greece/1541-1614)When Luke writes of the shepherds going to see the newborn Messiah, they weren’t just going to see a baby who would one day be a great man; they were witnessing the beginning stages of humanity’s redemption. Luke’s previous chapter is scattered with references to Isaiah, and I doubt it’s coincidental. The angels who tell Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds about Jesus are not just proclaiming the birth of a man. They were proclaiming the Kingdom of God! This was the beginning! This was what Israel had been waiting for! Isaiah 2: 1-5 and 11:1-16 give us a picture of what this would have meant to those who first greeted Jesus.

To summarize: all of the longing for God’s justice, for His mercy, for His redeeming love, for His Presence had finally arrived! This was truly a moment to rejoice.

But what now? The early Christians did not look back at Christmas and long for Jesus’ birth, did they? No, rather they looked forward to His return. The joy of Christmas, which is intricately bound up in the agony of longing, is founded on the idea that while God’s Kingdom is being inaugurated here and now, it will not be complete until Jesus returns. As Christians, we don’t celebrate Christmas because we like “baby Jesus” the best. We rejoice during Advent Season because Jesus came once, gave redemption to His people through His life, death, and resurrection, and He will return again to finally set everything to rights. We can be part of His glorious work now, but we still groan for justice and the redemption of all creation.

As the first week of Advent comes to a close, we open our hearts to the agony of a painfully incomplete world, and begin to move into the hope of Jesus’ second coming. Christmas is a time of looking forward to the promises of God, and worshipping Him in return.

The best way to prepare our hearts for this is prayer. I’ll end here with word from  John Chrysostom, who says it much better than I could:

Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God, and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe. Throughout the whole of our lives we may enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it.

Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature. (excerpt from “The Prayer of Longing”)

May we learn to pray in this way, and thus long for our God with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.

We can all agree

Whether you’re Baptist, Emergent, Anglican, or Catholic, we can all agree that when Jesus says to “pray in this way,” its important.

Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

There isn’t anything to argue here. Sure, we can find something to debate. But we have to look for it. Because it doesn’t get much more straightforward than this.

This prayer has changed my life. It makes me sad that it happened so late in my Christian walk. But I’m joyful that it happened at all.

Pray this way. Exactly as Jesus recommended. See what happens.

Day Eleven

This is a post from a prayer journal I’m keeping as part of one of my classes. I wanted to post this because I’m curious about other people’s thoughts. Have you felt this way? What did you do about it? What did God teach you?

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Today was, odd.

I didn’t read my Bible. I didn’t pray, so to speak.

I sat outside in the breeze, and just talked with God. That sounds so cliché when I write it, but I don’t know any other way to put it. I guess it started yesterday. I had a sort of crisis concerning life. Minor, to be sure. I thought about what God wanted from me and where He wants Sarah and I to go, and felt as though I wasn’t trusting Him enough. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but since I have believed for a while that He is calling me to open a Bible School, I thought maybe that’s where I was lacking faith. So I started dwelling upon it.

This morning, when I sat down outside to have some communion, I got through Chambers and just stopped. “Why am I doing this?” I read Ravi Zacharias this morning before my quiet time. His Rebirth or New Birth? is small and an easy read. But all the similarities he pointed out between Hinduism and Christianity really got me thinking (which is the opposite of his goal I think, because he does point out that it’s the differences that we need to concentrate on). What makes Elmer Towns’ faith different from a Hindu’s? The easy answer is: the Living God. But that didn’t satiate my question. Because my question isn’t so much about “is Christianity true?”, blah, blah, blah. I don’t doubt Jesus. I do doubt what the Church prescribes as habits and practices of true faith.

I started wondering why I read my Bible every morning. Am I clinging to something I was taught long ago? Why do I pray the way I do? It’s not the way Jesus instructed, so where did I get it from? Why don’t I get books of prophecy? Am I missing something? Is the issue my doubt?

And it hit me: I doubt. I doubt God frequently. Not His Saving Grace. But His daily interaction in my life? Oh yeah. I believe He wants me to open a Bible School, and that He has ever since He changed my life at Ravencrest in 2001. Yet, I’m only now really considering it. And skeptically, at that. “I need $5,000,000 to get it going, Lord.” But I don’t believe He’s gong to give me any money. And if He did, I fear what would happen if I’m wrong or the School fails. I feel like a borderline Deist right now.

I’m not. But I feel that way.

I don’t live my life as though my God is alive and moving in this world. And that’s sad. More than sad, it’s tragic. What’s the point? If all God did was give me a pass to heaven, why would anyone on this earth want to live a life like mine? Because I’m a good person? I hate when people say that. I’m not a good person. I have good moments, but deep down I’m as wretched as they come. It’s a constant struggle to keep the monster at bay. And it gets harder every day right now. I look for confrontation. I want it. I hide it under the guise of doing what’s right. But that’s not what I’m really after. I want to fight. Something inside is prodding me to look for that perfect window to just slam somebody and watch it all fall apart. I’ve been like this before, and I remember what changed me. God. Jesus. However you want to phrase it. He changed me. And even though the following couple of years were so hard, I came out of it stronger. I came out of it knowing exactly Who saved me. But now, I hardly ever think like that.

Maybe it’s a different stage in faith. Maybe it’s just selfishness taking hold. Whatever it is, I hate it.

But in the midst of that, my conversation with God was good. Maybe He’ll show me what it all means. Or maybe He’ll smack me into some sensible behavior.

I probably owe some people an apology.

And I should make that right.

What are we looking for?

Norah: Are you sorry that we missed it?

Nick: We didn’t miss it. This is it. C’mon. You wanna go home?

                       

Everyone has an "it". "It" is that one thing we search for: more money, a job we like, someone who makes our loneliness go away, a better car, freedom on our own terms… And really the list could go on.

Often we miss out on the journey because we’re so busy looking for the journey’s end. We miss the forest for the trees, or whatever other silly cliche goes along with this thought. We frequently go about our lives with our priorities misaligned.

We do this to God. We pray because we need wisdom, or we’re feeling lonely. We don’t pray to bring ourselves closer to God. The result becomes so much more important to us than the process, and we ask God to cater to us in that regard. Does God answer our prayers all the same? Yes. And of course, sometimes No. There’s no formula for how to get the Lord to do as we ask. But that is the point

God is in the process. He’s in every step we take on the various journeys we find ourselves in. And each of us should learn to better walk the path.

It’s rare that I go to God in prayer simply because I want to talk to Him. It’s not rare that I call my girl friend just to hear her voice, or that I swing by my best friend’s house because I miss seeing him. These things aren’t bad, but they reveal the areas in my life where the end is more important than the way. And in many respects, that needs to change.

Surrender

 

Kenny once said that to surrender is to run out of ammo. Rather profound, that is. And since I heard him say that, that has been my view on surrendering to God. People, myself included, can’t really surrender unless we have nothing left to fight with.

Recently though, I’ve been giving some thought to that. Something C.S. Lewis wrote made me start to wonder if there was another type of surrender; a surrender that doesn’t require a fight at all. The answer seemed obvious: of course there was. The only problem was I couldn’t think of any examples of gentle surrender. The fighting surrender was all I could call to mind.

Then, this morning, I was puttering around the house and I remembered a Sarah McLachlan song that said something about surrender:

Oh, it doesn’t mean much
It doesn’t mean anything at all
The life I’ve left behind me
Is a cold room
I’ve crossed the last line
From where I can’t return

Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give to you

You can see the song in its entirety here. Although she’s singing about lovers, the concept remains the same in many ways. When two people get married, life is a complete surrender to each other. If one person surrenders more than the other, things get all off kilter. This kind of surrender requires a balance. And the surrender must quickly be complete. I think that’s what the whole "one flesh" thing is all about.

So as I think about all this, I start to call to mind my best friend, who is the most stubborn and willful soul I have ever known, and yet he is the quintessential picture of what it means to surrender to someone you love.

The thing is, God has already done his part. His Son walked this earth and surrendered to everyone He encountered. He surrendered His life for all mankind, including us today. Already, the relationship isn’t balanced. God is waiting on us. But what I think is so cool about this is how quickly the balance comes when we surrender in a fashion like Sarah sings. Willingly. Knowing that surrender is all we can give.

Lord, I pray that today you would give me a heart of willing surrender. I don’t want to fight You nor the Life You offer. I desire to come to you, humbly, and give You the only thing I can: the life You have given me. Like a child who asks his father for money to buy him a gift, I offer You the only thing of value which is all that You’ve blessed me with. Amen.