Earth Quaking Prayer

Prayers of the Saints

I remember a time in my younger spiritual life when imagination and prayer were wedded in unity. I would often imagine myself robed in purple cloth, clad over armor, kneeling at the throne of God. I would utter words of spiritual battle and stand poised in attention for any directive His Majesty would send my way. God has significantly rooted pride out of my prayer life since then, and that means that there’s not much left of my early zeal. Sadly, the imagination has gone with it. When I try to come back to spiritual battle gear, it all now seems like fantasy. It probably was much of that and a little of Holy Spirit power.  I’d like to grow more in my prayer life, but I’m not sure God wants me to go back to armor and robes. I sense rather that there is much more of sackcloth and ashes ahead.

In the journey of growth I think I share with many Christians a feeling of disconnection with prayer, in the same way that many husbands feel disconnected with their wives; we think we’re doing alright until some small argument leads to an all out fissure. We thought we were doing well, but maybe we haven’t paid much attention to our wives or God lately at all, actually. We shouldn’t be surprised, but we are. The erosion of our prayer life creeps up upon us until we can’t remember the last time we felt engaged in prayer. And all of the sudden prayer is to us a distant impossibility.

But when the early followers of Jesus prayed for boldness, the earth quaked (Acts 4.23-30), and they proclaimed the word courageously. Why should it be any different for us today? How do we catch ourselves before the crisis? How do we turn a desire to pray into a deep well of nourishing drink? And what does a powerful humility look like in a mature prayer warrior? Let’s see what we can discover from the Acts 4 prayer.

At its core the Acts 4 prayer is about courage and healing (4.29-30), and it seems to me that prayer runs right down both of these lines. It takes courage to pray and personal healing follows in its wake, also vibrant prayer is a marker of spiritual health, and it produces courage. Healing and courage both fund a life of deep prayer as much as prayer heals and emboldens. The reason, I think, therefore why a prayer life can be a challenge is that courage is hard won, and we are often wounded far deeper than we realize.

The Acts 4 prayer, remember, comes on the tail end of apostolic bravery against their most revered figures of authority. The priests and the captain of the temple guard (echoes of the Gethsemane mob crop up here) came up to John and ultimately threatened them to their core. But they were bold and offered this in response: “which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or Him” and “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under haven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (4.12). This courage though was first born out of failure. Read the gospels. Be very careful no to mistake zeal with courage. The most striking thing, though, about these verses is that the rulers noticed a strange incongruity in their interactions with the apostles, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus” (4.13). Jesus’s courage had finally rubbed of on these men, and though they had deserted him prior, now they were ready to swallow threats. We might say that Jesus had healed them.

There’s much more to say here about these things, including the clear relationship between the apostle’s assurance of God’s Sovereignty and their steadfast willingness nonetheless to pray for something which God seemed to have already given them, in this case courage.

I think that if we want to become prayer warriors in the mold of these disciples, we need to spend as much time with Jesus as possible, studying the portraits we have of him in the gospels, including him in our daily patterns of thought, and joining him in the places were he works in the world (often marked by darkness and injustice). When we do we will find that he is always giving one eye to establishing his kingdom and the other to healing us and teaching us to be brave.  Want to pray more?  Spend some time reflecting on and even journaling about how God has been healing you and working on your courage.  Though this type of spirituality takes patience and endurance (why wouldn’t it), we shouldn’t be surprised when we wake up one day and find ourselves strong and well enough to spend more of our time in prayer and less in anxious ministry.

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Walking by the Spirit

For the New Testament writers, especially for Paul, conversion means God giving a completely new lifestyle to a person who is remade in their entirety. Mind, Will, Heart, Body, and Relationships all get an extreme home makeover.

For Paul, especially in Romans 8 and Galatians 5, he speaks of this total-lifestyle conversion as moving from flesh to spirit. Paul is very careful though to spell this out for his readers, which he will do, because by talking about flesh he does not mean skin, organs, and bones but old patterns of thinking and living. He even gives us lists of how flesh and spirit are different in order to point us in the right direction.

In the old way our minds dwelt on death and the things of death (R8.5-6). In the Spirit, our minds dwell on life and peace (R8.6). Take stock of your mind; where does it spend its time? Also, in the old way, our hearts were racked with fear (R8.15) and conceit (G5.26). Do you ever have the confusing experience of being both deeply in love with yourself and a yet afraid all at once? This could be called narcissism or paranoia. This is walking by the flesh. Walking by the Spirit is confidence and warmth in our heart. When was the last time you experienced a warm heart?

Walking by the old way also includes a change of will and willfulness. You found yourself doing things that you didn’t want to do, and not doing things you wanted to do (G5.17). Walking by the spirit involves learning to control your desires. Paul calls this crucifying our passions (G5.24). Without the Spirit, suggests Paul, you cannot control you desires; it will be impossible.

How about relationships, with people and with God? What does conversion mean for these? Walking by the flesh means biting at one another, devouring one another with our words, provoking one another and envying one another (G5.15). Do these things dominate your relationships? Are you constantly comparing yourself with others? Are you constantly getting in petty fights with family or coworkers? You are walking by the flesh. Period. Walking by the Spirit means loving and serving one another. If you find yourself consumed with bickering, uncontrolled desires, paranoia, constant thoughts about death, Paul says that this reflects a hatred of God, unwillingness to be subjected to God, and ultimately, you become unable to please God. This is harsh but true; you need a conversion.

Walking by the Spirit joins a person with God and is possible in an intensified way in Christ, but it is not inevitable. Old habits and patterns are lurking, because our old self is still being remade. The relationship between God’s healing role in our lives and our willingness is a mystery, but Paul is helpful in giving us a checklist for us to know if we are on the right path, he calls this the fruit of the spirit. Are you growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control, or are you gorged on the fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, uncleanliness, sensuality, idol worship, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousness, anger, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things (G5.19-23).

While walking by the spirit means that God destroys the old house, he saves the very best of what has been undone. All of our dreams that were lost to us under our old rundown life are now gathered and remade; this is the promise of living in the Spirit. Just as in the cross, in God’s economy, our dreams are put to death and resurrected anew. Language about “walking in the flesh vs. walking by the spirit plugs right into this framework of conversion. Paul asks us to crucify the flesh and its passions and desires. This is not to say that God wants us to be passionless and empty; rather he wants to resurrect our passions and desires to give us a life that actually fills our earth-bound selves and lifts us into the kingdom of God. The only way to get there is by walking by the spirit.  What would it take in your life to move Walking by the Spirit more and more to the center of your attention?

The Pulse of your Hope

Hope has grown thin these days, and men and women who minister are no strangers to disappointed expectations, conflict, and depression.  How are you doing with hope?  Behind closed doors do you sense any bitterness or regrets?  Have you engaged in too much scoffing lately?  Time for a check-up.  Let these things go too far, and you’ll start behaving unlike yourself.  How is your hope?  This little exercise will help you take your spiritual pulse and ends with a chance for you to offer your deeper prayers to God.

(This devotional will take 15-30 minutes; take it gently. I’ll lead you though it)
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1. Take five minutes of silence if you can.  Let your mind and heart be calmed.  If you struggle with this, repeat to your self “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46.10)

 

 

 

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2. When we think of Hope, we might be tempted to think of it too shallowly, as if it hope were something like a wish upon a star that heaven might someday be our home. Paul calls this an ignorant human hope whose mantra is “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (I Cor 15.32). Paul says that he wouldn’t have gone on his missionary journeys if that were his hope. The real thing is something much more powerful. It is more like a muscle than it is wish, and Paul’s vision of it is this: One man was resurrected in the middle of history, and the same thing is going to happen in the future, in the twinkling of an eye. In fact, it has already begun, and our job is to resurrect what we can now.  Christian hope gains its strength from this conviction: eternity has begun, and I am waking up.  God invites you to anchor yourself in this hope.

For Paul, his mantra (rather than that of human hope) is something like this: “Therefore beloved brothers and sisters, let us be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord always, knowing that your work is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor 15.58).

Question: What disappoints you the most today, about your past or the situation you are in?  What dreams did you have that can’t seem to come true?

 

 

 

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3. What do you sense God is saying to you today about hope, or anything else?

 

 

 

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4. Watch this video and meditate on it (you are invited to offer your hopes and prayers up to God during the video and to pray for our world if a commercial comes up on youtube):

 

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5. Finish by Praying Psalm 95 and offering up to Him something He showed you.

Psa. 95:1    Come,  let us sing for joy  to the LORD;   let us shout aloud  to the Rock  of our salvation.

2  Let us come before him  with thanksgiving    and extol him with music  and song.

3  For the LORD is the great God,    the great King  above all gods.

4  In his hand are the depths of the earth,    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

5  The sea is his, for he made it,   and his hands formed the dry land.

6  Come, let us bow down  in worship,    let us kneel  before the LORD our Maker;

7  for he is our God   and we are the people of his pasture,    the flock under his care.   Today, if only you would hear his voice,

8  “Do not harden your hearts  as you did at Meribah,      as you did that day at Massah  in the wilderness,

9  where your ancestors tested  me;   they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

10  For forty years  I was angry with that generation;   I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,    and they have not known my ways.’

11  So I declared on oath  in my anger,   ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

 

 

 

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6. Give thanks to God today for what he has shown you, give thanks that he will continue the good work he has begun in you, and offer him your day.  Take a deep breath and (re)enter your day.

7. If so led, you are invited below to leave a comment about what God spoke to you. 

Prayers of the Saints: Thomas Merton

Christ the King Abbey

 

Lord, I Do Not See the Road Ahead of Me

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

 

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I…

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