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Archive for July, 2013

Pray, Prayer, Praying

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  Luke 11:1b  “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10  (NRSV)

I sometimes wonder if we have made praying too hard for ourselves.  Jesus’ disciples wanted to learn how to pray.  I think we all want to pray in the right way, but what IS the “right” way?  Isn’t it different for all of us?

We have more formal corporate type prayers in worship, meetings, Bible Study, and other group gatherings, but except for praying the Lord’s Prayer together or other well-known prayers, I don’t think there is anything set in place as for the process of praying.  Jesus often said to pray.  So that’s where we begin with this exploration.

Maybe what puzzles and worries many of us can be found in the Luke 11:9-10 verses.  According to these passages, Jesus says to go ahead and pray because whatever we ask for, seek, or knock on the door to see will be ours.  Hmmm.  I know a lot of prayers when I didn’t get what I wanted or expected.

Of course, that’s where the “rub” is located.  Nowhere does it say that we get what WE want or expect, only that our prayers will be answered.  Maybe the content of our prayers needs to have some serious scrutiny.  Maybe we ask, as Jesus did in the Lord’s Prayer, for God’s will to be done.  That’s what so many of us forget – it’s GOD’s will – what God knows is best for us that is done.  We may not always get what we want or expect, but we always get what we NEED.

When we go to God with a grocery list of what we want, we are working out of our own ideas, thoughts and desires.  While God certainly can see that many of the things we pray for are things we can and will have, there are other things that we really don’t need.

Intercessory prayer is another struggle.  When we pray for others who are sick, dying, hurt, in need and those prayers don’t seem to be answered, what then?  Praying for others is often opening ourselves to ways in which we can care for them, minister to them, help them to find strength in times of trouble.  Even when we don’t know the person, we open ourselves to God’s direction and guidance when we pray for them.  Our prayers keep the communication open and help us to stay focused on God.

Praying puts us in line with God and opens our minds and hearts to growth, connection with God and others, and acceptance when we have answers to prayer that we don’t like.  When we ask, we will receive – in some way or another.  When we seek God, we will surely find God.  When we knock, God will open the door – maybe not always in the way we expect, but surely in the way that will give us help and direction.

When we pray, we don’t pray so that it’s all about us, but all about God.  Not easy.  The Holy Spirit can help us, inspire us, and guide us.  When Jesus went off by himself to pray, he spent time reconnecting with God’s will – God’s direction – God’s guidance.  His strength came in that connection.  That’s what prayer can do for us, too. 

God wants what is good for us, and when we can accept that not everything is going to happen the way we want it to, we will be able to let go of our grocery list and listen so that we can align our hearts and minds with God’s.  That happens when we pray – standing, sitting, kneeling, lying down, driving, walking, or in whatever way works for us, and we don’t need any formula in order to get the prayer across to God.

Anne Lamott says her favorite prayers are “Help me; help me; help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  What’s yours?

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“Doing” Church

“Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”  Colossians 1:18 (NRSV)

Recently a young woman pulled her SUV into the church parking lot as I was leaving to ask me a question about using our fellowship hall for an event they were planning.  She said, “We have met before.  My family and I came to church here a couple of times when we were church shopping.”

Church shopping.  I know people do it, and I know they even say it.  But I wonder how the church now has become a commodity to be “priced, compared, and negotiated.”  What does “church shopping” imply?  Does that mean that God is for sale, so to speak?  Does it mean that we are a club people are checking out to see if they want to belong.

Unfortunately, the sense of joining a club has become more of the mindset than finding a place where people can worship God.  I wonder if the disciples fussed at Jesus because he didn’t pick the right hill or the most inspiring surroundings when they would stop for worship and praise.  I wonder if they balked at going to the local synagogue because it wasn’t pretty enough, didn’t have the right music, the priest wasn’t interesting enough, the choir didn’t sound good, the people ignored them, or whatever the excuse might have been.

To answer my own wondering, I suspect it didn’t matter to them where they worshiped because they were with Jesus.  I mean, how cool is that?  To be with God incarnate (even though they didn’t always get it, but then, neither do we!).  Their goal was to pray, worship God, sing to God’s glory, be among God’s people regardless of their surroundings.

Over the last ten years or so (maybe longer), we have heard the complaint that the church is “blah” and outdated.  On the other hand, we hear the message that we shouldn’t succumb to the world’s demands and let the world determine who we are as a church.  We have programs galore that tell us how to improve the church, make it more marketable, bring more people in, help the congregation to be a more spiritual place or a more welcoming place or a more inviting place.

Why can’t we just worship God together – wherever it might be?  Of course, we all have preferences about how that works for us, and what is most meaningful to us, but what we also seem to forget is that we go to church to worship God in the context of the community of faith.  So what if we don’t like that nosey lady who always sits in the back row and looks grumpy or the man who always ushers and tells others how to usher, too.

Most of us are smart enough to figure out that there are different personalities and different ways of seeing things.  Okay, so they DON’T represent God in the best way – do we?  The church is about God in Christ and is empowered by the Holy Spirit – when we let it be that way.  Let’s not forget that Jesus is the head of the church, and we worship him, not each other.  Let’s remember that we come to glorify God, and our own spiritual growth is a result of our faithfulness.  May it be so!

Even the Little People

“Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.  She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  He would cure him of his leprosy.”  (2 Kings 5:2-3). . . But [Naaman’s] servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)  (NRSV)

Naaman, the great and mighty Aramean army general had leprosy.  It probably wasn’t what we think of as leprosy or Hansen’s disease, but some kind of annoying and embarrassing skin condition.  It got in his way, and it was something that he wanted out of his life.  So when an Israeli slave girl suggested to Naaman’s wife that he see the prophet Elisha, he decided to go. 

When he finally went to the prophet, only a servant came out to tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan.  This made the army general furious, but his servants encouraged him to give it a try, after all, it was a simple thing to do.  Imagine Naaman’s joy when he came up out of the water for a seventh time and was healed.  The rest of the story tells of Naaman’s conversion to believing in the God of Israel.

What’s interesting to me about this particular story, though, isn’t the powerful Aramean Army General or the two kings who were involved in the exchange in the middle of the story.  It isn’t (at this point) the prophet’s seeming indifference to the General, but the servants who moved the story along.

The first servant was a slave in Naaman’s household.  I suspect his wife was ready to have this disease gone, too, so she passed the information along to her husband.  Then when things don’t seem to be going his way, and he throws a temper tantrum about the rivers of his own country being nicer and cleaner than the Jordan, as well as his anger at Elisha’s apparent snub, the servants who traveled with him convince him to give it a try.

In the Bible, the ignored, outcast, and marginalized of society are often referred to as “the little people.”  This is not a put-down, but a reminder that it is how they are seen by the culture.  Yet, even these “little people” had something to say that made a difference for someone who was a high ranking official in the government.  Fortunately, Naaman paid attention to what they said.

Who are the “little people” whose voices we tend to overlook and whose wisdom is there for us to hear and welcome?  I suspect that there are people in our churches who think they have nothing to offer, but they have great insight and wisdom to share.  The problem is that we often are way too busy listening to the people who tend to have the loudest voices and who sometimes create the biggest “stink” so they will be heard. 

I wonder what would happen if we listened to EVERYONE more carefully, especially to our “little people” whoever they may be.  What would we learn?  How would we experience God more fully?

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