Lord, Make Me Like You

April 28, 2017

Dr Odd (Picasso)

I don’t recall where or when I first heard following story, but it has often caused me to stop and ask myself about my attitude and motivations:  Prayer

A man prayed to the Lord: “Lord, make me like you; may my words & thoughts be like yours; may my actions produce great fruit…”

This was his regular prayer.

Then one day a voice from within – perhaps the Holy Spirit, perhaps his own mind – simply said one word: “Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’  Lord, it’s a standard prayer!”

But why did he want to be like the Lord?  Why do I want to be like Jesus?

1.     So people will think highly of us?

-or-

2.     For God’s Glory

-and/or –

3.     Because the Lord is pleased with Jesus

How we answer makes a world of difference.

Prayer Group Participants

January 22, 2016

Awakaning

Earlier this week, for a change of pace, and to set our orientation, I had our staff open our weekly meeting with a period of liturgical prayer.  This kind of prayer is not really part of our tradition. It appears, from what I occasionally read, that some from our tradition are intensely opposed to such Anglican/Catholic practices. I am not exactly sure why. Ever since first participating in a liturgical prayer experience several years ago in a small gathering of pastors – all PCA –  I have found this expression of corporate prayer to be quite refreshing, at least when in smaller groups.  If little else, liturgical prayer, when done appropriately, minimizes a lot of the quirkiness common to other kinds of prayer gatherings.

Prayer gatherings at many churches are… – well, somewhat bizarre.  I do not mean to impugn the sincerity or intent of any of them.  But even when sincere that does not mean there is necessarily an absence of weird. This is probably a good thing, since many of us whom God has redeemed, and adopted as his children, are somewhat strange; a little quirky.  And this seems to become evident at some of our prayer gatherings.

I served one church where the prayer gathering was held almost sacred. However, when I had the audacity to suggest that maybe we should minimize the length of time in study (which was roughly 45 minutes) and increase the time of praying (which was roughly 10 minutes – if we included the amount of time it took to allow everyone to “share” their prayer requests, before actually praying), my suggestion was met with some serious push-back. How silly I was to assume prayer should comprise the bulk of our time at a prayer meeting.

Even when the prayer is taking place in the prayer gathering, some of our peculiarities are evident in the practices.  A few churches in which I have been part the practice was what I have come to call “serpentine prayer”.  (And no, despite being from Tennessee, this has nothing to do with snake handling.)  Serpentine prayer is somewhat of a variant of a prayer circle, where one prays, then the next, all around the circle.  In serpentine prayer, when the room is not large enough to accommodate everyone in a circle, people sit in rows, and prayer goes down each row and wiggles to the next row.  Nothing wrong with this. But when I encouraged more spontaneous prayer, revolving around some pre-agreed subjects, the evident initial discomfort was quickly – and spontaneously – replaced by the re-emergence of the serpentine method.  But this may not be nearly as odd as some other groups.  A friend served a church where the long held practice for the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting was to have the pastor open in a brief prayer, the people spend 30-minutes or so sharing what was on their minds and hearts, then watch the pastor pray for everything during the remainder of the time.  No attempt to get the people to pray was successful, or even welcome.  (They eventually fired him for trying to change the church too much, prayer meeting being among the most aggregious. Before he was fired, however, someone from the congregation, in attempt to get him to leave because he was “changing” things, even poisoned his dog.  It had worked before.  My friend later learned that his predecessors dog had been poisoned for similar reasons. But I digresss…)

But even when quirky, the prayer meeting can be a beautiful thing. For those present. And for God. (see Psalm 133)

I was amused by Steve Burchett‘s article penned for For the Church.  In the article Burchett identifies and names some of the quirky participants found in many prayer gatherings.  If you have been in many church prayer meetings you will likely recognize many, of not all of them.  Who knows, you might even see yourself!

  1. The Sleeper
  2. The Non-Participator
  3. The Whisperer
  4. The Rambler
  5. The Dominater
  6. The Repeater
  7. The Preacher
  8. The Gossiper
  9. The Distracter
  10. The KJVer

(Check out the descriptions and encouragements from the whole article for yourself: Prayer Group Participants)

Quirky or not, there is something to be said for those committed to gathering for prayer.

I am saddened by the decline of weekly prayer meetings in most churches.  If they are not yet dead, they are almost certainly under hospice care.  And more frustrating are those who are activists for prayer in schools and in public forums, and yet who themselves will not commit to regular participation of group prayer.  It is no wonder that at times non-believers may look upon the church with scorn, as such hypocrisy is startling.  We loudly lament the absence of prayer in public places, yet we as a people will not commit to joining together for prayer in the one place from which prayers should be perpetually lifted up to God! How absurd.  Maybe we should fill our houses of prayer before we condemn the culture for not doing what we do not do.

May God, in his grace, bring about a change, and restore prayer to a place of prominence in his church.  In the means time, and always, may God have mercy upon us.

Generic Prayer Request Generator

Sad.  Funny.  Too often true. But still sad.  Sad mostly because this seems reflective of too much of contemporary prayer and the common substance of too many prayer meetings.

Heart of Oklahoma

It has been way too long since I have written here. But this morning, as I think and pray about the devastation that has hit Oklahoma… It is only appropriate to post.  Yet, what can I say?  As a former Oklahoman (I spent my Freshman & Sophomore years of high school, and my first two college Summer Breaks, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) this tragedy that has struck, particularly hard on the town of Moore, OK, is heartbreaking.  The videos of the Category 4  tornado (that may yet still be upgraded to Cat 5) that ripped through the town, the hospital, and the elementary school seems surreal.  It brings back to memory all the tornado drills we went through as students – events I must confess I never took too seriously, though clearly I should have.  So I write, but what can I say?

There are many reporting and commenting on this disaster. But two have struck me as offering especially proper perspective and prayer:

Sam Storms, a pastor from Oklahoma City, whom I have never met, but whom I truly appreciate, offers the simple yet importantly profound perspective, in a post he titled: Tornadoes, Tsunamis, and the Mystery of Suffering & Sovereignty.  Storms begins his post hesitantly and with seeming resignation:

I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort.

But then he thoughtfully posits a handful of truths essential for us all to build a foundation capable to sustain us through such tragedies – be they our own, or vicarious ones, such as this event is for the most of us.

Mike Milton, former Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, and a man I am thankful to know and appreciate, composed a prayer – a prayer I find worthy to be shared by the many who, like me, may not be able to find the words from within ourselves that we would like to offer to God and on behalf of those effected: A Prayer for the Disaster in Oklahoma

Embracing Sluggishness

June 26, 2012

An old  friend who is planting a church London sent out the following observations in his June Newsletter:

***

A few weeks back, I was walking our dog before heading off to a day of prayer with my co-workers and noticed two slugs crossing the footpath. As I watched them, it struck me that there are similarities between prayer and slugs in the Christian life.

1. Slugs cannot protect themselves; prayer is an acknowledgement that ultimately, we cannot protect ourselves.

2. Slugs move slow; prayer forces us to slow down.

3. Slugs can only “see” what’s ahead as light and dark through the eye on top of their antennae; prayer is an admission that we too, only have vague notions of what’s coming ahead in life.

4. Slugs leave a trail of slime behind them in order to lead other slugs to them; prayer is essential as we lead other people.

5. Slugs spend most of their time hidden away with occasional outings after a rain; prayer should primarily be hidden away with occasional outings with others.

6. Slugs seem pointless but (I have found out) they have a powerful impact on our world through decomposition; prayer can seem pointless but our Creator God does respond in mysterious ways to the prayers of His people.

***

I know people have an aversion to “worm” theology – the notion that we are of no more worth to God than is a worm. I share that antipathy.  But I may have to give some thought to this idea of “slug” theology – at least as it relates to my prayer life.

Here are some ideas for prayer practices adapted from D. A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation:

Apart from any printed guides I may use, I keep a manila folder in my study, where I pray, and usually I take it with me when I am traveling.

The first sheet in that folder is a list of people for whom I ought to pray regularly: they are bound up with me, with who I am. My wife heads the list, followed by my children and a number of relatives, followed in turn by a number of close friends in various parts of the world…

The second sheet in my folder lists short-range and intermediate-range concerns that will not remain there indefinitely. They include forthcoming responsibilities in ministry and various crises or opportunities that I have heard about, often among Christians I scarcely know. Either they are the sort of thing that will soon pass into history (like the project of writing this book!), or they concern people or situations too remote for me to remember indefinitely. In other words, the first sheet focuses on people for whom I pray constantly; the second includes people and situations for whom I may pray for a short or an extended period of time, but probably not indefinitely. . . .

The next item in my manila folder is the list of my advisees — the students for whom I am particularly responsible. This list includes some notes on their background, academic program, families, personal concerns and the like, and of course this list changes from year to year.

The rest of the folder is filled with letters — prayer letters, personal letters, occasionally independent notes with someone’s name at the top. These are filed in alphabetical order. When a new letter comes in, I highlight any matters in it that ought to be the subject of prayer, and then file it in the appropriate place in the folder. The letter it replaces is pulled out at the same time, with the result that the prayer folder is always up to date. I try to set aside time to intercede with God on behalf of the people and situations represented by these letters, taking the one on the top, then the next one, and the next one, and so forth, putting the top ones, as I finish with them, on the bottom of the pile. Thus although the list is alphabetized, on any day a different letter of the alphabet may confront me.

While these ideas are expressions of Don Carson’s practice, it is not difficult to see how they could easily be translated into our own situations.

Kingdom-Centered Prayer

February 19, 2012

Tim Keller writes:

Throughout the Old and New Testaments and church history, every spiritual awakening was founded on corporate, prevailing, intensive kingdom-centered prayer.  We cannot create spiritual renewal by ourselves, but we can “prepare the altar” and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our churches, and our communities.

Read Tim’s tremendous article: Kingdom-Centered Prayer., from Redeemer City to City