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.

I’ve been there. Likely, so have you.  The year begins with good intentions, and maybe even a strong start, only to fizzle days later.  The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that 75% of New Years Resolutions are broken within the first week of the New Year.  No doubt most of the others go down soon thereafter.

Among the more frequent vows is a renewed commitment to read the Bible:

  • Read the whole Bible in one year
  • Read the Bible daily, or just more often

This seems a noble resolve. And as a church pastor, it is certainly one I applaud.  In fact, I often share some Bible Reading plans for anyone who endeavors to take up this challenge.  (Like this one: Bible Reading Plan for Slackers & Shirkers)

But in the brief (3 minute) video above, Steve Childers, of Global Church Advancement, offers a caution about making such resolutions – even resolutions such as to pray more or to read the Bible.

It may seem odd that I am posting such caution about making spiritual resolutions, especially since I commended the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in a post just yesterday.  But without denying the potential benefit of reflecting upon Edwards’ Resolutions, nor even the positive effects of increased Bible reading and prayer during the coming year, I think Childers makes a good point.

Consider this:

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of reasons. But unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

Or as Charles Spurgeon reasoned:

“It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a 
pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, 
and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

In no way would I ever dissuade anyone from increasing their spiritual vitality through partaking in such means of grace as prayer and Bible study. Nor does Childers.  But Childers does wisely warn against resolutions that may result in merely going through religious motions – even if those motions come more frequently.  Instead Childers points us to the source of all grace, and encourages us to avail ourselves of all that is offered.

Take a moment to watch the video, and to consider what Childers says.  For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the message can be read on Childers’ blog: Pathway Learning

Valley of Vision

January 25, 2015

Foggy Fall @ Cades Cove

Having spent the bulk of my years in ministry residing and serving in mountainous regions, this Puritan prayer, from which the Valley of Vision collection takes its title, has always carried deep meaning for me. For not only was it descriptive of my geographic and topographic surroundings, but even now that I am living a long way from any of the mountains I love, this prayer vividly depicts the state of my soul and reminds me of my hope.

***

Lord, High and Holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;

Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty
your glory in my valley.

Valley of Vision

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.

Smoky Mountain Sunrise

O God of the highest heaven,
occupy the throne of my heart,
take full possession and reign supreme,
lay low every rebel lust,
let no vile passion resist thy holy war;
manifest thy mighty power,
and make me thine forever.

Thou art worthy to be
praised with my every breath,
loved with my every faculty of soul,
served with my every act of life.

Thou hast loved me, espoused me, received me,
purchased, washed, favored, clothed, adorned me,
when I was a worthless, vile soiled, polluted.

I was dead in iniquities,
having no eyes to see thee,
no ears to hear thee,
no taste to relish thy joys,
no intelligence to know thee;
But thy Spirit has quickened me,
has brought me into a new world as a new creature,
has given me spiritual perception,
has opened to me thy Word as light, guide, solace, joy.

Thy presence is to me a treasure of unending peace;
No provocation can part me from thy sympathy,
for thou hast drawn me with cords of love,
and dost forgive me daily, hourly.
O help me then to walk worthy of thy love,
of my hopes, and my vocation.

Keep me, for I cannot keep myself;
Protect me that no evil befall me;
Let me lay aside every sin admired of many;
Help me to walk by thy side, lean on thy arm,
hold converse with thee,
That I may be salt of the earth
and a blessing to all.

~ from Valley of Vision

The Awakened Sinner

November 12, 2012

O my forgetful soul, Awake from thy wandering dream; turn from chasing vanities, look inward, forward, upward, view thyself, reflect upon thyself,  who and what thou art, why here, what thou must soon be.  Thou art a creature of God, formed and furnished by him, lodged in a body like a shepherd in his tent; Dost thou not desire to know God’s ways?

O God, Thou injured, neglected, provoked Benefactor, when I think upon your greatness and your goodness  I am ashamed at my insensibility, I blush to lift up my face, for I have foolishly erred.  Shall I go on neglecting you, when every one of thy rational creatures should love thee, and take every care to please thee?

I confess that thou hast not been in all my thoughts, that the knowledge of you as the goal of my being has been strangely overlooked, that I have rarely seriously considered my heart-need.  But although my mind is perplexed and divided, and my nature perverse, yet my secret dispositions still desire you.

Let me not delay to come to thee; Break the fatal enchantment that binds my evil affections, and bring me to a happy mind that rests in thee, for thou hast made me and canst not forget me.

Let thy Spirit teach me the vital lessons of Christ, for I am slow to learn…

…And hear thou my broken cries.

~ adapted from Valley of Vision