Have you ever taken a corner too quickly and feel the center of gravity inch you ever so closer to tipping over your car? Have you ever went too fast over a hill with a steep grade and you catch a little bit of air off the hill? How about when you hit an unexpected speed bump and the coffee cup flies out of the drink holder and the bag flips over in the frontseat of the car? Hopefully I’m not the only one here.
How about when your life hits something unexpected like a pothole or a deer? Sometimes we don’t know if a good week will turn into a mediocre week or if an OK week will descend into the pit of hell. That knowledge is simply outside of our range of vision. Regardless, life is relentless and things happen.
I am reminded of the psalmist who wrote,
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembers Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Ps 137:1-2)
Can you imagine yourself in captivity and being mocked by people? Can you imagine yourself crying over the destruction of your home and feeling deep anger over the violence done to you and your loved ones?
The psalmist ends the writing with incredible anger and a shocking amount of raw emotion.
Perhaps you have been there, in the pit of despair and anger, cursing both God and others (it really is an easy place to end up). Perhaps you’ve been in a personal nightmare, and it leaves you in near hopelessness.
When injustice happens, plans fail, and sharp elbows are tossed at your nose, I want you to know that it’s OK to lash out at God and tell him everything that’s on your mind. Tell him off, because through this courage you can encounter intimacy with the One who formed you in your mother’s womb. God meets you in your emotional wrestling match (dive into the Psalms and see for yourself). Through this brutal honesty, God will meet you in the valley of despair. Through your honesty, healing can finally begin.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
-St Francis of Assisi
I came across this gem in my reading and wanted to share it with you all. I hope it challenges you to quit praying and do something.
An elderly nun came to see a spiritual director. She shared with him the story of a young nun who had just left their community. The elderly nun had very much liked this young nun and appreciated the spark and vigor she brought to the community. For a year, though, she’d noticed that the young nun was obviously in distress, agonizing as to whether or not she should leave the community and as to whether, indeed, the community even wanted her. So the elderly nun prayed for the young nun, prayed that she might stay, prayed that she might realize that she was wanted and valued, prayed that God might give her the strength to see beyond her doubts. But she never went, at any time, and talked to the young nun. She never told her how much the community appreciated the gift that she, the young nun, was. Now she was upset that the young nun had left.
The point is obvious. The elderly nun prayed as a theist and not as a Christian. She never put skin to her prayer. She never concretely involved herself in trying to bring about what she was asking God to do. She left things up to God. But how was God to let the young nun know that she was appreciated inside the community when the community itself would never tell her that? When we pray “through Christ” more is involved than merely asking God in heaven to make some kind of intervention. The community too, and we ourselves, must be involved not just in the petition but also in trying to bring about what the petition pleads for.
The Holy Longing p 83-84
Do you ever find yourself praying as a theist?
Here is a collect we read at my home church this morning:
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Walk in God’s grace this week.
“Let me pray about that”
Have you ever said those words to someone? Have you ever said those words and either forget to pray about what you committed to pray about (No, I have never done that…)? What about committing to pray for the decision because you actually did not want to commit to volunteering for X or contributing to Y or going to Z.
Odds are, if you have ever been in the Christian context for some time you have used those words as a call to pause. A call to pause and consider the will of God and the next step of action. Praying for a lightening bolt to strike and mark the way. Little do we know that God wants us to stop praying and start doing.
At least that’s what Greg Darley’s “Waster Prayer” is challenging us to consider.
Darley is quite clear from the beginning. This is not a book on salvation, for salvation is a gift from God and can never be earned by us. This is a book on discipleship and following Jesus our Messiah. Obedience to Jesus and building for the Kingdom of God necessitates that we stop praying and start doing.
Praying without ceasing is a very important point to Darley’s argument. Our lives need to be cultivated in such a way that we are constantly communicating with God and creating a real relationship with him. We become more focused on our relationship with him instead of fixating on a transaction.
A powerful argument Darley uses is the stories found in the Bible. There are so many individuals both within the OT and NT that acted when God called them. They did not pause to pray for a week, instead they were obedient to God’s call. They jumped, even when it was scary. But they jumped out of already having a real relationship with God.
Sometimes we need the nudge from God and remain faithful to his leading, even when it seems unclear. Even when it seems risky, sometimes God’s call is one for an adventure that will lead us down precarious situations only to end up right where he wants us to be. Stop procrastinating by praying.
Prayer without action is wasted.
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Since my first encounter with the Anglican stream of Christianity, I have absolutely fallen in love with the Book of Common Prayer. Within this formative text lies the Daily Office—daily Scripture readings for the follower of Jesus. With morning and nightly Psalms, there are also Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings for the immersion of the saint. It was only a few years ago, if I can be honest, that I fell in love with the Psalms and the rhythms found within the prayerbook for God’s people throughout the ages.
One of the past set of readings on Holy Saturday stressed the brokenness of humanity, particularly the brokenness of individuals. In the Psalm and the writings of Lamentations, I was confronted with the loneliness that the Son of God must have felt upon the cross. How separated he was from others, from the community he had with the Father and Holy Spirit from the very foundations of eternity.
Then I stumbled into this passage where the writer to the Hebrews penned,
11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I’m terrified of the notion that everything is under the eyes of God. All of the good things, all of the bad, and everything in between are laid bare before the eyes of Creator of the cosmos.
While I’m aware of my own weaknesses and mistakes, while in the middle of my own rebellion of God, I am reminded of the high priest Hebrews 4 describes for us. This high priest, the one who created the universe so long ago, took on flesh and took on the sins of humanity.
Now we are able to approach God’s gracious throne without fear of being smitten (a certain Bruce Almighty quote comes to mind here) and without the need to constantly offer sacrifices. No, now we receive grace and a restored relationship with God through the sacrifice of this great high priest.
How do you respond to all of our lives being laid open before God?
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a prayer associated with St Patrick. I was introduced to this in my Spiritual Traditions and Practices class at Fuller Seminary a couple of years ago and wanted to pass it along.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
How many of you are professional worriers?
Do you ever find yourself worried where your food might come from? Do you ever worry when a relationship might develop, or a job might materialize? Do you ever worry that your ship might never come in? I tell you what: I worry.
God is God and you are not
It might sound harsh, but I had to learn that I’m not God (and neither are you). Sometimes the best we can do is all that we can do. Sometimes you and I work hard, hustle, and plan smartly, but there is no fruit. I know it might not seem right and it seems unfair sometimes, but God is in control. So in these times, I immerse myself in the Psalms, and try to find myself in the prayerbook of God’s people. I pray alongside the psalmists, I weep next to them and cry out to God in despair. God is God, and I am not.
Fortunately, God does ride in to rescue us, but it’s often on his own time frame (as my friend Jon Varner explained).
God will provide
This one is a little bit tougher to chew on, but God will provide when things get messy. God will provide when things get hopeless and it seems like all is lost. He cares for those sparrows outside your window, and he provides for those flowers in the field.
In your moments of crisis, pray and let God worry about providing for those needs. Do the work, of course. Be wise and make good choices, but let God provide for your needs.
Let God Worry
As one of my goals for the year, I decided to read through the Bible. As I’m daily being immersed in the stories of Scripture, I am (re)discovering that the people of God have a history of having their backs to the wall. When things look dark and hopeless, when all is nearly lost, that is when God shows up.
Do you remember the scene in the movie/book The Two Towers where Helm’s Deep was overrun by Saruman’s dark forces? The king and his remaining men made a desperate charge out of the fortress into the seemingly endless tide of enemies. And it seemed that when hope was fading, it was there that hope was rekindled.
It is there in impossible circumstances, when hope is nearly lost, that Gandalf returns with the Riders of Rohan. It is there, when darkness nearly consumed the land that hope resurged and victory was found.
That’s how I see God working sometimes. He shows up when things look dark. It might not always look like how we planned it out in our heads, but he shows up and brings his people victory. He’s done it before and he’ll certainly do it again.
How do you fight worrying?
The Wisdom Wednesday last post hinted that the Holy Spirit invites people into a dance full of grace. He doesn’t just stop at that though, he also confirms that we are a child of God, even when we don’t feel like a daughter or son of the Creator.
Deep Seated Reality
To pull from Henri Nouwen again, it is important to see that when we call God “Abba, Father” it means more than calling God by a close name. It’s a cry of the soul, surfacing from a deep seated reality– it is claiming God as the very source of who we are. For those who are in Christ, they have the incredible honor of being called a daughter or son of God.
In Romans 8, Paul writes that the Spirit of God (read: the Holy Spirit) cries out within us. It is he who helps us in our prayers when we don’t quite know what to pray for. It is he who helps us speak, even when we don’t know what to say at times.
Nouwen would say that it’s through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we have the same “intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had.” Paul would put it even clearer, writing that if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead would also give life to your mortal body. How incredible is that? It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Holy Spirit As Our Down Payment
While, the Spirit makes it possible for us to know and recognize Jesus, he also can be seen as a down payment of sorts. Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen wrote that since the Kingdom of God has broken into the world, the Holy Spirit acts as an initial offering of the glory to come (see I Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14) and as the first installment of the believer’s inheritance in the Kingdom (Rom 8:15-17; 14:17; I Cor 6:9-11; 15:42-50; Gal 4:6-7). Or as the second century Church Father Tertullian would write, “By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith?” It is the Holy Spirit that connects us to God and empowers us.
He will not only be an initial down payment for us, he will also make us become more like Jesus. But more on that next week.
Since I was unable to complete the Henri Nouwen series last month, I am going to use this final post on Nouwen as a transition to July’s Wisdom Wednesdays series: the elusive Holy Spirit. Personally, the question of who/what is the Holy Spirit is something that has unnerved me in the past, since I come from a background that was not centered on that. For the next few weeks, I will work through who the Holy Spirit is and why he’s so important to the spiritual life of a Christian. It is my hope that this series will help bring a little more clarity to the often forgotten third person of the Trinity (or Forgotten God, as Francis Chan would say). As always, push back or questions are appreciated!
Holy Spirit as oxygen for the spiritual life
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Doxology is a beautiful declaration of the Christian faith and it helps differentiate the faith from the other religions of the world. It’s pretty easy to relate to the Father and Son in the song and Scripture, because we conceptually understand those two roles. It’s the third person that is a little trickier though. Let’s be honest, what is this Holy Ghost?
Something that helps me understand the Holy Spirit is by thinking of him as the wind or oxygen for the spiritual life.
It is important to realize that when I speak about the spiritual life here though, it does not mean that it is cut off from every other part of our lives. Instead, it means that we are breathing fresh air, the type you get at the ocean or in the mountains. It means that we have (re)claimed a new identity, an identity that is planted in becoming a child of God. A spiritual life deals with the whole of who you and I are, it’s not just one part of a multi-faceted you. Just as taking a huge breath of air helps the various systems within the human body, so does drawing in the Spirit of God into our “lungs” help clarify our lives.
Let me adjust my nerd glasses here and remind you that spirit in the ancient languages means “breath.” Interestingly, Henri Nouwen draws the connection between this Holy Spirit (breath of God) with our breathing patterns. While athletes regulate their breath in training and singers are conscious of it when performing on the stage, most of the time, we are completely unaware of our lungs expanding and contracting. It’s so integral to our life that we only think about it only when something goes wrong with it.
Holy Spirit as the breath of life
The Spirit of God is a lot like that.
Often we don’t notice that it’s moving in us, but without this breath it would be impossible to live a “spiritual life.” Nouwen would write that it is the Holy Spirit who will “pray in us, offer gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy.” And ultimately, “it is the Holy Spirit who offers us the life that death cannot destroy.” There is a beautiful passage in Romans that comfortingly states that it is the Holy Spirit that will speak on our behalf when we don’t quite know what or how to pray. He will intercede for us, even when all we can do is groan in anguish.
Recall that a trapeze artist needs to throw her hands up and rely on their partner to catch them mid-flight. Her life is dependent on the sure hands of a partner. Similarly for someone who have trouble breathing, they need to have fresh air pushed into their lungs. They need an intercession by another to help restore the flow of oxygen into their system and ensure life.
I think this is one of the great challenges of accepting the Gospel. For at its core, we have to accept a gift and cannot give anything in return. We receive the breath of the living God through this good news. The gift that Nouwen describes is this breath of life. And it is in a place of prayerfulness that followers of Jesus receive the breath of God and let their lives be renewed and expanded.
What are some other ways to capture who the Holy Spirit is?