When My Parents Taught Me NOT to Pray the Lord’s Prayer

fireOne of the home runs my parents hit in my spiritual upbringing was teaching my younger brother and I to pray well.

No excuses, no cop-outs. Every night, we’d hit our knees by our bedside, no matter how tired we were, no matter how late it was or where we’d just driven in from. We’d pray, and like many things my parents taught us to do, we’d pray with intentionality, with conscientious effort.

That’s why they often wouldn’t allow us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, no matter how often we asked to.

That might sound a little weird. But back then, we weren’t begging them to allow us the Lord’s Prayer because we understood the power, simplicity, and holiness of it. We were begging for it because we’d memorized it, and thus it was shorter and easier. And, of course, we were always looking for the path of least effort as kids. It’s one of the back-door counters Satan brings to use of Scripture: rote memorization can be a counterfeit to true engagement with God.

Instead, Mom and Dad had us pray consciously, using our own ideas, perhaps utilizing a list (good strategy), only occasionally reciting the Lord’s Prayer and calling it a night.

OUR Lord Jesus declared that “men ought always to pray and not to faint,” and the parable in which his words occur, was taught with the intention of saving men from faintheartedness and weakness in prayer. Our Lord was seeking to teach that laxity must be guarded against, and persistence fostered and encouraged. … Cold prayers have no claim on heaven, and no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale. – E.M. Bounds

There’s a lot of mystery in prayer, but I’ve oft wondered how many points we Christians leave on the field through prayer that is glancing, distracted, half-formed. I’ll tell you right now, if I want to find fascinating things to daydream about, or suddenly gain great clarity on a totally irrelevant matter, or remember all the things I need to do tomorrow, all I need to do is start praying; Satan instantly partners with my own mind to distract me with all this other stuff.

I know we have the encouragement that the Spirit “also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groaning” (Romans 8:26), but that verse is not describing laziness in prayer. That’s something we need to deal with. God has extended us a bridge; the need is great. Why do we dither about?

Today, if I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I do so because I understand it and have been trained in its meaning. May we all be lit on fire this week to pray as if we mean it.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

A Week on the Plains and Plain Truth about Reservations

Last week, fourteen high school students loaded up a van and drove across Montana with three leaders – including myself  –  for a week putting on VBS’s on a distant Native American reservation. It was our second annual mission to this site. We went with God preparing the way ahead, his glory as our rear guard, and the fervent prayer and support of our congregation going up to him.

I did miss the opportunity to spend the week blasting Audio Adrenaline’s “Blitz” with its refrain “Fourteen kids in an old church van”, but que sera sera.

(For those who don’t know our church, we’ve long run a tiered youth mission program intended to get students out of their middle-class comfort zone and set before them the struggles of impoverished and unchurched corners of our world. Tier 1 trips are our shortest, most in-culture and structured. This was a Tier 2, remaining on continent but removing students further from cultural norms and controlled conditions, demanding more work and initiative. Tier 3 is off-continent; Tier 4 is long-term.

The program has availed much. So many testimonies of youth setting hammer to nail, shovel to dirt, or Windex to window in a darkened battleground somewhere, returning home with their worldview flipped on its head, and finishing growing up that way. It spurs gospel and generosity, loosens their love of their material bubble. It’s one of my favorite features about my church.)

TLDR for those wondering how their prayer and money was used: the trip was terrific. Fruitful, providential, and foundational for the future.

peckGod had clearly positioned us for this mission. Just weeks prior, huge, potentially deal-breaking questions had loomed about manning and housing. They were all solved, albeit in that on-the-run fashion that God so often favors. In fact, some of God’s answers turned out to be improvements on last year’s situations.

The students did top-notch work planning and executing their VBS curriculum and activities. Several were visibly stretched, and welcomed it. Our team was solid and fairly inclusive; no real problems regarding unity.

The unpredictability so inherent to this kind of mission trip showed up for sure, given the tendency of reservation life to start at noon and the fact that we were running separate VBS’s in towns 45 miles apart. Schedules and key information were blurred and juggled. The students met it all with a deft willingness to pivot and adapt, to jump to unexpected tasks and fill in shifting vacancies. Few complaints. It was eye-opening to watch them embrace the whirlwind as a cost of doing business.

I heard some students, veterans of last year’s trip, remarking to their parents about how God was maturing and deepening their understanding of reservation life – the challenges of poverty, the darkness of abuse and addiction, the complex way in which social ills beget other social ills, the lack of easy solutions. There were moments that silenced them. Prayers were not skimped upon. You could see their resolve growing.

The team’s adult leaders got a chance to dream and pitch ideas with the local pastors. That was exciting. There are actionable possibilities to return and grow our partnership.

The work will not be easy. Satan holds these grounds and the barriers are considerable.

But there is progress. The local churches have secured small teams of workers, prayer warriors with rough stories of their own, who are building inroads in these communities. Thanks to the tougher moments, we have clear strategies in our pocket. Most of all, we know that God’s Word does not kneel or fade but accomplishes what he intends for it – and that he intends much.

For those who prayed and supported us, God used it. Thank you so much.

3 Reasons I Dislike “God’s Waiting on You” Theology for Singles

prayer2As long as I’ve been of marriageable age, one of the most common responses I’ve seen to struggling singles is some version of God’s waiting on you.

God’s waiting for you to be fully satisfied in him.

God’s honing your character.

God has work for you first.

The upshot being, move! Get in the Word! Go through your character with a fine-toothed comb! Hit the mission field! Be the best you! And for the love of God, learn to love God already!

“I love that stuff and I hate it,” a single friend of mine said.

That’s where I land. I’ll never object to doing all those things. But I’ve come to hold serious misgivings about God’s Waiting On You theology where it pertains to singleness.

For one, G.W.O.Y. has too many exceptions. God allows the worst people to marry. He pairs off believers to mature together(!) from age 19. And fortysomething singles like my friend spend years on international missions but still find nobody with their last name waiting when they get off the plane home.

You can get your neck twisted trying to reverse-engineer God’s ways from all this. Outside of express Scriptural teachings, God actually doesn’t exhibit a lot of patterns to how he shapes lives. Jesus never healed people the same way twice; Joshua’s battle strategies kept getting divinely switched up. Many saints have believed that God stays somewhat unpredictable so that we must seek his guidance firsthand. If all his ways could be guessed so easily, what need would there be to talk to him?

God could be waiting on you to clean something up. But get that from him directly, in prayer.

Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you. – Oswald Chambers

For another, G.W.O.Y. can offer a false sense of control. Some singles actually kinda light up when they find a problem in themselves: Hey, maybe I’ve uncovered That One Thing that I can fix to finally open God’s hands! This can look like holiness, but it’s mixed with an attempt to control God. That makes it an idolatry – the same one lodged in any worldly philosophy of If you don’t like your life, change it!

We know better. At a wedding last weekend, as the maid of honor told the couple’s story, she reminded us, “We’re not in control of any of this.” Yes. That’s what we must remember. Mixed motives and a spirit of control? Avoid them.

But most of all, “God’s waiting on you” knows little of grace.

Singleness can already feel like a graceless state. You don’t get as much help with life; everything relies on you; you have not (yet) been chosen by another. To add insult to injury, countless singles are exhausted from running around like beheaded chickens, worrying subconsciously over any character flaw or unfinished work that might be The Thing over which God is holding your future hostage. I’m not sure worry meshes with the fruit of the Spirit.

Push towards holiness. Always. Relentlessly. But tying blessing to your works is how Islam and Hinduism operate. It’s how the pagan religions surrounding Israel operated (and how the Mosaic covenant operated until God replaced it). It’s not discouraging, and you’ll never arrive anyway.

Instead, we have grace – the grace of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, single or not. The very foundation of our faith is God giving when we’re not deserving. I would argue that this should be the foundation of our prayers for a mate as well. After all, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with his church (Eph 5:21, 32), and that’s all grace.

Consider the Canaanite woman with the possessed daughter (Matthew 15). She had nothing to plead before Jesus – no works, no cleanliness, no national identity. But she said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!” She was appealing to Jesus’ character.

Marvel at his generosity, but also, don’t miss that we are not dogs! We are the children Jesus spoke of, the adopted heirs, the kingdom citizens. How much more shall we receive?

Switch things up. Next time you pray for a spouse, pray not out of your own merit, but out of God’s grace and fatherhood.

I make no promises about how God will respond. Remember, we’re not seeking formulas here. But we’ll be praying correctly, out of knowledge of God’s character and our true position before him.

Like any grace, this is actually a relief. It’s not all up to us. He gives freely without finding fault (James 1:6); he keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). Dump your stingy views of him and pray out of that.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Fostering a “Let’s Pray Right Now” Culture

prayerIt is under the vaguely pleasant tingling of a mild sunburn (youth group car wash) that I write to you this morning, dear readers, and I wish to talk about a “let’s pray right now” culture.

The other day, I walked past this guy speaking with a friend in church and saying “…let’s pray about it right now”. Heads bowed, eyes closed, right there.

I don’t know what the need was, but I know this is quite commonplace in my church. Right there, right then, in the middle of everything going on, we will often pray for each other’s needs, even if it is a remote uncle with an optimistic minor surgery. Not just because it comforts the person whose uncle it is, but because we believe prayer makes a difference. It is one of my greatest joys in belonging to this church family.

I used to think it was commonplace throughout Christendom.

But during my travels, I discovered differently. I found churches where apathy met even dire prayer requests. I found believers who, trying far too hard to sound smart, waxed philosophical in debates about whether it actually bore any power to pray for someone you didn’t know.

But most of all, I found countless promises of “I’ll be praying about that”.

Why say that? Why not do it right there? Embarrassment? Inconvenience? What great cost is charged to you to obey God’s command to pray without ceasing? And are we so boorish that we won’t drop a friend (or even a stranger) the slightest goodwill?

The other big problem with this, of course, is that we rarely ever do pray. We forget. We go on with our daily grind and forget. Don’t we?

My father taught me to keep a prayer list so that I wouldn’t forget. So, of course, I forget to keep a list.

Which is doubly ironic given that we all have electronic list-making tools in our pockets these days.

I don’t want to live in oblivion any more. I want to be intentional, determined, and opposed to laziness in my prayer life. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ as an obedience to our command to love; we owe it to the lost as a witness; and we owe it to God, for it proves that we actually take gifts like prayer seriously.

Let us foster a “let’s pray right now” culture in our own spheres. It isn’t going to kill us. In fact, it might save someone.

When God Actually Answers

rainOur valley has been choked with thick, disheartening smoke for the better part of a month as our beloved Glacier National Park burns. It’s a tough fire to fight; Lake McDonald is a bowl, collecting smoke and giving it nowhere to disperse. Aircraft have reported being unable to even find the fire, so concentrated is the smoke.

(Note: this post was written in August of 2018.)

So, yesterday morning in church, we asked God to deliver the goods. We asked for rain.

He answered. That afternoon, a cold front bequeathed us a steady drizzle worthy of Seattle.

Today it not only continued, but turned into snow at higher elevations. In August. Granted, that isn’t actually unusual in Glacier, but this year, it couldn’t have been more welcome.

And I’m…kinda flabbergasted.

Disbelieving.

Happy, but disbelieving.

God healed my knee during a recent hiking trip. I know what my knee felt like on just Advil; this wasn’t that. No pain at all, not even a one of ten. I could walk in total confidence.

And again I’m…disbelieving. Did that really happen?

This is revealing a lot in my soul. Maybe it’s just the uncomfortable questions of Why not all those other prayers back through…I dunno, my entire life?

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“Your Prayer is Awaiting Moderation”

waiting“Your post is awaiting moderation” is something we bloggers see a lot.

When we comment on someone else’s blog, depending on their settings, our comments have to wait for their approval before they’re displayed.

Ever felt like your prayer is awaiting moderation? in heaven? For, like, decades?

Prayers have four answers: Yes, wait-then-yes, no, wait-then-no. In descending order of fun.

I once found it tempting to think that at least “wait” didn’t mean “no”. But I then found that…no, that’s not how it works. Sometimes he has us wait – for years – and then says no.

And that’s rough.

It’s one thing to get a “no” right off the bat. At least you can deal with it then, get past the disappointment. But years of waiting and then a no? It feels almost cruel. Hopes gotten up and then dumped.

We can dodge these unpleasant truths if we want. We can pretend that “God is too good to waste our faith”, as some preachers will insist – that long-nurtured prayers are guaranteed the answer we want. We can pretend there are no ill thoughts towards God lurking in our hearts.

But we probably wouldn’t be honest.

I’m committed to the idea that God cares about our heart’s desires. When we read stories like the twelve-year wait of the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9), or the one crippled by evil for eighteen, or the man invalid for thirty-eight (that’s longer than I’ve been alive, people), you remember that God’s miraculous gifts can still come for you, even now.

But even if the answer will be eventually revealed as a no, we have a choice of how we live until then.

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He Hasn’t Forgotten Our Frailty

deadflowerIf you’re asking “Just what is God like?”, few books of the Bible answer more directly and generously than the Psalms.

Yesterday I was reading through Psalm 103 (one of my favorites) and found myself stopping on verses 13-16:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.

I stopped reading. A lump had taken up residence in my throat. Yes. This is me. Dust. Temporary. Fragile. It’s what I am, and moreover, it was how I’ve been feeling lately.

And God knows.

He knows.

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