Can You Be a Realist and Still Have Faith?

Public domain image from www.public-domain-image.comI saw a friend ask this question on my Facebook feed recently.

We all desire. Victory, deliverance, breakthrough, blessing, healing, hearts’ desires. It’s a tricky high-wire, for no matter what some say, the Christian life is not all about these things. George Herbert wrote,

To be in both worlds full
Is more than God was, who was hungry here.

Is a servant is greater than his master? The Bible doesn’t stutter: not every prayer will be granted in this life. And that is both curse and privilege. We simply must start there. If you can’t accept that word, your life will be a shattering staccato of foiled expectations.

However.

I’ve also learned not to put limits on God’s generosity. He is scandalously generous. Sometimes the church, in frustration with the masses grasping for “prosperity” and deaf to all else, races to the other extreme and throws cold water on blessing of any kind. You’ve probably absorbed this yourself. Just observe your reaction if I write the phrase “bold prayer”. You instantly pull up and worry: Is this right? Respectful? Scriptural? It’s understandable hesitation.

But God does answer prayer. The Bible speaks of many such times, holds them out  rather excitedly. God reveals himself through “yes” as well as “no”.

So…where is this generosity? Our experiences don’t match up to that awesome power  – yet. “This is reality,” we want to say. “God doesn’t do that stuff anymore.”

I certainly want to believe. What is reality if God is your God?

But regardless of how many stories we hear about provisions and breakthroughs, something in our hearts has a hard time with faith. Some of us are fed up with hope; others are just down-to-earth by nature. We feel stuck between reality and faith, between hope and surrender. “If I’m going to undertake a long season of prayer,” we say, “then I want to know I’m grounded in reality.”

You could have been friends with Abraham.

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Is Persistent Prayer Wrong?

What is it with the vague, apprehensive feeling that persistent prayer is wrong?

A lot of people have this. For me, it was something along these lines: “God has perfect hearing, memory, and knowledge of our needs. Repeating a prayer reveals that you’re not thinking about God’s qualities.” There’s also the thought, pushing back like an invisible barrier, saying that we’re fortunate to be tolerated by God anyway and that we really shouldn’t be pushing our luck. The result is that importunate prayer often goes untried. “Just pray once and let it go.”hands

I do not deny that some prayers can be offered out of anxiety, ignorance, or selfishness. Those prayers are worthless before God, and should be countered with other prayers for sanctification and wisdom.

But would you have told Elijah to stop praying for rain upon Israel after his first prayer was met with silence?

Would you have told Moses to stop interceding for the Israelites’ lives after his first day of pleading was met with silence?

What about Jesus praying to God three times in Gethsemane for the cup of the cross to be taken from him?

Oh, and hoo boy: What do we do with the story of the Canaanite woman?

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Defeating the Fear of a No in Prayer

prayerIn the last couple months, I’ve been on my knees in prayer for a lot of things, both for myself and others. Nothing will reveal your view of God – your real view – quite like committed prayer. It exposes what you really believe about his heart.

My pastor spoke very honestly about deep prayer this weekend. “It’s not light duty,” he said, and it’s so true. It’s costly; intercessory prayer requires time and focus.

When we are urged by God to enter into committed prayer, there is something in us that…hesitates.

It’s more than laziness (although sometimes it is that). We don’t want to get let down. We don’t want to invest emotionally in a prayer, ask fervently of God for months or years on end, only to have God say no. I certainly don’t. Like all of us, I have a number of requests in God’s inbox right now that carry the potential to really dishearten me if they’re denied (and if I don’t guard my heart).

Sure, we have our “Theology of No” to help explain things. Maybe it wasn’t God’s will; maybe he has something better. Often, he does. But that doesn’t make the disappointment any less real in the moment, doesn’t make our toilings feel any less wasted while we wait to see the better. The wait could be years.

And when this happens, there is the temptation to sigh, or throw up our hands, and stop praying – “let God do whatever he wants”. It sounds holy on the surface. We might even justify it with more theology. “God knows best anyway.” “God knows what we need before we ask, so we don’t need to ask.” And this is all true.

But sometimes – the fruit is what we give up on committed prayer.

So I’m asking myself – is this good theology just a cover up for my fear of a no? An excuse for prayers that slowly become timid and cold?

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An Open Letter To Those Who Say Prayer Isn’t Working

praying-hands-1381582628wU2As we ache in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, I see a reaction spreading amongst our society that makes me grab a deep breath as it falls upon my eyes and ears.

“Prayer isn’t working.”

I admit I am deluged with my own questions. It feels truly churlish to fling theological essays at times like this.

But to attack the reputation of prayer? Even as an honest Christian willing to question, that’s one place my ruminations have never taken me.

Now, I’m all for making laws to protect ourselves, and I’m all for making my hands and feet part of the solution. But having taught for several years and watched my students regularly flout anti-suffering efforts like the speed limit and drunk driving laws, for no better reason than “YOLO!!!”, I question whether human effort can fully insulate us. We are flawed. We need help.

I’m only just starting to learn prayer as a discipline, as God calls me to it. But I’ve learned just enough to know that there are reasons to find hope in prayer, to continue turning there – and that we can never judge its effectiveness by looking at the chaos of the post-Curse world. There’s just too much that is hidden.

Even as heartbreak and anger encroach our hearts, I humbly ask for open minds as I offer what God is teaching me.

 

1. Prayer isn’t ineffective; it’s under-used.

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On God, Doors, and Enemies: The Story of a Friend’s New House

AClosed_door_01 while back, a friend of mine was trying to buy a house.

At first things were falling into place. Then, as so often happens with a home purchase, they started stampeding south. Renovation needs were discovered. Her loan officer bolted. Inspection after inspection failed. It became a drawn-out trial, and the burden was greater than living arrangements. She was trying to escape a demoralizing roommate situation; she needed to get out of her apartment for the sake of her heart.

But as the obstacles stacked up, Christian friends and advisers in her life started falling back on a familiar refrain: “These obstacles are probably God trying to stop you. You should let go of the house.”

Deep breath.

Okay. Let’s start at the beginning.

As Christians, we know God does place obstacles in our path to turn us aside from unforeseen dangers and bad decisions. Given our limited visibility in life, we should always keep a weather eye out for these signs.

But it was striking how these Christians in my friend’s life arrived at their assumption – that it must be God doing the blocking – so quickly and naturally. It’s a sign of another assumption, one shared by a lot of believers, especially in the last few generations of the church: the idea that God is the only source of opposition in this world.

It’s not a true assumption.

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Praying St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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Religious holidays tend to get so buried by superficialities that we forget their meaning. We have to fight for the meaning of Christmas. But there is a rich history and tradition behind almost every holiday, one which can breathe new life into our reach towards God.

Take March 17, or St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not about luck, beer, the color green, or mischievous small legendary para-humans.

You know the handful of pioneering saints who carried the name of Jesus on such vast scale that we sit envious in church hearing about them? St. Patrick was one of them. Enslaved for six years by Irish pirates, Patrick returned years later to Ireland as a missionary. Through him, God transmitted his gospel throughout that island nation, making Patrick one of the pivotal figures in the Christianity’s spread to Europe.

There is a prayer that’s attributed to this fifth-century saint. Though this prayer is often recited by those who follow the Catholic faith, there is little in it to which Christian need not adhere.

The second to last verse, in particular, is an expression of such profound union with God, proclaiming the speaker so utterly surrounded by Christ, that I am left speechless at its holiness:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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Can You Handle the Answer to Your Prayer?

handleI knew this would happen.

After a two-month period bringing vital answers to prayer, I’m basking in the relief and renewed hope. You’d think I would be spurred on to a season of thanksgiving and even greater prayer.

But no…the reverse happens. Instead, I’m tempted to “take five” from prayer. Well, that was great, Lord. I’ll stop for a while now. After all, he’s good. He knows I’m grateful. Surely my “stockpile” of previous prayers will bounce around heaven and do some good for a while. Or something like that.

It’s really nothing more than Thanks God See You Next Crisis Syndrome, and I’m a case study. God help me.

Love of ease, spiritual indolence, religious slothfulness, all operate against this type of petitioning. Our praying, however, needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistence which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” – E.M. Bounds

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