My Struggle With Prayer

I have to be honest. I have always struggled with prayer.

Maybe my struggle has been with the way in which our culture has always portrayed prayer, as this redundant and repetitive exercise before meals and before bed, in which we ask God for things and then thank God for what we have.

I am not pointing fingers here.

In many ways, my wife and I have this regular, repetitive rhythm with our kids when we pray with one another each day.

And insofar as it goes, there is really nothing wrong with offering our petitions and thanksgiving to God in a regular daily rhythm, as we will soon see.

However, the issue is when that is the final destination of our prayer lives.

When we only pray to God as a genie, of sorts, who we go to in order ask for those things we want.

When we only pray to God as a blessing machine who needs to be thanked for all of our material wealth.

When the depth of our prayer lives can only be measured in singular, finite moments before a meal or before bed.

That is not God’s intention with prayer- to be a genie who grants our every wish and desire, to be viewed as a blessing generator who only offers goods and services for our consumption, or to only be addressed at fixed times throughout the day.

God’s intention for prayer is so much more dynamic, so much more encompassing, so much more intimate, so much more fulfilling, and so much more purposeful than anything we could ever imagine.

But it starts in a very intimidating place.

Always be joyful and never stop praying.

Or, as another version says… pray without ceasing

Wait.

What?

How do we even do that?
How do we pray without ceasing?
How do we make movements from praying a couple of times a day to praying all the time?

Even more, how is that even humanly possible?

Believe me. I get it.

One significant limitation we have is that there is only one word for the word prayer in the English language… and that word is… prayer. So when a person mentions prayer, one immediately thinks of folded hands, bowed heads, and words spoken to God.

However, an interesting thing happens when you begin to look at the languages, Hebrew and Greek, in which the Bible was written. You begin to quickly find that there are dozens of words for prayer, each meaning something slightly different from the others.

The Greek word used in the pray without ceasing verse is actually the most all-encompassing word for prayer in the entire Bible. It is the big dog of all prayer words, if you will.

The word is proseuchomai and it doesn’t just capture one single element of prayer, it captures every element of prayer– submission, confession, petition, intercession, supplication, praise, and thanksgiving.

And with that understanding, think about what the verse is actually saying to us.

Submit to God without ceasing.
Confess to God without ceasing.
Petition to God without ceasing.
Supplicate to God without ceasing.
Intercede to God without ceasing.
Praise God without ceasing.
Give thanks to God without ceasing.

But it even goes beyond that.

Proseuchomai means to come toward, to come face to face with God.

In proseuchomai, we do not find a distant god removed from our lives or a god who only wants our prayer a couple of times a day or a god who simply wants our wish lists or a god who just wants to hand out blessings to us.

Instead, we find a God who wants us to come close to him, to come face to face with him, and to bring it all, everything we have, everything we are, as a constant and continual intimate conversation with him with every single breath we take.

Ancient cultures believed that there was a sacredness in breathing, a sacredness in each person’s inhaling and exhaling. Jewish sages and scholars intimated that the sacred name of God, YHWH, could be heard with every exhalation of breath. So it was, in our first breath of life, YHWH breathed life and his name into our lungs. And with every subsequent breath in each of our lives, as we exhale, the sacred name of God is spoken.

Whether this is true or not is inconsequential, but it speaks to an incredible intimacy between us and YHWH. And, it is interesting to consider the words of Paul in Ephesians when he says to, “proseuchomai” in the “pneuma.”

The Greek word pneuma means spirit, wind, or breath.

To me, this paints an absolutely beautiful picture of prayer and intimacy with the Divine.

That in our spirit, and in the sacredness of every breath we take, there is a sweet communion with YHWH as we breathe in and breathe out, and as YHWH invites us to come closer, intimately close, face-to-face close, in humility to share our heartaches, our struggles, our hardships, our burdens, our insecurities, our requests, our celebrations, our praises, and our thanksgiving.

This practice of prayer is a moment by moment, intimate communion with YHWH that never ceases, as YHWH continually invites us to come closer and closer in all things and with every breath.

Indeed, let everything that has breath…

Brandon

When Words Kill

I was reflecting recently about a time a few years ago when I completely blew it.

I was picking my daughter up from a late evening practice. It was dark outside as we drove and talked about her day. I was heading south on Taylor Road in Columbus, Indiana and approaching a stoplight where there were cars already stopped three-wide.

All of a sudden, mid-sentence, a man and a woman wearing dark clothes walked out from between the vehicles and directly in my path. I slammed on the brakes and was able to avoid a disaster. The only problem is that the guy gave me a dirty look, as if I had done something wrong.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I yelled, “Watch where you are going! You idiot!”

It absolutely kills me to write that story. I never call people names. Never. I rarely get worked up enough to get angry at anyone. That is why it kills me to write that down and share it with you. You may be thinking, “Lighten up Brandon. Everyone is entitled to a little road rage now and then. Besides, that guy deserved it, right?!”

I get it.

But man, ever since that happened the Spirit had been sitting on me like an elephant. There had been a disturbance in the Force, if you will. So much so that the next day I wanted to find some time with my daughter so I could apologize to her.
She was doing her homework the next evening at the dining room table. I asked her if she had a second.

“Hey, I want to apologize to you for the way I acted and what I yelled at that guy last night.”

“Uh ok. I don’t see why you have to apologize to me though for something you did to someone else.”

She had a good point, but I couldn’t get off the hook that easily.

“The reason I have to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness is because I have been entrusted by God and given the awesome responsibility to teach you guys by my words and actions how Jesus would be toward people… and I completely failed at that last night. Do you forgive me?”

Still thinking of ways to help me get off the hook, Anna said, “You know dad, I am not sure that the guy even heard you.”

To which I responded, “Anna, whether he heard me or not is inconsequential. It is what was in my heart, not the words I used, that was the problem. I am really sorry about that. Will you forgive me?”

Of course she did.

So why do I tell you this story?

Well, first, I want to be honest and let all of you know that just because I write a nice blog and have a cool podcast, I am still a work in progress. And that should give each of us a tremendous amount of hope.

No matter where you are in your life and no matter how close or far from God you might think you are, God always unconditionally forgives and works moment by moment to transform you into something exceedingly more beautiful and loving than you ever thought possible. It’s only by the power of God that I can see my sin clearly and ask for a new heart.

But even more, Jesus equates name-calling to murder. I know you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out. If any one of us calls our fellow human being a fool, or an idiot, we suffer the same judgment as one who commits murder.

But how can the words we use even begin to be as bad as murdering someone?

As with murder, our verbal insult or attack dehumanizes our victim. Our careless, hurtful, negative words are like daggers that penetrate deeply and then severely wound that person at the soul level.

That is how seriously we should take the words we use, because they really matter, they have a deep and lasting impact, and they can kill a person in ways we may never know or understand.

So this isn’t just Jesus creating a new law or new commandment that we ought to follow, but rather it is Jesus showing us that our words significantly matter in the lives of others and they emanate, or spring forth, from what we have in our hearts.

And from a heart that ought to work toward the healing and restoration of people, for the lifting up and edification of our brothers and sisters, for the value and dignity of every human life, and for the blessing and reconciliation of people and relationships, I significantly failed.

In the tenuous and divided country in which we live right now, where dehumanizing others and name-calling are our primary modes of operation in dealing with those whom we disagree, let us not forget that the words we use have value and power, for good or evil.

For every kid in school who is battling through bullying and harassment, contemplating his or her worth and value, and teetering on the edge of killing him or her self, let us not forget that the words we use can be the difference between life and death for others.

For every person who has been torn apart and ripped to shreds their entire life and just can’t handle another hostile and demeaning word, let us not forget that our every word can be the fatal blow or that which brings a person back to life.

Let us not forget that our divisive and hateful words are as lethal as a weapon used to murder. Let us not forget that the words we use are indicative of a deeper heart problem and the place in which our words are ultimately rooted. And let us be individuals who are cut to the core when we use careless language to hurt, wound, or dehumanize another person and then let us look inwardly to see what healing we need at the heart-level.

For the words we use can be powerful weapons that wound, kill, and destroy, or instruments of blessing, healing, and life.

Peace…

Brandon

Marriage

We do not enter into a marriage as an obligation, as something that has to be done.  We do not enter into a marriage for the sake of the ritual or ceremony.  We do not enter into a marriage as a law given by the state.

But rather… we marry as a celebration, as a signpost, of how God takes two beautiful and unique individuals and brings them gloriously together as one.

No longer are there two individuals… but rather one flesh- united together as one.

No longer are there two separate or competing interests, but rather one cooperative interest.

No longer are there two sets of priorities, but rather one shared set of priorities.

No longer is there a mindset of mine and yours, but rather ours.

No longer are there “your responsibilities and my responsibilities, your role and my role, your duty and my duty,” but rather our responsibility, our role, our duty… together.

It is this new creation, this two becoming one, this beautiful union, that we celebrate in marriage.

You may have heard the saying, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

But I would go even further:  Let each one of us- every friend, every family member, and every person do our very best to, not just avoid separating or dividing marriages, but let us work together cooperatively to encourage, build up, strengthen marriages and families through our words, our actions, and our prayers.

Marriage is a communal responsibility-  we all take part and have a responsibility in the life of this new creation.

But may the bride and groom always work to encourage, build up, and strengthen their marriage and family as well.

With words of life, grace, peace, and love to one another.  With the disposition of Christ, always serving each other in selfless and humble love.  With prayers never ceasing for your marriage and your family, as you are showered and covered with God’s blessing and love.

And may the love of God received… be the very love given to one another.

A love that is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

A love that is not selfish or quick-tempered.

A love that does not keep a record of wrongs that others do.

A love that rejoices in the truth, and not in evil.

A love that is always supportive.
A love that is loyal.
A love that is hopeful.
And a love that is trusting.

It is this kind of love that will never fail.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a marriage.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a family.

Thank God for that kind of love.  For demonstrating that kind of love.  And for letting each of us take part in that kind of love.

I am performing a wedding today.  This is a small edited portion of my message.

peace…

brandon