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

are you listening?

 

I had a thought last week- With all of the people who are speaking and writing about how messed up, misaligned, and disconnected the Church is from Jesus Christ… is there anyone within the walls of the Church even listening?

That has been a question I have been wrestling with over the last three years.  And, it is ultimately what prompted me to write a book about how disconnected from Christ the Church has become, but more importantly what it begins to look like for the Church to discover the Kingdom of God and then to begin embodying it.

The beginning point, of which I wrote about last week, for the Christian and the Church has to be Jesus Christ, centrally and unequivocally.  Oddly enough after that post, by buddy wrote a note to me and asked, “I would love to know what inspired your most recent blog post?”  This was my response:

I think the thing that sparked it this morning was seeing tons and tons of people on Facebook and Twitter continually posting the same old, tired articles about how broken the Church is…and never engaging the Church on what it would actually look like to begin changing.  I hope some people will read it and actually have a conversation about it.

I have certainly been one who has taken the Church to task over the years… and I will continue to do so, in love, because I believe the best days of the Church are ahead of us as we begin to look and speak like the Jesus we follow.  But my commitment is to go out of my way, not just to address the issues, but to help Christians and churches understand what it begins to look like to embody Jesus Christ in our community and the world.  Generalities only go so far.  We have to get specific.   

Our beginning point is Christ and Christ alone- with his spirit being submissive, gentle, loving, peaceful, humble, forgiving, and graceful…and his path being at the bottom, below everyone else in the world, so as to come up from below in humility and service.  The way of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom does not assume the position of honor at the front table rather it humbly takes the unassuming table in the back of the room.  It is an attitude of the last will be first and the first will be last.

There cannot be enough emphasis on this truth for Christians and the Church:  we must become people of the bottom; people who are below; people who are last; people who are in the back; people who are the least.  We are people who put the interest of others before ourselves becoming a servant to all- our friends, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, those wildly different than us, and our enemies- in order to demonstrate the love of God.  We are not to be loud, showy, boisterous, obnoxious, or holier-than-thou.  We simply follow the low and humble way of the suffering servant and we do it in every situation and every context, for the low, humble, submissive, and loving way changes hearts and minds.

As such, we are to be transformed like Christ to the unfair boss, the slow store clerk, the rude or obnoxious salesperson, the junkie on the street, and the antagonistic loudmouth.  We are to be loving, patient, and long-suffering to those who offend, trespass, or violate us.  God’s love is to burst forth from our lives in such a remarkable and profound way that the world is drawn to this Christ whom they have never known before because they see Him demonstrated through us.  In our own power we do not have the capacity to act in such profound ways; it is only by the power of God working through us that we are able.  It is never us, only God.

Let’s get even more specific- too many times I believe that we as Christians become so identified with the culture of our churches and “the way we have always done things” that we leave the way of Jesus in the dust without ever thinking much about it.  We have enabled, rather than confronted, the small, petty antics that hardly look like Jesus and His Kingdom.  Think about how misaligned and feeble our ways are and how petty our ways look compared to the awesome, transformative, and magnetic ways of Christ and His Kingdom.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you judge people by who they are, how they are dressed, how they look, or how much money they have?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world divide people into classes and judge them for who they are, what they have done, and what they have or don’t have. In the Kingdom of God there is no judgment because we only see others as the children of God.  We also recognize that we are the “chief of all sinners” not any better or any worse than anyone else.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you easily hurt or offended by your brothers and sisters in your church- or- by people in general?  Rather than walking the pathway of humility, peace, and reconciliation do you run away to other churches and hide from your issues.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world encourage pouting and resentment when one gets his feelings hurt.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward humility, submission, and forgiveness with anyone and everyone who speaks poorly of us, hurts us, offends us, or even strikes us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you get your feelings hurt if you are not officially recognized by the preacher for your service, or accomplishment?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote accomplishment, recognition, and accolades for a job well-done.  In the Kingdom of God we are happy and joyful when we can serve our God in secret; in such a way that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you withhold your offering in protest or organize to force your own way and agenda when you are not in agreement with a decision?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world are bent on political power and influence and teach us that it is best to manipulate in order to get what we want.  In the Kingdom of God we pray together in unity for the Spirit of God to be our guide, so that we may bear with each other in grace and love.  We carry each other’s burdens while seeking God on our knees in prayer together.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you negative about someone or something in the church (or outside of the church) and work to divide one person against another with your words and/or actions?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to fracture, hurt, and divide individuals and relationships, pitting one person or group against each other.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward the uplifting, encouragement, and building up of each person in his or her life and relationships.  We work toward the healing and the restoration of people, relationships, and church bodies.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you always demanding the way you like things, forcing your own individual way and your own individual agenda on others and on those within the church?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world teach us to look out for our own interests, the survival of the fittest, and the necessity of taking care of “numero uno.”  In the Kingdom of God we work together in unity considering the interests of others before our own while making sure that each person is taken care of and ministered to…most especially the weakest and most modest parts of the Body among us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you neglect the cause of the poor, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, or the oppressed?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to ignore, push, and marginalize those already on the edges of society further into isolation, destitution, and misery.  In the Kingdom of God the outcasts are met where they are at in mercy and grace and welcomed into loving, whole, and healed community that gives worth and value to every single person despite their circumstance.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you still dislike or hate those whom you have labeled as enemies…seeking to avoid, not forgive, and/or get revenge against them?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world label and divide and actively pursue retribution against anyone who is seen as an enemy or adversary.  In the Kingdom of God every person in the world is a beloved child of God and a brother or sister to whom we extend grace, love, and forgiveness as we embody the way of Christ equally to friend and enemy.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you a “minister” who seeks attention and puts your way before others in order to receive special recognition from the congregation.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote and give special attention to great leaders for their accomplishments and accolades, celebrating the achievements of one man.  In the Kingdom of God each part of the Body is equally important with no one part being any more important than another.  Each part of the body uses his or her God-given gifts, with all praise and attention going to God.  As a result, each of us ought to submit to one another, washing one another’s feet in humility and service as Christ would do for us.

This list of questions could go on and on forever, but don’t miss the point.  As followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit, as those who operate by a new set of standards in the Kingdom of God, we must confront and die to the wicked ways of the world and be the Church God has made us to be.  For His salvation has allowed us to embody presently, not the old, worn-out, and self-interested ways of the kingdoms of the world, but the Life-givingKingdom of God.  And this is the way we ought to live every second of the day.

Praise God that He can move in such spectacular ways in spite of our lack of cooperation.  Praise God that He does not give up on us when we continue to fall so miserably short of His ways.  Praise God that, even now, that He continues to patiently wait for each of us to surrender our hearts and our lives to His reign and His rule and His Kingdom!

peace…

Brandon

master or servant…

“You will be the servant and I will be the master,” my oldest daughter declared to my youngest daughter as they played together the day before Christmas. As I watched their harmless play-acting those words continued to replay in my mind. Isn’t it fascinating that when given the choice, even an early age, we are inclined to take the position of power and entitlement?

We cannot pretend that this is simple child’s play. Even a casual observation of the world in which we live would indicate very quickly that our natural way is to scratch and claw to be in places of power. This is evident at the highest levels of international politics and global corporate structure but also quite visible within our very families, places of employment, and other community and civic organizations.

Our natural way fights to get on top even if it is to the detriment of another. The position of master means power, authority, and security while the position of servant means weakness, servility, and insecurity. Masters use their power to accumulate, amass, and store away wealth to guarantee their survival while servants use what they have to get by from day to day without any material guarantee for the future.

It may be worthwhile to consider the place in which we find ourselves. Are we those who work to be in positions of power and authority over others in our daily lives? Are we those who work to accumulate and store away our wealth for ourselves in order to guarantee our future security? Or, are we those who work to serve everyone in our weakness? Are we those who use what we have to get by from day to day and then have faith that God will provide what we need as we are selfless with what we have?

This may be hard for us to grasp but the way of Christ is always contrary to our natural way. While the way of nature works toward being powerful…the way of Christ works towards being powerless. While the way of nature works toward controlling people and situations…the way of Christ works toward serving people despite the situation. While the way of nature works toward insuring future material prosperity…the way of Christ works toward sharing what we have presently and trusting the provision of God in the future.

According to our natural way, we may have very well scorned the poor widow written about in the Gospels who gave away the last two coins in her name for making an “unwise” financial decision and then celebrated the rich for giving their large financial offering. Our natural way would have viewed the poor widow as short-sighted and foolish for giving away everything she had, yet we would have viewed the rich as wise for only giving away a small percentage of their finances while saving the larger percentage for themselves. However it is the poor widow, not the rich, who Jesus praises for giving all she had. This ought to be very insightful for we in the Church.

The Kingdom that Jesus announced and initiated and the Kingdom he presently invites us into, turns the tables of the world upside-down calling us to follow the example, not of the rich and powerful, but of the poor and humble widow.

You will be praised when you place yourself below others in service.

You will be praised when your demeanor is that of meekness and humility.

You will be praised when you lay yourself down for the sake of others.

And you will be praised when you give all you have so that others may have what they need to get by.

The call of Christ to our churches is to put aside the natural way and to take on the way of the Servant. The call of Christ to our churches is to become like and to be viewed as the poor widow, rather than the wealthy elite, by those in our community. The call of Christ to our churches is to begin spending less on ourselves and our own interests, and to instead begin giving all we have (financially and relationally) year-round for the extension of the Kingdom of God in our community, one person and one family at a time.

Church leaders…are we willing to not just ask our individual congregants to become like the poor widow, but for our churches as a whole to become like the poor widow as well? If we do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to care for and serve people…then whose responsibility is it? It is the church’s responsibility. But we must be willing to give everything away rather than to hold on to all of it for our own benefit or security.

If there is to be any hope in this world of a better way of living that transcends the natural ways and workings of this world, it must be embodied and lived out through a Church that has taken on the highest ways of Christ.

peace…

brandon