Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Christian Life: How do you know?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

[Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB95]

Recently, I have committed to visiting with a lovely church about their pastoral vacancy. Our conversations over the last year have been interesting, having taken a variety of twist and turns. Nevertheless, our conversations have reached a point where we need to meet face to face in order to discern any further if our conversation should continue.

This process is fairly normal in ministry. There is a tightly held belief that those in vocational ministry are there by 'calling'. In other words, we believe that God has called us to serve the Kingdom personally and particularly. Ultimately we serve God, not the institution nor necessarily the particular place to which we have been called: we go where we are called to go and serve where we are called to serve, whenever that may occur. Some men and women serve only one group, church or organization his or her entire life; some serve many different churches or groups.

There are many factors that contribute to the call: God's will, our personal situation and of course how we understand or perceive God's call from our perspective. I've been serving churches in a variety of capacities since about 1987, in part-time, full-time, or interim capacities. I've been a music minister, a youth minister, a revival speaker, a revival worship leader, a professor and a pastor. I've done each of those things because I perceived and believed that I was called by God to do so. Yet perceiving, discerning or understanding God's call in your life is not that easy at times. Especially, when there are many factors to consider.

What are the considerations?

1) The covenant with your family.

If you have a family, the minister believes that the covenant between husband and wife, as well the covenant between parents and children, is the priority. That covenant and those people are your priority. When Genesis 2 speaks of marriage and the relationship that reflects and Paul details to Timothy what the character of the 'servant' of the Lord is to be like, it becomes obvious quickly that the well-being of your family is crucial to the process. They must be included in any decision making, for if those basic family covenants are violated, our service to the Lord is crippled.

2) The nature of the call.

It is my conviction that God equips the minister to fulfill the requirements of the call. This is one of the great lessons of the stories of Moses, Deborah, David, Peter and Paul. God equipped each of those men and women uniquely to fulfill the task to which he or she was called.
For example:

Moses was given his brother to help him; Deborah was filled with wisdom and Barak stood to help her; David was given wisdom, courage and resolve; Peter understood that his strength was very simply in God's presence - he had no skill or learning outside of his fisherman's talents and love of Jesus. Of course Paul was a trained Rabbi, a man soaked in the scriptures; but even Paul knew that his strength came from the presence of Jesus in the Holy Spirit and his knowledge of the Greek culture to which he was sent.

The call is thus unique to us. It is obvious that God has equipped us through experience, skills - and most importantly His 'presence' - to fulfill the call.

Does this mean that God cannot use us in ministries for which we are not 'equipped'? Of course not. There are unique stories of God using men and women to accomplish specific ministry goals with little or no training. That is because the most important aspect of any call is "God's empowering presence." Peter's ministry is a case in point. Nevertheless, the real miracle of the call to ministry is that quite often God equips us for a ministry before we are called! I have several physician friends across the nation, who serve as medical missionaries. They bring healing, love and share the gospel in simple acts of kindness with but few words; nevertheless the ministry of healing has paved the way for the power of those few words to change lives.

Thus I ask myself: "Am I equipped to fulfill this call or not?" or "Am I the one God has chosen for this unique task and can I trust that God will use me to fulfill the mission?"

3) Prayer.

If I am not a person of prayer, it really won't matter. If my connection with God is weak, how can I ever truly know that I am called? Constant, vigilant, heartfelt prayer is crucial.


4) Conditions, Family and Friends.

As I consider a call, I am constantly observing to see if my call to my present ministry is coming to an end. I carefully examine those who are calling me to see if this is a good 'fit'. I examine my life to see if the 'timing' is right for such a move. I seek the counsel of those I trust the most to hear my heart and to look at the situation. This is an important part of the process.

5) Confirmation.

A call is not a 'call' unless it is issued by a group of people who believe that God has lead them to me. I may sense a desire to serve, but until it is clear that I must go, I cannot go. I am reminded of Paul in Acts 16:9, where the "Man from Macedonia" bid Paul come. Or in Acts 13:1-3, where the Church in Antioch set aside Paul and Barnabas for ministry. In other words, there is a confident confirmation of that calling.

So here I am, seeking God's will - "trusting in the Lord with all my heart" - praying, listening and seeking to discern God's call.

But I know that this process is not just about vocational ministers. It's about all of us called to the body of Christ. He has a calling in each of our lives for ministry of some type or sort. The question is, "will we attempt to discern that call?" or will we be satisfied with being Sunday morning Pew-potatoes? At the very least each one of us is called to use our spiritual gifts in the local body of Christ. Each parent is called to disciple his or her children and every believer is called to be the gospel wherever they are.

I ask for your prayers as I discern and please know that you have my prayers as you seek to find and embrace God's call in your life!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

This Christian Life: Haiti

Warning: You may find this blog highly controversial. I hope not, but the possibility exists. Realize that it is a work in progress and offered to you as a way to stimulate your own thoughtful discipleship.

In recent days, the natural disaster in Haiti has grabbed the world's attention as well as a flood of relief efforts. There was even a telethon last night featuring the constellation of media saints seeking to raise money for the relief effort: American Consumer Religion at its best.

It has also, however, drawn the speculations of theologians, pundits, commentators and media mega-egos. These men and women speculate on the theodicy question: why did this event occur? If there is a God, why do bad things happen to innocent people? The most notorious of these speculations was given by Rev. Pat Robertson - an ordained Southern Baptist minister, king of his own media empire and holder of a strange quasi-charismatic view of God's justice. His view is that the Haitians were "cursed by God" for "making a pact with the devil" in exchange for their freedom from French rule in the 18th century. Although the CBN - host company of the 700 club - has denied that Robertson claims the earthquake was God's vengeance over the Haitian pact and is indeed pouring out material support for relief efforts (http://www.cbn.com/about/pressrelease_patrobertson_haiti.aspx); face it - the inference is there.

I must say that if indeed that is what Robertson is inferring, I could not disagree with him more strongly. Robertson's understanding of God and my understanding of God are 180 degrees. But I also disagree with his secular critics too, who would infer that natural disasters prove that either a) God doesn't exist at all or b) if there is a God, he is a cruel tyrannical judge! Contra Roberston, I do not believe that God is judging Haiti for its supposed pact. Contra his critics, I not only believe that God exists, but that God loves Haitians.

So what is my take on Haiti?

1) The world in which we live is a shadow of what God designed and is bringing to completion.

What began as the "Garden of Eden" was affected by the "fall" of humankind from God's presence. Indeed, Paul makes the following statement about creation in Romans 8:19-22

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.


So in a fallen creation, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters are the results of a "groaning creation" - a creation out of control. Suffering simply happens in the midst of "fallen-ness"...

Note: Although I affirm God is "in control", I also believe that creation, like humankind, is fallen and in need of redemption. This is why disease, disaster and death are the norm. So in the same way that human beings are separated from God, so is creation. Jesus commanded the seas and the winds, and they responded to His bidding (Matthew 8:23-26); nevertheless, there is also a biblical record of storms not being calmed; indeed, being allowed to run their course (Acts 27:13-44) - and even this was for God's glory! Thus, it is fair to assume that though God is in control, in a fallen world, nature is allowed - for the most part - to run its course. Not to please the will of a cruel, vengeful God, but that human beings might understand that it is only through faith in God that they can live abundantly.

2) The Haitians - as a whole - are no more culpable than any other nation. Jesus makes this point in Luke 13:1-5: Just because a disaster inflicts harm or death does not necessarily mean that it is divine punishment. Ultimately, each human being will be judged by God separately for his or her sins - Matthew 25:31-46. If a pact was made, then those who actually made the pact will be accountable for its consequences. God loves Haiti and desires that it be reconciled to him as well the other nations. (1 Peter 3:8)

3) Although Israel cried out for justice from its oppressors, the God of the Bible works in the forces of history to accomplish His purposes. More than any of her oppressors, Israel herself was the object of God's judgment for her unfaithful, adulterous ways. Over time Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome faded into history. But God's own people are uniquely identified by their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the task which God has called us.

4) What's really at stake here is not whether God is judging Haiti (a wrong answer to the wrong question!) then, but whether or not God's people will respond to suffering in the world as God has asked it.

5) God's people are cross-bearers in a world out of control. With joyful resolve, impelled by the agape love of God towards our neighbor, we bear the cross on the road of suffering. We serve those in need as an act of worship in order that the world may know that there is a God, who loves them, cares for them and seeks to bring this world to its completion at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Until that time, we labor in our world in the power of the Spirit, hopeful for the return of our Lord and His Kingdom of Love.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Christian Life: The Short End...

What a week.

My classes have gone well and my students have been admirable. The weather has been nice and I have been riding my bike. Feels good to be outside even though the new FLC (Faith & Leadership Center) is getting closer to being finished! I've been culling my book collection too - just because its really not that important to me. So what I don't need, I'm simply taking to a theological book dealer in Fort Worth. On top of all that, as a returning adjudicator for USSBA, it looks like I will be getting my assignments for the fall much earlier!

But just wait...

Its coming...

I should've seen it...

And ooh, here it is:

Then water started to pool in my home office, which I didn't notice until the mildew smell set in. As it ends up, my washing machine drain is either clogged and overflowing or else I've got a leak in a wall. Either way, its not a nice smell (mildew - yuck!) and its making thesis work difficult. I can't find the problem either and I've had to call the plumber who cannot come until tomorrow!

Ah, but the news gets better:

The phone bill from my England trip just hit. Wow! or should I say Ow! So much for putting extra money into savings this month.

I guess in the middle of my lectures about the economic and immanent Trinity, I should have told the students that in the middle of our rapturous postulations life has a way of intruding violently when we least expect it.

I should have expected it though. For even the Christian life revolves around the idea of "taking up your cross" and following Jesus down the road of suffering. As rapturous as the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is in our lives, stuff just happens. We still live in a "fallen", sin-tainted world and problems arise. Those problems are not God's fault, they are simply the consequences of living in this world.

The real joy we crave though is not found in a trouble-free world; it's in a life lived with God, even when we are walking down rough roads. My mother used to say, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and there is some truth in that wisdom. Although I've lost two boxes of books to water damage, 10 feet of new carpet, and will have to pay a plumbers bill and an exorbitant phone bill - that's OK. It's OK because I am not alone. The one who suffered on the cross walks with me no matter what, reassuring me that I'm not alone and that I will get through these setbacks soon enough.

Truth be told, the short end of the stick is useful for a lot of things.

I pray each one of you has a blessed weekend with no backed up pipes or ugly phone bills!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

This Christian Life: Participation

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

John 4:23-24 (NASB95)



Sometimes, things happen that we do not plan. I'm teaching a class on 'doxology' this semester - the theology of worship - and in our first lecture, as we discussed our most intense worship experiences, God was palpably, even tangibly present. That day I had just laid a foundation for our discussion with the following definition of worship: Worship is participation in the life of the Trinity - through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit lifts us to participate in the love that exists between the Father and the Son. It - worship - is thus our response to the grace, glory and love that the Father lavishes upon us in Christ which we experience personally in the Holy Spirit.

Worship then is not simply an act or an activity in which we engage while in an assembly of Christians; rather, it is at its most basic, our inherent response to God's love. Worship thus stated is our life lived in, with and before God the Trinity. Our lives become living worship in that we are situated, or placed in the stream of love that binds the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. The Spirit of Life - the Holy Spirit - is that bond. This is our personal experience of God.

Now indulge me and let me speculate for a moment. When we are worshipping God in prayer or vocal/musical praise or even in silent adoration what is it that gives us that 'feeling' of God's presence? I would tell you that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, affirming to us that we doing what God created us to do from the foundation of the world. It has nothing to do with style or excellence and everything to do with love and obedience. In our faithful obedience, we are honoring and glorifying the Father-Son-Spirit with lives and thus the Spirit lifts us, by grace, into the stream of love that is the relationship between the Father and the Son.

That truth took root in my class that day. You could see the change sink into their hearts and find expression on their faces. This idea of participation is at the heart of what it means to worship. This is the center of what Jesus was telling the Samaritan woman in John 4. Worship is not about the simulacrum of liturgy, but about our willingness to participate in the life of God in the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.

Too often our 'worship' falls short (and maybe doesn't even qualify as worship at all!) because we don't know what worship is and what God desires from us. So we gather together on a Sunday morning in what is ostensibly a 'worship service' and sing some songs and say some prayers and listen to some preaching only to find ourselves drawing 'doodles' or making grocery lists where our sermon notes should be. Upon reflection, we might be able to say that the music selections were good and even moving; the prayers were heartfelt and the preaching was dynamic, even trenchant - but still, we leave the 'house of worship' mysteriously unfulfilled, yet self-satisfied that we 'faithfully went to church for the week'...

Harsh, I know. But truer that you might think. Worship must begin with our understanding of who God is and what Father-Son-Spirit desires from his adopted children. Worship begins on Monday morning, not Sunday morning - though Sunday morning is where it finds expression in the gathered body of Christ.

This week, let your life be an example of worship to those around you; let each moment of your day be an act of praise to the living God. Like a virus, let is spread to your family and friends. When that happens, worship services at church will become moments of transformation as the entire body of Christ participates in the life of the Triune God!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A note to my readers...

As many of you know, I am a professor at a university in Texas. The past few weeks I have had a bit more freedom than normal because I have not been in class. However, that is about to change. The semester begins tomorrow and we are in full swing all over again. In light of that change, I am going to limit my blog to a weekly reflection. The demands on my time dictates that change and I don't want to litter your inboxes with too much 'fluff'.

My hope over the next few months is to intentionally map the spiritual journey as I see it and hopefully experience it - maybe then you will benefit too. Look for my weekly blog on Saturday mornings, beginning this upcoming Saturday.

Until then, I would ask you to pray for me, my students and our journey together. I also would appreciate your prayers for the variety of ministries that I am considering now. God is good and the Father will always answer our prayers offered in the name of the Son. I would also solicit some ideas for ministry from you. Not just for me, but for us! Let's put our minds and hearts together this winter and spring for the ministries God would have us engage this year!

Thanks so much for your patience and readership! Grace!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Birthday Wish

Birthdays.

When I was younger, I could not wait to turn a year older. I looked forward to the parties and to the impending privileges. A young boy looks forward to being able to participate in groups that are bound by age or grade - for me it was football in the 5th grade. A young man looks forward to riding a motorcycle or driving a car at 16. Then, in short order there is graduation from high school at 18 and its attendant privileges. Then there are the privileges of turning 21, which some consider to be a 'liberating' accomplishment; though I'm not really sure how libation consumption is 'liberating'!

Yet at some point, age ceases to be the attainment of privilege, but rather a mile marker of life. With all the privileges of age, have we actually made any meaningful accomplishments or achieved any meaningful status? Are we married, have we had children and do we work in a vocation we love by age 30 or even 40? Is our marriage or our singleness all that we thought it would be? By the time we are 40 we are wondering what happened to the first 39 years and why we cannot physically accomplish the activities we did when we were 20... And so after the age of 40, we really cease to celebrate birthdays annually, but by the decade. Birthdays become quiet affairs with our families or closest friends. Quiet evenings out with a friend or spouse. Maybe a dinner at home with friends.

But let me present you with something a bit more challenging. Food for thought if you will...

• Birthdays remind us that we are alive...

If a birthday should do anything for us, it should remind us that we have been graced with life; and no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves, life is always worth living.

• Birthdays remind us that our time is now...

All we have is today. Tomorrow brings its own set of griefs, but if we live today to its its fullest potential, we will have lived well. As Jesus said, "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34 NASB95).

• Birthdays allow us to assess the past and plan the future...

Much of the time - as Western Americans - we are driven, frantically living from day to day, rushing around trying to meet deadlines, pick-up children, and get the job done. Birthdays force us to take a moment to assess where we have been and where we would like or need to be in the future.

• Birthdays encourage us to embrace who we are or to change it...

As we assess our own path, we find out who we are and we can deduce whether we like that person or not. On one hand, we are who we are and our circumstances, to some degree, are difficult to change. But as difficult as it is for us, nothing is impossible with God.

• Birthdays allow us be thankful for the grace in our lives.

2009 was a tough year for me; yet, I am thankful for so many of those experiences, even the ones that cost me a great deal of pain. Birthdays remind us that there is another looking out for our welfare, as much as we are: God. I am convinced that God brings people into our lives, not to tempt us or lead us astray, but to temper us, to make us stronger, to force us to look at the parts of our lives that need fine tuning or outright change. We can either reject those 'others' as temptation, or we can find a place for them as those agents of change we desperately need and the grace of God in our lives. I have friends like that.


I have a friend who is celebrating a birthday this very moment. Probably has had a cup of coffee already. Is possibly getting ready to feed her children and have a relaxing day with family. Tonight she gets treated to a fine dinner with her husband and friends. To her and to each of you, I give this challenge: embrace the day and the small graces you will encounter in it. Assess the past, plan the future, but live in the day. Find Father-Son-Holy Spirit in the day and in the moment.

May God bless all of you and your birthdays this year.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Oatmeal and Apple Dumplings...

I really enjoy the simple pleasures in life - comfortable clothes, hugs from my children, family vacations, a good grilled-cheese sandwich, tomato soup, snowball fights, a cup of coffee and a little quiet time with my Bible and God. Yesterday, I had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast - oats, with walnuts, craisins©, raisins, a hint of brown sugar and butter. Tonight, I will make some apple dumplings for the girls. Sometimes, simple things are the best. They comfort us when times are difficult and give balance to our complex world.

Last night I watched as the Longhorns got 'rolled' by the Tide. They made a valiant comeback in the second half, but in their leaderless condition (Colt McCoy was injured in the first 5 minutes of the game) they just could not get on track and the Alabama Crimson Tide took the trophy. As I watched the game with friends, I was amazed at how complex life was for the boys. The spotlight tends to complicate things for us: fans, deals, promotions, television, pro scouts and public expectations tend to make things confusing quickly.

As I watched an injured Colt McCoy wander back with his father from the locker room for the second half, I couldn't help but wonder, "I think he could use an apple dumpling!" But then I bet his mom was thinking something like that too!

Lately, as I have been preparing for school, I've realized how complex we can make our lives. To be honest, I don't like it; as a matter of fact, most people don't like it! Yet in our modern world, complexity evolves quickly from simplicity. That's why I am so thankful every morning that I can sit in my quiet living room with a good cup of coffee and my Bible, and let the Spirit speak to me through scripture. It's simple, its reflective, its edifying and above all, it draws me closer to God. For some reason, the last few days have found me reading in both Psalm 18 and Proverbs 18 - Good, simple stuff that strengthens the heart and feeds the soul.

I pray your weekend will be filled with simple joys and comfortable clothes as you draw closer to God through His Spirit and Word!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Discernment 101

According to the Oxford American dictionary, the word 'discernment' in Christian usage means:

"perception in the absence of judgment
with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding."

In the Old Testament one of the words used to refer to discernment, bin, means "to consider carefully in order to gain insight or understanding." Another Hebrew word commonly translated as 'discern' is yada, or "to know." The book of Ezekiel translates the word sakal for discern and it means "to be prudent" or "to act with wisdom." In Matthew 16:3, Jesus uses the word diakrino, meaning "to distinguish or to judge." Paul in Philippians 1:9 uses the word aisthesis which the NASB95 translates as "discernment" or "perception." Finally, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:10 lists the "discerning of spirits" - diakri÷seiƟ pneuma¿twn - as a gift of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Church.

In all of these definitions, there are several items worth noting. The goal of the act of discerning is to gain understanding, usually some type of moral or spiritual knowledge. Another aspect of the act of discerning, a character trait if you will, is wisdom. A wise person deliberates, considers and reflects "wisely" in the process of discernment. The act of discerning itself is a an act of perception. To discern is to perceive; an aesthetic act. Above all, discernment is a mark of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Why all this talk about discernment?

Well, it's because you and I live at a time and in a place where the ability to discern is crucial to our faithful following of Christ. The problem is that we don't understand the process of discernment and since I am in the middle of discerning several important issues, let me share some ideas with you. Maybe they will help you in your journey. These observations are in no certain order...

Discernment is manifest both instantaneously and deliberately.
There are moments when we realize instantaneously the 'rightness' or the 'wrongness' of an activity. We have this immediate sense that profoundly intrudes upon our conscience, dictating the nature of something. On the other hand, there are some issues that we must prayerfully consider and reflect upon over time. There are no easy answers and we must engage in a process of discernment. Even then, our course of action maybe only differentiated by degree. Our discerned answer may not be a right or wrong answer, but a better than or least likely to offend answer.

Discernment, as an act of Wisdom, is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Obviously I am not talking about judging which tomato is firmer or which cantaloupe is sweeter in the supermarket. I am talking about the spiritual and moral venue of discernment. Christians believe that the Trinity is God and that Jesus is Lord. With those presuppositions in mind, we believe that the Spirit of God will "guide us into all righteousness" and "teach us all things" (John 16:8, 14:26). Thus the discerning process does not depend solely upon our own intellect or experience. It depends on our connectedness to God. Are we 'asking' God in prayer about direction and desire? Are we asking God in prayer to guide and illuminate the decision He would have us make? If we are asking God in prayer, what is our criterion for hearing his answer? Are we willing to accept the difficult road as God's desire for us or do we believe that God only answers our prayers of discernment with the answer we desire or are we willing to say with Jesus, "yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39 NASB95)? I believe that God fulfills the desire of our hearts (Psalms 37:4), but I also believe that those who follow Jesus must also bear the cross on the way of suffering (1 Timothy 1:8). Those who of you who have ears to hear, listen.

Finally, discernment is best accomplished in community.
I came to faith in Christ after spending my childhood as a nominal Methodist. I was 'born again' at the age of 20 in the context of an Assemblies of God community, which profoundly influenced, and continues to influence my understanding of the Spirit's work in my life. However, as time as gone by and I have learned more and more, I have come to the conviction that discernment is neither truly private nor individualistic. Yes, the Spirit speaks to us as individuals, but how do we verify whether that discernment is 'from God' or simply our own reprobate flesh? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, the gift of the discerning of spirits is a gift for the sake of the church. In other words, as a person is quickened to discernment by the Spirit, this person needs to a) measure the answer by scripture - in other words, does our answer line-up with how God has characteristically acted in and with His people over time? and b) prayerfully share that discernment with others; either with a similar disposition or with those to whom the individual is accountable. It is in the community of faith that discernment is qualified.

Today, I am a Baptist practitioner of my belief in Christ. In the Baptist tradition we practise 'congregational polity'. Most people think that means that we just vote democratically on those items of church business that comes before us once a month. This, however, is 20th century development. There was a time when Baptists understood their congregational polity differently. They understood it as an act of discernment. For example, a member would bring his or her proposal before the congregation. After discussion, the church would enter into a time of discerning prayer over the proposal in question. This time of discernment ended when the congregation came to a consensus on the Lord's answer in regards to the proposal. There were no quick up and down votes without discussion; there were no attempts to silence discussion and there was no voting by anonymous ballot. Sadly, many Baptists today, rather than gravitate towards congregational discernment, model their business meetings on congressional debate.

This has now become extremely long. Let me suggest to you that this year you rediscover the gift and practise of discernment. Draw close to God and He will draw close to you. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide your decision making making process and thus shape you into the person God wants you to be. You may not receive all the answers you want; but you will hear from God and that is worth everything.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

If 2010 is about anything...

January 6, 2010.

Kids in school, wife is back in the classroom...

I do not return to school officially until this Friday. But until that time, I'm working on my thesis, preparing lectures, reworking syllabi, thinking through sermon issues, outlining church health presentations and...

Praying.

a lot.

If 2010 is about any one specific thing, my conviction is that it has to be about prayer. I must admit, 2009 saw quite a bit of 'haphazard' praying. The frantic pace of life and all of its demands tends to squeeze the regularity out of prayer until prayer becomes a sentence or two squeezed in between bites of a bagel in the car on the way to work. Finally, prayer simply becomes a 'hopeful' afterthought in our lives. In other words, we start to just 'think' prayers, or think about praying and what a good thing that would be and convince ourselves that we have prayed somehow without actually taking the time to form and speak the words. But is that really prayer? Is that really what Paul meant, when he told the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing"? [1 Thessalonians 5:17] Or is that what Jesus meant in Matthew 6, when he instructed us how to pray?

No. I don't believe so.

Prayer is personal address to the Father in the name of the Son in the power of the Spirit. It is verbal, it is personal and it is regular.

It is verbal in that prayer has a voice - yours. In our formation of words and uttered sounds, we are engaging in an act of obedience, we are making our requests known to God. [Philippians 4:6 & 1 John 5:15]

It is personal in that prayer reflects a relationship between our person and the person of God. It is a relationship marked by love, reverence and awe. To be 'personal', prayer demands a sacrifice of our time to be effective in the same way that our relationships demand time to be healthy. If a man wants his relationship with his wife to be healthy and strong, he communicates with her, in person, regularly and out of love. Jesus clearly took time to be with the Father in prayer. [Luke 6:12]

It is regular in that we must give prayer 'time' in our lives. When do we pray? Do we start our day with prayer? Do we take breaks in our day to find quiet spots to pray to "Our Father in Heaven"? Do we say evening prayers with our children and spouses? Do we close our day with prayers of thanksgiving for the life God has given to us that day? Without regular exercise we grow flabby and lose muscle tone. Without regular communication with our spouse, our relationship becomes distant and strained. Without regular prayer, our Christian life loses its edge until finally it exhibits no power at all.

So as much as we want to lose weight and exercise this new year; why don't we work on our prayer lives the same way? If we do, we will not only see our bodies, but also our relationship with God become even stronger this new year!