Tag Archives: spirituality

Prayer Challenge

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion - ...

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3) Painter: Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956) Year: 1990 Characteristics: Oil on canvas, 245 x 137 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus made radical promises regarding prayer.

  Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Jesus promised that his disciples could “ask whatever they wish” and God would make it so. Such bold promises challenge my observation of the church and the world. So many prayers seem to go unanswered or forgotten.

I am not talking about what I consider “childish” prayers, like winning the lottery or finding a parking spot at the shopping mall. I am thinking about those real prayers of the heart, when day-after-day you pray for the healing of a loved one. A friend is afflicted with cancer or an addiction, a spouse is battling depression or a child is traveling in the wrong crowd and we pray. We pray asking God to bring healing and peace to this person believing that this is God’s will for God’s people. Jesus certainly brought healing to those in need; healing and wholeness is what God desires for all of creation, especially his children.

Naturally if the person resists God’s healing, God will not force mercy. Often a person wrestling with addiction has to hit bottom before they can see how powerless they are in their addiction. God does not force healing.

Still many of us pray daily for God’s healing and we do not experience it. Oh, there are those occasions when miraculous healings occur. Thanks be to God! I have participated in prayer services where God’s power has restored the sick to health. Yet such answers seem almost arbitrary because others have not had the same prayers answered even when their faith was strong and their prayers persistent.

I do not know the answer to my own question, other than to look to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his own cup of suffering to be taken away, yet the next day he walked to the cross and death. His prayer was real and deep. And though he did drink the cup, his prayers gave him the strength and power to walk to Golgotha . . . . and three days later, the empty tomb.

And that is what we each need: the strength and courage to walk the path God has given us. So, like Jesus, we pray, “your will be done.”  The final answer to all prayers comes in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life in him.

Lord Jesus, your will be done in my life.

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.

Prayer Basic Practices

Jesus Praying at Gethsemane by Artist He Qi

Jesus Praying at Gethsemane by Artist He Qi

Last week I posted about starting an intentional prayer streak of daily prayer. Yesterday I challenged members of Resurrection to become more intentional in praying for our congregation and the world. (You can listen to the sermon here until January 14).  Today I want to provide some basic prayer practices that can enhance your prayer life.

Intentional: most habits are formed when we make it a priority and intentionally schedule time and energy for it. If we want our prayer life to deepen we need to  schedule an intentional time and place to pray. Many people find the first thing in the morning best; others prefer the evening. I know one person who made sure to leave for work early so he could have fifteen minutes to pray in his office parking lot. I  pray just after my morning run. I have my Bible and prayers placed near my prayer chair so I am ready when I return.

Written versus Spontaneous. Most of my prayers for Sunday morning worship are spontaneous with a basic mental framework to guide me. However my daily prayers are now a mixture of written prayers and silence for more spontaneous prayers. Having both allows me to stay focused and keeps my mind from wandering as much. I also plan to change some of the written prayers on monthly basis so as to give it some variety and freshness. This month I am using Psalm 130 and the refrain, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.  I wrote more about using written prayers here.

Relaxed: My goal in prayer is not to finish the liturgy as quickly as possible but rather to spend time with God. Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10. During the moments of silence, I simply imagine God being close to me, His breath matching mine own. If my mind wanders I acknowledge the wandering thought and bring it back to prayer and being with God.

Consistent: We certainly can pray at any time. Paul calls us to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17). People often practice” bullet prayers”, asking for God’s guidance, strength, or intervention in quick snippets of prayer throughout the day. Such prayers are not wrong, but should not be confused with developing a deeper intentional prayer life. As an analogy, bullet prayers are like calling yourself a runner, when the only running you do is to sprint from the parking lot to the office door during rain storm. To become an honest runner you need to consistently take time to lace up your running shoes and run. To become a disciple of prayer you consistently need to take time to step off the daily treadmill and be in prayer. Fifteen minutes on a daily basis will do wonders for your soul.

What other prayer practices have worked for you?

What time or place have you found most helpful?

Lord Jesus, teach me to pray.

Wilderness Journey – Day One

As a young boy, my favorite playground was the large tract of woods behind my house. Port Angeles was a lumber town, with five mills busy turning Douglas fir into paper and lumber. My neighbors were loggers who cut the tress or drivers who transported the huge logs to the mills. The huge forests of the Olympic Peninsula were a magnet for my imagination. Only later did I see the devastation that clear-cut logging created.

North Boundary Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

I remembered my childhood fascination with the forest as I started my four-day solo backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. Since I wanted to do a loop route, I started from Cow Creek trailhead and headed north along the North Boundary Trail. I normally see the mountain forests as a transition zone that I quickly want to ascend so as to reach the open alpine areas with their vast vistas. For me, the forest was only a prelude to the main event.

Yet I knew that my first day would remain in the forest. The North Boundary Trail ascends three ridges, each time descending to a mountain stream. The constant up and down challenged both my legs and my lungs. There were a few open meadows where one could see the higher peaks to the west, but mostly it was the forest that surround me. I yearned for the high alpine country ahead.

Crossing West Creek along North Boundary Trail

During my trip I was reading Baptized into Wilderness: A Christian Perspective on John Muir by Richard Cartwright Austin. In the book, Austin emphasizes Muir sensuous emersion into the wilderness. Muir became present to the trees, birds, insects, life of American wilderness, experiencing God in the midst of all of it.

Muir suggested that the path to the Spirit is not away from the world, but deeper into the world, deeper into communion with nature and with the primary forces where is Spirit is lightly clothed. Probing the simplest elements to discover their full character and vitality, he developed an incarnational understanding of God’s personality incarnate in Jesus (p. 25).

God’s presence was all around me, in the beauty of the tall lodge pines and the tiniest of mushrooms. Could I simply open my heart and mind to experience the wonder and beauty of God’s creation?

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth. Psalm 96:11-13

Lord Jesus, open my heart to see your beauty all around me.

Hunger Games and Compassion

Several youth and adults recommended Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for me to read. Since the movie version is coming out later this month, I downloaded it to my Droid and read it yesterday. Though it has a disturbing theme, the story kept me “flicking” pages. In a postapocalyptic future, a ruling class keeps tight control over its outlying resource districts by holding a televised survival competition. Twenty-four youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from the twelve districts to enter the Hunger Games, which are a fight to the death.

The story is a classic “haves” versus the “have-nots”; the empire versus the colonies; the ruling elite versus the struggling masses. In this fictional future, the districts struggle to have enough food and other resources, while the Capital has superfluous abundance. Food plays a role through-out the book with many descriptions of meals. For example, “The stew’s made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums today. Perfect on the bed of wild rice.” The lamb stew becomes a symbol of the Capital and it capricious ways, giving gifts when it chooses to the districts’ young competitors.

There is no religious or spiritual component in this fictional world. God is not even mentioned in the book. Yet two Christian themes stand out. One is compassion for the neighbor. Katniss, the narrator, remembers being given two loaves of bread by a baker’s son, Peeta, when her family is near starvation. This incident becomes a major subtheme. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ declaration, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matthew 25:35). Katniss and Peeta both practice compassion at times and seek to do good, yet I wonder where is the source of their compassion in a world that knows so little of it.

The other Christian theme is that of sacrifice. Katniss “volunteers” for the Games when her younger sister’s name is drawn as the “tribute.” Katniss sacrifices her security to save her sister from almost certain death. Jesus speaks of this the night before his crucifixion, “Not one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

In such an evil and corrupt world as Hunger Games, it makes me wonder where Katniss finds the courage and power to be compassionate.  If it is a natural human quality, why is there so little of it elsewhere in the book? I continue to believe the ultimate source of all compassion and love is God, for we are created in God’s image. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life . . . I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”( John 6:27,35.)

Heavenly Father, give us today our daily bread, which is you.