thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Prayer”

New way of praying

When I was younger and new in the faith, I despised written prayers. They were for the lukewarm, those not alive in the Spirit.

Well, “when I was a child, I talked as a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11a). My arrogance embarrasses me now. I trust I’m becoming a man and putting those childish ways behind me (v. 11b).

As I’ve moved half-way through my 50’s, I’m finding that my early form of praying now seems hollow and shallow. I need words that reach into my soul with sustenance and substance. I need words that transform.

My words don’t seem to cut it anymore. I get tired hearing me repeat familiar pleas. I find a good deal of my words sound like I’m counseling God, as if he lacks wisdom.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by meaningless and vain repetition.

My prayer life now consists laregely of silence. Once in a while I’ll come across a well-crafted written prayer that nails the yearning of my soul. Both are rather refreshing.

Once such written prayer deals with the current military conflicts occurring in the world. Crafted by Sister Joan Chittister, it petitions our Father in this way:

Great God, who has told us “Vengeance is Mine,”

save us from ourselves,

save us from the vengeance in our hearts

and the acid in our souls.

Save us from the desire to hurt as we have been hurt,

to punish as we have been punished,

to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes

to listen rather than to judge,

to trust rather than to fear,

to try again and again to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace

to be our best selves.

We ask for the vision

to be builders of the human community

rather than its destroyers.

We ask for the humility as a people

to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes

to bequeath to the children of the world to come

more than the failures of our own making.

We ask for the heart it takes

to care for all the peoples of

Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel (we can add U.S. inner cities, minorities, the person next door)

as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,

to constrain our might,

to resist the temptation of power

to refuse to attack the attackable,

to understand

that vengeance begets violence

and to bring peace–not war–everywhere we go.

For you, O God, have been merciful to us.

For you, O God, have been patient with us.

For you, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful,

and patient,

and gracious,

and trusting

with these whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,

the one without vengeance in his heart.

This we ask forever and ever. Amen.

These are powerful words.

Penetrative.

Transformative.

I need to hear myself pray these words.

As C.S. Lewis would say, prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes me.

A Prayer Concerning Perseverance

 

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I came across this prayer:

If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
toward heaven
only you.
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die

Praying problems

Last weekend my wife and I watched “The Grey.” It’s one of the most (if not the most) depressing movies I’ve ever watched. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

But I’m learning that God shows up in all kinds of places. Even in a movie about a bunch of low-life roughnecks trying to survive the bitter cold and dangerous elements of the Alaskan wilderness. I can’t think of a worse scenario to contend with.

Tragedy, misfortune and calamity come as steady as a ticking clock. It becomes apparent that efforts to survive are futile. Toward the end of the story Liam Neeson’s character, Ottway, shakes his fist at God.

“Do something! Come on! Prove it! Show me something real! I need it now, not later! Now! Show me and I’ll believe in you until the day I die! I swear. I’m calling on you! I’m calling on you!”

Nothing but a long camera shot of an empty, bleak sky. Ottway soon realizes there’s going to be no help from God.

He stomps off muttering, “Forget it. I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself.”

I found myself in Ottway. I’ve wrestled with a quiet, seemingly distant, perhaps absent, God. Most recently, my prayers for direction and clarity seem to bounce off the ceiling.

I confess, it’s been tempting to give up on Him and take matters into my own hands.

The difference this go around is that I’ve dared to admit it. I’ve been mildly irritated at God. Ticked off.

A couple of days later, though, I happened upon Luke 11:1ff. In this passage the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. What follows is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer and then some instruction from Jesus.

A couple of things stood out to me. First, something about how Jesus prayed caught the disciples attention and fascination. After watching Him pray, the disciples make a startling request, “Teach us to pray like that.” (I added the last couple of words, but I think that’s what they meant.)

What was it about Jesus’ praying that triggered their response? Apparently, Jesus’ way of praying is a lot more compelling than mine seems to be. Half the time I have a hard enough time staying awake during my prayer time. I can’t imagine how boring it would be to anyone else who might watch me.

The second thing, I find it very interesting where Jesus goes in his instruction on prayer. Right after giving what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus immediately focuses on our need to persevere in our prayer life.

He tells a story that’s always perplexed me. A guy needs food for an apparently unexpected guest, so he goes next door to a friend’s house to borrow some bread and lunch meat. The neighbor’s already in bed and is understandably irritated by this inconvenient demand.

But the guy with the guests doesn’t quit. He keeps pounding on the door until his neighbor (former friend?) gets up and gives the guy food to get this whole awkward moment over with.

Jesus follows this with the oft-quoted, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” He then wraps up this episode by assuring His audience that our Father knows what we need and will assuredly give us only good things.

I came away from this realizing I need Jesus to teach me to pray.

It also left me with a lot of questions about persistent asking, seeking and knocking.

Apparently for Jesus, prayer isn’t about easy and quick answers. Our Father apparently isn’t the magic genie that pops out instant results. There’s something important in the waiting, the persisting, the faithfulness.

But the bottom line is that Jesus emphasizes that our Father (a very different sense of the God Jesus prayed to than the one Ottway prayed to) is good. He’s all about being good and showing that goodness to us.

I wonder what difference this would have made for Ottway?

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