Category Archives: Prayer

#CCLent17 / Day 2 / March 2 / Praying in Syria

CCLent - lenten-prayer-of-saint-ephrem-the-syrian-stephen-stookeyYou were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)

For many years I have used what is known in the Orthodox church as the Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. I would encourage you to pray it each day during this season. Even memorize it.

Ephrem (306-373) was the greatest hymn writer of the early Christian world.  We have 100’s of hymns saturated with biblical themes and phrases that he wrote to teach and defend the faith. It is a prayer for transformation! It parallels the Apostle Paul’s admonition above in Ephesians 4 to “Put off the old and put on the new.”  Starting today and through next week, I’ll share some of the wonderful commentary on each petition. Here is one translation:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, faint-heartedness, love of power, & empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

The Lord’s Prayer and Discipleship

MakeDisciplesLogoListen to this message (if you missed it or not in town) from Neil Botts, our Executive Pastor at Christ Church, on The Lord’s Prayer. Our current teaching series has a double focus: Learning what a disciple of Jesus is really ‘like;’ and learning from the Master how disciples are ‘made.’

Here is a helpful resource from Neil on developing a life of prayer:

Three Practical Ways to Use The Lord’s Prayer to Develop Your Prayer Life

  1. Make the Lord’s Prayer the framework for regular daily praying. Take each clause at a time, and, while holding each in turn in the back of your mind, call into the front of your mind the particular things you want to pray for as it were, under that heading. Under the clause ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, for example, include the peace of the world with some particular instances where conflict is raging, whether it be in Syria or your city or your family. The important thing is to let the heart of Jesus’ prayer encircle the people for whom you are praying, the situations about which you are concerned, so that you see them bathed in the healing light of the Lord’s love as expressed in the prayer.
  2. Use the Lord’s Prayer as a form of breath prayer. Repeat it slowly, again and again, in the rhythm of your breathing, so that it becomes almost second nature. Those of us who live busy or stressful lives may find a discipline like this very difficult; but, again, it may be precisely people like that who need the calming and nourishing medicine of this prayer to be woven into the fabric of their subconscious. Next time you make a car journey by yourself, leave the radio switched off, and try it. Yes, it takes times. What else would you expect?
  3. Take the clauses of the prayer one by one and make each in turn your ‘prayer for the day’. Sunday: Our Father. Monday: Thy Kingdom Come. Tuesday: Give us this day. Wednesday: Forgive us. Thursday: Lead us. Friday: Deliver us. Use the clause of each day into which you can step at any moment, through which you can pray for the people you meet, the things you’re doing, all that’s going on around you. This prayer then becomes the lens through which you see the world.

*There are dozens of other ways in which this prayer can be used. These are just suggestions to get started. The three listed above are adapted from The Lord and His Prayer by N.T. Wright.

A Prayer to Begin Your Day

In the previous post, I shared the story that challenged me to be more tuned into the everyday, ordinary opportunities for ministry to people. I closed the sermon Sunday with a suggested prayer to put in your own words. Here are variations you might use:

A SUGGESTED PRAYER TO BEGIN EACH DAY:

Lord I want to be available, to be your hands and feet today;
How are you speaking to me
Where are you at work?
How do you want me to join you?

OR in the words of one of our ‘senior saints:’

“Good morning, Lord!
What are you up to today?
How can I be involved?

OR like the child Samuel (and Mary, mother of Jesus)

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

 

How to Pray with the Psalms

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 10.28.15 PMOur series on prayer comes to the essential place of the PSALMS in prayer. The sermon from August 3rd gives reasons and practical ways to “pray with the Psalms,” especially when we are in pain or when God seems far away!  The diagram here is from that teaching.

You can also download a short anthology of some wonderful quotes about the Psalms at the Psalm Page of this blog.

On vacation this week, I came across a used book store. (“I brake for bookstores.”) I stumbled upon these two additional reasons for praying the Psalms from Thomas Merton.

That is why I am more and more thankful… for the Psalms. Their praise of God is perfect, and God gives it to me to utter as more my own than any language I could think up for myself.    (from ‘A Year with Thomas Merton’)

This is the secret of the psalms. Our identity is hidden in them. In them we find ourselves and God. In these fragments he has revealed not only Himself to us but ourselves to Him.  (from ‘The Journals of Thomas Merton 2’)

So if this practice  is new to you, let me encourage you to listen to the teaching and then begin – just begin reading the Psalms – each day – and let them become your own prayers – Jesus’ prayers with you – teaching you how to pray!

‘Honest to God’ – Pouring out our hearts

pour out waterIn our series on Prayer, we looked at Hannah as a beautiful example of the Psalmist’s invitation: “Pour out your heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8) You can listen to the podcast here.

Let me add an excerpt from Foster’s Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home in a  chapter  he calls Simple Prayer.

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. There is no pretense in Simple Prayer. We do not pretend to be more holy, more pure, or more saintly than we actually are. We do not try to conceal our conflicting and contradictory motives from God—or ourselves. And in this posture we pour out our heart to the God who is greater than our heart and who knows all things (1 John 3:20).

Those who think they can leap over Simple Prayer deceive themselves. Most likely they themselves have not prayed. They may have discussed prayer, analyzed prayer, even written books about prayer, but it is highly unlikely that they have actually prayed. But when we pray, genuinely pray, the real condition of our heart is revealed. This is as it should be. This is when God truly begins to work with us. The adventure is just beginning.  

Don’t keep secrets. Let the pouring out of your heart draw you closer to your Father!

Learn to ‘Wrestle’ in Prayer!

Jacob Wrestling with God by Jack Baumgartner
Jacob Wrestling with God by Jack Baumgartner

Sunday’s sermon explored the vivid image of Wrestling in Prayer.” You can listen here. It has much to teach us about prayer as the real work of the Christian disciple.

This Greek verb, agonizomai, is translated variously as “struggle, agonize, toil, labor, work hard, and wrestle.” We see it in action with patriarch Jacob in Genesis 32, the Lord Jesus in the Gethsemene prayer of Luke 22, and Epaphras here in Colossians.

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.  Colossians 4:12-13 (NIV)

Please note:

  • Prayer is a central way we impact people for God! It is productive Work.
  • Wrestling must be done in sync with the will of God. Don’t pray “little prayers” for those God puts on your heart. Pray for their Christian maturity, their obedience, their flourishing, their assurance, their involvement in God’s mission!
  • Ask the Lord who he wants you to be wrestling in prayer for. I didn’t say who you are to be worrying over; but who needs you to work hard for them that they might become all God designed them to be!

 

 

Of Prayer and iPhones

raman-iphone-bowl-1After last week’s sermon stressing Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing,” (and the reminder that God is closer than “the Cloud!”) I got an email from friends who started to pray before and after using their smart phones for email or texts, etc. I added the thought of praying for the person involved with each message. Philip Yancey comments:

“Prayer consists of Attention,” wrote Simone Weil. “It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.” How do we pray “ without ceasing ” in Paul’s phrase? Our minds have the potential to attend to more than one thing at once, and I have found it possible to give God attention even while doing something else: to pray simultaneously as other activities are going on. I simply try to direct Godward the inner dialogue that is taking place all the time . To pray without ceasing taps into the mind’s multitasking ability. (Philip Yancey, Prayer)

A more focused use of the constant Jesus Prayer or other “prayer of one breath” is summarized by Richard Foster in his book on prayer:

The idea has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me” (Ps. 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath, hence the name “breath prayer.” Gregory of Sinai says, “One’s love of God should run before breathing.”4 The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

As you can tell, this prayer is derived from Jesus’ parable on self-righteousness, in which the tax collector beat his chest and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). It came together in its present form and was used extensively in the sixth century and then was revived in the Eastern Church in the fourteenth century. In the nineteenth century an anonymous Russian peasant tells the moving story of his search to pray without ceasing in The Way of a Pilgrim. Once he learned the Jesus Prayer, he prayed it continuously until the prayer moved from his mind into his heart and finally throughout his whole body—becoming so internalized that it was present with him at all times, whether he was awake or asleep.

This particular book has had an influence upon Christians far beyond the borders of the Eastern Church. But the Jesus Prayer is only one example. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer. One evening some years ago I was out jogging, when a dozen or more breath prayers poured forth from my lips. Here are a few of those prayers that came tumbling out that summer evening: “O Lord, baptize me with love”; “Teach me gentleness, Father”; “Jesus, let me receive your grace”; “Gracious Master, remove my fear”; “Reveal my sin, O Holy Spirit”; “Lord Jesus, help me feel loved.” Notice the brevity of each of the prayers—seldom more than seven or eight syllables. Also, note the sense of nearness and intimacy: God is addressed in a close, personal way. See too how the person praying expresses dependence, docility, trust—the opposite of self-reliance. Then notice that the prayers are all requests. This is self-focused prayer in the sense that we are asking something to be done in us or to us. But it is not self-centered prayer, for the requests of breath prayer are seasoned reflections on the will and ways of God.

Again, I recommend The Jesus Prayer, by F.M. Green for more detail on this “prayer of the heart.”  See my earlier posts also.

 

 

 

 

Prayer: What Difference Does It Make?

prayer_screenOur summer series at Christ Church asks some hard and honest questions about Prayer and our practice of it. Today we explored the relationship of God’s Spirit and continual prayer. God invites us into a love relationship that is intended to push back the lesser and competing loves that cry for our allegiance. [Sunday’s sermon audio is here.]

Some suggested resources on growing in prayer:

Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference.

Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

Jerry Sittser (author of A Grace Disguised), When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer.

Frederica Mathewes-Green,  The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God.

We prepared for Holy Communion this morning with a poem from George Herbert: Love III

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

 

 

Day 34, Praying with Jesus at the Cross (part 5)

eloi-eloiWe know that Jesus prayed the first verse of Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…” But as we’ve been seeing this week, I believe the whole Psalm was pulsing through his mind! Look at how Psalm 22 ENDS!

I will tell of your name to my brothers
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted, 
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.    (Psalm 22:22-28, ESV)

Through blood, sweat, and tears Jesus sees the finish line. Christ is the King who rules over all – all the ends of the earth; all the families of the nations. He is praying with bold confidence, knowing full well, that through his redemptive death and victorious resurrection, God’s Covenant with Abraham is being fulfilled – and “ALL the nations of the earth will be blessed…!” (Gen. 12:1-3 and restatements throughout Scripture)

Prayer: Lord, you see the end from the beginning. Help me to pray the whole Psalm!

Day 33, Praying with Jesus at the Cross (part 4)

words_from_the_cross_nivContinuing our look at how Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross:

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet-
17 I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

Here are details that relate to Jesus’ crucifixion and death by crucifixion in general that could not have been imagined in the Psalmist’s day. The stretching of the joints, the intense thirst, the piercing and binding of hands and feet, the preservation of his bones and the soldiers gambling for his garments! Imagine learning and praying this Psalm only to experience it physically! But verse 19 and the conclusion we will see tomorrow remains. This is not the end of the story! He entrusts his soul to his Father and his work will be completed – “Trampling down death by death” and announcing victory to the nations! Stay tuned.

Prayer: When all seems lost, You are not far from helping me!