Monthly Archives: July 2017

Spiritual Orienteering

Recently, my pastor spoke on the topic of prayer, with Jesus’ introduction of the prayer we now call The Lord’s Prayer as the scriptural basis for his sermon.During the sermon, he brought up a very important aspect of prayer as it pertains to God’s nature.

God, being quite a bit smarter than us, more than a little wiser than us, and just darn better than us in about every way, is not the kind of guy who needs us to tell him how things are. He knows how things are. He knows what we need. Whether or not you believe that the future is pre-ordained, no matter how you wrap your head around the idea that God exists outside of time as we know it, it’s (hopefully) not a very controversial statement to say that God does not need status reports from us in order to work in our lives.

So why do we sometimes treat prayer like meeting minutes? Often, when we pray (alone or together) we end up having very informational prayers. Have you ever been in this situation at the end of a church meeting?

“Alright, do we have any prayer concerns?”
“Well, uh…my niece is sick.”
“I’m traveling this weekend.”
“Oh yeah — I’m job hunting. Interview on Friday.”
“Alright, let’s pray. Lord, heal her sick niece, watch over his travel, and help her find a job. Amen. Good meeting everyone, see you later.”

Sound familiar? I bet it does.
Sound like spiritually formative prayer? I hope it doesn’t.

Getting our Bearings

Now, before I go on, I want to make it clear that I’m not really criticizing this kind of prayer as part of the full experience of faith. Sharing our concerns with one another and lifting them up to God is not only completely legitimate but it’s also something I’ve seen God respond to over and over again in my life. God clearly does answer prayers of supplication, and I’m not at all suggesting that we should stop asking him for help.

Instead, I’m challenging two ideas: first, that prayers of supplication should be little more than checklists, and second, that such prayers by themselves make up a healthy life of prayer. Prayer is much, much more than that!

North

Here’s what really struck me during that sermon: We often treat prayer like meeting minutes, and we also often treat prayer like a shopping list. But that’s not what prayer’s meant to be like. Instead, prayer is like a compass.

Let’s think about a compass. The most obvious similarity to prayer is that it’s meant to help you navigate; prayer is often the most powerful when you’re lost and need to get out of trouble. But it goes further, into the nature of the thing.

A compass doesn’t tell you where to go, or how to get there, and it doesn’t magically take you where you’re going. Instead, a compass points north. It always points north. When you use a compass, you don’t orient the compass to you; you orient yourself to the compass. And then, having figured out which way is up. you can work out the direction you’re meant to go and continue toward your destination.

North is a constant*, and no amount of selfishness, ignorance, or impatience on your part will change it. You may lose track of which way north is, but north will still be north, and the compass will always bring realign you. Just this way, God is still God no matter how much or how little attention you pay him, but you can always find him when you align yourself with his magnetism.

Section

A message from Sunder Krishnan, presented at Urbana 2009, left an indelible impact on me in this idea. Some key ideas that he expressed concisely:

So much of our praying is simply repeating back to God what he already knows, as if he needs us to tell him.

And later:

One of the most important things I’ve learned in a life of 30 years of prayer, surprising though it may seem, is fundamentally not about getting answers…circumstances outside of you may not seem to change, but you will be unrecognizably changed.

You should definitely watch his whole message. It’s full of powerful ideas.

Another little note – Pope Francis has been quoted as saying:

You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.

Conclusion

Again, my purpose in writing this is not to criticize or object to the “bookend” prayers that are so common in church meetings and similar settings. Rather, I want to share how beautiful prayer has been for me, how transforming it has been in my life, and how much deeper and richer it is than one might think if one’s only exposure to prayer is limited and formulaic.

I would love to know what prayer means to you.


* I know that, scientifically, magnetic north is not actually completely constant. But for the purposes of the metaphor, that’s not important.

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A short note on moderation

 
To some, I might not seem like I’m politically moderate because I lean enough to the left that, especially with our current national government leaders, I often end up supporting Democrats and liberal/progressive sides in public issues.
 
But for a long time I’ve identified as a moderate because my hope, my heart, lies with seeking a solution that will benefit all, that will extend love to all, and that recognizes the inherent danger in extremes. Most extremes (not necessarily all, but certainly most) tend not to benefit every person, but instead to favor one group or another.
 
That said, I think this graphic illustrates a really important point about moderation, balance, and seeking middle grounds. I believe all ideas have a right to be heard, but that doesn’t mean all ideas have a right to be treated equally. I believe everyone has a right to defend their point of view, but it’s important to recognize that sometimes a perspective is so wrong that the most compassionate, generous response which is still valid is “No, simply no.”
 
It’s incredibly difficult to figure out when that is. I know I’ve screwed it up before and I know I’ll screw it up again. But I will still always seek balance, love, compassion, and good, and I still believe that so long as most of us are genuinely doing that, we’ll keep getting better.

InterVarsity Blog: Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Paradoxes of Our Faith

I have another post to share with you that I wrote for work! This time, I’m actually on the National InterVarsity blog, writing about perhaps the best book I’ve read this year, Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah.

I’ve written before about the fact that Christianity is hard and complicated – and I hope to write more about that soon, so hopefully the fact that I loved this book will come as no surprise to you.

You can read the full post over on the InterVarsity blog, but here’s an excerpt:

I was in love with Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple before I’d even finished the introduction. In a few simple sentences, author Krish Kandiah not only reassures us that it’s okay to have questions, but he also hints at a deeper truth: it’s important to have questions.

Facing up to hard questions about God can be disconcerting. Believers may feel we are letting the side down if we dare to admit we still have questions. Perhaps we fear that in admitting to unresolved questions in our faith, we might lead other people into doubt and destabilize, or even destroy, their faith. Often we are taught—or at least we pick up by osmosis—that Christian maturity means giving confident, slick answers without a hint of uncertainty. But this is simply wrong. False assurance is no assurance at all, and taking time to tackle the difficult passages of the Bible head on may in fact be exactly what we need to help strengthen and life-proof our faith. If what we believe is true, it will stand up to questioning.

In Paradoxology, Kandiah takes this idea of embracing questions seriously by looking at 13 themes from Scripture that seem, on the surface, to be paradoxes we can’t resolve. Most importantly, he doesn’t just offer some clever mental gymnastics to make the paradox go away. Instead, he invites us to embrace the beauty of a God who’s big enough, wise enough, and creative enough to stretch our powers of reasoning and exercise our faith.

Give it a read, let me know what you think!