Learning to Pray, from Jesus

Besides looking at the instances of Jesus praying, there are several challenging passages where Jesus taught us more about praying. I will look at the shorter passages, and not deal with the larger passages of Matthew 6, and John 17, since they can take up more than a few blogs all by themselves. First, here are some from Matthew and Mark.

(Mt 5:44) “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

(Mt 7:7-11)  7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10“Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Mt 18:19-20)  19“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

(Mt 21:22) “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

(Mark 11:24-26) 24“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. 25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]

 

These speak for themselves, of course, but at first look some key words jump out at me… words like- ask, seek, find, knock, believe, forgive, and a startling phrase, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

The verse, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt 21:22), sure looks like a blank check for the person who wants God to be a heavenly gift dispenser. But, what did Jesus mean when he says to “ask, believing”? I need to understand that more fully, and I need to understand it in the context of all these other words, like ask, seek, find, knock, forgive, and love.

To ask believing, suggests commitment and a trusting heart. The Greek word for believing is the same word translated in other places as commitment or trust. This “believing” part of Matthew 21:22 connects it, as I see it, with all those other words, the asking, as well as the forgiving and the loving, and the seeking and finding that shows these promises are not for the shallow free gift collector, but rather, they belong to the true disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus, the one who showed, more than any other, the wonder of committed love.

Next… a look at similar passages in Luke and John.

 

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Like Jesus Prayed…

Recently, while studying for a class I am teaching about the Lord’s Prayer, I came across a simple and beautiful observation about Jesus and his prayer life. I’ll share it with you.

Now, I will tell you something about my experience in preaching, teaching, or studying the Life of Jesus in the four gospels. This circumstance alone has always made me feel a sense of walking on holy ground. Then particularly, when I look into the discussion of prayer, and when I look at the scriptures about the crucifixion of Jesus, I am peculiarly aware of the need to walk humbly here, and let my soul look up in worship.

But, I often discover that simplicity and beauty go together, and this insight was certainly that kind of insight. While thinking of how to discuss the prayer life of Jesus, I came upon something obvious. There are not many places where the prayers of Jesus are recorded.

There are prayers around mealtime (Matthew 26:26; Mark 8:6; Luke 24:30; John 6:11), and there are those before or after major events such as the calling of the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16), or his Baptism (Luke 3:21). We read prayers of Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34; Father, forgive them; Matthew 27:46; My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me… quoting Psalm 22; Luke 23:46; Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;) I see 12 places where he taught wonderful things about prayer.

But, I say again, there are not many places where the prayers of Jesus are recorded. John 17, a passage known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, is the only lengthy prayer recorded in the Bible, a chapter of 26 verses.

 

 

Then came the insight I am talking about; the beautiful and simple insight. Of course there are not many examples of the prayer times of Jesus. Of course there are so many references to Jesus slipping away to a quiet place alone where he prayed for a time, perhaps all night (Luke 6:12, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”)

 

 

Yes, of course we don’t have many verbatim recordings in scripture of Jesus’ prayers. He was doing the very thing he had prescribed to us about our prayer life.

  • To pray genuinely and not for show… Many religious leaders in the day of Jesus would have their servants sound trumpets in the streets to announce that the leader would soon be praying there, and that all should come to hear the epic prayer. But Jesus told his followers to pray privately, trusting that the Father would hear and reward them openly. (Matthew 6:1-15)
  • To pray honestly and free of phony religious phrases. (Matthew 6:7) Many shallow religious habits existed in the world of the first century, and still do today. Jesus warned against believing that we will be heard just because we talk a lot.
  • To pray for the kingdom and its coming. As Stan Grenz said in his book, Prayer… The Cry for The Kingdom,

 

“The initial requests —  ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.’, form one overarching petition that is then elaborated in the subsequent supplications. The requests for sustenance, forgiveness, and deliverance are the marks of the presence of the kingdom among us. In this manner, the entire prayer becomes a single petition for the in-breaking of the kingdom into the present.”

When I pray privately, with all the openness and honesty required of a follower speaking with the Lord, Himself… wonder of wonders… I am praying like Jesus prayed in private, and He lovingly hears me.  “Thank You, Lord.”

 

Next… more of Jesus’ words about our prayers.

 

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What Do You Say, Then?

Gerald Ford

There comes that moment when someone we know suffers a loss. A loved one dies, or there is a diagnosis of an awful disease … perhaps there is a loss of a career, or a loss of relationships (divorce, or estrangement in a family). When we find ourselves not knowing what to say, maybe that is just the thing. Maybe we should start with listening. Yes, we begin with an expression of empathy, but then we listen. We find our way to engage and we let the person who is grieving be the main voice. Behind those many things that a person really shouldn’t say, there are some errors, not the least of which is an error about the purpose of these moments.
I may want to tell this person many things, but I am not here to teach. They may need to learn some things, but I am not here to teach. Grief is the result of a loss. It is not a spiritual problem, nor is it a lapse of faith.

When I am experiencing my own grief, the person who helps me the most is the person who is trying to sit with me, and hear me, and encourage me. But the person who helps me the least, and may hurt me, is the person who believes they are the stronger brother or sister trying to “restore” the weaker brother or sister. To that, I have to say that grief is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of a loss… an experience that will become a part of who I am, but not a foreign object which must be cut away. No, don’t take my grief away, and don’t tell me I am a weaker brother. My sadness, when I feel it, is just as “Christian” as is my happiness.

But, while I am at it, let me recall that I am the person with whom I talk the most. I help myself the least when I treat my grief like it is something I am doing wrong, and have got to stop. I help myself the most when I can sit with myself, hear myself, and find encouragement in the truth I know. So, some of my grief is private, some of it can only be done by and for myself. That’s why we call it “sitting with our grief”.

That’s why we should listen with love to our own inner selves. That is also why we need to be mostly a listener when sitting with someone in grief, for while we are doing this, they are talking both with us and with themselves. How can I, or anyone else, fully process anything that I do not first fully experience.

For those who fear that my grief will take over and consume who I am, let me relieve your fear. When I grieve with the kind of grief I am discussing, grief does not consume me… rather, who I am, fully am, consumes the grief, and it becomes an enriching part of who I am.

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Don’t Say It… Don’t Say It…

I am no expert at this, thankfully, but I think I must have picked up some difficult to understand things about grief. I hear it called “sitting with grief”, and maybe we can share our various definitions of it. I get a mental glimpse of it when I am listening to a client talk about their grief, and I am “just sitting there”, but inside myself I am praying with all of my might, and with all of my strength, “Please give me something good to say, and don’t let me say something wrong or insensitive.” Provided I don’t say something insensitive, I will usually hear something about someone who did. It is often about a Bible study group concerning grief. There are many wonderful ones in which people get a lot of help. Yet, my client is highly distressed over what they heard. They heard someone say to them that God will repay them for their grief some “doublefold”, “fourfold”, or even “hundredfold”. But what does that mean? Does it mean they will get two children back for the child they lost, or does it mean they will get one hundred times the “value” of the health they have lost? No, there is no payback that makes grief become acceptable or somehow quick to go away. Comfort, resolution, deep peace; none of these are about payback.

Acceptance may be the first thing to define. Acceptance doesn’t mean we approve of something, or that we no longer feel pain from it. It means that we take it on and experience it with our full mind and spirit. It means we don’t resist it with anger, or avoidance, or demands that the truths change. We sit with it. We experience it and look inside ourselves and then to God to grow in wisdom and in peace. Grief changes over time, as we sit with it, changes into a memorial for our loved ones (or our lost dreams). We feel peace made, and we see a long story, not a short story, of life and love being told.

Explaining God can be a pretty formidable job. If I really was smart, I probably would not try, but my soul has these questions and I have to look into them. Other people ask them, too, and I just can’t leave them with an “I don’t know.” Of course, I know I don’t explain God, but I must grapple with the questions. That’s one way I grow. We live around no end of easy answers, and people who want quick solutions to difficult pains. Maybe people think they have to justify God or make him look good to all, with an assurance that all sorrow will be turned inside out and into something happy. But, I have never seen God work that way. In fact, and here comes a shocking statement… I have come to realize that not even God gets the big things he wants in little periods of time. He wants holiness from us, and that job isn’t through as yet. No, God’s plan of redemption is a long, long plan. One day there will be the fulfillment of his promises to do for our bodies what he has already done for our souls. But, in the meantime, there is grief.

Yes, we grieve not as those who have no hope. But we do grieve as those who do have hope. Hope doesn’t blind us, nor does it show up in clichés or a salve that makes us stop hurting by the end of the day. We sit with grief, with God, and with one another, but not always with answers or quick relief. We heal because of gracious love, because we accept grief, and because we hand compassion back and forth between ourselves as grief does its perfect work. Sometimes we just outgrow the questions. Sometimes we find the search more rewarding than the answers.
More to come…

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Women, Men, and Language: Four Easy Steps to Better Church Leadership

May I share an especially good article by one of the best writers and theologians I know. He says this important information so simply, yet so completely. It is useful for everyone who walks through a church door.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

Naming Rights – what’s in it for women and men?

Which of these sounds most natural to you:

  • Women and men.
  • Girls and boys.
  • Ladies and gentlemen.

If you say the last one, you are probably in the majority of English speaking people. The other two are written in the reverse order of their usual appearance, in that we usually hear or read Men and Women or – perhaps not quite as consistently but still predominantly – Boys and Girls. (Don’t get me started on Ladies and Gentlemen; that phrase carries its own baggage we should dump at every opportunity.)

For the sake of God’s people – women and men both – it’s worth coming out of your comfort zone with language about men and women.

language on women and men.jpg

Tips for doing that well in church are coming up a bit later in this post. First let’s take a look…

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The virtue of Father Christmas

… one of the best I’ve read on the subject. Let me share a blog from Laura Droege.

Laura Droege's blog

tosantaornottosantaThe Christmas conundrum: To allow Santa or to not allow Santa, that is the question.

Of all the things that divide Christians, this has to be one of the most seasonal controversies. Along with Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas,  whether or not to sing Christmas carols in the worship services, etc., this one appears for one month of the year (possibly two, if you begin Christmas festivities before the Thanksgiving turkey is properly digested), disappears for eleven months, and then reappears, just as contentious as before.

Frankly, I’m ambivalent. I’m neither pro-Santa or anti-Santa. My parents believed that it would be too damaging if they lied to me and pretended Santa was real. So I never did the Santa photo or cookie plate on Christmas Eve or had presents under the tree labelled from Santa. Besides, I was terrified of the Santa in the mall. Go sit on a…

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How To Get Along With People Who Voted Differently-5 Suggestions For Saving The World

Good Reading… Let me share

Amy R. Buckley

healthy-conversations“Who’s your candidate?” A Facebook friend asked me last week.

“Only God and the angels know,” I responded.

Truly, only God and celestial beings saw the boxes I colored in, with a black marker, inside a cardboard voting booth. Not even my husband knows. And I’m keeping it that way though anyone who follows me on social media might figure it out.

In our polarized world that rarely practices the discipline of listening—for the sake of mutual understanding—I’m keeping the hard choices of my soul private.

This doesn’t mean I believe politics should be private. It’s just that spilling my thoughts, feelings, and political opinions to everyone has never gone well.

I pause because it’s hard to have healthy discussions. Others react, and I’m tempted to react. These days, it seems the whole world has forgotten that jamming opinions down others’ throats—religious, political and otherwise—does nothing to win friends or…

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Godly Women Teaching Godly Men is Godly (and Biblical)

Here is an excellent point, well written, and rather obvious…

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

Huldah1

It’s not a matter of whether the Bible says women should teach men. It’s a matter of the Bible showing women actually teaching men, and no one – God included – saying they shouldn’t have. For example:

Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says … .” (2 Kings 22:14-15.)

According to examples found in the Bible, teaching is not a gender or sex based skill or function.

It’s God based.

***

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Go Love An Enemy and Call Me in the Morning

An encounter from my early days of pastoral work has recently come to mind, perhaps because I don’t yet understand it. This happened in the early 70’s at a church that had just called me as pastor. Speaking with one of the members, the name of one of the other members came up and I complimented that other member (something I thought was a nice thing to do) for the positive things they had recently said about the future of the church. Little did I know that these two people were enemies of one another. In my novice state as a young pastor, I felt quite flustered by the harsh response to my conversation. From then on, the person I was speaking with seemed not to trust me. They had immediately responded with criticism of their “enemy” and of me for having any good thing to say about him. “I think you need to be looking to God for advice about this church rather than to ______.”
I assured him that I was looking to God, but he didn’t seem settled about the whole thing. I thought about this encounter a great deal, and apparently I still do, after all these years. I had grown up in a peaceful home, and since becoming a Christian at age 16 I had been around other believers who were peaceful. Encouragement was the name of the experience in the small college town church where I was before going to my first pastorate. I had had a few years of evangelistic preaching behind me, and also couple of years of pastoral work behind me, but this was a shocking experience. Saying something nice about someone had gotten me in more trouble than saying something not nice would have done. What about our enemies? Jesus said to love our enemies. How is this all supposed to work? Well, I don’t think it worked out so well for these two people, and unfortunately, the man I had complimented at first, and often after those first days, had also made himself my enemy by the time I left this church and moved to another. I was not his enemy, but he had decided he would be an enemy to me.
I have learned a lot since then about human relationships, but mysteries abound. Fast forward to present time when, a few days ago at my favorite church to attend when I am not preaching somewhere, the pastor (John Lockhart) opened up a beautiful truth. He was talking about Hermeneutics, a big word for the ways we interpret things; in this case, scriptures. He observed that in all his years of reading books about hermeneutics, he had not seen anyone write that “Obedience” was a great way of interpreting scripture. You see, sometimes Jesus says, “Come and learn…”, and at other times he says, “Go and learn this…”. When he says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”, (Luke 6:27) it sure sounds like something experiential is supposed to follow. First, we Hear, really Hear… then Go find an enemy and love them. Wow, that’s a tough calling.
Do I recommend this track to anyone who comes to my office asking what to do about their enemy? This kind of love takes a lot of skill, and it can and should be done with care for ourselves and our boundaries. But, it can be done. So, if it gets back to your enemy that you have said something nice about them, maybe they will realize you have been with Jesus.

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What is it to Live Genuine?

Three more “Minutes” from my book, Marriage Minutes, available from Amazon.com

What Do You Do?…..  Being Real…..  and Thinking

Marriage Minute # 174 What Do You Do?

Recently, at a dinner, several people who didn’t know everyone at the table began introducing themselves, in response to that question, “What do you do?” The responses began to flow, but they mostly sounded like job titles, all very impressive in sound. Now, these people were telling each other what they called themselves, not what they did. I had time to think about my answer in order to give a more novel answer. I’m not always sure what to answer to the question since I am a pastor, a college instructor, and a counselor in private practice. I am also a curious person who likes to read about a lot of things, a researcher of history, in general, church history in particular, and a very avid researcher of my own family tree. I also write and sing, but I would starve to death if I depended on either of these things to survive. So, what would I say when the turn became mine? Some of these job titles were sounding pretty impressive.

Should I say I’m just a simple country parson? I couldn’t say that because my understanding of the call of God upon my life, to preach and to pastor, to make known the meanings and message of the Word of God, and to serve in a local congregation, makes my work not simple in the sense of “casual,” but quite simple in the sense of being committed to the ministry with no plans to leave it. People make a lot of assumptions, mostly wrong, when you say you’re a preacher. I know that John Knox (or was it John Wesley) said, “If God calls you to preach, don’t stoop to be a king.” Not many people hold us in that same regard, however, and not even all preachers value their call that much either. So, what would I say?

Should I say I am a college instructor in psychology? Maybe I should say I am a Counselor in private practice. These might produce some fine, fine job titles, but would this be what I am about? These jobs certainly take up most of my hours during the week, and I love these jobs as well, but just having a title doesn’t explain enough. When I say I am a Counselor some people respond by saying, “Oh, you’re a Shrink.” I usually explain that the person they call a Shrink is usually a medical doctor, a Psychiatrist, and that I actually prefer to call myself a Stretch rather than a Shrink. What would I say? I wanted to answer the question of what I do, not just what I call myself. The discussion was getting closer to my side of the table; the pressure was mounting.

I said, “I encourage people for a living. I help them get unstuck and back into growth toward who they can be. I help them know that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.” Suddenly, and a bit to my surprise, the people at the table began to ask questions and seemed to become animated with curiosity. No, this is not a claim to fame. It is an observation about human life. The people seemed interested in the idea of encouragement; perhaps they are starved for it themselves. They began to talk about the meanings they wanted in life, the joy behind the job. They caught onto the core of the question, “What do you do?”

Paul called himself the chief of sinners, and the least among the apostles, yet he also said he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Christ came into the world to save sinners, saving eternally, saving internally, and saving from sin as well as saving from the meaninglessness that so many people find in life. Then he said, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God.”

What do you do?

Marriage Minute # 175 Being Real

Last Sunday night at dinner a friend gave my wife a wonderful compliment. She said that in all the conversations they have ever had, she had always had the sense that she was really engaging her as an individual person, a real person. Many couples speak in “we think”, which is a jargon used to keep up a family image, or sometimes, a facade. This was a compliment of Billie’s personal sense of identity, and her genuine respect for others. As we talked about the issue, we spoke of how easy it is to just be “somebody’s” wife or husband, or “someone’s” parent or child, or “some place’s” employee. Not that any of us meant that we were trying to be an all-important person who had to be the center of attention. But who are you? Back behind your eyes, where you are the only one looking out upon the world, who are you? That’s what is so good about the sense of talking with a person and really having a sense that they are there as themselves. May I share a few secondary thoughts?

There might be a temptation to use “we-think” to avoid the real work of developing our individual identity. It is hard work, sometimes, to think about our singularity in the world, and to know that there is not a ready made identity to slip into comfortably. Even the title “single adult” carries with it the connotation that this person is not a complete individual until they get married and have children. The single adult may be viewed as not having taken on the responsibilities of adult life. Far from the truth, there are as many immature people within marriages as there are outside of them. As Frank Pittman says, marriage will only make you married; it won’t make you grown up and happy. Developing one’s own identity will always be our job, in or out of marriage.

Some families discourage individuality. Out of a belief that the family members must all be the same, there is an official “family-speak.” A wise parent gives children choices, good ones, and helps the child learn how to make good selections. They encourage wise consideration and selection of personal values. Individuality is a good thing for each person in the family.

Maybe someone thinks they are being loyal by not having their own identity. A young couple may follow the idea that marriage makes them alike, and that individuality is a threat to the relationship. In truth, it is no threat at all. A healthy self is the best thing you can give to a relationship.

It could be that there is one of the people in a marriage who wants to be the only person with an identity. Remember the television series, “Thirtysomething”? A character (the bad guy) on the show was heard to say a very telling line. As I remember it went something like, “People marry the picture of perfection, but when the picture starts to move on its own, they get nervous.”

The friend said, “When I talk with you, I get the real sense that I’m talking with you.” No masks, no fraud, no role-playing; that’s an exciting way to live.

Marriage Minute # 176 Thinking

Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in 1941 that, “The popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling.” She ought to see how things have gotten by the current day. While she wasn’t speaking about marriages, I think we can see the effect of the “thinking” problem within modern marriages.

Sayers herself was a good theologian who wrote murder mysteries on the side in order to make living expenses. A brilliant person, she remained single for a long time, partly because she did not believe she would find a man who would appreciate her mind. The first step had been hers. She appreciated her own mind. Then, she expected others to do the same.

The problem she addressed is one that is with us today. The lines between fact and opinion get blurred. In the name of political correctness we are told that one opinion is as good as another, and we are told that everything is opinion. The truth is that fact and fiction do exist. Right and wrong both exist. Some things are just opinion, and some things work as well as others do, but some don’t. The bottom line in marriages is that so many of us have forfeited the ability to talk about these issues with each other in a reasonable way.

The thinking problem shows up in marriage when one or both people follow popular myths, such as the myth that we mustn’t disagree. There is an old saying that if we agree on everything, one of us is unnecessary. Variation in opinion can add flavor to communication, as well as adding new ideas to the mix. Spouses aren’t replacements for us, and we do well to maintain our own identity.

Another myth is that all disagreement is the same. Disagreement for disagreement’s sake is not the same as good thinking. Neither does all disagreement lead to better communication. Disagreement that can be respectful and careful can solve problems, open new discoveries, and increase interest between these two people.

Others take the other extreme and believe that they must always disagree, and fight about the issues. They feel sad and express it with anger. They feel confused and express it with anger. They feel confident and express it with anger. They feel amorous and express it with anger. Eventually they may even feel angry and express it with anger, but by then most people won’t take them seriously, because they are angry all the time.

Another myth is the belief that there are no facts. Now, I agree that not everything is as obvious as some people think, but I also believe that it is high time we humans returned to our quest for truth.

One of the worst myths is the one that starts with the words, “If you love me, you will know. . . .” This myth can be devastating. It is often a tool of manipulation and coercion, and at other times it is only a cover for not being able to articulate one’s own thoughts.

Looking for truth, honoring opinions, valuing each other’s identity, and respecting each others preferences, can enrich a marriage.

 

 

 

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