Posted tagged ‘Prayer’

Meaningless Prayer

June 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                June 28, 2018

                                 

“Rub-a-Dub! Thanks for the grub! Yeah, God! Amen!”

There’s been a few of those prayers that I’ve said through the years. How about this one?

“Good food! Good drink! Good God! Let’s eat! Amen!”

Yes, I know! A tint of irreverence in there. Here’s my daily irreverent offering!

“Cream and sugar, sugar and cream! Thank you, God, for coffee with steam! Amen and amen!”

A lot of prayer has a sliver of meaning and a lot of meaninglessness. It gets uttered or muttered, but not spoken. That is, I may speak the words with my lips, but they’ve detoured around my emotions and belief. 

Carol and I gently hold hands as we pray before partaking of the meal in front of us. (Gently holding hands because of her sensitive pinky finger, mind you!) I’ve become accustomed to saying “Thank you, God, for the food and this time together! Amen!” Simple, short, steam still rising from the bowls of mashed potatoes and peas when I’m finished. Quite often, however, I realize that I’ve simply said the words in order to get to the entree! They have carried no meaning, no true sense of thankfulness. 

Being fully present in the words of my prayer is difficult. It’s like when Carol would be saying something to me while I was watching a basketball game. She could throw in a few ad lib lines like “The house is on fire!” and I’d respond with an “Aha”!

Focus, Bill! 

Jesus had a few “Come to Jesus moments!” with the rigidly religious folk of his day. He harped about their words that had no meaning and depth, no urgency or heartfelt thankfulness. The people that he encouraged and affirmed were those who risked something in their prayer and committed themselves to the words they spoke. In essence3, they stood behind their pleas and praises. 

Mark 1:40 tells us about the man with leprosy who begged Jesus to make him clean. To others he was meant to be seen only from a distance, but he risked coming close to God. Mark 5 includes several stories and encounters with Jesus. One of them is about a woman who had a feminine bleeding issue that had spanned twelve years. She simply touched the hem of Jesus garment. That, in essence, was her prayer act…her reaching for the mercy of God. 

And Jesus affirmed her!

We talk a lot about who needs prayer (Look at the prayer concerns list in the weekly church communique!), and discount the praying. It’s like getting all the ingredients together for a double-layer chocolate cake, but never actually making it!

The awareness I have of the prayer shallowness in my life has caused me to focus more of my heartfelt praying in a certain way…asking for forgiveness!

Congregational Flossing

June 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 5, 2016

                             

My son-in-law, Dr. Michael Terveen, is a dentist. He and my daughter, Lizi, moved to Colorado Springs back in November, and Mike now operates a dental practice in the midst of the city. Flossing is a big emphasis in our family. In recent years I’ve been much better about flossing than I used to be. Perhaps it’s been the fear of losing my teeth and looking like a real Goober, or the fact that the rolls of floss are available in just about every room of our house, but whatever the reason or reasons I floss…often!

As a result, my check-ups where they take the x-rays and then rub that wintergreen tasting stuff on my teeth have been much more positive experiences. It’s like the final exam of a philosophy class where you aren’t quite sure you understood the meaning behind all of those deep run-on sentences that require a nap in the middle, but then your exam comes back with a solid “B!”

Flossing is that practice that doesn’t seem to have any immediate benefit (unless those annoying remnants of the corn on the cob need to get vacated), but results in long-term dental health.

Churches need to floss more!

What?

There are certain disciplines, certain practices, that churches should be about no matter what the budget says, how many people want to do it, or how mundane it may seem…like flossing!

Here’s my thinking!

  1. Prayer Flossing– Every church has those few people who are intimately engaged in prayer. Meetings are opened with prayer, almost like an elementary classroom saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a school day begins. Every worship service includes a couple of prayers. The real flossing with prayer, however, happens in those other settings and encounters of each day. Getting a church congregation to believe in the importance of prayer is equivalent to getting a five year old to believe that cooked broccoli is good for him. He will look at you with an expression that says it is all a conspiracy theory to get little boys to eat disgusting food. Floss with prayer deliberately, several times a day, and have it reach those hidden pockets of life that often get ignored.
  2. Scriptural Education and Understanding- I admit that there are certain books in the Bible that I dread reading. Listen! When I have to munch on a few chapters of Job’s friends rambling on and on and on I want to just say “Get on with it!” No matter now many times I read the book of Revelation it’s still weird! But most churches don’t do much in the area of teaching the background, the purpose, and the history of the Bible. The thing is…we are rooted in scripture. Flossing with scripture helps in alleviating the need for a root canal later on. As followers of Jesus become less familiar with what he taught the risk of spiritual decay heightens.
  3. Community Connectedness- As my son-in-law tells me, floss those areas that you can’t even see. The church needs the discipline of “flossing” in those areas, those lives, that they don’t see on Sunday mornings. Reach those people, and those places in the community that need the loving touch of the hands and feet of Jesus. Too often a congregation, especially the leaders of a congregation, take the view “None of THOSE people come here on Sunday.” The wording is important for it voices two entrenched beliefs: THEM and US, and we will care about you when you come here. Perhaps the church needs to be more like Mother Teresa and live by the belief that everyone is loved by God, even though we have a hard time seeing them. Floss outside the walls.
  4. Have Fun!- My son-in-law gave me a sucker on the way out of his office from my last appointment. Sugar-free, mind you, and in some weird way…good for your teeth, but still a sucker to slowly lick on the way home. A moment of fun after getting drilled! Churches need to floss with fun. Follow me on this! Usually when I eat beef or chicken there is one gap between two of my back upper teeth that meat gets trapped in. I feel the discomfort. I’m not such a flossing addict that I carry it around with me to use at restaurants, so after a restaurant meal I just have to live with the discomfort until I get home. Flossing at that point is a welcome event. It takes the pressure off. I compare a church having fun with that. Since I retired from pastoring last December I have intentionally kept my distance from the congregation I pastored for the past sixteen years, but last Friday night I joined nine others for an hour of recreational volleyball in the church gym. Let me make the point that it is extremely non-competitive volleyball, more along the lines of standing in one place volleyball and once in a while hitting it. But it was fun fellowship. There was much laughter and light-hearted razzing. How often do people leave church frustrated or disengaged with what they were just a part of? Floss with fun to take away some of the discomfort of life.
  5. See the Picture!- Let me close with this! At my first appointment Dr. Terveen used some nifty dental camera to take pictures of my teeth. Then he showed me the pictures and explained to me a few things that were going on in my “community of teeth.” It was disturbingly revealing. I couldn’t see the decay that was progressing, but it was there. That’s kind of like the lives of most of the people who show up in worship on Sunday. Most of the damage in their lives can’t be seen, and most will be reluctant to reveal any of it. Floss with love, floss with care, floss as if their health depends upon it…because it does!

Running…to God

November 25, 2015

WORD FROM W.W.                                                                         November 24, 2015

                                                

A long-time friend of mine who recently lost her sister to cancer wrote a post on her Facebook page that resonated with me. She said, “Because of all your sincere prayers on my behalf my anger (that is a bit extreme) at God is gone. I was disappointed the Lord did not heal my sister on this earth. I am choosing to run to Him, not from him.”

     What is the direction of our run when we are in pain? It is easy to run from the God who didn’t answer our heartfelt prayer in the way we desired. Distance from God is a natural reaction to disappointment with God.

My own running has been punctuated by sprints away from God and slow crawls back to him. My running away in disappointment has sometimes been the result of God not going along with my desire for my enemy to suffer, or the absence of an angelic choir to sing about how my answer to a hotly debated problem is right.

Sometimes my running away comes from the unfairness of life, sometimes it happens because I don’t want to be fair with God.

My friend’s reference to running to him is using the lane with few footprints in it. David chose to run in this lane quite often, but, as we know, he also had his races of retreat.

What is the direction of our run? When the content of our prayers is dominated by the wants of our life we can expect that there will be a running from the Giver of grace. When our prayer is focused on our relationship with the Father running to him will often be our response.

If I am secure in my belief that what God wants for me is wholeness, not hurt, I will be slowly running to him.

We have a way of putting “what if’s” in our theological outcomes. Another friend of mine from years ago lost his daughter in an accident recently. I can not understand his grief, and, therefore, how he is journeying through the loss of life. Knowing the depth of his spiritual journey I’ve got a feeling it resembles someone swimming laps in a pool…the swimming away is followed closely by a swim to…and then a swim away!

My choice to run to God seems much less complicated than his.

This is Thanksgiving Week. A time to run to God and recognize that he is caring, concerned, loving, and kind. In a world with daily terrorist threats and warnings I’m choosing to be in the shadow of his wing…the cleft of the rock…rather than the isolation of my disappointment.

Learning to Vacate

March 27, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W. March 27, 2014

 

This is vacation week. I love vacation…and yet vacation is hard for me at the same time. That’s because it is hard for me to mentally vacate. After all, that is the meaning of vacation…”to vacate.”

Even when I vacate I have a tendency to only physically vacate. It is very, very difficult for me to totally check out. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about this coming Sunday’s message. We return Friday and I preach on Sunday. I’m not the type of person who can throw it together on Saturday with no forethought. The scripture and ponderings concerning it have whispered their way through this week. I don’t really mind that. It is part of the calling.

At least that is how I can justify it. My personality and work style would probably come to the same conclusion if I was a teacher, a lawyer, or a barista. If I was working at Starbucks I would probably be thinking about something related to caffeine. This summer I’ll be taking a month-long study leave. My congregation’s Leadership Team and Diaconate members have told me “to vacate the premises.” They know that I will be too easily pulled into things if I’m around. A study leave is suppose to enable you to leave in order to study. I’ll write a blog post each day, read books that I’ve been staring at on my shelves for so long they have gathered dust, pray, ponder, rest, and, of course…drink coffee.

But for it to have meaning I must vacate. It is not optional. It is just part of it. Part of the experience for me will be “learning to vacate.” How can I “not be present?” Many people are good at that. They can turn it on and off like a light switch. I’m more like a fire pit. The fire may be out, but there is some smoldering that is going on for a long long time.

One of my other “issues” is the guilt of vacating. Will people think less of me as a pastor if I scurry off? Do others think I am taking a long vacation that will be filled with sandy beaches, sun screen, and baseball games? Pastors have this need to be needed. Will my self-worth take a dive if I vacate for a while? Whose bedside can I pray at if I’m not around? Will people be able to function without the pastor on site? I’m convincing myself, although I’m not entirely on board yet, that they will do just fine without me around…that others in our church can say a kind word and utter a soft prayer for strength just like the one who has been ordained.

As you can tell, this whole area of “vacating” is a little uncomfortable for me although I’m looking forward to it. To draw a rough comparison, I had been looking forward to swimming in the ocean on vacation. After arriving at our beachside residence I turned on the TV. The sound of the ocean waves was softly waltzing into our room from outside, but on the TV was a nature film about seals and whales. It was very interesting until the scene appeared of a seal splashing around in the water juist a few feet from shore and an orca suddenly rising from the waves and snatching him in his mouth. Suddenly the excitement of swimming in the ocean was tempered a little bit!

Some things in life are like that. We approach them with excitement, and yet we fear that some teeth may be closing in on us. Once again, it is evident that I’ve got a lot to learn about vacating.

When a Follower of Jesus Doesn’t Seem To Be Following

June 3, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 3, 2013

One of the toughest things for a Christ-follower to struggle with is when someone he knows well…someone who has been a follower of Christ, comes to a time when he doesn’t seem to be following anymore.

It is quite convenient at that point for the committed follower to hold to the belief that someone can lose their salvation. It’s the easy way out. He’s in, now he’s out. He’s saved, now he’s not saved. There’s a bad odor present in that. It smells of judging someone’s spiritual condition on the basis of their actions and attitude.

Granted that the Bible talks about faith and actions, but I’ve witnessed a number of followers who can speak the Godly language, quote scripture like an attorney quotes the legal code, testify to God’s provision…and then hold to racist beliefs or a coldheartedness towards the poor.

I believe it is much more difficult, but scriptural, to hold to a faith that is immersed in grace. Grace doesn’t race to condemnation, but rather stays the course with the follower who has seemed to adopt an attitude of apathy.

So what does a Christ-follower do?

It begins with prayer. Cry out to God! Prayer is the seeking of divine intervention and interaction. Sometimes we fall victim to the idea that we have to fix someone. We strategize and come up with a three step plan. Prayer becomes an addendum to the plan.

Prayer is surrendering the person and our thoughts to the Lord. Perhaps God has someone else who will step into the gap…and it isn’t you.

A second step is having dialogue with the person to discover what it is that he believes. What does he believe about faith, how God interacts with us, and his purpose for this life? There’s a lot of weird stuff out there. Most of us have “customized faiths” that we’ve formed around us that best suit our lives. I may have strong beliefs about being stewards of the environment because I do a lot of hiking and backpacking, but doubt that God desires intimacy with me because I’m not comfortable with a faith that involves my emotions. Each one of us, whether we know it or not, has shaped our faith to embrace what we don’t struggle with.

To dialogue with someone who seems to be more interested in NASCAR than he is in having a God thing happen may reveal things that can be slowly pursued. (I want you to notice that I used NASCAR as the example because I have no interest in it. I can not say the same at certain times about Michigan State basketball, fried scallops, and Sunday afternoon naps.)

A third step is guiding conversations with the person about the faith journey. Instead of asking a lot of questions that begin with the words “Why don’t you…” start conversations, or at least the thinking about, with words like “Did you ever think about…” or “Has God seemed to be quiet lately?” or “Do you ever wonder if God is really interested in us?”

Our well-founded concern for the person sometimes causes us to chase him towards the throne of grace, or “guilt him” towards God. Guilt works well in getting out kids to eat their cooked spinach, but does very little good in having someone rediscover the intimacy of God.

Finally, we must stay the course. We see the immediate, but God sees over the next hill. Perseverance is as much a part of running our own race as it is a part of walking alongside someone who is on a different pace. Remember, there are plenty of people who abandon, but few who are willing to stay the course with the person.

Pray long. Be grace. Stay the course.

 

Amen! Yes…But!

August 13, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    August 12, 2012

 

I recently read Eugene Person’s memoirs entitled The Pastor. In the midst of it he tells a story about his daughter asking what “amen” meant. The family said it at the end of the dinner grace, so her curiosity could not contain her “amen compliance.” Her pastor father told her it was like saying “Yes” at the end of what had been said in the prayer. Naturally her next question was why they didn’t just say yes? That started a new tradition in the Peterson household, and somewhat in their church family. At the end of the prayer they began punctuating the end by saying “Amen! Yes!”

At a basketball officiating camp I attend each year the camp director begins each camp with introductions and procedures. At almost every camp he tells a room full of aspiring whistle-blowers to receive the instruction from the camp clinicians, and to take the criticisms and suggestions for what they are worth.

And then he says, “What we don’t want is ‘Yes, buts!’”

His point is that we are there to get better, not to question the evaluations and tips of the people who are there to help us. Every camp, however, there is at least one knucklehead who wants to argue.

Yes…but!”

Many of us live spiritual journeys that are littered with “Yes…buts!” They come in different forms. Sometimes they come after we have heard of a promise of God from his Word. We hear the promise, we hear the hope, the proclamation, and we say “Amen! Yes…but…”

The “but” is seldom uttered after the amen, but it thunders from our life. I see many a believer who says he believes in grace, yet lives under the law. That’s a “yes…but” story in the making!

There are also those who identify themselves as Christians, but treat parts of the Christian walk as either antiquated or no longer relevant. Perhaps they see themselves as progressive believers forging a new path. Call it what you will, the smell of the “yes…but” is close at hand. (Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term “the smell of the yes but.”)

I recognize I use the same words in my life. Guilty as charged! Many weeks I hear the Spirit speaking encouragement to me. I sense the whisper of hope as I take another step in my journey as a pastor, a shepherd. And I am prone to inject a few “Amen! Yes…buts” into my response.

We practiced this morning in the midst of the flock. We echoed “Amen! Yes!” at the end of each prayer, and scripture reading. We withstood the temptation to add the “but.” We practiced hope and proclamation in prep time for a week that will surely challenge most of us.

We’re journeying towards a place, a point where we will wholeheartedly shout “Amen! Yes…Yes…Yes!”

One Side of the Conversation

April 29, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  April 27, 2012

I don’t know! Should I get fresh broccoli or some asparagus? The asparagus looks pretty good, but the broccoli would be cheaper this week.”

As I stood in front of the cucumbers, I didn’t quite know what I should say to the attractive thirtysomething lady who was on my left staring at the broccoli. I paused…

Well…what do you think? Which would you rather have?”

These are not easy decisions for a man to make who is now at a point in his life when he has to consider the implications of any food he eats and how it will effect his digestive system.

I could get both!”

That’s what I usually do. Go to the store to get a loaf of bread and then I don’t want it to feel too lonely in my basket so I get a few other items to keep it company.

I think I’ll just go with the asparagus.”

“That would be a good choice,” I finally manage to say.

Did you say something?” she asked, turning towards me.

That’s when I noticed the Bluetooth headset that was positioned in her left ear.

Oh…I thought you were talking to me when you were trying to make a decision on the broccoli or the asparagus.”

Awkward moment!

No, I was talking to my husband.”

“I apologize. I didn’t think you were talking to me…but then I wasn’t sure…and I think I’ll head over to see what the strawberries look like.”

Awkward moment now punctuated with red face!

How strange it often is to try to understand the phone conversation of just one person when you aren’t privy to what is being said on the other end.

How strange do some of the prayers of others seem when we are knowledgeable of what has gone on in their lives, or what their hearts are crying out to God about.

That even became apparent in some of Jesus’ prayers. His disciples often didn’t understand what Jesus was talking to God about…okay, maybe they very seldom DID understand what he was praying to God about. They missed some of his heart cries, what ailed him.

Most of the time we are not in the know about what God has been stirring in a person’s spirit. Someone who is able to verbalize might be about to fill us in on the story, but “God leadings” are frequently hard to put into words. They simmer in our soul like a new pot of stew, waiting a bit to allow the favor to flow out. And when they flow the listener still heard just the one side. The voice of God may not be heard, but there is often a whisper of it in the storyteller’s sharing.

Spiritual journeys therefore are enriched when “one side of the conversation” people join together and share their stories of God. The more stories that we hear the more weavings get threaded through to the picture that God is creating.