What about Bob? But what about the Lord’s prayer too?

Yesterday we had our community group lunch followed by our “prayer and study time.” Nothing too abnormal about that. But this time we spent some time going through the Lord’s Prayer. In my sermon, “Living on a Prayer,” I pointed out that the early church was committed to “the prayers,” which indicates some sort of recorded prayers that were already in use. One such prayer is the Lord’s prayer, which apparently spread fairly quickly since archaeologists discovered inscriptions as far back as Pompeii (79 AD). So Jesus seemed to like it, the early church used it, I learned how to use it as a prayer guide in seminary with Steve Childers, Harbor’s core group used it as a pattern prayer when we started Harbor. It was time to bring it back.

You can pray in all kinds of ways. The Praying Life by Paul Miller was helpful in me really understanding that. But life, along with reading the bible and seeing prayers of praise, lament, confession, thanksgiving kind of makes me want to pray in all kinds of ways. My normal default mode is what I call “What About Bob” prayers. I’ve taken that from the Bill Murray’s movie What about Bob? where the ever frightful and paranoid Bob begs his psychiatrist who is on vacation to see him: “Gimme, gimme, gimme…I need, I need, I need….” Again, nothing wrong with “What about Bob” prayers. Jesus thinks they are beautiful. Think of the persistent widow parable (Luke 18). But if that’s the only way I pray, then I’m only reacting. And Rich Mullins reminds us that it is good to sing (or pray) one more halleluia, “that you never know much good its gonna do ya.”

Plus I get bored. Easily. I guess I need to stop getting mad at my kids when they complain of being bored, eh? I like to have some variety. Well, praying the Lord’s prayer, as a guide, gives me that variety in my prayer life. And when I don’t want to use it, because I want more variety, I don’t have to. I can use a prayer schedule. Or write down requests from others. Or “What About Bob prayers”-which are important for all of us (I’ve been praying those more since we started this church plant).

So here’s what we did as a community group. We just went through the Lord’s prayer and filled in the blanks. When everyone was finished, we shared. We only had 6 of us, but it took the better part of 45 minutes. And it was worth every minute, particularly because my 6 year old joined us! So cool to hear how he wants to see his neighbors come to faith and to Harbor. I learned so much by listening to the others and how they filled in their blanks. Very edifying. Here’s my “fill in the blanks” Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name…..

Lord we praise you for your justice and wrath

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven

We pray for your will be done in Pine Lakes subdivision, that community would continue to develop, that we would see more neighbhors kids coming over to play, and more eventually come to Christ and to Harbor

Give us this day our daily bread

Grant me energy, patience, and peace. Allow our community group to grow, and our church as well, deeper and wider.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

Forgive me for my jealousy and for jumping to conclusions. I’m jealous of other pastors, and I assume that I know what’s going on in other people without asking them. Help me to forgive those who have not lived up to their word.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Help me to pray for other pastors who may “look” more successful. Protect me and my kids from harm, and thwart the hand of the enemy wherever he may seek to deceive us to believe his lies

For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus, you win. I’m on your team. Let me remember that! Its your world, your kingdom, your church, your family.

Each week you’ll be able to fill in the blanks differently. But sometimes you’ll see a pattern develop. And perhaps the Lord will use that pattern to direct you to meet the need or bring His heavenly will down to Earth in a way you wouldn’t have thought had you not regularly prayed in this way.

Advertisements

What I learned from from praying for the persecuted church

I had the privilege of praying for the persecuted church the other day at a local Baptist church. I look forward to the next time the local churches gather and pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith who face much greater hardships than we often care to admit. Here are some things I learned from my experience.

1.) Planning precedes preference. I planned for several weeks to go to this prayer meeting, and I told another church member I would join her in this prayer. This happened to be the same week I baptized my daughter and had family over to our house until 5:30 pm. It started at 6 pm. I was exhausted. The weeks leading up to the gathering, I had been “all about it,” but when the time came, I had very little left in the tank. It was only because I had planned and told another I would be there, that my exhaustion didn’t get the best of me. And of course, when I got to the church, the energy level immediately rose.

2.) Don’t judge a Jew by his yamaka. I got there and I saw a number of yamakas. I assumed they were old school Jewish folks, which sometimes can be a safe assumption. And in the mind of some church folks, they really are no different than Christians, except they get a pass on the whole needing Jesus thing. But at the end of the prayer time, much to my surprise, I found out they were Messianic Jews. Very cool. Jews who believe Jesus was/is actually the Messiah.

3.) Gathering to pray for the persecuted church doesn’t mean you will pray for the persecuted church. As soon as we broke into 4-5 person groups, we began with some personal and corporate repentance. But then we were supposed to pray for each nation or group of nations mentioned from the front. Each nation had a little blurb on what is happening there and what needs they have. But what I continued to hear from several folks was a prayer for “our nation.” Each time the prayers cycled around, it quickly turned into how bad America was and how we needed to return or repent or whatever. It’s amazing how quickly we can gather to pray for those whose Persecution is physical and violent, and then pray for the persecution we face in our nation. Some people here are persecuted more than others, and I get that. But, I went home and relaxed with my family. Many people whom we were praying for had no home anymore, or perhaps no family. That’s different. They were why we gathered. It is hard to pray for others. It really is, and that’s why having some sort of a prayer plan, schedule, or praying through the Lord’s Prayer can be so helpful.

4.) Persecution means we’re in the end times. At least, according to one prayer I heard (but didn’t say the “Prayer Hmmmm”), “we know” we are in the end times now. Well I would agree to some extent. We are in the “latter days,” but we’ve been in them since Jesus rose. And there has been persecution since Jesus rose (since it was there even before he died-John the Baptist lost his head), and unfortunately could be until Jesus comes back. But that doesn’t mean he’s coming back tomorrow. Or the next day or year or many years after that. Revelation was written to strengthen people going through persecution, not for people who aren’t persecuted to predict when that special day will come.

5.) It’s good to pray with those different than you. People were definitely different, and definitely had different theologies, which they clearly expressed in prayer. And as I thought to critique a woman who talked about getting to reign a 1000 years, I just realized (as I was writing this) that my theology of the church, Revelation, covenant, God’s Sovereignty, grace certainly came through in my prayers as well.  So we can let each other pray consistently with his/her theology and know we are praying to the One, the only One, who can and will clarify our theologies in time. When faith becomes sight. Until then, its good to pray with other believers of a different persuasion and not to hold arrogantly to our positions. Nor to act like those differences don’t exist as though we could simply pray without theological biases. That’s impossible, for we can’t help but pray our theology. Yet, on the bright side, such awareness gives us a real opportunity to love each other.

Meeting church plant needs behind the scenes

One of the things I already knew, but has been confirmed to me over my short church planting life so far, is that you need a ton of people to plant a church. You really do. You need to have a number of folks praying for you. That much is clear and we looked at Jesus reminder to pray to the “Lord of the Harvest” for Him to send out workers during our first core group meeting (Matt 9:36-39). If you want to follow our updates and pray for us, click here. We also need to have a number of folks financially supporting our work; currently we have 30 individuals and 2 churches. If interested in giving, go here. Most obviously, we need to have people actually get involved in the core group meetings who will invite new faces. I already realized all of that stuff before.

But I was definitely ignorant of many of the roles I needed people to play. Here are a few:

Folks outside our core group connecting us to others: A dear friend of ours, who for the time being lives in Bradenton but will clearly never personally be involved in our church plant, has helped us connect with several young families. Who knows what will become of those relationships, but that is how this church is going to grow. I can’t meet enough people on my own through my neighborhood, fishing, gym, Tee-ball, Starbucks, etc. I try and I have met some folks from the aforementioned places, but I’ve realized how much help I really needed. And received.

Folks outside our area connecting us to others: I’ve had several pastors point me to contacts who live in the area. Neither of them live here, but they have sent me emails and phone numbers of people to call. Both of them are directing traffic from afar, and behind the scenes. Yet both have been playing a part that I just hadn’t really thought much about. I needed, still need, and have received such help.

Neighbors: I had a neighbor knock on my door on Sunday morning and let me know I could have people park cars in the neighboring driveway because no one would be home for several months (snowbirds). In addition, he told me he would ask about any possible meeting space in one of the rooms at his Catholic church. And after our core group meeting, one of my neighbors took a look at my on-again-off-again air conditioner. And is still doing so.

So in addition to giving, praying, meeting, there are many ways of participating in a church plant. While ignorant of such need right off the bat, I am no longer so! And I feel there are many needs, and people to meet them, whom I’ve yet to discover.

Prayer: Are you talking to me?

A week ago, while worshiping at Cornerstone, I heard a succinct sermon on prayer from the Sermon on the Mount. It was quite a helpful little sermon that pointed out a few practical oft overlooked mechanics of prayer.

Length

Prayers in public don’t have to long. This is hard for Reformed folks. I think it might be hard for Charismatic folks as well. I think. Have you ever had a moment when you felt really “unspiritual?” Or I guess a better term might be simply “spiritually immature.” I’ve had a ton of them, so it wouldn’t be a great idea to rank them: not a great use of my time. But one in which would probably slide into my top 10 occurred after Sinclair Ferguson opened up his systematic theology class at 8 am with a 10 minute prayer. One guy came up to me and said, “Wow, how about that prayer. So…?” I filled in the blank with the obvious, “So long!” He replied, “No, so rich!”

I felt pretty low then. And perhaps I should have followed along better. But is longer necessarily better? The pastor indicated he thinks Jesus didn’t think so. When people have a lot to pray about, it’s hard to pack a ton in a public prayer. But remember longer isn’t better. Something to consider when praying with your kids or at your church. 

Which brings me to the next point he brought out.

“You talking to me?”

To whom are you talking in prayer? Or better yet, who do you want to hear you? Sometimes prayers can really be more like talking to people, as though they are your primary audience.

One of the ways you can know if you consider prayer as though you’re talking more to people, rather than to God, is how scared you are to pray in public. By public, I don’t mean 20 or more people. I’m talking groups of 3-4 folks. If prayer is talking to God, then it doesn’t matter how silly you sound to others. After all, prayer from God’s saints (all Christians) is like a redolent fragrance. Like corporate singing, it is not the sound of the words, but from whence the words come: the contrite, yet joyful heart.

Many of us at various times have forgotten who our primary audience really is. I did too when in seminary, as I rarely volunteered to pray in front of a large number of future pastors. We’ve all forgotten this timely truth from time to time.

But when we are praying in a group, is it really only talking to God, as though it doesn’t matter if people around you are listening? I mean, if it is only talking to God, others might as well just cover their ears or play on their phones.

Here’s an illustration I’ve been thinking about lately. Have you ever waited in line for some event, or to check out of a department or grocery store, and had someone talk to you just a little bit louder than needed? Or maybe you’ve heard someone talking to his spouse or son or friend, and they are clearly intending for you to “overhear” the conversation. The person has a primary audience, but he also has a secondary audience. It is clear, due to his volume, word choice, that he wants to bring you into the conversation.  

Now often this can be quite annoying because you don’t want to be brought in or you don’t want others to be brought in. Or it can be annoying because the person might be talking to you, but their primary audience is actually another person or group “over-hearing.” You can tell this because you’ve already heard what he has said before. The secondary audience has become the primary.

But if the speaker truly is engaged with his primary audience (spouse, son, friend), he can honestly “over-speak” to others he doesn’t know, drawing them into the conversation.

I think this is what can happen in group prayer settings. God is our primary audience and so how eloquently we speak is inconsequential. But how we speak still matters. We speak loudly, intentionally, and with words our secondary audience can understand. They “over-hear” our conversation with God, and thus are intentionally brought into that conversation. 

Considering our audiences frees us from the fear of sounding silly, and in addition, it frees us to love and lead people well.

Liam Neeson’s "Rebel-Yell" vs. Robet Duvall’s "Servant-Yell"

Yesterday I blogged about the move The Grey and mentioned a saddening, but powerful, as well as biblically accurate scene depicting Liam Neeson shouting expletives at God demanding him to reveal Himself and do something at that moment.

Several sermons ago in my “I See Tree People” on Mark 8, I gave an example from one of my favorite movies The Apostle. Robert Duvall is also shouting to and at God. Contrary to the shouting scene in The Grey, I used it positively. In fact it is actually quite a refreshing scene.

I’m going to compare these two scenes/activities because I think there is a right and wrong way to yell at and pray to God. 

1.) Before you yell at God for whatever reason, it is always good to believe that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him.  I just ripped that off from whoever wrote Hebrews 11:6  

 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Robert Duvall’s shouting match already assumed God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. His problem is that he just couldn’t see why God let his wife run off with the previously declared “puny” minister of youth and then kick him out of the church they both started. He believes but doesn’t see. He believes but is also having trouble believing. Whenever there is doubt mixed in with faith, we need to bring that doubt to Jesus. I personally think that mixed faith can be offered to our Heavenly Father in the form of yelling and shouting. 

But there is a difference between this prayer-yell and Liam Neeson’s yelling at God. Liam’s character doesn’t come from a posture of struggling belief. Instead it arises from a skeptics stance demanding God to prove Himself. Quite a different thing altogether.

Does God ever hear the prayer of skeptics? Well yes, because many people pray for faith to believe and are granted that faith to believe. But if you are not convinced, even with mixed-up faith, that God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him, I don’t see how you have any ground from which to stand up and yell. Better to be on the knees asking God to grant faith, even if you’re not sure you even believe He exists, then to stand and yell in judgment.

This isn’t from Mt Sinai but from the Valley of Geoff’s Personal Conviction.

If you believe, or even believe/doubt, God can take your tears, questions, and even shouts. Probably not a good idea to throw in cuss words, but I think he can even take those words and do something with them. If he can turn wailing into rejoicing he can turn cursing into blessing.

2.) Just because we raise our volume don’t assume that means God will respond quickly. Might work with our kids, but doesn’t “work” with God. Neither prayer scene concludes with an “answer” or even a conclusion from the Lord, but what each does with the non-response speaks volumes.
In The Grey, Liam Neeson’s character gives God about 25 seconds to act. In The Apostle, Robert Duvall is up all night praying/yelling at God. Loudly and “longly.” When we yell or pour out our hearts to God, we may not see an immediate response. That’s OK. That was David’s experience. And because our Heavenly Father denied Jesus’ cries of being forsaken on the cross, we don’t need to fear silence forever. But silence doesn’t mean He isn’t there or doesn’t care, as interpreted incorrectly in The Grey.

3.) Yelling at God needs to be grounded on His promises. If you don’t make a cheer-leading squad or get the raise you want, you could yell and pour out your heart. If you are a child of God, you can yell at God like any stupid kid. But we see a bit more sofisticated and sanctified yelling from Duvall. He yells in accordance with God’s promises. Jesus promised peace to his troubled disciples in John 14 and then reminds them of this when he revisits them after his resurrection. At times peace can be as elusive as former WVU receiver Tavon Austin in the open-field. Our peace comes and goes. And when it goes we can bring to our Heavenly Father’s attention: “You promised Father…..” Duvall is yelling for something God has already promised where as Neeson is demanding God do something He’s not promised to do. It’s better to yell, “God give me peace because I don’t have it now and you promised!” then to yell, “God give me a better job because I know that is a true need of mine and you promised to meet all needs!” If you’re yelling at God, I think we should probably yell over things He has specifically promised to give us-but for some reason has for a season withheld the current existential blessing of such promises. And by the way, one thing I’ve learned is that God has nowhere in His Word promised perfect peace in this life this side of heaven. 

Billy Idol sings about a “rebel-yell” and Liam Neeson shows what one looks like. But Robert Duvall, gives us a great picture of a “servant-yell.” I hope this has encouraged you in your own prayer-yelling.

Gifted folks and doubters come to the same place

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching on probably my favorite passage in the bible. If you want to listen to “Take these broken wings” (named after the Mister Mister song, not the Beattles song), here is the link. Mark 9:14-29 depicts a man deeply struggling to believe Jesus can and will heal his child. The kicker is that the man already gave the disciples a shot and it didn’t work. So cue the unbelief, plus the unbelief that may have already been present. The hope of the passage is that Jesus isn’t offended. He doesn’t run, shun, or gun him down. Instead he says to the father, “Bring the child to me.” And when the situation only gets worse with the demon making the kid squirm like a fish out of water, the doubt hits an all time high. Yet Jesus stays around, he doesn’t run, gun, or shun. The man prays to Jesus, “I believe, help m unbelief!” And immediately Jesus answers. How cool. I’ll never get tired of this passage. Ever. Because I feel like I always need it. 

One thing I couldn’t get into with the sermon based upon time was the curious answer as to why the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon. It’s the simplicity of the answer that is so confusing: “this kind can be driven out only by prayer.” So the big dog demons take prayer, while the other ones simply require the invocation of Jesus name? Did the disciples not pray? 

We’re not privy to all the information, and I read two different commentaries which in essence provided two different explanations. Here’s my take and its application today.

The disciples regularly cast out demons. Regularly. They were gifted at tossing out demons. They could have put that on a resume (I’m sure it would have been helpful for some job back then…..). But I think Jesus is telling them that giftedness is no substitute for completely dependent prayer. For complete dependence. Now He is not trying to get them to deny their giftedness-provided that they realize where the gifts come from-for that is false humility. Instead he is reminding them that giftedness alone will only get you so far. Your ultimate strength will never be found in your own gifts or abilities but in complete dependence upon the power of the Spirit. Zecheriah reminded Zerubbabel, “Not by might or power but my Spirit. (Zech 4:6) I think Jesus is doing the same thing here when he privately teaches the disciples. 

What I’ve come to really appreciate about this passage is the juxtaposition of unbelief and perhaps over-confidence. We take both our unbelief and our skills/gifts to Jesus in dependent prayer. Can you do something with our gifts? Jesus says yes. Can you do something with our lack of faith, doubt, and even lack of gifts? Jesus says yes.

Gifting gets you somewhere but there is always a cap. Even faith gets you only so far, as there is a cap on that too. Whether you feel like you have lots of faith or numbers of gifts, remember the source of both is Jesus. Don’t forget to come to him in dependent prayer. And even when you think its too late, remember, it is not. 

Your words about and prayers for politicians matter

I had some professors at Furman University I liked. I had some that I did not like. I had one, while on foreign study in Italy, that I actually hated. He made fun of Christians. If we asked a question that had anything to do with Christianity and the Romans (our class was cultural diversity in ancient Italy-a pressing issue of our day…), we were ridiculed. Of course there were other reasons we hated him, that were more academic, literally. He was harder and more strict than the other professor on the trip. So what did we do with that hatred, which we presumed to be justified; after all, he hated Christians and made fun of us? He told us that the reasons the Romans persecuted Christians was because Christians were intolerant. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

So we got together in a small group and blasted him verbally. It was a small group of Christians dominated not the gospel of grace, but by a common hatred for a fellow lawbreaker. Not too long after we got together and vented against this tyrant, the Holy Spirit began to convict us individually. We eventually stopped and pursued more sanctified means of protest and complaint within the proper channels when we arrived stateside: the dean of the school. 

Today I read this passage in Titus 3:1-2

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

I wonder if our little “bash sessions” on foreign study were all that unique. I think the general gist of them probably continues with most long after we graduate college. On to bosses. And eventually on to presidents. As Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan reminded us, “gripes go up.”

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to get together to bash people who promote or perpetuate what we deem is evil? And sometimes we are right. Sometimes what we bash really is evil, so we feel the right to bash, trash, gossip, slander, make fun of the person behind the evil policy. I don’t think we have the right to run our own “smear campaign” behind the scenes.

But how often does this command to “show courtesy to all people” and “to speak evil of no one” really enter into our politically charged impromptu “bash sessions?” This would probably be easier if we actually took seriously Paul’s instruction to Timothy in the 2nd chapter of his first letter to him.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I stink at this prayer. I sadly confess I rarely ever pray for the president. And its not because who I want isn’t in the white house. I’ve just not figured it was very important. But as I’ve gotten a bit older, who is in the white house has become quite important to me. I will not be happy if Obama is elected, and this is one of the first elections where I genuinely care. Because I care, and most people do, these two passages become highly important.

One reminds me that my words about our president are important. My prayers for him are just as important. Thanks to my nifty Prayer Notebook App, I now have a category and will be regularly praying for our president, whoever that may be. I trust that my prayers for our presidents and leaders will then lead me to speak less evil of them personally. Pray despite evil in order to speak less evil.