8 Words to Rescue Your Prayer Life

hard-to-pray1I suck at praying.

Perhaps no pastor struggles so seriously to humbly and persistently place himself at throne of grace as the fool penning this post.

In the realm of prayer, I am consistently inconsistent and faithfully unfaithful.

Don’t get me wrong: If I tell you that I will pray for you, my conscience will force me to do so. I’m not fake; I’m just weak.

Recently my desire to be a better pray-er has grown more desperate. I have been casting hooks into every pond I can find, in the hope of discovering some rhythm or technique that provide me a way forward. Journaling, silence, Lectio Divina, listening prayer, the daily office, prayer guides, praying scripture – if there is a way to try it, there is a way to screw it up. Trust me. On this I am an authority. Yet I am trying.

Suffice it to say that I am currently being guided by a prayer tool Intended to help me fall into a steady march (consistency), while also providing me words to pray (content).

Last night, I was given this phrase to pray:

“Let my bones be steeped in your love.”

Oh.

My.

Lord.

If a prayer life can be built around eight words, I may have just found them. For real. Here’s why I think you should also consider making this single sentence your own.

“Let my bones be steeped in your love.”

bones insideThere’s something unusually earthy about bones. When I was 19, I discovered a skeleton on a canoe trip. It was in a remote cave, and who knew how long it had been there! That’s the thing about bones. They last. A long time. Skin and tissue and muscle break down and fade away — and what gets left behind? Bones! Or consider cancer reports. News of spots or tumours or lumps can be followed up with optimism over treatment options. But sometimes the voice adds, “It’s moved to her bones.” Replies get quieter, if spoken at all. What gets into the bones is there to stay.

Beyond their resilience to decay, bones are wondrously and simultaneously lightweight and strong, fairly key qualities for an effective skeleton. Check out the inside of a bone, and you see part of the secret — they appear sponge-like, slightly resembling the porous center of a Crunchie bar.

“Let my bones be steeped in your love.”

steepingFor the vast majority of us, “steeping” is a tea term. It speaks of a soaking that extracts flavour or mixes substances. Within the prayer above, God’s love is part of the recipe. In fact, there are only two ingredients. The other? My bones!

My Crunchie-bar bones are to take their place in the vats of God’s love. A soaking is to take place, so intense in time and temperature that my inner texture and tone change — just as a wet sponge appears so obviously unlike a dry sponge. The soaking invites fullness and overflow. Something of God’s core — His faithful and enduring love — pours over me as I pore over it. Yet this “poring” is deeper than intellectual consideration, as if a few moments of thought might deliver me into the greatest mystery of the universe — divine love. Remember, this is “steeping”. Tea doesn’t try. Hot water doesn’t clutch and grab flavour and nutrients from the leaves it holds. Those same leaves don’t push and press to facilitate the transfer. Tea doesn’t strain. Tea just steeps. It settles in and sits. If tea breathed, it would breathe deeply and slowly, as if each breath had subtle yet sufficient power to help the steeping take place.

The whole prayer begins with “let”. There is recognition of a somewhat passive posture. We cannot make this happen. One cannot steep by force. It’s gifted and given, not even like a box one unwraps from which an item removed and enjoyed. Once again, this is steeping. Two substances unwind into each other, with surrender and vulnerability. An undoing takes place toward a “new doing”. This gift is given and opened insofar as we are given and opened.

“Let my bones be steeped in your love.”

Allow the core of my being, the lasting and living frame within the person that I am, steadily soak up the empowering and enabling reality of Your love, Father. Free me from “frantic” and insulate me from “insecure” by filling the cavities of my inner chambers with revelation of Your affectionate faithfulness.

“Let my bones be steeped in your love.”

Can eight words rescue your prayer life? That’s tough to say. Would you experience a rebirth of sorts if your bones were steeped in God’s love? That seems like a given. You’ve got one mouth. Now you’ve got one sentence. Perhaps you’re perfectly set up for what needs to happen next in your prayer life.

Steep away, my friends!

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What have you tried in the way of “prayer experiments”? What helped? What didn’t?
  • Any particular prayers or phrases that help you focus?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page. Or find me on Twitter: @JasonBandura.]

Sabbath: A Second Set of Eyes

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tiger woods sean foleyEven a casual sports fan knows Tiger Woods. Far fewer folks would recognize the name of Sean Foley, despite the intricate links between the two. You see, Sean is Tiger’s swing coach. It may strike some as bizarre that a world-class golfer, who has likely forgotten more about swinging a golf club than any of us will ever know, would hire as his coach somebody whose skills are apparently insufficient to make the PGA tour himself. However, everyone who has ever benefited from a counselor, a life coach, or a perceptive friend will tell you that there is great worth in having access to a second set of eyes. Inevitably, things from “out there” look a lot different than they do from “in here”. Every one of us has blind spots, none of which can be seen with our own two eyes. We need others.

When you consider the concept of time, there’s certainly no more “out there” perspective than that of God, the One who lives beyond time, in the incomprehensible realms of infinity and eternity. While we feel the pinch of living in a temporal environment and struggling to manage the ticks on our clocks, God’s perspective may prove uniquely insightful.

In seeking such insights, some have noted that the Greeks had multiple terms to speak of time. There are two that are frequently highlighted:

1) KAIROS
This term speaks of the opportunities and possibilities that exist within a moment. Any point on the timeline holds a significance that reaches far beyond itself. There is a ripeness, from which unforeseen wonders may spring. Every second is that loaded. This term (KAIROS) is the term used in Ephesians 5:16, when we are urged to “make the most of the time.”

2) CHRONOS
English speakers will see immediate links between this root and multiple terms in our vocabulary (chronology, chronicle, chronic). This term would have been particularly vivid within the Greek mind, as it was also the name of one of their gods, a particularly nasty non-headliner on the pantheon of divinities. Artwork through the ages depicts Chronos as a glutton. But he didn’t just stuff himself at the buffet; he gorged himself on his own children! Always consuming but never satisfied, Chronos is a vividly disturbing portrayal of what can happen when concepts like time, labor, and rest are viewed apart from God. Things get out of whack in a hurry: Bodies break down, minds grow weary, hearts feel heavy, and juggled balls become dropped balls. Relationships start reeling, pleasure goes missing, and joy becomes a struggle. Life feels dead, and we begin caring less about those things about which we care most.

Not so long ago, I found myself in a season of deep weariness. A cocktail of outer circumstances and inner struggle mixed perfectly to land me in a bad place. In a moment of self-conversation, I asked myself:

burnt-out-match“Jason, are you burnt out?”

I’m not so naïve as to have imagined that this question would never arise, but I always envisioned such a thought taking place 10 or 20 years from today. Even still, the inner dialogue was calm. I wasn’t in a state of panic so much as in a search for truth. I replied to myself:

“No, I don’t think so. But I have all the right ingredients in the bowl. None of them are in concentrations that would lead to burnout. But if I stir this recipe long enough, it’s not going anywhere good.”

And that’s what happens when we faithfully (or mindlessly) bring our offerings to Chronos. When we handle time recklessly, without rhythm or rest, we find our quest for efficiency or achievement to have turned on us. No longer are we stewarding time as the God-given resource that it is; we are now being nibbled at, even devoured, by a relentless and ruthless countdown. This sensation of being eaten reveals how far we’ve strayed from the order of Creation. In Eden, God ended each day proclaiming the goodness of all that had been done; it was satisfying, it was sufficient. Yet all too often, God’s image-bearers end days sighing in frustration over lists of what didn’t happen. It is not good; it is not enough. And Chronos continues to feast.

This is not as the Father designed it. And minus a second set of eyes, minus a pure perspective from way outside the rat race that buzzes daily past Chronos’ altar, we will remain trapped in days that lack the “good” substance of those first six days.

But with attention upon the Creator, Kairos is rediscovered and the life-giving potential and opportunity within each moment is once again enabled.

Sabbath can do all that!

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you ever experienced anything that you’d call “burn out”? How did you heal or recover?
  • What types of ways have you learned to live well within time?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Six-Pack (56)

Way too long away! I have missed every one of you, AND I’ve missed posting. Time to re-establish order in our post-sickness lives. Cheers to new days and new starts!

So let’s jump in: Here is the first Six-Pack of 2014 — the best pieces that have kicked off my year. As usual, selections are generally centered on faith or ministry, though we leave sufficient license to include who-knows-what as we discover it!

If six ever feels overwhelming, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) My Advice to Married Couples After Divorcing My Wife of 16 Years (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Married, single, divorced, engaged, want-to-be-married, couldn’t-care-less — if you know another human being, read this. It might change the way you see or touch those lives.

2) How I Rediscovered Faith
Relevant Magazine‘s latest issue involves Malcolm Gladwell recounting a life-altering trip to Winnipeg as part of the research on his last book.

3) The Absolute Best iPhone Apps for Pastors
I do love being a pastor (most of the time), and I do love having an iPhone (most of the time). This list, from ProPreacher provides an interesting read for any other preacher trying to wield smartphones productively.

4) SATAN: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel?
This is a LONG read. But if you’ve ever been interested in the person of Satan as Scripture describes him, this is fascinating stuff that will have you asking new questions and re-reading familiar old passages with fresh eyes.

5) Interview with the Ultimate Warrior (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
This is a fun article, filled with childhood flashbacks for this former WWF fan. The former superstar chats about everything from career challenges to the business side of wrestling to being in a video game still today to slamming Andre the Giant.

6) Why Atheists are Angry at God
Joe Carter, of TGC, observes that some atheists approach non-faith in a strictly logical and rational way. But he notes what he considers to be far more atheists whose stance is emotionally charged. His question: What are they mad about? That might be good to know.

May your week ahead be filled with life, as you seek the One from whom it flows!

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Which link above was today’s best-of-the-best?
  • Why that one?

Direct others to the best of the bunch with a quick comment.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

FAITH RE-VISITED (4): Living and Active

faithAt church, our current series is a discussion of how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

WORDS THAT BURN

I once heard a remark from a highly-esteemed Christian leader, who had observed a trend. Every Christian whose life had deeply moved or inspired him was a lover of Scripture. The pattern was so observable that it easily highlighted for him the vital role that Scripture plays in the shaping of our faith.

Along those lines, nearly every “faith story” that I have heard involves some description of a point along the way when Scripture came alive. Something ignited. Something was birthed. And by the help of a human teacher or the direct impact of Scripture itself, God’s written Word came alive.

Perhaps the best such “a-ha moment” in Scripture is described in Luke 24. The resurrected (and apparently tough-to-recognize) Christ pulled alongside two of his disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perceiving him as an out-of-touch traveler, clueless about recent and monumental events, the two travelers begin to educate Jesus on all that he had “missed”.

Beginning in Luke 24:25, Jesus responds. In an effort to frame what they know firsthand, he begins to weave strands of clarity through their blurred canvas. Moving fluidly through long-known Old Testament texts, Jesus connects the dots. What’s more, he connects not only the dots of ancient texts, but he connects Scripture’s dots to the dots of his listeners’ “today”. So impacting was this powerful time of teaching that the two listeners noted later that they could feel it: to a realize Asian: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24:32)

LIFELESS AND STILL

In Mark 5, Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus; the desperate daddy’s little girl is dying. Jairus was the local synagogue ruler, perhaps something like an executive pastor — first-century Jewish style. Finding myself employed by a church with a house full of little girls, I find this story today far more personal than I used to.

Among the purest pleasures of fathering little girls are the affectionate cuddles and the cozy snuggles that are shared. Cheeks are brushed, hands are held – these life-touches are treasures that represent the tender warmth of life shared. Conversely, death deals in cold hardness. Everyone who has viewed an open casket ahead of a funeral service knows this thought: “Well, that is him. But it is so not him at the same time.” The body may resembles the person, but the body is not the person. The essence of the loved one, to which every memory is tied, is elsewhere. And that is why we feel loss.

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Jairus knows this. Jairus fears this. And before the story is done, Jairus feels this.  But Jesus, in a stunning display of power, whispers life back into the deceased daughter’s ear, and Jairus learns another truth that day.

Yes, it is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

So back to Scripture.

LIVING AND ACTIVE

Hebrews 4:12-13 describes the Word of God with those two adjectives: living and active. Like a supernatural sword, God’s Word is sharp and piercing, capable even of discerning our deepest thoughts and intentions. Scripture is intended to impact us in profound and personal ways. But as we said earlier:

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Most of us have experiences where Scripture seemed far less than living and active; lifeless and still would be closer to the truth. Blame it on poor teachers, dry preachers, or slack devotional habits — whatever the path, there are many ways to reach this unfortunate destination where swords are dull and souls stay hidden under layers.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

Most of us have known experiences where Scripture spoke so clearly, we wondered if someone were spying on us — even spying into us.  That’s just sword-penetration, par for the course for the force of Scripture.  Credit it to passionate pastors, sharp writers, or creative teachers as you wish, but be sure to affirm God’s part in the process. He is the One who packs power into His Word, and He is the One who rescues what humanity might render lifeless and still, to ensure that everyone seeking Him might taste the wonder found in engaging with the living and active Word of God.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • When did Scripture first come alive for you?
  • What do you suppose keeps people from encountering more of the “living and active” nature of God’s Word?
  • Do you have any suggestions for those wishing to experience more of Scripture’s power in their own lives and churches?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (3): It Makes Him Marvel

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

HOW TO IMPRESS

Have you ever wanted to impress someone?

  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier rejection. The dumped date, the traded athlete, the unhired applicant – all want to prove their worth and disprove others’ earlier estimates of them.
  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier praise. The scholarship student, the awarded artist, the promoted employee – such people can feel pressure to live up to expectations.
  • Sometimes the desire is simply driven by admiration. We desire praise from the one whose assessment matters most. We seek to place a smile on the face most dear to us.

Have you ever wanted to impress Jesus? How might one go about this?

checklistMost of us begin to generate a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. Some are likely Scriptural, some are likely additional. But our minds’ hamster wheels spin to determine what would be most likely to grab the attention of Jesus.

  • Go to church.
  • Don’t go to the wrong church.
  • Read your Bible and pray.
  • Be a hard worker.
  • Be a good share-r.
  • Don’t laze.
  • Don’t lust.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Don’t love money.
  • Honor your parents.
  • Don’t kill your siblings.
  • Love your neighbors.
  • Don’t covet their stuff, not even their donkey.
  • Tell the truth, and keep your words kind.
  • Don’t use your mouth for swearing.
  • Don’t use your mouth for gossip.
  • Don’t use your mouse for eating food off the floor, unless a 5-second rule applies.
  • Be friendly.
  • Don’t forget to floss.

And so the list goes on.

Faithful Jews believed the Torah to contain 613 rules. If there was a way to impress God’s Prophet, you can bet it was tied into exhaustive obedience.

Unless it was tied into something else.

WHAT COULD IT BE?

Matthew 8 records an unsettling encounter for many intent upon impressing Jesus.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Scripture’s only mention of Jesus being positively stunned revolves around a Roman centurion. From the get-go, we note that this cannot be a “rule thing”. No mention is made of the man’s honesty or purity or generosity. No praise is passed for avoiding alcohol or prostitutes or cursing.

The disciples would certainly have despised the centurion for he was a multi-level enemy. As a Roman, he was one of the “bad guys”, an invader and idolater. These uncircumcised heathen were the godless oppressors of Israel, and most held deep conviction that God’s greatest priority must certainly be to devastatingly dethrone this empire and eject them from the Land of Promise.

So how does one summarize the disciples’ shock when Jesus expresses unhesitating willingness to compassionately visit the centurion’s home?

Even further, how does one summarize the shock of hearing the centurion’s reply?

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

One imagines a dialogue:

CENTURION: I’m not worthy to have you in my home.

DISCIPLES: Dang right! At least you have one thing figured out.

C: No, that’s not what I mean.

D: Then say what you mean, scumbag… um… with a sword… [Gulp]

C: You don’t need to come. You can do it from here.

D: Say what?!

C: There is a pile I don’t understand, but I grasp one thing fairly well: Authority. One hundred men do whatever I tell them. “Go”, and they go. “Come”, and they come. “Do”, and they do. I am not naïve. They don’t obey me from love. It is power, and it is not even my own. In the chain of command, I embody the power of Rome. You obviously carry authority, but I confess that it is a mystery to me. Forces of sickness and spirits of evil obey your words. Your teachings impart life, and your influence obviously ripples into invisible-yet-real realms. In light of this, it strikes me as obvious that you have no need to walk to my home in order to heal my servant. You can do it from here.

D: [Strangely silent]

And Jesus marveled (Mt 8:10). He marveled at the man’s faith, at his confident trust. Nothing mushy here, this belief was matter-of-fact. And Jesus was compelled to declare for all within earshot, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this.”

One can imagine the outcry – spoken or silent – of the disciples: “Hold on! You are talking about a pagan power that governs Yahweh’s covenant people. He certainly doesn’t know the Torah; he likely cannot list the Ten Commandments. He would never be allowed in the Temple, and he may sacrifice to Zeus. And you are holding him up as a model of faith?!”

Jesus: “Yep. That about sums it up. If you want a free, on-the-spot faith clinic, this man is leading it right this moment. Note everything you have observed.”

And at that point, Jesus wasn’t the only one marveling.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why is it so easy to imagine that Jesus values meticulous obedience more than complete trust?
  • Why do you imagine that trust receives so much emphasis in this story?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (2): Killer Control

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

TRUST IS HARD.

Whether you learn this doing some silly falling-backwards-into-someone’s-arms exercise or via more intense avenues, I have yet to meet someone who eagerly gives up control. The word “control” is key, for it summarizes the hurdle over which everyone must leap in order to arrive at a position of trust before their Maker.

driving-22959_640We are told that the odds of dying in a car accident are exponentially higher than the odds of dying in a plane crash. Even still, there is an unusual comfort derived from having one’s own hands on the steering wheel. To trust an invisible pilot, whose existence is proven only by an occasional word on the intercom feels far riskier than being at the controls ourselves. But the statistics argue that my own hands are less capable than I might wish to believe.

The statistics are not alone in making this declaration.

In his most famous sermon, Jesus urged his listeners to trust God more than they trusted themselves. His rationale? We are not worthy of that level of trust. He stated this with a simple question: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life or a single cubit to his stature?” (Mt 6:27)

Even in areas of deep convictions, where we possess strong desires, a simple fact remains: We are small. Temporary, finite, limited, fallen – whatever adjective you choose, the same truth emerges. We are insufficient. On an ultimate scale, we cannot be sources or providers of what we need. Said another way, self-trust is not an option.

With that in mind, Jesus provides us an example. Of course, he could have directed our gaze to himself and his before-eternity bond to the Father. Certainly his entire existence was built upon reality-altering faith. But that might have overwhelmed us. So he chose an example from the crowds, a people-of-dust model, so mundane as to be easy to miss.

LITTLE ONES

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14)

cute-child-1920x1080-1In the “real world”, children represent all that is insignificant. Of course, we notice their innocence, envy their purity, and squish their chubby cheeks. But those things are quaint, holding no weight in the adult world. Or so we think.

Yet addressing the adult world, the Anointed One declares, “You want to know how to trust? Look down. Consider the small ones who neither conceived nor birthed themselves. They are fed and cleaned and carried by another. They survive and thrive under the watch of eyes and provision of hands not their own.  And they are fine with this. They live out this position with confident acceptance, both appropriate and beautiful.”

And you?

  • Are you at peace with your puniness?
  • Are you content to be carried?
  • Are you satisfied with being satisfied by Another?

Those are little, large questions. And they reveal whether the spirit within us is capable of grasping the kingdom which God offers. It is not that He withdraws from those who aren’t childlike in faith; rather, it is those clinging to competence or confidence or control who will subconsciously withdraw from the kingdom He offers.

Simply put, one cannot take hold of a wondrous gift if his hands are occupied with gripping the controls.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How has God challenged your desires for control and independence? How has your trust in God blossomed as you’ve granted Him access to your life?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (1): Can One Be Faithful Without Faith?

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS

A question in our last Small Group asked us who we considered a great example of faith. Who exhibited an unusual level of confidence and trust in God?  I confessed that I found that hard to answer. If it was looking for FAITHFULNESS, I had an easy list of names. Somehow FAITH changed the discussion for me. It seems riskier and more adventurous than the plodding and dutiful flavour of faithfulness.

Of course, the two concepts are linked (linguistically at the least), but I confess to experiencing more disconnect than I likely should. As said, faith appears more outrageous — it’s the believing of things unseen, the aggressively confident holding to God’s outlandish promises.  Certainly, faithfulness (in its full sense) is the act of exercising faith. However, it rolls off my tongue far more frequently as a term of steady responsibility, the long-term execution of what you know you should do.

A couple thoughts sum this up:

1) Faithfulness is likely under-valued. This “long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson’s priceless phrase) is not for the faint of heart. Fleeting affections and flighty commitments will never sustain the steadiness demanded to live by faith.

2) That said, any form of faithfulness truly worth something must be rooted in a deeply trust-filled relationship with God. Responsible task-ticking was the way of the older brother (Luke 15), yet he was revealed to be disturbingly distanced from the Father he “faithfully” stood beside.  Trust is linked to intimacy, and because of that fact: Anything less than faith-filled faithfulness comes off as mere duty, akin to a marriage that “celebrates” landmark anniversaries while being undesirably dead.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How do you observe the link between FAITH and FAITHFULNESS? Who has inspired you toward greater faith?