Prayer Calendar: Prayer Habits

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Habits seldom receive good press. In fact, in today’s culture of suspicion, to speak favorably of them might be labeled fake news. To develop and sustain habits of any kind are viewed by some as burdensome, confining and boring. Many want lives that are spontaneous, unplanned, busy and full, lived in short bursts rather than the long haul. Maybe that’s why people groan when they think of New Year’s resolutions. They take intentional work and seldom last. Resolutions don’t often turn into habits.

Prayer habits are essential to a healthy prayer life.

I had to think after writing that last sentence if I believed it, and yes, I stand by that statement. I’ve become convinced that times of prayer don’t happen easily in our North American culture. Habits help the prayer to flow.

Of course, you already have some prayer habits. Take the following quiz to identify a few of yours.

“For me, prayer happens most often . . . “

  • In times of crisis
  • When I want God to act
  • When I want to spend time with God

 

  • In church
  • In smaller groups with other believers
  • When I am alone

 

  • Whenever I need to
  • At set times of the day
  • When someone asks me to

 

  • With my head bowed
  • On my knees
  • With up-raised hands

In Luke 11, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he didn’t go into the “how” of prayer, what prayer habits to engage. Instead, he gave them a model prayer for group recitation and taught them to ask things of the Father with a spirit of audacious expectancy.

Yet there were prayer habits in his life, which the disciples would have observed. Scot McKnight in his book, Praying with the Church (Paraclete Press, 2006), reminds us that Jews in the time of Jesus intentionally prayed three times a day (morning, afternoon and evening). They would pray the Psalms, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), and the Ten Commandments. Jesus probably did the same. Luke 5:16 (and other passages) tell us, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus Christ had certain practices/habits that intentionally brought prayer into his life.

It might, then, be a good thing for us to develop practices/habits that intentionally draw us to pray rather than waiting for the “spirit (ours)” to move!

Pulse Podcast 012 — Identity

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As I’m sure you can guess, in our under-20-minute format, we barely scratched the surface of this episode’s topic: Identity. We just feel that it’s such an important issue to consider, we had to address it, even in this kind of incomplete way.

Hopefully, this can spark meaningful discussion in your circles of influence. If you want to process it with us, look for our post on Facebook and Twitter, and reply to us there.

And now for the teaser/preview version — we encourage you to play this in your church or small group to introduce the longer version:

And here is the audio-only version:

The Pulse: Flipping it on its Head

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Express. Announce. Share. Tell. Speak. Explain. Expound.

Do these sound like synonyms for communicate to you? When we talk about someone being a good communicator (or a bad communicator, for that matter), it seems like these are usually the things we’re referring to.

But what if this is not primarily how we’re supposed to evaluate, or be evaluated? These are all externally focused — they describe the way we send communication out. They’re missing a huge component of the communication equation.

How about listen?

There is a repeated emphasis in the Bible about receiving communication. Most of us likely recognise James 1:19. When I watch people angrily talk past each other, it seems that this still feels second-best.

Likewise, when we talk about strong leadership, we usually mean bravado, boldness and authority. Someone who’s willing to take charge, say it like it is, call a spade a spade, etc., etc.

In the face of that, listening sounds weaker. Practically wimpy. It can imply we don’t have our own thoughts, our own perspectives — that we’re relying on other people to set our agenda, or dictate our terms.

On one hand, that’s not always a terrible idea; Jesus was clear that to follow him, we must consistently lower our own status — to die to our selves.

On the other, it reveals that we clearly have some room to grow in the way we think about listening.

Listening doesn’t mean either accepting or rejecting other people’s ideas or perspectives. Rather, listening gives us the tools to understand the problem.

Listening is strength.

In the discipline of nonviolent communication, the ultimate goal is to identify a need. It takes wading through a whole lot of murk — blame and subterfuge and wishes and wants — before we begin to arrive an actual, actionable need. This principle can work at every level, from weighty-but-delicate international diplomacy, to intrapersonal communication — the way each of us talks to ourselves.

Needs are not self-evident.

We don’t wear them on our sleeve. We hide them because they are what make us vulnerable. Exposing a need offers people the most direct way to hurt us. Either by ignoring the need. Or worse, by intentionally attacking it.

As a result, we often we keep our needs so well protected that we aren’t even able to articulate them, even to ourselves. But it’s only when we understand all the needs at stake, even when they appear contradictory, that we can begin to design solutions. In fact, therapists are telling us that we feel stronger and less anxious when we’ve divulged our needs to each other, even if they’re ignored, than we do if we keep them bottled up afraid of how people react if they knew.

Listening is power.

Listening is the formation of relationship, of successful negotiation and of understanding. Listening can unbind the layers of self-protection, of anger, jealousy, hurt, regret and anxiety that accompany a need. Listening connects people.

Listening makes an ‘us’.

And makes that us strong.

Prayer Calendar: Strengthening Prayer

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“Strengthening prayer” is not about making your prayers stronger but becoming stronger through prayer.

First, though, allow me to challenge you to do something you might not have done for a long time, memorize some scripture.

Try it with these verses, Psalm 84: 5-7:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka they make it a place of springs. The autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.”

On this journey of life we draw our strength from God, even when going through hard, arid valleys, until at journey’s end we find ourselves in God’s presence.

So, what has this to do with prayer?

Here are some more verses to memorize, Ephesians 6: 10-11; 18-19:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. . . . And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”

Ok, you don’t have to memorize the verses to get the point, but don’t miss it. Don’t miss the connection between strength and prayer. On the journey of life and in the battles of life we need God’s strength. Prayer is a means to that end.

And don’t miss the connection to the gospel. Paul needed prayer so that he could with strength (fearlessly) make known the mystery of the gospel. That’s important for us to remember in our season of REVITALIZE: Growing as a Gospel Sharing People!

When you pray for yourself and others, ask God to give us the strength to be strong.

The Pulse: Digging Out Our Ears

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A few years ago, my wife suggested I get my hearing tested. I suspect she thought I had attended too many rock concerts in years gone by. She might be right. My hearing test demonstrated that I am “unbalanced”. For those of you who know me fairly well, you are probably thinking, “we knew that already”. The doctor said I was losing the ability to hear high tones in one ear, and low tones in the other. My hearing is unbalanced. I will eventually need hearing aids. For now, I make do; but when I am in a crowd, I often have to listen very hard. I am slowly losing the ability to listen.

Whether it is on social media, in our political discourse, or even in our theological discussions – we seem to be losing the ability to listen. It seems the primary form of discourse is talking right past each other, and ultimately missing the point altogether.

Jesus put the interests of others ahead of his. His example is opposed to this culture when it comes to the issue of listening.

So how can we listen better?

Psalm 40:6 says, “You have given me an open ear”. Eugene Peterson points out that the literal translation is “ears you have dug for me”. The psalmist here is using a visual image of our heads being like blocks of granite, which God literally has to carve or dig ears out of, for us to hear.

Have we prayed that God would dig ears for us?

If we could say with the psalmist that God has dug ears for us, what would the implications be?

Let me highlight three:

Listening to God

This should go without saying, but…

I hope we do this as we spend time in the Word and prayer, but also as we keep our ears (and eyes) open for the opportunities God brings across our paths daily to live out our faith in word and deed.

Listening to Each Other

What would happen if we listened to other Christians with empathy? Especially those we disagreed with. The primary apologetic that we have been given is our love for one another (John 13:35). Yet often, the church seems to be something other than a place of unity. Yesterday, I ran across an article by Ed Stetzer (our 2014 EFCC Conference speaker) entitled “Why Can’t We Disagree Well”. He is writing about a social issue in the USA, but his words have broader implications. He says,

“Look past…winning the disagreement and actually try to understand the other side. This doesn’t demand your agreement, but it does demand your time, understanding, and charity…How can we spend this week listening to the voices of our fellow believers who disagree with us? How can we honor them as being made in the image of God even when we come with different opinions?”

Those are good words. They dovetail with our EFCC motto, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ”. As we grow in our ability to listen to our fellow believers, I believe we demonstrate a radical “unity in diversity” to a non-Christian world that so desperately longs for and needs to see exactly that.

Listening to Our Neighbours

If we carried out mission with a listening ear, would our witness be more effective? I believe so. Much of our witness today is comprised of presentations and answers. I’m not convinced the presentations and answers connect with the heart of people who need Jesus. I am convinced, however, that listening is key: listening to the culture, the heart cries, the needs, the longings, and the hurts, of those around us. This will lead us into deeper relationships with our neighbours. I also believe it is a great second step, after praying (check out Look Up and Reach Out for more information), in connecting with those who need Jesus.