Prayer Calendar: A Christmas Desire

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The word “Christmas” used to make me shudder. Years ago, I worked as a toy department manager. Christmas shoppers were probably the crankiest people I’d ever seen, but I couldn’t blame them. They were often searching for something elusive and had been to 16 stores already. They were tired, frustrated and about to spend far more money than they desired. I get it! I’d be cranky too!

Over the years, the great gift of Jesus has become the primary thought for me at Christmas. It is amazing how quickly the joy of the season returns when this is the focus. This Christmas season, let’s pray for the hope and joy of Jesus to touch our lives and the lives of those around us.

The frantic search by shoppers could be a metaphor for explaining a misplaced spiritual hunger. Someone once said:

“The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God”.

The sentiment is that we all long for God but tend to settle for cheap substitutes. C.S. Lewis put it this way in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Is that what we do? Like a Christmas shopper frantically searching for the perfect gift but not finding it right away, we settle. We grumpily find a cheap alternative to the full abundant life that we could have in Christ. Our desires are not strong enough, so we don’t go deep enough into relationship for the fullness of Jesus life to be truly ours. If we are honest, I suspect we can all identify.

What about our friends and neighbours? They are also on a journey of desire. They have a deep-rooted longing that could lead them to Jesus. Yet they might not even be shopping in the right store. Many of them have run from store to store, browsing and buying but not being satisfied, and they are on the verge of giving up hope.

We know hope! We know joy! His name is Jesus and He came to be with us!
His desire is to be with all of us so that all can know hope and joy.

May our prayers grow from this.

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Prayer Calendar: When the Formula Doesn’t Add Up

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We like formulas. They make life understandable. “A + B + C = D” helps simplify our world. It is orderly and predictable. It is sad however, when we turn prayer into a formulaic exercise. We all do it from time to time, often with good intentions. We have a problem (A) and we add prayer (B) and we appeal for the power of God (C), and then we expect a specific result (D).

We all want prayer to be far more than that. We know prayer is about relationship and conversation. However, I find myself at times defaulting to the formula. You may as well.

As we grow in our prayer lives, is there a way to leave the formulas behind?

Recently I heard someone quote “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. They quoted it as a formula that applied to Canada, today. I will be the first to say we need humble prayers of confession. However, I believe it is a mistake to feel God is obligated to heal Canada if we pray those prayers.

He may, and that would be great, but He may not. This passage is a promise to the Hebrew people, not a current day formula to follow. Yet we sub in the pieces: our country’s current state (A) + humble confession (B) + God’s power (C) = healed Canada (D). This is not an isolated example.

How can we move past these kinds of formulaic prayer?

Let us limit our thoughts to just two basic reminders:

First, we should recognize that not all formulas are bad. This sounds contradictory. However, let me give you two examples: The Lord’s Prayer and the ACTS acrostic (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Both could be considered formulas and if there is no intention in them can turn into ruts; yet they can move us well beyond the A+B+C=D formula.

When we take time to consider what Jesus modelled for us and pray in a similar way, or when we broaden prayer beyond a mere “shopping list” to include declarations of God’s greatness and our thanks, as well as acts of confession, it can expand our prayer life. The key might be our intentionality to broaden prayer.

Second, we could spend more time in conversational prayer. Prayer at its core is a conversation. I know that I really take this for granted at times. I have the opportunity, at any time, on any day, to chat with God almighty. Instead, I often don’t converse because I focus on “my list”. Conversation is a two-way street. Prayer is no different. We share and we listen.

I suspect for us, listening is far harder, yet it could be very beneficial. An interviewer asked Mother Teresa what she said to God in prayer. She responded, “I mostly listen.” That led the interviewer to ask, “When you listen, what does God say?” She answered, “He mostly listens too”.

Could listening move us past the formula?

Do I feel so at home in God’s presence that I am comfortable when both God and I are listening?

How about you?

Prayer Calendar: Getting Past Salt and Pepper Prayers

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The other day I was talking with my friend Ron Swanson regarding the way most of us North American Christians pray. He used a phrase that I just can’t get out of my head. He said we often treat prayer like salt and pepper – an add-on, a little seasoning on top of the meal we have made.

Is this really the way we pray?

Sadly, if we are honest, we probably have to admit – yes prayer often feels like salt and pepper. We get busy doing our own stuff, and then perfunctorily sprinkle a little salt and pepper prayer into the mix.

Could we find a way to get past salt and pepper prayers?

I’ll be the first to admit, this is often where I land.

I want to pray. I know I need to pray. I know there is power in prayer. I know prayer moves the heart of God. I know that God desires a deep connection with us through prayer. I know prayer is one of the few practices that Jesus specifically taught his disciples how to do. I know lots about prayer. However, there is a huge difference between knowing lots about prayer and praying. There is even a wide chasm between desiring to have a better prayer life and actually praying. Sadly, I often fail to act on the knowledge and desire that I have. I often fail to pray deeply and passionately. I simply, sprinkle a little salt and pepper on what I am already doing.

If you are like me, you don’t really want to hear one more person give you another guilt trip about prayer. So, I will try and avoid that here. You don’t need to read another book on prayer. We’ve all read several of those, and have been temporarily encouraged; but then have found ourselves struggling along again.

Instead, I’m wondering: Do we need to re-imagine prayer?

Mark Buchanan in his book, Your God is Too Safe, writes a chapter on the loss of imagination. He uses kissing as an example – if you describe a kiss in it’s sheer physical form it almost sounds repugnant. It takes imagination to turn it into something incredible. He talks how we can rip the heart out of a communion service but explaining every last detail. He reminds us that one of the missing ingredients in our faith is imagination.

Is this what we have done to prayer? Taken the heart right out of it because we don’t have the imagination to see it in deeper, bolder, and more mysterious ways? I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to go on a journey of re-imagination.

So, let’s imagine prayer as:

  • listening
  • breathing
  • food
  • life-blood
  • war
  • visiting the King
  • surgery
  • hanging out with our best friend
  • 911
  • I have several more, but you add your metaphor here

At some point, these metaphors all break down. However, could they also breathe fresh life into the old bones of our prayer lives? It’s worth a try!

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Prayer Calendar: Surprised by Prayer

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I have always been part of a church. Literally. I will sometimes tongue-in-cheek suggest that my mother probably left the delivery room of the hospital and went straight to a prayer meeting at  church with me in tow. I have never known life apart from church. That means that prayer has always been part of me. Not that I’ve practised prayer perfectly but have known of it comprehensively, or so I thought.

This will be my last prayer encouragement to you as the Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. At the stroke of midnight on July 31, I will “retire” from this role and ride off into the proverbial sunset. As the EFCC champion for prayer, I’ve done a lot of teaching and modelling of what a praying life might look like, but along the way I’ve also been a learner.

Here are three lessons that I have learned in my tenure as prayer catalyst, things that I thought I “knew” that have now become experientially part of my prayer reality.

  1. Listening to God in prayer is as important as talking to God. No, I don’t hear audible voices but I do sense nudges and whispers that direct me in God’s way for me. I have proactively adopted the spirit of the boy Samuel when he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
  2. God wants us to ask him to act on our behalf. For me personally, I came to the realization that I simply don’t have because I haven’t asked. God loves to give to his children. I’m still learning but I’m trying to ask more. I’m trying to ask with the “shameless audacity” of the woman of the parable in Luke 11:5-13.
  3. My prayers do influence the actions of God. That means prayer is powerful. I still don’t know how that interfaces with the sovereignty of God but I believe the truth of it. Paul seals the deal for me in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. Paul believes that he escaped death “as you help us by your prayers.” He goes on to say, “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

As I close I give you the verse that I adopted in the beginning as the theme verse of my prayer ministry.

“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.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Prayer Calendar: Just Pray

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I’m a teacher at heart. That part of me always wants to express itself. When it comes to prayer, I’m most comfortable writing about things like why you should pray, how to pray, when you should pray and of course, what to pray.

And on it goes from there.

I’ve wrestled with three possibilities for this month’s prayer devotional:

  • Unheard Prayer – Psalm 66:18
  • Praise, Prayer and Pain – Psalm 66:13-17; Acts 16:25
  • Answered Prayer – 2 Corinthians 1:10-11

Yet, I don’t sense the personal freedom to pursue any of these with you here. I encourage you on your own to read and pray these verses to see what the Spirit of God might teach you.

Instead of teaching you about prayer, I feel compelled to urge you to just pray!

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)

“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.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)