Prayer Calendar: Tower Tipping

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As I write this, I’m looking down on fluffy white clouds from an airplane window. On occasional flights, the landscape is visible and breathtaking. I especially like seeing the way a city lays, where the landmarks are, and how they relate to where I will be. It brings a lot of clarity.

When Jesus taught us to pray, He asked us to address God as the one who is “in heaven.” God has a bird’s eye view, and so much more. I think we can all agree this certainly speaks to God having the power, wisdom, clarity, and resources to listen to and answer any prayer.

If we truly acted on those beliefs, would it change the way we pray?

Here’s the thing: I’m not convinced that we truly believe God is “in heaven.” Well, maybe you do. But I have to confess there are times I don’t. If I did, I wouldn’t wait so long to pray about a situation. I certainly wouldn’t try to fix whatever the issue is before I prayed about it. Yet there are so many times when I find myself thinking “I got this.” God “in heaven” is an afterthought.

Genesis 11 opens with the Tower of Babel story. The human population at the time wanted to build a city and a tower that would reach heaven. The purpose for this was two-fold. It would keep them from being scattered, which was a direct violation of their God-given command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen.1:28; 9:1). It would also, according to the residents, “make us famous.” Another translation says, “Make a name for ourselves.”

What is remarkable about this whole story is that they subverted the typical reason for the tower. In ancient cultures, building a tower was a common thing. Its purpose was to provide a gateway for God—or the gods if you were pagan—to step out of heaven and come to earth. Here, however, notice what is up. They have no desire for God to come from heaven. They want to ascend to heaven and make a name for themselves.

In our lives, we don’t build actual Babel towers, but maybe we live in such a way that we are doing the same thing. When we rely on ourselves and our sufficiency in an effort to build our reputation more than we build God’s reputation, did we just build a tower? Did we try to make a name for ourselves or reach heaven, instead of inviting the God of heaven to come into our lives?

Praying “Our Father in Heaven” prayers is a practice that enables us to tip over idol towers. It puts both God and ourselves back in the respective right places. It opens up a world of surprising possibilities that we could never have when we place ourselves “in heaven.” It also allows us to appreciate the things and people in our lives as good gifts from God as opposed to turning them into tools we use for our purposes.

As we pray together this month, may this reminder of who we pray to encourage you to keep looking to our great God “in heaven” and find your hope and sufficiency in Him.

Prayer Calendar: Our Father

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Jesus gave his disciples a prayer. We call it “the Lord’s Prayer”. Since Jesus said, “pray like this…”, I suspect it is actually a model for us. Over the next number of months, I want to centre our thoughts on this model. I believe we can glean some good reminders from it.

The prayer begins with two simple words, “our Father”. Just two words! Yet what a depth of riches. We could spend a lot of time unpacking those two words. More than we have space for here.

Maybe the most applicable reminder that grows out of “our Father” is simply this; prayer is about relationship and family

When Jesus used the address, “Our Father”, he actually flipped the prevailing perception of God on its head. No Jew at the time was addressing God in such down to earth ways as “Abba” (word in original language). The overwhelming tendency was to address God with titles that would display his greatness, sovereignty, or glory. This title was a stark contrast that brought God close and familiar. I have often joked that we need a Grover-like understanding of God. You remember Grover from Sesame Street? He is the Muppet that made “far” and “near” famous.

He was trying to draw a contrast between the two words, but always used them together. I think we need to put them together as well, but not as a contrast. When we pray, we like the far aspect of God – he is big, bold, great, sovereign, over-all. We appeal to that because we desire God to act in ways that we cannot. However, we must hold on to the nearness of God. He knows us, cares for us, longs for the best for us, desires to be deeply involved in our lives, and even celebrates over us like a proud dad. We need this “near” picture of God.

I suspect Jesus gives us this picture because we naturally default away from it. We are fiercely independent. We are human after all. We really don’t want God messing about in the stuff of our every-day lives. We often turn to God only when things are too problematic for us to fix. And then…we want the big bold God who can soar in like Superman, not the close intimate one that shows up to care for us like dad. Yet, Jesus reminds us we get both.

There is one more aspect that I want to add in here. Its not, “my father”, although that would be true; but “our father”. We have the same father. We are family. In the family, we care for one another. Well, we ought to. Sadly, Christians all too often are outraged like the rest of our world, instead of being graciously Christ-like. Open Facebook or Twitter and you will see Christians screaming about the smallest things. Recently one pastor in the States got in trouble from some of his fellow pastors because his large church cancelled services one Sunday of the year, and he tweeted that the congregation should spend time worshipping at home with their families. The horrible assumptions and personal accusations that were thrown his way for this choice were ridiculous.

May it not be so among us EFCCers, please!  We are able to lift up brothers and sisters to “our father” and let him care for them in ways we never could. Let us make the most of the opportunity.

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.

Click here to download the latest Prayer Calendar!

Pulse Podcast 022: Priesthood of All Believers

Welcome to episode 22. We have been talking around these kinds of ideas for a while, the concept of congregationalism, of listening more carefully to each other and outsiders. But in this, we give this concept its biblical name: the Priesthood of All Believers.

Here is the preview version:

And here is the audio version:

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?