Category Archives: Prayer

Radiance

I’ve been working solo on Beth Moore’s video study, David:  A Heart Like His.  The lesson I watched last night examined the characteristics of praise.

My first lesson on praise came when I was in the sixth grade.  Of course, I didn’t realize it was a praise lesson then, but I learned from it all the same.  That was my first year of middle school, and it didn’t go well.  I was quickly singled out as the “weird” student, and it went downhill from there.  Now that I am an educator, I can look back and see classic signs of distress:  my grades plummeted, my appearance became slovenly at times, I had no friends, and I frequently begged to stay home from school.  I have a very laid back and toned-down personality, so depression is not easy to spot, if that’s what it was.  I’m not even sure I could diagnose it now.  I do know that there were mornings when I didn’t want to get out bed.  My homework was often left undone because I didn’t want think about school when I was at home.  Don’t think I failed at everything, but my good memories of that year are few and far between.

The way that I found to cope was through the cassette player in our family car.  It was 1986, and we had Sandi Patty’s Let There Be Praise.  I can distinctly remember mornings when I couldn’t bear the idea of going to school, but I could bear the thought of getting up and going to the car.  So, I would make a deliberate decision to get dressed and walk out to the car, so that I could listen to Sandi Patty.  We had a half hour drive to my high school, so I had thirty minutes to listen to songs like “Let There Be Praise” and “Shepherd of My Heart.”  I’m sure my Dad was sick of that tape, but he never complained.

Reading over what I’ve written, I’m a little skeptical.  Surely, it wasn’t as bad as what I’ve remembered.  I do remember some good things from that year, but there truly were mornings that were every bit as difficult as what I’ve described.  And I learned something from them.  The only way to face hard things is with singing.  It’s why so many martyrs, whose suffering is beyond comparison with ours, went to their deaths singing hymns.  Was it joyous singing?  I don’t know, but it was triumphant.  It was victorious for the simple reason that God inhabits the praise of his people.  His presence comes down to us and dwells with us in the songs that we sing in worship.

When David first moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the Lord told him that he could not build the temple.  Instead, David prepared for the work of building that his son would accomplish, and one of his preparations was the organization of temple worship.  Since the task of helping in worship belonged to the Levites, David chose the clan of the Kohathites to lead temple praise.  Their original job had been to carry the furniture of the tabernacle as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  In Numbers 4:4, God says to Moses, “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.”  When the ark was moved to Jerusalem, this service was at an end.  There was no more need to carry things, but David made them “bearers of the presence” in another sense.  God inhabits the praise of His people, and so, as the Kohathites led temple singing, they were once again lifting up God’s presence before the nation.  When Jehoshaphat went to battle with his choir, it was the Kohathites he placed at the front of his army, praising God all the way to battle, only to find that God had slain their enemies before they arrived (see 2 Chronicles 20).

I learned last night that one of the Hebrew words for praise is hallel.  It means “bright” or “shining”, and it conveys a sense of radiance.  It is also the root of the word hallelujah.  When we offer our hallelujahs to God, we declare that He is radiant, glorious.  We declare that his glory shines over the misery of our circumstances.  We invite him to come and be present in our circumstances, knowing that no darkness can withstand the blazing light of His goodness.

““Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory  . . .” Rev 19:6-7 (ESV).

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Goodness

Goodness

Let my words be sweet sounds

And my thoughts pure.

I would be content,

For You, Oh Lord, are in me

And there is no place in my soul

That You do not long to possess.

You restore to me

Desire for Light

And the hope of Beauty.

I see horrors of great darkness

And I long to be like You,

Seeing death as life fulfilled,

The attainment of the eternal.

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An Exercise in Irony

I have been plugging away at teaching composition courses this summer, and I am now on the second week of a course in research and argumentation.   For the class I am currently teaching, the topic is technology, and how it is transforming the world around us.  We kicked off the course last week by viewing the PBS special, Digital_Nation.

What we know for certain is that technology is not just changing what we think about (everything from instant news to an explosion of pornography), it is also changing how we think.  We are becoming more visual and more vocal now that anyone with a computer has a tool of mass communication.   We have also rapidly adapted to getting information in bits and bytes.  With more information to think about, we have ever less time to think deeply.

What we don’t know for certain is how exactly this is going to change us as a society.  The Jasmine Revolution suggests that the internet has the power to transform political realities in the same way that Gutenberg’s printing press facilitated the Protestant Reformation.  Among the potentially positive effects is that political apathy will decline as young people recognize the empowerment technology offers when it is used wisely.

Digital_Nation also exposes what the producers might consider the darker side of technology — video game addiction, for example, or sexting.  Yet I can’t help thinking that these are not so much the darker side of technology, as they are new expressions of the darker side of human nature.   There is the tendency to construct fantasies for ourselves and to cling to them desperately,  and the pride that wants to define and enlarge ourselves as individuals at the expense  of community.  Above all else, there is the repeated denial of dependence – the insistence that we are completely in control even when we are not.

The most striking example of this in Digital_Nation was the discussion of multitasking that came at the beginning of the program.  The interviewers asked students at MIT how good they were at multitasking.  Everyone insisted that they were effective multitaskers, and most students expressed indignation at the refusal of professors to recognize that they were perfectly capable of performing tasks online while taking in lectures.  Yet, the brain scans performed by scientists offered undeniable proof that multitasking doesn’t work.  The brain is  not designed to do more than one thing at a time.  We have plenty of devices designed to boost our productivity, but the more we use them, the less productive we become.

The problem with discussing how technology changes us is that we are so immersed in it on a daily basis that we find it hard to step back and think about how our relationships have changed since they became digital, or how our work changed when we began to work with word processors instead of pens and notebooks. Even this discussion, an online post rather than a conversation around a dinner table, is an exercise in irony.  Still, I think that there are two things I can take away from Digital_Nation.

The first is to never take for granted my mastery over the tools I use.  The repeated insistence of tech users that they were in complete control even when they were obviously not begs a reference to Psalm 19:12, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults” (NLT).  Perhaps, we will be wiser in our use of technology if we pay attention to the feedback of others around us.  (Such as when my mother sarcastically refers to my laptop as “Anne’s beloved.”)  Or, perhaps, we might look to lesson two.

Lesson two is to recognize that our one-task-at-a-time brains are the invention of an all-wise God.  Rather than seeing our inability to multitask as a limitation, we should be grateful that God has given it to us as a safety net.  We are told by Jesus that our words and actions have deep roots in the thought life (Mt. 12:34).  We are also commanded in Scripture to meditate on God’s Word (see Psalms 1, 19, and 119).  God has designed us to make Him the single focus of our lives.  If we meditate on Scripture and interact with Him more persistently than we IM the people on our buddy list (I Thess. 5:17), we are going to have victory over the things that distract us spiritually and destroy our fruitfulness.  Why?  Because we can’t multitask spiritually.  A mind that is turned toward God can’t be turned toward sin and addiction at the same time.  God has made it physically impossible.  He has wired us for success if we only embrace the spiritual discipline of God-centeredness.

This is why Paul characterizes victory over sin as “taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and the “renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2).  Technology has no power to overthrow the God-centered mind.  Rather, those who obey the first commandment to love God with all their minds are in a position to take technology captive to the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom, and that’s something worth plugging into.

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A Question of Justice

It was late Sunday night when I finished watching a DVD and decided to flip through the channels to see if there was anything on television worth watching.  Within a few minutes, I was in my mother’s room informing her that the U.S. had found and killed Osama bin Laden.  The president made his official announcement, and the newscast showed thousands of Americans beginning to gather in the streets outside the White House and in New York to cheer and celebrate the death of a national enemy.

I’ve read through a number of blogs since then, as people try to come to terms with what this means for us as a nation.  Is this the death knell of al-Qaeda or are there other leaders to take his place?  Is this America’s comeback after a decade of hard knocks and apparent decline?  What does this do for Obama’s chances of re-election?  Is there light at the end of the long tunnel of war in Afghanistan?

Some Christian bloggers, though, seem concerned with quite a different set of questions and rightly so.  There is something disturbing, from a Christian point of view, about seeing people cheering a death as though it were a hard-won goal in a football game.  I am reminded of the execution of Ted Bundy in the late 80s, when people gathered outside the prison where he was electrocuted holding signs that said things like, “Tuesday is FRYday.” Yes, there is great satisfaction in seeing cruelty answered with justice, but shouldn’t justice demand a different response?  One that is quiet and reverent, especially when the price of justice is the life of a human being, however reprehensible?

And then there is that uncomfortable matter of praying for one’s enemies and the declaration of God that He does not rejoice when the wicked die (Ezek. 18:32).

But isn’t there good reason to celebrate here?  This was a man who had no regard for human life himself.  He apparently felt no remorse for the enormous suffering he caused, and there was something infuriating about the smug assurance of his own righteousness, even as he violated moral laws that are recognized by virtually every religion on the planet.  His vision of how the world should be was repellent, and his methods of pursuing it even more so.  I agree that a block party is the wrong response to his demise, but isn’t there room for some gladness and relief?

I want to be careful how I address that last question, but here is how I am meditating on this event in my own heart this morning:

Lord, I cannot be a disciple of Jesus and rejoice in the death of my enemy.  Everything that I have been taught as a believer restrains me from celebrating, especially since I believe in Your justice.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and it is in Your court of justice that this man’s crimes will ultimately come to an accounting.  As I desire Your mercy upon me, and Your forgiveness for my sins, give me the grace of forgiveness towards others.  Give me heart of such mercy that I can grieve, as surely You grieve, for a life misspent and lost.

But, Lord, there are some things today for which I can be thankful.  I thank You that You have in wisdom established government and law among us.  I am thankful for a nation that upholds the rule of law, and I am thankful for those You have placed in leadership among us who have the shrewdness and strength to find and deal with those who prey upon the innocent.  I am thankful that, in an age of shifting values and moral relativism, there is a still an awareness of justice and a need to see it done.  I thank You that evil never prospers, and that You have established such principles of justice that those who spread a net for others must sooner or later fall into it themselves.  I thank You for those who defend our freedom at great personal cost, and I ask You to bless them and their families for sacrificing their own comfort and safety for the freedom and safety of others.  I thank You for a country and a community where personal liberty and basic human dignity is respected and protected.  I thank You for those who make it possible for me to write to You and of You publicly and without fear of reprisal.

Lord, my heart is full today for my country and for all that it has represented in the last two hundred years of our history.  No one knows more than You how often we have been wrong in our goals and our methods.  If You should mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared.  And so the Psalmist says, Lord, that Your forgiveness – Your grace and Your mercy – may as surely create reverence and fear in us as Your judgment.  Oh my Father, give America the blessing of that forgiveness.  Shed such mercy and grace upon us as shall bring about a mighty awakening!  Let us stand in awe of the works of the Lord in our day.  And upon Your Church in America, let it be said that here is a people with whom the Spirit of God dwells.

As the National Day of Prayer approaches, Father, turn all sinful gloating and boastful pride into quiet gratitude for Your hand of protection.  Be glorified and exalted among us, now and through all ages.

In Jesus Name,

Amen.

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For Today

Abba

Lord of my soul,

I call You “Father”

But which insults You more –

To be or not to be –

I do not know.

 

Since you desire to be,

Father of Me,

Reclaimer of the refuse of my life,

So I will speak.

I feel Your hands on mine,

Prying open my clenched fists,

Hushing the throbbing silence,

Holding me inexorably

From the inevitability of my humanness.

 

I do not know what You are,

But Who,

And that is sufficient,

For You know all of me.

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A Prayer

For those readers from my Wed. night class, the post I promised you last week is right below this one.  You can still comment and read comments.  The discussion is still open.  In the meantime, this is something I wrote last October.

A Prayer

(After Reading Hamacher’s “95 Theses of Philology”)

What mystery and beauty appear when You speak,

Divine Utterance, holy mystery,

Out of language You constructed the cosmos,

Material from the immaterial,

The insubstantial from the substantial,

And made of us, You and I, one sentence

Expressing the character of God.

I, a noun, subject and object,

You, the verb (I=AM),

In Whom things live and move and have their being.

Stars and comets, planets and nebulae –

So many adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.

Every water drop and winged insect an articulation

Of the divine imagination sparking

Within the eyes and minds of we who behold.

And in our longing for the reality of You,

We speak and love and know and dream,

And find our words broken, fragments only

Of a shattered mirror,

Seeking to make them whole in the all of You,

Stumbling to the knowledge that Truth is God.

(10/8/10)

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The Wait List

Greetings, Friends!

It’s time to get a discussion going.  And, so you know, I’m throwing this topic out for comments from anyone who happens upon the blog.  I have my Wednesday night sisters in mind, but we wouldn’t mind hearing from some others.

This past Wednesday evening, our class had a discussion on what it means to pray with persistence based on the parable of the Unjust Judge (or Persistent Widow) from Luke 18.  In the parable, a widow pleads for justice from a corrupt judge who has no interest in helping the downtrodden.  Eventually, the judge becomes tired of her endless pleading and grants her petition just  so she will leave him alone.  Jesus then explains that if even a dishonest judge can be made to grant justice through persistent petitions, then we can be sure that a righteous God will answer in good time when His people call out to Him.

This led to a discussion of “waiting on the Lord” as a spiritual discipline that every Christian has to learn at some time (and probably many times).  We focused on five reasons why God might make us wait for an answer to prayer:

1. Mercy – Sometimes God can only right a wrong by punishing the wicked.  In those cases, God may delay that judgment because He is giving time for repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  In those cases, we should remember that we too have received mercy from God.  We may and must speak and act on behalf of the oppressed, but we should be thankful that God is not hasty in His vengeance.

2.  Training – Sometimes God uses waiting as an exercise to build faith (James 1:2-4).  Will we continue to trust even when the answer is not immediate?

3.  Relationship – God is all about relationships.  When we are praying over and over again about a matter, then we are spending  time in His presence that we might not give to prayer if we were not made to feel our need of Him.  Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act. (Ps. 37:7, NLT)

4.  Understanding – God wants us to know for certain the Source of our deliverance and to understand Him better (Ps. 62:1-2).  Sometimes, we dismiss miracles when they come too easily.

5.  Glory – God glorifies Himself in our weaknesses by making us sufficient to the work He has called us to do (2 Cor. 12:7-9).  Our weaknesses exist so that others will see God and not us in what is accomplished.

SO WHAT IS GOD DOING FOR YOU RIGHT NOW?  Is there something that you’ve been praying for, and the answer is a long time coming?  Take a few minutes to reflect on what might be behind the delay.  Is God building your faith?  Are you learning new things about Him as you wait?  Are you praying more than you used to?  Or are you just hoping that there is some glory at the end of this?  Post a comment and encourage your sisters.

 

 

 

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