the power of prayer

2

Category : God, living a life of faith, prayer, sharing faith, taking action

I’m a big believer in prayer.

I know this isn’t always a popular position to take in our culture.  Most people, including many people who attend church, think of prayer as a formal obligation at best and a bit strange at worst.  But I’m a true believer as Stan Lee might say.

I fully believe that God is active in answering our prayers.  But that hasn’t always been true.  There was a time I didn’t believe in God, let alone prayer.  Because of that background I got into the habit of “tracking” my prayers.  I don’t mean I plug them into a spreadsheet or anything.  I just make a note of the prayer.  Sometimes by writing them down, other times just making a mental note of what I’ve prayed for.  I did this initially because I wanted to see if God was real.  I wanted to know if he answered prayers.

But now I do it because I find it useful to periodically check my prayers to see if they’ve happened.

They don’t always.  Sometimes, though, I am surprised.  There has been more than one prayer that I’ve forgotten, only to be reminded by a random slip of paper.  Those are the prayers where I think God is gloating a bit.

The benefit of all of this is that I occasionally notice trends.  For instance, it seems that when I pray for myself, many of my prayers are being answered in powerful, obvious ways.  You’re thinking, “isn’t that supposed to happen?”  Yes it is.  But that’s not the only thing I’ve noticed.  I’ve also seen a disturbing counter-trend: my prayers for other people don’t seem to be as effective.

Now there’s a lot of stuff that goes into prayer.  Your relationship with God, your behaviors, your desire to let God work in your life, and what God has planned for you.  Not to mention all the spiritual warfare stuff.  (Which I guess I just mentioned…)  So maybe my prayers are effective for other people and I just don’t realize it.  Or maybe God is trying to work in their lives and they aren’t cooperating.  Or maybe there’s some other reason that I don’t know.

But it makes me wonder: could my prayers for other people be less effective because I’m not praying with the same intensity and urgency I pray for myself?

It’s easy to pray for my own life.  I know the specifics.  I care about each and every thing in my life.  Do I carry that same passion when I pray for other people?

The truth is, I don’t.

And that bothers me.

It bothers me to think that maybe my intensity and desire isn’t enough.  It bothers me to think that I am not praying with urgency for people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that I am the reason for problems in other people’s lives.  I don’t have enough of an ego to believe that I have that kind of control.  But what it does suggest is that I am not loving others enough.  That I am breaking the greatest commandment: love your neighbors as yourself.

And that bothers me.

Of course just thinking about something isn’t a way to live out a life of faith.

Living out a life of faith means that you need to take action.  You need to move.  You need to get dirty (metaphorically in this case).  So I’ve taken steps to fix this problem.  Since I noticed this behavior I have come up with two ways to enhance my prayer life.

  1. I pray right away.  When someone says, “will you pray for me?”  I don’t wait until some later point to pray.  I do it in the moment.  If I wait, I might forget.  Or I might try to cram it into a busy and hectic day.
  2. “Formal” prayer involves prayers for others.  When I spend specific and deliberate time with God, I make sure to pray for other people.  Maybe not everyone who asked, but enough.  This ensures that people get prayed for repeatedly, and ensures that I am not totally self-centered in my prayers.

Prayer isn’t a magic formula.  It’s not about how many times you say it.  It’s not about saying it some specific way.  It’s about a posture and an approach towards God.  And I want my posture and approach to God to be one of humility, awareness, and love.

what i’m watching?: The Golden Compass

Category : God, feeding my brain, sharing faith

   

The Golden Compass is set to hit theaters this weekend to much fanfare.  And it’s not just Hollywood Hype that’s driving this movie’s appeal.  If you follow the news at all you’ve probably heard that many Christian groups are encouraging people to avoid this movie. In a way that’s understandable.  You see, the whole point of The Golden Compass (and the two following books) is to debunk Christianity.  The author of the books, Philip Pullman has said as much in various interviews.

Well I’m going to suggest something different.  I say if you are interested in this movie, you should go watch it.

We are not, in any way, helped by avoiding things of this nature.  There are three good reasons why:

1.  Christianity has withstood centuries of literal, physical, attack from groups throughout history (e.g., Romans, Communists, Barney the Dinosaur – okay, maybe not Barney).  Christianity has done quite well in these cultures.  So I think God will be able to handle a Hollywood movie.  

2.  But more than that, God wants us to ask questions, because questions deepen our faith.  Every question I’ve had about Christianity has ultimately strengthened my faith.  When I search for an answer, I find that something amazing happens: I move closer to God.  Not because I’m talking myself into something, but because God is always willing to give us proof of who he is.  Because of this, I’ve found an answer to virtually every question I’ve ever asked.  Even when I don’t find a perfect answer, I’ve learned that there is an answer out there, I just don’t know it!  God wants us to know him, and the only way we can really do that is to engage our brains along with our hearts.

3.  Those of you who consider yourself Christians already, ask yourself this, “how do you intelligently discuss a movie you’ve never seen?”  How do you help your friends understand how God differs in real life from the god of The Golden Compass if you’ve never seen it?

I consider the Da Vinci Code one of the greatest opportunities Christians have had to share their faith.  What better way to enter a discussion about God then when someone comments on him!  I wonder how many opportunities were lost because people refused to watch a (mostly bad) movie.

So I say if you want to watch The Golden Compass go for it.  If you aren’t a Christian ask yourself “what questions do I have?” and “Does the movie accurately represent who God is?”  Then search for answers.  If you are a Christian, go see it so you can talk intelligently about it when someone you know brings it up.  And maybe you can help someone find those answers. 

fear

Category : reader comments, sharing faith, taking action

 

Today I was going to write about faith and reason.  But I’ve changed my mind because I realized something this week.  I realized that I’ve become comfortable with my faith.  My trust in God has slowly been turning to religiosity in God.

There was a time where I would have happily sacrificed anything for God, because the memory of him saving me was so strong.  But over the last year that’s dimmed a bit.  I’ve developed theological ideas.  I’ve come to conclusions about who God is and what he wants from me.  I’ve become comfortable with my level of generosity.

I don’t think any of those things are bad in and of themselves.  But they are causing me to fear talking to him about things.  I don’t want to hear answers that may challenge my beliefs.  I don’t want to be bothered with changing my life – I’m comfortable now.

But that’s not how God works.  We have to give him our all.  We can’t hold anything back, because if we do it hurts our relationship with him.

To be honest I don’t know what all this means.  I just know, with God’s help, I have to become open to everything he has to say.  No matter how uncomfortable that makes me.

It’s scary to stand before God knowing you’ve been hiding.  It must have been that way for Elijah when he ran away from his job and hid in a cave.  God had to actually go into the cave and call out to Elijah saying, “What are you doing here?”  I’m sure God has been doing that to me, and I have just had my fingers plugged in my ears!

intentionality: taking a risk

3

Category : God, barbarian, sharing faith, taking action, trust

   

I just finished an amazing book – Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus.  Over the course of a weekend it has radically shaped the way I view my life.  And my relationship with God.  McManus has a gift of rephrasing the world so you see it in a new way.  But more on that Friday.

Chasing Daylight discusses the times God presents us with unique moments where we are given the opportunity to act on God’s behalf.  McManus calls this “seizing your divine moments.”  As God so often works, I was given a divine moment on the plane back from LA yesterday.  I felt God asking me to give my copy of Chasing Daylight to the woman sitting next to me.  I remember thinking, “yeah right, I just spent 10 hours reading this book and taking notes.”  But that excuse didn’t last very long.  So I switched to the ever popular, “but I have plans for this book.”

That’s when it really hit me, God was presenting me with a choice.  I was placed into an opportunity no one else could fill.  I doubt this woman would ever sit next to someone reading Chasing Daylight, and certainly not on her current cross-country journey.  If she was going to get this book, it was going to have to be through me. No one else could do my job for me.

I also knew that I could never look at Chasing Daylight again if I was too afraid to give a book to a stranger.  How could I claim I wanted to seize my divine moments if I couldn’t do this simple task?  So I sucked it up, and decided to give her the book.  I tried to start a conversation about the book.  But she wouldn’t bite.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  Of course I knew all of this.  Somehow I knew all along that I was going to have to turn to her and say, “would you like this book?”

Time was running out.  I could hear God saying “go! act!”  But I was still afraid.  Afraid of giving up my book because I wanted it, and afraid of looking like an idiot in front of this woman.  As the wheels of the plane touched down I turned to her and said, “I finished this book, would you like it?”

She looked at the book, and then at me.  When our eyes met I could tell she was thinking “why do I always sit next to the weird ones?”  After a brief explanation of why I was giving her my book, she accepted and said something like, “I could really learn to hear what God wants of me.”

I have no idea if she’ll ever read the book.  Maybe she thinks I’m some idiot or a Bible-thumper.  I don’t know.  But I do know that sharing God’s love is always the right thing.  Even if it’s awkward and embarrassing.  But there’s more than that – I had to intentionally choose to act.  I was hoping God would make things easy for me, but deep down I knew I was going to have to step out boldly and just “do it.”  This was my chance to do something radical. 

Just as we have to choose to believe in God, we also have to choose to act on those beliefs.  It’s not always easy.  In fact I’d say the vast majority of times it’s difficult.  It comes with risk and often sacrifice (even if that sacrifice is just a book).  We need to be intentional in not only choosing God, but in following him.

what I’m reading: This We Believe

Category : book review, feeding my brain, sharing faith

    

When I first realized I had become a Christian, I had no idea what to do with that knowledge.  So I did what came naturally to me – I began to read as many books and articles as I could about Christianity.  I figured if it was a good enough technique to learn psychology in college, it was good enough now!

Of course I didn’t really know who or what to read.  I had no frame of reference.  I suppose I could have asked someone, but I didn’t.  So a lot of what I’ve read over the last few years has been trial and error. 

One of the first books I bought (for $2.97 baby!) was “This We Believe“.  It is a book of themed essays from many evengelical Christian leaders.  Probably the two who are best known are Ravi Zacharias and Lee Strobel.  I read half of it and then got sidetracked, and it was only this last week I picked it up again. 

What drew me to this title was my desire for someone to explain to me what Christianity meant.  I wanted to know what Christians believed.  And that’s exactly what this book does.  It lays down a foundation of evengelical beliefs through a statement of faith.  Each chapter looks at, and addresses, one aspect of that statement.

So what did I get from this book?  It forced me to think about how I try to explain what I believe.  In some small way it’s probably partially responsible for this website.  How do you explain what you believe is one of the questions I am always thinking about.  And this book was one of the first to address that very question.

what is my ministry?

Category : God, different, mission, sharing faith, taking action

   

If you’ve ever spent time in, or around, a church it won’t be too long before you hear about this thing called “ministry”.  A lot of times people understand that to be a formal ministry, such as working in a soup kitchen or going door-to-door talking about their faith. 

As a kid I thought the only two ways you could show your faith was by visiting nursing homes and hospitals.  To be honest those ideas really turned me off to Christianity.  Not because they aren’t worthwhile, but because they are so far outside of my skill sets that they are intimidating.  I’m just not an empathetic person.

This caused a great deal of guilt.  On the one hand Christians are called to go out and explain their beliefs to other people.  On the other, my skills and abilities weren’t very well suited for nursing homes and hospitals. 

It wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that’s not what ministry is.  Ministry is living every aspect of your life through your faith.  Gregory Koukl has said “ministry [isn't] something you do. Ministry [is] something that you are.”  For some the natural extension of that is visiting nursing homes and hospitals.  But for others it’s simply hanging out with friends who don’t know Jesus.  For still others it is being available to listen to someone who needs an ear.  For me it is my writing.

What is it for you?