Thursday, January 18, 2007

Yancey on Prayer 1

I plan to post several entries on Philip Yancey's book PRAYER: Does It Make Any Difference? Here's a quote from his discussion on the value of humility in prayer:

"Why value humility in our approach to God? Because it accurately reflects the truth. Most of what I am - my nationality and mother tongue, my race, my looks and body shape, my intelligence, the century in which I was born, the fact that I am still alive and relatively healthy - I had little or no control over. On a larger scale, I cannot affect the rotation of the planet earth, or the orbit that maintains a proper distance from the sun so we neither freeze nor roast, or the gravitational forces that somehow keep our spinning galaxy in exquisite balance. There is a God and I am not it."
Yancey describes the tension between being a "patriotic American" who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, makes a living by the sweat of his brow, and accepts help from no one versus a humble citizen of the Kingdom of God who knowingly and willingly submits to the control that God has over the universe and everything in it. Ultimately we're all dependent upon other people for something. Even if we're multi-millionaires, we're dependent upon skilled craftsmen to construct our luxurious mansions or we'd have no place to live. (Of course by "we" I mean "they") We're dependent upon labor workers to put together our cars and utility workers to keep pumping electricity to our homes. We're dependent upon teachers to enlighten us and friends to keep us emotionally and socially "with it." We're all connected by a web of reliance and when parts of our web are removed we're sent scrambling to fill the void. We're all dependent on someone for something whether it's "patriotic" to admit it or not.
More than that, we're dependent upon God for our survival. As the Yancey quote above states, we have no control over the earth spinning on its axis or the gravity that keeps our feet securely fastened to the ground. The most basic components of life are held in God's hands, not ours.
This fact ought to dictate part of our posture in our approach to prayer. We ought not pray like the Pharisees as though we're informing God that we've achieved spiritual excellence on our own. Instead we're called to pray like the tax collector, humbly submitting our lives to the God who has ultimate control and asking His forgiveness, blessing, and empowerment upon our lives.
Spend a few moments today in a posture of humility - both inwardly and outwardly - and see how that impacts your perception of who God is and what He's doing in your life.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Can God Hear Me?

I was in LifeWay the other day looking to put to use the gift card given to Christina and I by my aunt and uncle for Christmas. Since it was my aunt and uncle that gave us the gift, I decided that I would get something for myself. I felt a bit strange being selfish in a Christian bookstore, but the feeling quickly passed when I saw my favorite author, Philip Yancey, had a new book out called Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? While prayer has not been at the forefront of my current ministerial or theological thinking, I decided I'd put aside everything else I was reading and spend time in what I assume to be another wonderful Yancey book. So far, so good.

While I'm only a few pages in, I can't help but think of what my "prayer life" currently looks like. I will occasionally put everything in my office aside, turn my chair away from my desk and computer, rest my elbows on my knees, interlock my fingers, close my eyes and softly speak to God for a few minutes. After running out of things to say I sit in silence for a moment, giving God the opportunity to speak back if He would like, then, after hearing nothing but silence, I return to whatever I was doing before I told God everything I wanted Him to know.

Something just doesn't seem right about that.

Right now Levi is laying on his bed waiting for me to bring a treat in his room and put it on his baseball stool. I told him I would put a piece of candy in his room tonight because he was really good today, and in the morning when he wakes up he can eat the treat. But in an effort to get him to go to sleep I told him that I couldn't bring the treat until he was sleeping. I tried hyping it up by comparing it to Christmas, but he's not really buying that. He's now called out to me twice to tell me that he's asleep and that I can go ahead and bring the treat in. When I walk past his room he quickly shuts his eyes as hard as he can and slowly peaks out to see if I'm watching him "sleep." I'm not sure how to convince a 3-year old that sleep is more than just laying still and closing your eyes.

In the same way I'm having trouble grasping the fact that prayer is more than just closing your eyes and softly whispering words into the air. Prayer, like sleep, is a state of being. Prayer is not words, it's time spent deepening our relationship with an invisible God. "...prayer only seems like an act of language. Fundamentally it is a position, a placement of oneself." (Yancey) Prayer is about opening our hearts and minds up to feel the moving of the Spirit within us. That's not accomplished by offering God diarreah of the mouth for a couple minutes each day/week/month/year. It's accomplished by patiently sitting, patienly waiting, and patiently listening for the voice of God.

My other big problem, as the title suggests, is that I often feel that I should be shouting to God through the distraction of life. Last night I had a Bible study with one of our middle school guys and at various moments between praying and reading Psalm 139 I had to let the dog out lest she pee on the carpet, get a toy for Levi, put the phone away because it kept ringing, and in the meantime focus on what God was doing. Praying at the office is a matter of hurrying through a few words because even as I pray I'm continually thinking of things to add to my to-do list. Even if God hears me, is He just listening and waiting for me to shut up and be still?

At the youth ministry conference I attended last week Randy Harris briefly talked about his time spent a few summers back with hermits in the desert. He went to the desert for 40 days of prayer. "40 days of giving God my undivided attention," as he put it. I feel very intimdated by that because I have trouble praying for 4 minutes. I have a feeling that that's because my perception of prayer is way off base. I see prayer as me talking to God rather than vice versa. Perhaps when a person really comprehends the power of being still and listening to the Holy Spirit move and work, 40 days isn't quite enough.

I look forward to spending time reading Yancey's thoughts on prayer. More importantly, I look forward to commiting myself to the pursuit of understanding prayer as God intended.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

SPAM - Not the Kind In a Can

The Jones family just returned from what has become our traditional holiday world tour. We drove up to Dulles airport in DC, flew to Houston, drove to Christina's folks' house in Belton, stayed a few days, went to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, back to Belton, picked up a rental car in Austin, drove to Colorado Springs, CO, drove to Midland, TX, back to Belton, then to Austin, then flew home to Virginia, all in the span of about 11 days. It was a bit crazy.

When we got home yesterday I came to the office for a few hours because I knew what would be waiting for me - email. I cannot check my email away from my office computer, so for almost two weeks my inbox filled with spam telling me everything I need to know about buying stock, enlarging certain areas of my male anatomy, and some other random junk. I decided I would see exactly how much was spam and how much was "real" email. Here's the tally

SPAM: 402
REAL: 35

Yes, 402 spam messages. I think I need to do something about my spam guard. The ironic thing is that no spam was in my spam folder. And of the 35 "real" email, over half were in my SPAM folder!! It's like having a guard dog that barks at trees and not intruders.

Anyway, it's always good to be back home. It was wonderful seeing our family back in the Lone Star State, but it's nice to return to our church family. I pray you had a wonderful holiday season and feel refreshed as we enter a new year with new opportunities to serve in God's Kingdom.