Faith Not in the Prayer, but in the One Behind It.

The issue of prayer is not prayer. The issue of prayer is God. (Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel)

I read that this morning…

That’s a heavy way to start the day.

How much do the words we speak (or sing, for that matter) reveal our true beliefs about God?

I think more than we realize.

Or how about this: how much do the words we avoid speaking reveal our true beliefs about God?

Same.

My wife and I are constantly debating this, but when I read the Bible—and especially the Old Testament—I see people boldly praying to God, even to the point of arguing and bartering with Him. At the very least, they aren’t afraid to be honest. Some of my favorite “honest” prayers are recorded in the Psalms, like this one:

O God, do not be silent!
Do not be deaf.
Do not be quiet, O God.
Don’t you hear the uproar of your enemies? (Psalm 83:1-2)

This is a gentle one, but Asaph isn’t afraid to basically tell God to wake up and see what’s going on.

At first glance, we tend to think that these words are more pious than they appear to be; that Asaph is calmly reciting words that don’t really mean what we think they mean.

But then we read some of Jesus’ words on prayer:

‘There was a judge in a certain city,’ he said, ‘who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, “Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.” The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, “I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!”

Wow.

Jesus said that.

The implication is that we are free to be honest, passionate, and even a little bit brash in our prayers.

Where does this passion come from?

  1. belief in our cause
  2. belief in the character of the judge

Jesus goes on to ask that if this judge—who was lacking in love and justice—could eventually respond to this woman, how much more would God respond to us? 

Returning to Psalm 83, it’s easy to see the tension we live in. Though we might be afraid that God is being silent, or not hearing, or even somehow unaware of our situation, we don’t need to be afraid of His character that invites us to persevere in coming to Him.

The upside-down logic in this is that if I stop asking someone to act on something that is important to me, it’s because

  • I no longer believe that it’s important
  • I no longer believe that the person cares
  • I no longer believe that person is capable of acting on my behalf

Wow.

When you think about it this way, the brash honesty of Asaph, or Abraham, or Jesus is actually a radical statement of faith in the capacity of God to care for His children (not to mention His graciousness to allow them to come in honesty and freedom).

Are there areas in your life where you have “stopped knocking”? 

 

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THE Prayer Pt. 5 :: “Daily Bread”

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

The first century had no ATMs.

The first thing I notice about “daily bread” is the sheer immediacy of the request.

In Jesus’ culture, daily bread meant just that: food for the day. In that culture, people more or less literally lived “hand-to-mouth.” If a worker didn’t get paid for a day’s work, they couldn’t use their checking or savings account to go the market… because there was no checking or savings account.

For that day, there would be no money, and more than likely no food.

“Daily bread” is a willingness (and an invitation from God Himself) to desperately go to God for our daily needs and say, “God I need this, and I need it now. Tomorrow’s bread will not do, Lord. I need this today.”

Now, sometimes prayers are answered. Sometimes they are not. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to speak to that. But regardless, God invites us into this immediate, urgent prayer.

Ironically, some of us don’t take God up on his offer to pray for “daily bread”, simply because we have become immune to the necessity of it. Another part of praying for daily bread is us waking up to the fact that we are much more fragile than we think we are.

We go through great pains to insulate ourselves from this fragility. We buy houses in certain neighborhoods; we buy safe (and large) cars; we buy expensive insurance and alarm systems; we vocally support national security. All of these things—in and of themselves—are good things, but we can never leave behind the thought that in an instant everything can change. As much security as we pursue, we are still frail creatures. A recognition of this frailty, of this relative poverty is necessary to respond to the invitation pray for “daily bread.”

  • Do your prayers have “daily bread” urgency?
  • What does it mean that God invites us to pray prayers of urgent desperation?

Five Ways to Develop A Leader

Not leaders

Leader.

I’ve been “thinking small” lately about “leadership development”: how can I invest more in smaller numbers of people?

At staff meeting today, we were talking about leadership development. It prompted my thinking about some ways that I’ve engaged with to develop some emerging leaders in our community.

  1. Slow Down. I used to try and “microwave” leaders. Find someone with potential and charisma, and then throw them into things as quickly as possible. Lately, I’ve been convinced that leaders are indeed made, but made over time. Not just popped like microwave popcorn.
  2. Pray. Like a lot of us, I’ve often tapped people on the shoulder for leadership roles. I’ve had conversations over coffee, I’ve encouraged, I’ve cast vision, and I’ve moved those people into positions of trust. Lately however, I’ve taken a slightly different approach, instead bringing people that I’m thinking about for leadership roles to God, and asking Him to break through to them, to light a fire in their hearts. Though it’s still a bit early to render a complete verdict, the method of bringing someone before God before I bring an opportunity before them feels more holistic, and (I daresay) successful. Ironically, the more I ask God to move in someone’s life, I often receive more insight to make that “tap” on his or her shoulder.
  3. Look for catalytic/transformational events. Though the culture of “conferencing” in evangelical churches (whereby staff members repeatedly attend roughly the same conferences with roughly the same speakers where they sing roughly the same worship songs in a highly charged, over stimulated environment) is a bit troubling, I can’t deny that they can be absolutely transformational for an emerging leader (at the very least, they haven’t sung the songs, heard the speakers, seen the laser beams or any other manner of silliness before). So seek ways to pull these folks into some kind of event where their world can be rocked a little bit, and God can speak into their lives in powerful ways. (By the way, it doesn’t always have to a be bigger/flashier/louder event; it could be a smaller/more peaceful/quieter event.)
  4. Don’t just seek to “be with”; try to “do with”. This is probably the thing that I’ve been experimenting with the most. I used to just talk to people about leadership. Lately, however, I’ve been actually pulling people with me on one-on-one meetings, where they can actually see (and participate in) what I do. The “up front” stuff is visible enough, but that’s the tip of the iceberg of my ministry; I remain convinced that the most valuable stuff I do often takes place Monday-Saturday, over coffee, lunch, or breakfast. I’m trying to find ways to take emerging leaders with me to see what that looks like.
  5. Finally, give constant evaluation and feedback. Most people I work with no that after any major undertaking, someone is going to get an email asking three questions: What went well? What needs improving? and What did we learn? Questions like these constantly evaluate events and projects, while still encouraging dialogue. (By the way: make sure whenever possible that positive evaluation isn’t overlooked or forgotten; “improvements” and “learnings” can easily overtake the successes, and cause some discouragement).

Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive; there are countless ways to develop leaders. These just represent some of my current thinking on how to effectively invest in emerging leaders.

Enjoy!

“Low Frequency Living”


There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, like hearing a master drummer lay down an amazing groove…

When it all comes together, it’s amazing: the drums become a groovy, powerful symphony that is practically irresistible to any listener. The cymbals, snare, toms and kick all blend together across a wide dimension of frequencies to make this happen. Each drum has its own space in the sonic landscape: from the high peaks of cymbal crashes to the thud of the bass drum. In turn, each of these frequencies have certain characteristics and effects on a listener.

High frequencies (high hats and cymbals) capture our attention instantly—like the whistle or chirp of a bird or the cry of a train—but they diminish quickly. The sound waves are small and tight, and do not travel far in the air.

Middle frequencies (snare drums and toms) are the “bread and butter” of the drum set—like our normal every day voices. Their sound waves travel farther distances then the high hats and cymbals.

The bass drum occupies the lowest frequency. Though they don’t always capture our immediate attention, low notes travel the longest in the air—like a fog horn, or the low moan of a tuba.

Each instrument works together to provide a sonic voice, a sonic message…

What if our lives have the same potential? I was thinking: there are things that I do that get great attention in the short run (playing and singing on stage), but ultimately don’t “travel that far”, spiritually speaking.

In the “middle frequencies”, there are things such as “every day conversations”, with friends and family over meals and coffee, that have much more resonance, much more power to linger. They may not grab the attention that singing and playing do, but they have more “legs”, sonically speaking.

Finally, there is “low frequency living”: things that may elude the notice of most people, but have tremendous staying power. They boom through my life, resonating for days, weeks, maybe months. What’s more, the sound usually carries over to the world around me. Things like…

… fasting

… secret giving (is it still secret? uh oh)

… prayer

… solitude

… silence

This is “Low Frequency Living”: doing things that escape the eyes of most people, but that “boom” throughout the moments and days that we live. We need the cymbals, and snare drums, but it’s that resonance, that reverberation, that makes the groove all come together, and makes it irresistible for everyone who is listening to our “song.”

What does low frequency it look like for you?