You Are Not the God We Would Have Chosen

Sometimes, it’s good to pray scripted prayers. Not all the time, but some times.

Sometimes, you have no words and need to borrow the words of those who have been where you are and voiced your words to God.

I think this prayer may soon qualify as one of my borrowed prayers:

We would as soon you were stable and reliable.
We would as soon you were predictable
and always the same toward us.
We would like to take the hammer of doctrine
and take the nails of piety
and nail your feet to the floor
and have you stay in one place.

And then we find you moving,
always surprising us,
always coming at us from new directions.
Always planting us
and uprooting us
and tearing all things down
and making all things new.
You are not the God we would have chosen
had we done the choosing,
but we are your people
and you have chosen us in freedom.
We pray for the great gift of freedom
that we may be free toward you
as you are in your world.
Give us that gift of freedom
that we may move in new places
in obedience and in gratitude.

Thank you for Jesus
who embodied your freedom for all of us. Amen” (Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers by Walter Brueggemann).

Make Every Effort

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV).

Living out your faith requires effort. You have to be intentional about striving for peace. We’re called to be peaceMAKERS who actively pursue peace and not those who passively accept it when it comes our way.

These days, peace means reaching across the aisle to those who think and feel (and vote) differently than you. It means learning to seek dialogue instead of demonizing anyone who disagrees with you. It means instead of always blaming “them” for what’s wrong with the world, looking in the mirror and realizing one of the biggest problems is staring back at you.

What are you doing to make your world better? How are you teaching your children to make a difference in their world? Is it teaching them to hate Republicans (or Democrats)? Or is it showing them how to learn to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute them?

I was reminded today that you might be far less eager to criticize someone’s journey if you only knew where they’ve come from or how far they’ve travelled. That was convicting.

It’s easy to bash someone’s views that run opposite to what you believe. It’s much harder (and much more rewarding) to seek common ground and understanding while loving them. It’s harder to live out the tension of loving people without condoning all of their behavior and beliefs.

Jesus died for everyone, not just for those who loved and followed Him. He died for the Pharisees and Sadducees who opposed Him at every turn. He died for the Roman soldiers who drove the nails into His hands and feet. His love led Him to forgive those who were in the very act of murdering Him.

That’s the standard of love we’re called to. That’s what we strive toward when we make every effort for peace. That’s what will ultimately conquer evil and hate.

 

Real Prayer

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

So prayer is our sometimes real selves try­ing to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light—I suppose they blink their mushroomy little eyes, like the rest of us.

Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside” (Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow).

Sometimes, the best prayers are the ones without any words, the ones that express themselves in tears and groans and sighs.

Sometimes, it’s good to know on the nights when it feels like our prayers are getting no further than the ceiling that God hears anyway because He’s in the room with us while we pray.

Just keep asking. Just keep seeking. Just keep knocking. Just keep praying.

 

Another Good Borrowed Prayer

“Lord, when I don’t like me,
You still love me, You still like me, You still lavish me with acceptance.
When I am fed up with me, You invite me to Your feast,
When I am done — with me, with life, with everything,
You whisper, ‘Hang on — I am making *all things* — *you* — new.’ (Rev21:5)
And when I want to quit, You cup my face: ‘This great work I started in you? I won’t stop that beautiful work until you are fully, completely, gloriously beautiful’ (Phil1:6, 1 Cor2:7)
So this becomes our brave & broken-hearted hallelujah, the one we sing into the dark, even when it’s hard to believe:
I am His Beloved, His Beloved, His Beloved… and even now I will be held.

In the name of the only One who loved us to death & back to the real & forever life… Amen.” (Ann Voskamp).

This is a good prayer for the week that never seems to want to end. This is a doxology for the difficult days that seem to come in bunches and never in just one.

I still remember the line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that I quote to myself periodically: “Everything will be fine in the end, and if it’s not fine, it’s not yet the end.”

I remind myself that even the worst of days where nothing goes right still only lasts for 24 hours. It may feel longer, but the tell-tale ticking of the second hand on the clock tells a much different story.

I suppose this is another variation on my infamous “Don’t give up because God’s not done with you yet” rah-rah cheery blog posts. I don’t care. I’ll keep thinking of different ways to keep preaching the gospel to myself (and hopefully you as well) until it finally begins to sink in. And I think it’s working at last.

 

A Good Night: Special Wednesday Edition

“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse” (Walt Whitman, O Me! O Life!).

I did an abbreviated personal tour of Franklin this evening, hitting up all the usual haunts — McCreary’s Irish Pub, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and Frothy Monkey.

The reason I chose Wednesday for my tour is simple: I had a ticket to a singer-songwriter benefit concert for Preston Taylor Ministries. The main four were Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, and Lori McKenna.

I was already smitten by the music of Lori McKenna going in to the concert, but I was floored by all of them. These are people who know how to write good songs.

On a side note that has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in this post, I figured out one of the main reasons I can’t abide the current country music scene. Most of the songs are about as authentic as the fake twang that a vast majority of artists in the country music industry seem so fond of these days. I know I’m an old fogey. Get over it.

Still, it’s always a pleasure to witness four of the top songwriters doing what they do best. Generally speaking, I’ve found that it’s always a joy to see any kind of task done well by experts who love what they do, no matter what the field.

That’s what a watching world needs from you. They need to see you doing something that makes you come alive (to borrow from something Howard Thurman said), something that you are uniquely gifted to contribute– your verse to the great ongoing play of history.

 

Severe Mercies

I survived a wreck today.

Actually, that makes it sound much worse that it really was.

I was in a three-car fender-bender where the car behind me got hit from behind and ended up bumping into me.

I ended up with a dinged-up bumper and some shaky nerves.

It could have been so much worse.

I often wonder why God allows His people to go through dark valleys of suffering.

I know that the world we live in is broken and all of creation is affected by the fall and original sin. Plus, there’s that little matter of free will.

I also know that sometimes it takes a little pain to get our attention and remind us that our lives are about more than just us and our pleasure.

I believe that there are some precious truths and lessons that can be learned no other way than going through the dark night of the soul.

We find true community when we come together to share each others burdens and be strong for the ones who can’t be strong for themselves.

I still believe that there is no situation any of us will ever go through that is so dire where we cannot discover small blessings and at least something to be thankful for.

The Psalmist said that even in the deepest and darkest valley he would ever walk through, the Shepherd was with him.

There is nothing that will ever come against the child of God that Jesus has not already faced and defeated once and for all on that Cross of Calvary. Nothing.

That means that any trial is temporary and any affliction is fleeing and momentary.

You can survive just about anything if you can see beyond it to something better. Even Jesus endured the cross, knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side.

Ultimately, I still believe that every day I wake up is grace and everything beyond that is gravy and there are a multitude of blessings and gifts to be found along the way with those who see with eyes of faith.

 

 

Keeping Vigil

“There is a difference between waiting and keeping vigil. Anxious, fretful, impatient waiting is nothing more than waiting. Waiting with purpose, patience, hope, and love is vigilant waiting. Would that all of our waiting could be a vigil–a watch in the night or in the day hours. So by all means, find a way to make your vigils sacred. Learn the art of holy waiting. Whether you choose, on occasion, to get up in the middle of night, or whether you make an effort to turn your everyday moments of waiting in sacred vigils rather than impatient pacing, you will be blessed through this spiritual practice” (Macrina  Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day).

The difference between waiting and keeping vigil is expectation. Simply waiting is assuming the worst, while keeping vigil is holding out hope for God’s best. Waiting fixates on hoping the circumstance will change, while keeping vigil is knowing that you will be the one to change (and trusting that God will do the changing).

Keeping vigil is waiting intentionally. Instead of being idle or unfocused, we are using the time to pray about the matter and create spaces in which God can move and speak.

I’ve learned through time spent waiting that it’s better not to pin my hopes on a certain desired outcome (that job offer or that certain someone to like you or that package in the mail), but rather to put my confidence in God who sees a much bigger picture than I do and has a much more vast plan in mind than I can currently conceive.

“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is ‘timing’
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way” (Fulton J. Sheen).

 

 

Being in Love

I decided to take the night off and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Here are some profound thoughts on being in love from one Mr. C. S. Lewis:

“What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust.

No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness.

But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs’. Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing.

There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.

Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

While being in love may not last forever, choosing to love can. You may not always feel love but you can always choose to act in love. Love in the truest sense is a verb– it is an action, an act of the will, something intentional that you do.

Sorry if I ruined your romantic rom-com fantasies about the happily ever after. I truly believe that the real thing, though not as pretty and picturesque, is far far better.

This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10, The Voice).

Another Night of Worship

It’s 10:19, I’m tired, and my feet hurt. A little. That’s a good thing. A very good thing, in fact.

I tallied just over 13,000 steps today after getting in over 22,000 yesterday. I’ve put in quite a bit of walking lately, which hopefully translated into burned calories and lost weight.

Tonight was the semi-annual Kairos Night of Worship. The theme was Wildfire, praying  to be the spark that leads to revival fires breaking out in this land.

I’ve been praying for revival, especially in my own heart. Everyone goes through seasons of dryness and numbness in their spiritual walks and I am no exception to the rule. I know faith isn’t solely about feelings, but I also know that it can be rough when it feels like you’re going through the motions.

Still, God is faithful, even when I’m not. His fidelity more than makes up for my lack of it. If it were up to me, I’d have fallen away a long time ago, but it’s not. God is more than up to the challenge of holding on to me during the seasons when I’ve felt like letting go and giving up.

It was a great night. Sure, the worship songs were amazing and the teaching was stellar. For me, the best part was the reminder that my primary identity, the core of who I am deep down, is that of Abba’s child.

All of my failings and weaknesses do not define me any longer. My on-and off-again passivity does not define me. Being Abba’s child and hearing my Abba call me Beloved is what defines me both now and forevermore. That’s what I choose to identify myself as from this day forth.

I’m thankful for family and friends who consistently remind me of my true identity and who encourage me to be better today than I was yesterday. Thanks, everyone.

 

 

My Deepest Awareness

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, ‘If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift of God.’

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out).

Occasionally, I like to bring in special guest writers. By that, I mean that I am too tired (and/or lazy) to do my own writing and I quote from a writer who expresses my own thoughts better than I ever could ( with the lone exception about having an incredible capacity for beer, which I do not). This is why I named by blog The Ragamuffin Gospel.