We are in full swing for preparation for The Justice Conference 2013 in Philly.
I recently found a prayer I wrote for the very first conference back in 2011 in Bend, Oregon. It is so cool to think of all the things that have happened with The Justice Conference since our first year!
Here’s what I prayed as 1,000 people stood and read the prayer with me:
God – lead us this weekend to hear the cry of the vulnerable and oppressed
Lead us to care for the weak and needy
Lead us to see others as brothers and sisters
Help us appreciate goodness, to love simply and not hide hypocrisy with rhetoric
Let us embrace justice and mercy
Grant us humility
Supply us with enough faith to give our lives away
And bless us with strength when we grow weary
LORD, let the knowledge of your love;
Fuel our commitment
Inform our passions
Stir our gratitude
And help us transform the world
For you and your Glory – Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about questions.
Questions exist where they are articulated and where they are hidden or obscured. There are questions on the surface that we feel and know. And there are questions below the surface that shape us or nag at us, but that we can’t quite put a finger on or articulate.
Jesus’ interaction with people in the gospels are case studies on the nature of questions.
When Jesus encountered someone they usually had a question – a surface felt need, agenda or simple curiosity.
Jesus didn’t have much time for this.
Rather, Jesus would quickly brush past the surface and elicit the deeper – unspoken – question. What was really going on… what was really driving someone… what really defined things.
In John 3 the Samaritan woman asks, “Who’s right… should we worship in this style or that style, this mountain or that city,” and Jesus responds by avoiding the trivial and saying real worship is a matter of the heart and of authenticity… “A day will come when you won’t worship here or there, but you will worship in spirit and in truth.”
He didn’t waste time with pop-culture questions like, “Does Tim Tebow win games because he prays,” but would dive right at the heart of the thing, “Why don’t more professing Christians pray like Tim Tebow?” “If you believe God answers prayer then why are you not praying for bigger things like fighting injustice, how you can be used in his Kingdom, helping the orphan, loving the widow than just who will win an American sports competition?”
I’m growing hungry for better questions that lead to deeper answers.
We find God a lot better in those places. We find truth a lot better in those places. We understand ourselves a lot better in those places.
“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.” – C.S. Lewis
I made a few comments on prayer during the message this Sunday morning at Antioch that got me in some hot water. Several of the questions at Redux (the follow-up Q&A service) allowed me the chance to expound.
I finally shared a little of my personal story with prayer in the hopes of explaining where I’m coming from.
I don’t like hot water, but I do like meaningful questions and the healthy dialogue that can sometimes follow.
I truly hope we’ll be able to encourage each other at Antioch to pursue solitude and prayer with passion and determination…
We made a new friend, Jon Leyse from Crash 31 Media, this past week at the conference in Chicago. Jon traveled up from Indiana on his own time to shoot video for us.
It’s amazing meeting gifted people who donate their talents simply to give back to God.
Anyway, on Wednesday, the Church Engagement Director for the Africa Great Lakes region, Cyprian Nkiriyumwami, led everyone in prayer. He began by reading Psalm 5 and then went on to interpret and explain it in an unbelievably simple yet powerful way. The 45 minutes of prayer that followed was a once in a lifetime experience.
There was such a paradigm shift going on in my mind as I listened, that I decided to preach from Psalm 5 this Sunday and wanted to use a short clip of Cyprian’s intro.
Below is what Jon put together with only two days time and some Congo footage from the WR NEXT team’s visit to the Congo last year.
(Make sure to watch this twice so you can really hear what Cyprian says…)
Here is a quick answer to an e-mail I received today from someone asking about how to hear from God and how we know when we’re hearing from Him or not.
Learning to hear from God is a long-term thing. It really begins by meeting him in scripture, beginning to learn his character and will and ultimately moves over time to a spiritual intuition and discernment that couples your knowledge of God with your knowledge of his call on your life and how that all intersects with your current circumstances and emotions.
I think that the reason most people have a hard time with clarity in their prayer life is that their prayers often only come from lack of clarity. The biblical model seems to show us a more robust prayer life where our relationship with God over time makes it easier to handle confusion and enables us to discern his voice more clearly.
For example, if I don’t know someone well I’ll call to see what Starbucks drink I should bring. As I become really close with that person, however, I no longer call and simply know what to bring.
We use prayer as a “call in” when prayer was designed largely to be the vehicle by which we “become really close.”
Do you see the irony?
By way of advice, therefore, I can think of nothing better than beginning with the habits of prayer, solitude and scripture reading. Journaling or meeting regularly with someone you respect spiritually are next on the list.
This might not help you with clarity as to what God is saying in the short-term, but it will in the long-term.
What I normally tell people is to make their short-term prayer goal that they would build the long-term habits and that their deepest desire would grow to be more for relationship with God than his answers to our problems. It is a prayer, it seems, that God is always eager to answer.
Is this helpful at all?
The only other piece of advice I could offer you would be to seek advice, question your own motives ruthlessly, be aware that the answer God often wants to give is the last one we want to hear and ultimately look for “Coincidences with a capital ‘C'” – the phrase Tamara and I use for seeing God’s fingerprint on things.
It was primarily focused on solitude and I could have stayed out there all day and not minded.
For me, there’s nothing more restorative outside of sleep than solitude (and maybe movies!)
I’m finding myself for the first time in ministry dealing with the effects of a poor economy.
Ministry takes money, but it’s not a fun thing to have to focus on or deal with.
It’ll be a good growing experience, I’m sure, and it certainly has been good for my prayer life…
I watched the Cowboys game last night on Monday Night Football with a good friend Evan Hendrix. The game was insane…
It was the second most points ever in a Monday Night Football game and the most total points in a game ever for both the Cowboys and Eagles. The ball just kept bouncing in the craziest directions!!
This morning as I was in my half asleep – kids wake us up way too often – fog, I kind of drifted into thinking of life like that football game.
It’s crazy how the ball bounces sometimes!!
The good thing is that in the crazy times of life, prayer comes pretty easy. You don’t look at a roadmap when you’re on cruise control, but you frantically pour over it when you’re in a big city and worried about making a wrong turn. Prayer is the same way for me… when life is easy we just don’t need God as much.
As Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
It is just another one of those counter intuitive parts of faith that first really is last and bad – oftentimes – is good.
Antioch is having a church wide worship night tonight at Summers Hardwood Flooring.
So here’s the truth… I wasn’t too stoked on going, but the more I’ve been hearing the tough stuff going on in people’s lives over the last two days (life is messy), the more I’ve begun to really look forward to just spending some time with people worshipping God. Sorry if that sounds cliche…
To me, something like this is a success if people walk out having connected with God. In other words, I define worship as successful if it becomes prayer.
I was talking with a couple at lunch yesterday and mentioned how I don’t usually like it when people throw “The God Card.”
What I meant is that the statement, “God told me…” immediately cuts off conversation and puts others in an awkward spot. Either they agree with you, or they seemingly go against God.
Far too often, I’ve seen the God Card used as a form of manipulation by religious leaders. It can lead to control rather than conversation and followship rather than ownership.
Jesus, who could have thrown the God Card at will, took great pains to educate and reason with people so that they would grow in their wisdom and knowledge of God and his values. He discipled and grew people up rather than just controlling and moving them around.
There are times, however, when a person truly does believe that God has said something or told them to do something. And it seems that sometimes a person needs to let another know that they feel deeply convicted about a decision based on a time of prayer or fasting.
Maybe in these situations we still need to spend some time reasoning with others (like Nathan did with David) and we still need to have grace and humility – after all, we’re not Jesus and we can be wrong, misunderstand things or have a piece of something that will fill out as time goes on.
Maybe, when we feel that God is saying something to us, we should have God inspired conversation rather than just “Play the God Card.” I’ve always thought that we’re one step away from pride and becoming the Pharisee… and there’s nothing we should be more careful and humble about than invoking the name of God (just see the first 2 of the 10 Commandments!!)
I remember someone once telling me that they thought when God works in things that it is like a 7 Layer Dip.
The idea is that He is not just doing one simple thing, but that when he moves it is complex, layered and deep.
I think I agree… When we act there is usually one outcome. When God acts, it seems, there is a myriad of outcomes.
He is like a conductor who with one wave of a hand brings in an entire orchestra… many diverse instruments all working in harmony and all from one simple act of the conductor.
What do you think?
Have you ever felt like God was trying to talk to you, but that you couldn’t figure out what He is saying?
I’ve felt like that the last couple of weeks.
It’s a weird place to be. On the one hand you are excited thinking that the God of the universe has something to say directly to you (pretty cool!!) and on the other hand you have the frustration of being in a fog and thinking that you must be an idiot to have such a hard time understanding.
Anyway, I think that prayer often times looks a lot like the mom who is teaching her toddler how to walk… standing just out of reach as the little tike stumbles awkwardly forward.
Tonight I spent a long time trying to explain the difference between wants and needs to my oldest daughter.
I don’t think she got it.
She was very emotional and intently focused on what she wanted (a blankie to sleep with because her sister had just gotten a new one).
Upon reflection, I think that maybe this is how most of our conversations go with God. We go to him when we are emotional and intently focused rather than when we are objective and able to listen. Instead of seeking solitude (when we’re level-headed) we wait until there is a crisis in our life (when we are unstable).
The very words or deeper understanding that we need when life is upside-down is the very words or knowledge that probably can only be heard when life is not upside-down.
I feel strongly that we often run our spiritual life the way we run our day to day lives… reacting and responding to whatever is urgent. We don’t live in a culture that easily sets goals and priorities and sticks to them… we are always “tyrannized by the urgent.”
Somehow, however, we need to find the motivation and the strength to pursue God regularly rather than from crisis to crisis.
There are a lot of great books out there on the topic, such as The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, Hearing God by Dallas Willard, Wasting Time with God by Klaus Issler, Celebration of the Disciplines by Richard Foster, True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer and on and on.
The real point, though, is that we have to chart a course for spiritual growth. We have to take ownership of our own spiritual maturity and begin a journey of a thousand miles whether someone is walking with us, leading us or encouraging us. It is not dependent on others… it depends on us.
If there is any prayer that I would have in 2008 for Antioch, it would be that the men and women of our community would take ownership of their relationship with God and begin laboring over their own prayer lives and devotional lives regardless of what Antioch is or isn’t doing.
Nothing can make a bigger difference than the individual spiritual growth of those of us who call ourselves “Christians.”
And tomorrow I plan on picking up the conversation with my daughter again when the blankie has been forgotten… likewise, maybe God is waiting to pick up a conversation with us again when our emotions have subsided.
This week at Antioch we are beginning a three week series on Prayer.
I’m really looking forward to it as it is one of those topics that always seems to be referenced, but never dealt with directly.
Anyway, I’ve taken on a side prayer commitment during these three weeks and am hoping to see God do some pretty amazing things!!