Devotional Time: Exercise for the Soul

I probably shouldn’t have included the word ‘exercise’ in the title.  Exercise and I don’t always get along.  Don’t get me wrong, I have good intentions, I know it’d be good for me, and I’ll make a start and keep going for a little while, but then there always seems to be something that comes up or another reason not to do it.

On the other hand, exercise as an analogy for the time we spend in devotion to God may fit more than I’m comfortable with…

We use the word ‘devotion’ to describe time where our focus is on God and our relationship with God.  It is very much like prayer, and indeed should be an expression of prayer – but can incorporate all kinds of different practices; like reflecting on scripture, reading (or listening to) someone’s experience or wisdom as they talk about faith and life, or simply slowing down to intentionally pay attention to God with gratitude – which could happen in prayer at the end of the day, or on a walk outside.

Set a time, create a rhythm.

A key to turning good intentions into actions is making sure there is time set aside for it.  Worship through the week does involve growing into an awareness of God’s presence at all times, and offering the whole of our lives to God.  Yet having specific ‘anchor points’ through the week – whether it be gathering for worship with other Christians or having specific daily times for devotion (early in the morning, in the evening, or perhaps over the lunch break) can help keep us spiritually grounded and more open to listening to and looking for God through the day.

Figure out what works for you and start to create a habit around it.  Watch out for the things that will crowd it out over time.  I know, it’s easier said than done to find a time with fewer interruptions.

How Long, O Lord?

How long should we spend on daily devotionals?  It depends on you and your circumstances.  How about: long enough that it doesn’t feel like something perfunctory we check off the daily routine, short enough that we can keep with it over the long haul, and flexible enough that we find ourselves spending longer times with God at some points, and able to ‘check in’ in the midst of frantic days.

What to do in that time?

Here’s where the exercise analogy can be helpful again.  Start with something you naturally gravitate toward (reading / music / prayer / listening to a podcast), and every once in a while, switch it up to a different method, just the way we exercise different muscles.

Expectations:

Some days, it’ll feel great to have that devotional time – you will feel closer to God, feel a sense of peace, just feel like it was a good thing to do.  Other days, you may not feel anything.  Which can, actually, feel frustrating.  This is normal.  Remember that we’re not chasing feelings about God, we’re focusing on God and our relationship with God.  These are habits that form us over the long haul.

Scripture 101 – Translations

“It’s all Greek to me”

Since the books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, for ordinary folks like you and I to be able to read and understand the Bible, they needed to be translated into languages we speak.  In 1526, William Tyndale published the first English translation of the Bible.  It was controversial at the time (for reasons of politics, tradition and religious tension from the Protestant Reformation), and Tyndale was actually executed for it.

Yet there is a sad irony in this – because the church in England at the time was using the Latin Vulgate — itself a translation of the original languages into the ‘vulgar’ or common language of the people of the Roman Empire, dating back to the late 4th century.

In fact, many of the Jews of Jesus’ time were reading their scriptures (our Old Testament) in a Greek translation of the Hebrew known as the Septuagint, because Greek was the common language of the Mediterranean world  – thanks to Alexander the Great, which is another story entirely.

The point being — there is a long history of translating the Bible into the languages being spoken by people today in different parts of the world.  Christians have not insisted that people learn ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek in order to read God’s word for themselves, but that through translating the Bible, we can read, study, and encounter God for ourselves and as part of the church community.

Why so many different translations?

If you’ve ever tried to buy a Bible, you probably noticed a bewildering variety of translations and types – an acronym soup of NRSV, NIV, KJV, ASV, NLT and so on…  What’s going on?

Well, the challenge is that words and ideas don’t always translate directly into one another.  Grammar and sentence structure can be different, idioms and puns don’t make sense if they’re translated literally.

Some Bible translations try to translate word for word in as literal a way as possible, even if it makes it difficult to read and follow.  Others (to a greater or lesser degree) try to capture the meaning of the original text, while putting it in language and sentence structure that is easier to read and understand.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.  Sometimes a paraphrase translation like the Message by Eugene Peterson can help shed new light or clarity on a hard to understand passage from Paul.  Or a very literal translation will include some details or connections that we might otherwise miss with a different style of translating.

For more information on the different perspectives in translation: https://www.gotquestions.org/dynamic-equivalence.html

How do I find the right one for me?

So which is the “right” one?  …the one you will read and can understand.  As with so many things, don’t get hung up on finding the perfect translation or arguing over which one is better.  Start somewhere — and build from there.   More literal translations are generally better for study.  Other more dynamic or paraphrase translations may be more helpful at times for devotional reading.  God speaks through all of them; because the Bible is not an end in itself, but to draw us deeper in relationship to God through Jesus.

The deeper answer to the question of which Bible translation is best for me, is to realize that it can be helpful to have a few different kinds of translations at hand.  Looking at them side by side will sometimes highlight things that otherwise might get overlooked, and where words get translated differently can point to important words that might be difficult to translate from Hebrew or Greek into English.

Thanks to the internet – it’s easier than ever to access multiple translations quickly.  https://www.biblegateway.com/ is a great free website that allows you to not only look up passages in all the major translations, but to compare passages in different translations.  (This is also not a bad way to get a sense of which Bible translation may be most helpful to you!)

The American Bible Society has a list and brief description of some of the major English translations today: https://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/a-brief-description-of-popular-bible-translations

 

 

 

 

Connecting with God: Worship Through the Week

Worship is more than what we do for an hour on Sunday — join us as we explore what worship is and share ideas and resources for connecting with God through our practice of worship through the week.

Articles on worship through the week:

Devotional time: exercise for the soul

Devotional Resource List:

Check back as we’ll be adding to this through the week! 

Podcasts:

Pray As You Go: https://pray-as-you-go.org/  (also available as a mobile app)

Pray As You Go is a daily prayer session, designed to go with you wherever you go, to help you pray whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc.   A new prayer session is produced every day of the working week and one session for the weekend. It is not a ‘Thought for the Day’, a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.  Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.  [Brian’s note: this resource comes from the Jesuit community but broadly helpful across Christian traditions.]

Websites:
Common Prayer: https://commonprayer.net/

Common Prayer is a tapestry of daily prayers inviting faith communities from around the world to pray, sing, and act together. At this site, you’ll find prayers for every eveningmorning, and midday that celebrate the best of the Christian tradition and engage with the most pressing issues of our world today.

Books:

Some of the books I’ve found helpful for devotional purposes:

Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster

Celebration of Discipline is a classic that explores multiple facets of an ongoing life of worship expressed in many different habits and exercises.  From the ‘inward disciplines’ of Fasting, Prayer, Meditation and Study, to outward and corporate expressions; this book will encourage and invite us deeper into scripture-based practices for a life in relationship with God.

Scripture 101 – Placing things in Context

If a realtor’s cry is: “Location, Location, Location”, the Biblical scholar’s might well be: “Context, Context, Context.”  God can and does speak to us through scripture no matter what background knowledge we bring with us.  We don’t have to be experts to catch the story of God which draws us to a living relationship with Jesus!

At the same time; understanding that the Bible was first written to people in a specific time, culture and situation will help us more accurately interpret it, avoiding errors and invisible assumptions we bring to our reading of scripture.

First step – When did things happen?

One starting point when we come to the Bible is to realize that while some books follow a mostly chronological order (Genesis through Nehemiah), the books of the Writings and Prophets in the Old Testament are connected to various points in time throughout Israel’s history.

Likewise, in the New Testament, the Gospels are not in chronological order (Mark probably was written first and John last), with Luke and Acts being connected.  The letters (most of which were probably written before the Gospels), are also largely arranged by length, not order in which they were written.

So, when we read a book of the Bible (and sometimes certain sections within a book), we might start by asking:

  • When was this written?
  • Who wrote it, and to whom?
  • What was going on in the world at that time?

A good study Bible will offer some help with these questions; giving their best scholarly perspective on those questions.

A Timeline of History and Scripture:

Scripture Timeline
Graphical timeline of scripture and history – Click to enlarge

As we ask those questions, it’s also helpful to have a basic idea of the major historical events going on as scripture was being written – it provides a framework to get a better sense of how that individual book of the Bible fits the big story of God in history.  

 

Primeval History:

1750-1600 BC – Ancestral History  (Genesis 12-50)

1400-1250 BC – Exodus and the Laws of Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy)

1250-1200 BC – Conquest of Canaan ( Joshua)

1200 – c.1030 BC – Time of the Judges ( Judges)

1030 – 931 BC – The United Monarchy (1 Samuel – 1 Kings 11)

1030-1010 BC – Saul’s Reign (1 Samuel)

1010-970 BC – David’s Reign (2 Samuel)

970-931 BC – Solomon’s Reign (1 Kings 1-11)

931 – 586 BC The Divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12-2 Kings)

* 722 BC – the Assyrian Conquest

              – Isaiah 1-39, Hosea, Amos, Micah (address these events before and after Assryia’s destruction of Israel)

597-539 BC – Babylonian Rule

* This is a critical time for Jewish scholarship, reflecting on the events of the Assyrian destruction and the Babylonian triumph over Judah.  Shift from temple to torah: disciplines they can practice while in exile: almsgiving, fasting and prayer. 

         key prophet: Ezekiel

597 BC – Babylon conquers Assyria, subjugates Judah (establishing a puppet king)

Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem

586 BC – Babylon destroys Jerusalem after the puppet king Zedekiah rebels.  Many more are deported

539 -333 BC Persian/Post-Exilic period

Isaiah 40-66 dates from this period (44:28, 45:1 referring to Cyrus of Persia)

538 BC (Ezra-Nehemiah) – Return from Exile

516 BC (Ezra – Nehemiah)  -Second Temple

445 BC (Ezra – Nehemiah) – Jerusalem Restored (rebuilding the wall)  Jerusalem exists as a vassal state to Persia and the Jewish high priest functions as a tax collector for the Persians

333-63 BC (1-2 Maccabees)  Hellenistic / Greek Empire

333-323 BC – Alexander the Great conquers Persia, captures Jerusalem in 332 BC

323 BC – Alexander the Great dies, his kingdom is divided among his four top generals

320-198 BC – Ptolemy (one of Alexanders generals) reigns over Egypt; he and his descendants rule over Israel until 198 BC

c. 250 BC – beginning of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), including books known as the Apocrypha which were written in Greek, not in Hebrew.

198-164 BC – Syrian Domination.  Antiochus 3 (whose capitals is in Syria) defeats the Ptolemies and gains control of Judah.

175-163 Antiochus Epiphanes IV convers the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem into a temple for Zeus and sacrifices pigs there.  1 Maccabees 1:54 calls this action a “desolating sacrilege”, and Daniel 12:11 calls it “the abomination that desolates”.  Antiochus IV attempts to outlaw Judaism as a faith, and sparks the Maccabean Rebellion in 167

167-164 BC – Maccabean Rebellion.  Judas Maccabeus recaptures Jerusalem and purifies the temple in 164 BC.

164- 63 BC – Hasmonean Rule.  Maccabean rulers control Judah.  Eventually their style of rule provokes dissention among factions within the Jewish people

63 BC – 95 AD – Roman Empire

37-4 BC – Herodian Period.  Herod the Great rules over Palestine for 33 years.  He enlarges the temple mount and rebuilds the temple in Jerusalem to exceed the majesty even of Solomon’s temple

6 BC – Birth of Jesus

4 BC – Death of Herod

27-30 AD – Ministry of Jesus

30 AD – Crucifixion / Resurrection / Ascension of Jesus

50-95 AD – composition of New Testament Documents

66-70 AD – Jewish Rebellion against Rome.

70 AD – Jerusalem and the temple destroyed.  Pharisees become the main surviving sect of Judaism.

– the Dead Sea Scrolls come from this range of time and illustrate  differences in Judaism between the Essenes, Scribes, Pharisees, Temple community.  This is reflected in both interpretation of scripture and the diversity of texts found preserved by the Dead Sea Scroll community.  Fragments of all books of the Hebrew Bible (except Esther) are present, but so are parts of apocryphal texts and other documents relating to the Dead Sea Scroll community itself.  There is no evidence as yet that the DSS community had any way of distinguishing which of these works functioned as ‘Scripture’ in the sense that we think of in terms of a list of canonized books.

90 AD The council of Jamnia works to settle the Hebrew canon of scriptures

Later events relating to the formation of the canon (list of books in the Bible)

Irenaeus quoted and cited 21 books of the NT except (Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude)

By the early 200’s Origen was using the 27 books we recognize as canonical, though some were still disputed (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation)

325 AD – Council of Nicea came up with a creed that described the heart of the faith.   The NT canon had not been finalized (yet) but they were coming close.

By the end of the 4th century, we have documentary evidence that multiple councils and core figures had come together on which NT books were to be regarded as canonical

c. 400 AD – Jerome begins work on the Latin translation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. He initially started work using the Greek Septuagint, which included what we call the Apocrypha. However, he later changed his mind and worked from the Hebrew texts, which do not include them.

500-1000 AD – the Masoretic Text adds vowel markings to the Hebrew Scriptures

Sources:

Interpreting Biblical Literature, Michael R. Cosby

The Making of the New Testament, Arthur G. Patzia

Scripture 101 – Finding our Way Around

The Bible is made up of lots of individual books with different kinds of content.  Some of those books are short – and some are very long.  How do we get to certain stories or parts of the Bible that we want to look up or read together?

The Basics:

To start with, each book of the Bible has a name; sometimes that name describes what it’s about, like ‘Genesis’ which means the origin or formation of something (in this case, the origin of everything and the beginning of God’s relationship with humanity).  Sometimes that name refers to a church in a specific place; like Paul’s letter to ‘Romans’ – which was originally written to house churches in the city of Rome.  Or a book written to someone, (Titus), or by someone (James), or about someone: (Job).

We also quickly see in most Bibles that within each book, there are large numbers that describe chapters, and smaller numbers that indicate verses.  These were not part of the original books of the Bible when they were written, but were added in to help locate specific parts in each book (the system we use today goes back to the mid 1500’s – not going to get into the history of that just today!).

The internal structure of the Bible.

That said, it also helps to know how the books are grouped together in the Bible.

First off, we have two major sections of the Bible; the Old Testament and New Testament.  (Testament means covenant or agreement; in this case between God and humanity)

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and tells the story of Israel and God following creation and the fall.

The New Testament was written in Greek and tells the story of Jesus and the early church, and the culmination of God’s purpose

Big point: to see it as the arc of a story; God working through history to bring about redemption

The Old Testament has five groupings of books

The Pentateuch (also known as the Torah).  Pentateuch means “the five books”

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy

These tell of God’s purpose in creation and the story of God calling and working through the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  

The Books of History

  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 & 2 Samuel
  • 1 & 2 Kings
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther

These tell the history of the nation of Israel, from their being established in Palestine; their successes and failures, of the split between the tribes and how most slowly fell away from God, and lost their place in the land.  The later books tell of the return of a remnant from exile as they begin to rebuild both physically and spiritually.

The Books of Poetry

  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Solomon

These are also known as the “writings” in the Jewish Scriptures – containing stories, songs and wisdom for our relationship with God and others.  They are emotionally and situationally real — telling us our faith is not just for the intellect, but our whole embodied lives.

The Major Prophets

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

The major and minor prophets don’t necessarily refer to how important they were (Elijah and Elisha were key prophetic figures in 1 and 2 Samuel), but that their messages from the Lord were written down – either at the time or later on by their disciples.  A key thing to remember is that when reading the prophets – we are no longer in chronological order.  This is where having an understanding of the timeline of history and scripture becomes very helpful!  (tomorrow’s post)

The Minor Prophets

  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

The New Testament

The Gospels and Acts

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John
  • Acts

The Gospels tell the story of Jesus; his ministry and message and the meaning of his life, death and resurrection.  Acts tells the story of the earliest Christians living in light of Jesus and how the message of Jesus spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

The Letters of Paul

  • Romans
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philipians
  • Colossians
  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 & 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

Paul wrote many letters to the churches he helped start, to some churches (like in Rome) he wanted to visit, and to key leaders like Timothy and Titus.  They were written to help teach and guide, connecting spiritual truth about God to practical life and relationships.

The “General” or Apostolic Letters

  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 & 2 Peter
  • 1,2,3 John
  • Jude

Paul wasn’t the only one who wrote letters – these letters were also circulated and kept by the early church as authoritative for a life of following Jesus.

The book of Revelation

  • Revelation

The book of Revelation is written in a style called ‘apocalyptic’ – using highly symbolic language to reveal (that’s what the Greek word ‘apokalypsis’ means) the spiritual realities in the present, along with God’s future purposes for creation.

Connecting with God in Scripture

Our relationship with God is the most important connection in our lives; and the Christian scriptures we call the Bible are key in developing our understanding of who God is, what God is about, and how we make sense of our lives.

The Bible can be wonderful and challenging to read through — so we’ll be offering reflections, some ‘Bible 101’ information, and other resources to encourage us along the way.

Reflections:

Getting Started – What is the Bible?

Scripture 101 – Finding Our Way Around

Scripture 101 – Placing Things in Context

Resources:

https://www.biblegateway.com/  – a great (free!) online resource with many translations available

 

Scripture 101 – What is the Bible?

We call it ‘The Bible’ – which literally means ‘The Book’; and yet when we try to read it, we quickly find that it doesn’t ‘read’ like a novel or a history book or biography.

For one thing – it’s not just one book, it’s many books – 66 ‘books’ written over a span of more than 1500 years by human authors in specific historical situations that we believe were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).  The Jewish scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament were (mostly) written in Hebrew, while the Christian New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of the Mediterranean.

A second reality is that they’re not all the same ‘kind’ of literature.  The Bible (and individual books of the Bible) contain ancient history, poetry, wisdom, stories and parables, letters to churches and individuals, prophetic messages, ancient biography, visions and symbolic messages in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

God Still Speaks

Yet even though the Bible comes to us from a very different time and culture, God still speaks to people through scripture.  We find ourselves reflected in the family drama, good intentions and failures to follow through, times of triumph and tragedy.  More importantly, we find that woven through all of it is a story of God reaching out to human beings to draw us back into the life and relationships God created us for.  We find God’s story – God’s purposes in and for this world, and how we are meant to be a part of that.

Just Start!  

We don’t have to be experts or scholars to encounter God in the Bible or find direction for our lives.  One of the most important things is to just start reading scripture, both by ourselves and even better, in conversation with others.

Where to Begin?

If you’re not sure where to get started, here are some ideas:

If this is all new to you; 

  • Start with the book of Genesis – a story of creation, of broken relationships, and God beginning the work of healing the world through an unlikely family.
  • Start with a Gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – about the life and ministry of Jesus, in whom God kept the promise to that family in the book of Genesis.

If you want to go a little deeper: 

  • Read the book of Exodus – the pivotal story of God’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah’s family as God delivers them from slavery and genocide in Egypt, to call them out to be a people who will bear witness to God in their life together.
  • Read the book of Acts – how God’s Holy Spirit moved in the first generation of Christians to courageous lives in light of Jesus’ resurrection, to share the good news of God’s love and coming kingdom.

Some Tips:

  • Pay attention to words, images, or stories that stand out to you.  How do they speak to you and your life right now?
  • Don’t expect everything to feel relevant as you read it.  There are things that will naturally stand out to you right now, and other parts that won’t connect at this time.  That’s ok.
  • Try to read enough at a time that you get the sense of one section or story.   That said – if you find yourself drawn to something, slow down and really read it prayerfully.
  • You might want to try writing down insights and questions that come to mind –

 

Resources on Prayer

We all have experiences, insights and resources to share when it comes to things we’ve found helpful in our prayer relationship with God.  So we’re going to try and collect some of those insights and resources here.

Take what is good and useful, reflected in scripture, and if a particular approach isn’t helpful for you, set it aside and try something else.

We will continue to add to this post along the way, as people share what has been helpful to them.

Books:

“Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home” by Richard Foster

This book is a classic and accessible introduction to prayer in many forms, as well as addressing some of the challenges and hangups commonly experienced as we engage prayer.  This book on prayer is a great place to start.  No matter where you are in your faith journey, you’re likely to find some helpful guidance that will invite you deeper.

“The Practice of the Presence of God” – By Brother Lawrence

Sometimes we might get to thinking that prayer must be done only at certain sacred times or in special ways and just the right words.  Or that prayer is for the super-spiritual.  “The Practice of the Presence of God” points us to a different way: prayer that encounters and orients us toward God in the ordinary, everyday things of life.

Brother Lawrence was a cook and janitor in his duties as a member of a Carmelite monastery in France during the mid 1600’s.  Yet he approached those common, humble tasks as being done in the presence of God and for the love of God.  This drew the attention of his superiors, who conducted interviews about his life of prayer.  These interviews, along with a few pages of his own writing that were found among his personal effects, were collected into this book, first published in 1707.    It is a short read, but a powerful invitation into a different approach to life and prayer.

A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

For those who find a bit more structure and rhythm helpful, this book contains a daily pattern of devotional time that includes prayer, scripture readings and short readings for reflection.  The book takes the reader through the rhythms of the Christian year, following the Lectionary and inviting a pattern of devotional prayer and time that is rooted the story of our walk with God through scripture.

The Way of a Pilgrim

Prayer is not only about naming our needs and our blessings before God, it is also an invitation to experience life lived in the indwelling presence of God.  Prayer is meant to be relational.

This book is another classic that comes from the Orthodox tradition of Christianity, written in the 19th century by an unknown Russian author.  It describes the experience of a pilgrim who takes seriously Paul’s instruction that we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Specifically, this pilgrim decides to practice the continual prayer of one specific short prayer, known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is not a repetition intended to move God, but a repetition that becomes ingrained in the mind and heart, that orients us toward God and the reality of God’s loving presence towards us in Jesus where we are right now.

Prayers like this may not be as common in the Baptist tradition; and we may not like to think of ourselves as “sinners” – with the connotation of shame it can imply.  And yet, that is simply the reality and truth; all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory – none of us is perfect, none of us has escaped the scars and wounds of living in this world, or has been free from inflicting those wounds on others.  To pray the Jesus prayer is to root ourselves in the reality of who Jesus is: The Son of God, our Lord – the one who reveals and incarnates God’s presence.  It roots us in the reality of our present brokenness and need.  And it does so mindful of the goodness and character of God who is merciful and ready to forgive, heal, and transform.

“Fasting”  by Scot McKnight

Fasting is another practice not altogether common to many of us; perhaps associated only with the season of Lent (if we’re somewhat liturgically inclined), giving up meat or chocolate or cussing for a period of time till we can return to our normal habits with a sense of relief later on.

But fasting is a practice found in connection with prayer throughout scripture, and which Jesus himself notably undertook before beginning his public ministry as told in the Gospels.

Scot McKnight explores fasting, not as a temporary sacrifice we make to encourage God to do something for us or in us, but as a way we engage the whole body in prayer – not just something cerebral or emotional, but an expression of our whole selves.

Connecting with God – Through Prayer

Prayer as a conversation

 “When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.”  – Exodus 33:9-11


Prayer can be formal, like the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Other times, prayer can be like a conversation, just telling God about our frustrations and the things we’re thankful for.
 
In this video made earlier in the year for our children’s ministry, Beverly illustrates conversational prayer, inviting children to use a stuffed animal to help them pray. In a similar way, many ways of praying invite us to picture the presence of Jesus with us, in an empty chair, sitting beside us, or standing with us as we lift up the things on our hearts and minds.
 
The prayer of conversation is an act of trusting intimacy with the God who made us and cares about all the details of our day.

 

Start with where you are.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:7-8

Richard Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, starts with the recognition that prayer is something we often both long for and have a reluctance toward.

We might think we have to have just the right words.  Or that we have to be in a good place spiritually or emotionally to start.  As if God only hears our prayers when we’re calm and tranquil and have been nice to everyone over the past day or so…    Or that our needs and thoughts are too petty/unworthy/small for God.

Anything large enough for a wish to light upon, is large enough to hang a prayer upon. – George MacDonald: Unspoken Sermons

The most important thing about prayer is simply to remember that God’s desire is to hear from us.  It isn’t about our worthiness, eloquence, or technique.  It is about showing up not in our competence but simply responding to the gracious and loving invitation of God into prayer, into connection.

So the invitation, as we start this week focused on prayer (a drop in the ocean of what we could say) – is simply to start wherever you are.  God always invites us to come as we are, not as we pretend to be.  God meets us in our brokenness as readily as where we feel we are strong – perhaps especially so, because when we take off our masks and pretending and get real, then God is able to get real back with us.

Sometimes, that’s the scary bit – what would God say if God knew the real me?  The real thoughts and mixed motives, how easily we get distracted and discouraged?

To that – I’d simply say; look to Jesus.  Jesus who welcomed the sinners as well as the folks who saw themselves as saints.   Salvation goes deeper than escaping hell; salvation (hear the healing word ‘salve’ in there?) is about God taking us where we are and healing and restoring us, drawing us ever deeper into what life is meant to be.  Again and again scripture tells us God welcomes the humble prayer, is quick to forgive, desires to bless.

And yes, getting real in prayer opens us up to challenging things.  God will show us things in our lives that need attention.  Reality can be scary – but prayer invites us to remember that we face it in the hands of a God who is both holy and good.  Prayer invites us to remember we don’t need to face this life alone and on our own strength.

 

 

If you have stories, practices, or resources you’ve found helpful in your prayer life, we’d love to hear from you and share them this week as we focus on prayer.  Email us at: brian@fbcblm.org.