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What Does It Mean To Pray?

What is prayer? When I was a boy I thought I knew what prayer was. Each night as I laid my head down on the pillow I would begin to list all of the people that were closest to me. I would ask the Lord to bless them and then slowly drift off to sleep. I was careful not to miss a night because I was afraid of what would happen to these people if I did not pray for them. I saw to it that they were protected by my prayers and believed that without me these friends and family members would be in a rough place.

Over the years my understanding of prayer has changed. While I still believe in petitioning to the Lord on behalf of family and friends, I have come to adopt a definition of prayer that I first learned from Henry Nouwen: Being with God and God alone. As I have considered a lifestyle of prayer, I have had to honestly ask myself if there was space for that in my life.   After all, this was Jesus’ model of prayer, and if I was seeking to pattern my life after Him, then I had to begin to create space in my life for God to get at me. If Jesus often spent time in solitude, I believe that He is asking us to do that as well.

The most significant thing that we can do in our time with the Lord is listen to His voice. What??? Come on??? What does that even mean, listen to His voice?   Beginning to develop the discipline of listening did not come easy for me. In the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Slowly, as I returned to this place of listening I began to hear the voice of the Lord. Sometimes through Scripture or a book I was reading, sometimes through journaling, and sometimes in the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. Somewhere along the way of consistently showing up to listen the Lord over the past fifteen years, He has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am loved by Him.

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Lent Day 36: The battle today

It all started when Satan decided he wanted to be God, left his post as an angel and declared war on God, trying to take his place as ruler of all things. Satan’s biggest blow was his attack on Eve and Adam. God allowed it because he didn’t want his creation to be summoned to love him, but instead wanted his creation to choose him. Satan saw this as a prime opportunity, tempted Eve who invited Adam into the temptation, and they chose to believe the lie and not the truth that they were loved, that God’s love was enough. This deeply grieved God, because he longed to be in relationship with his creation, and it greatly pained Eve and Adam because they were created to be in an intimate relationship with God.

God, of course, knew that the story would play out like this, and also knew that he would pull off the greatest rescue mission in history, God’s rescue of man. He became a man (Phil 2) and came to the earth, not only to show man how to live, but ultimately to die. The interesting thing here is that the Western belief brought in the idea that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penance to his wrathful Father for all of man sins. That was not the understanding of the Early Church. The Early Church believed that the cross was primarily how God defeated Satan, once and for all. Jesus became sin, he became it! (2 Cor 5:21) He didn’t just take on our sin, he literally embraced his humanity to such an extent that he became sin and through that voluntary process he defeated sin’s power. The result of that defeat was man’s opportunity to be rescued by a God that loves him, and to provide a way for man to be in an intimate relationship to God once again.

So the question then becomes, what is the battle now? In light of this great battle and God’s ultimate rescue mission, the battle is now against an ongoing intimate relationship between individual man and God. Yes, that’s it, Satan’s primary concern is to keep men and women from believing that we are loved! And it turns out that he is pretty good at it…

 

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Lent Day 33: The Long Road toward belief

A little about these prayers. Many of the words or statements have specific meaning to me. I list my middle name because my granddad, Raymond Petree, is still my greatest hero. He loved Jesus, loved people and loved me. His life inspires me each day. Beloved: most days I write in my journal, and 9 years ago I started signing Beloved at the end of each entry as a reminder of who I am. A prince: I am a son of the King therefore making me a prince. A saint: I believe the scriptures affirm that I am a saint who sins and not a sinner at my core. I chose joy today: I believe that joy is a choice and I remind myself each day that I can choose joy today. Each of the descriptive words that I use is specifically speaking against a lie I used to believe about myself. For instance, for many years I believed I was weak. I specifically speak against that lie with the proclamation that I am strong. Husband to a beautiful Godly wife: This reminds me of the truth about my sweet bride. She is beautiful and she is Godly. Father to three provided children: this reminds me each day that our kids are a provision and that being a father is a core role in my life. Friend to many: The Lord has called me to be a friend to many.

It could seem from reading this that I have conquered all of my fears and the lies that kept me down. Yes and no. Yes, I now believe the truth about myself and not the lies, but I am still tempted, at times, to believe the lies. That is why praying this prayer each morning for the past ten years has become so important for me. In reflecting about his own daily time with Jesus, one man said, “I come here each morning to remember who I am.” That is what this prayer is all about, remembering the truth about who I am and what God says about me.

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Lent Day 25: “…for that deep down body thirst”

“Gatorade is thirst aid for that deep down body thirst.” That jingle from the 90’s still rings in my head every time I see Gatorade. I married a girl from Oregon. She made an interesting observation on her first trip to Texas. She came to visit for a week, met my family and friends, and got the lay of the land. At the end of the week she said, “This is a lot different than the Northwest. You plan your days around food here. Where and what you want to eat that day determines what you do for that day. It appears that you live to eat here. In the Northwest we eat to live.”

Regardless of where we grew up, we all have some sort of attachment to food. After all, it is what sustains us physically. It’s no wonder Jesus often uses food and water to communicate his point. Just after his shocking statement of belief in John 6, he makes another statement that gets the attention of the people in the crowd. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.”

We know what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty. If we are honest with ourselves, we know what it feels like to be far from God. And when we wander we often try everything but a return to the true source of life. Jesus reminds his followers this day that belief in Him is the only way to go about our day that truly satisfies. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt 5:6)  Jesus really is the only thing (one) that quenches our thirst.

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Lent Day 21: Nevertheless

Jesus met Peter one morning after Peter had fished all night. Peter had fished all night and caught nothing. As Peter was cleaning up his nets this man who he didn’t know walked up and made a strange statement: “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 (Luke 5: 4-7)

Jesus had something to teach Peter and his friends that day. His ways don’t often make sense, but the outcome of obedience to Him is always good. My favorite statement in this passage is when Peter says, “Nevertheless.” If we are ever to follow Jesus to the places He wants to take us, then we have to develop a “nevertheless” attitude. It’s an attitude of belief. Jesus request didn’t make sense, but Peter did it anyway. Jesus’ requests of us don’t often fit in with our rationale, but He plays by different rules. He loves to take us beyond reason to places that only He can show up and provide a great outcome through our belief.

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Lent Day 12: If/ Then

Remember the “if, then” clauses from elementary school. If you do x, then y will happen. I remember studying this in grammar class. I recall drawing lines from a list of “if” sentences to correspond with the “then” conclusion. Jesus must have picked up on this rule in his schooling. He tends to give the disciples and Pharisees a lot of “if, then” examples. Toward the end of John 5 Jesus is having quite a conversation with the Pharisees about their allegiance. His crescendo is v.40: “How can you believe when you seek glory from one another and do not seek glory from God?”

This is a great statement by Jesus, but I have a problem with it. Everything in me wants to be praised and recognized by others. I want to do something great and have people pat me on the back telling me how wonderful I am. I want the spotlight, I want my name in lights, I want people to desire to be like me. I guess that is why Jesus’ words in John 5 are so troubling to me. What Jesus tells us here is that seeking glory from others is the opposite of belief. If we truly believe the Gospel then we realize that we are loved no matter what. There is no need to seek glory because we have the ultimate love and approval from the only voice that truly matters.

Jesus’ hope for us is that we will choose belief over glory. He is familiar with the decision and he knows it is a hard one to make. When Satan came to him and told him to jump from the temple, he was asking Jesus to choose glory over belief. Satan was trying to convince Jesus that glory was the goal. Jesus knew it was an empty promise, I often forget.

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Lent Day 11: Why Are You So Afraid?

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40) Those are two of my favorite questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels. Simple, to the point, not easily misinterpreted. Jesus first statement in verse 35, “Let’s go across to the other side”, sheds a little light on why he asks these two questions. Jesus flat out told his friends that they were going to the other side of the lake, yet a little later a big storm shows up! So big that the water from the waves is splashing into the boat and the fellas are freaking out. They grab the buckets and frantically attempt to get water out of the boat. They’re yelling commands that most of us wouldn’t understand, “Starboard, it’s hitting the panel, watch the hull” – Sea talk.   Meanwhile their friend Jesus is asleep in the front of the boat. Now this seems rather odd to me since they are in the middle of a huge storm, but these are the facts. So we’ve got the panic guys dishing out water with buckets, and I don’t know about you, but if it’s me that’s on the working end of the bucket, about every third bucket is going on the guy asleep. Who does he think he is!!! So one of the guys throws down his bucket, wakes up Jesus, grabs him by the robe and says, “There’s a storm out there, we’re drowning, don’t you care!”

I love this next part of the story. Jesus gets up, rubs the sleepy out of his eyes, looks his friend in the face, looks at the other guys, walks to the middle of the boat, holds out his hand and says, “Quiet, be still! And it does! The wind quits blowing, the waves cease and immediately it’s completely calm. Can’t you just picture it?   His friends are soaking wet, holding buckets, in absolute awe.

Although Jesus told these guys that they were going to the other side, when chaos hit they didn’t believe.   Moments after he told them, essentially, that he was going to take care of them, they were yelling, “DON’T YOU CARE!” In the midst of the storm and the fear they forgot Jesus first words to them, “Let’s go to the other side”, he had already promised that he will take them there.   He doesn’t promise that there will be no storms, he promises that they will make it through. But their panic and fear had short-circuited their brains. It blinded them to what they had witnessed in the very recent past. It kept them from remembering the miracles this very Lord who was in the boat with them had already performed. In their fear, they saw only the pain that could quickly follow.

Fear makes us react irrationally at times, it shuts down our brain and it blinds us to the possibilities in the boat, situation, crisis, whatever we have in front of us. How often in our storms and trials do we forget His promise to us? We get caught up in the craziness and stay there. We live in the moment of the storm, and yet He has promised that He will rescue us and take us to the other side.

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Lent Day 6: Our primary part is to believe!

What was Jesus inviting people into when he said “believe in the gospel”? (Mark 1:15)  Based on the teaching of Jesus, it appears our primary role is to believe.  It is amazing to observe the weight Jesus allowed belief to play in different people’s lives and even his own life.  Think about the two blind men in Matt 9, “… two blind men followed him, calling out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’  28When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ they replied.   29 Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’; 30 and their sight was restored.”

Did you see that? “Do you BELIEVE I am….”. “According to your FAITH…”. These guys believed! And that belief changed EVERYTHING. We who have not seen with our physical eyes cannot even imagine…  Somewhere along the way we have bought into a lie about activity – that it’s somehow all about “Hard Work and Clean Living”, yesiree, all we gotta do is punch our sin in the neck a few times and once we get it to behave, we can go to God and show him our work and He will give us a cookie. NOT how it works! In God’s economy, belief is the currency and the “hard work” has already been done. Jesus allows that belief to dictate the outcome of our lives. That is threatening to our pace of living at breakneck speeds, frantically working on our own to manage our lives. But these verses and others like it tell us it’s true.  The primary question is not “What can I do to take care of this situation?” but instead, “Do you believe? Really? Everyone knows you want to…but do you?”