Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Finding a Quiet Place

April 9, 2009

Solitude – it’s a rare commodity for most people these days. Busy lifestyles revolving around work, family, recreation – even church, can rob of us time we desperately need for quiet and connection with God.

Solitude is not the same is being alone. One can feel alone in a crowd, yet never experience solitude in a pristine wilderness. To be alone is to be isolated. Conversely, solitude can actually help us reconnect – with ourselves and with our God.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35 (NIV)

If you read the gospels, you will see that Jesus lived a very busy life. Crowds flocked to him, to hear him speak or to be healed of physical maladies. Even when he was not surrounded by throngs of people, the twelve disciples were with him 24/7. It’s quite telling that Jesus, the very Son of God, had need for solitude. But for Jesus, solitude was not simply a time for being alone – far from it. His solitude served a purpose – he prayed. In these quiet moments, he was able to connect with the Father – for strength, for comfort, for direction.

If Jesus needed times of solitude, how much more do we need it? A great deal more, I would think.

The two primary challenges of finding solitude are:
1. Establishing an appropriate time and place.
2. Learning what to do with solitude.

It can be  frustrating to simply find an appropriate time and place for solitude.  We’re surrounded by distractions and noise from every direction – TVs, computers, ipods, cell-phones, car radios, even other people – the list goes on and on. It takes a degree of discipline to set these things aside, even for a short time. Equally challenging is finding time for solitude. Most people I know suffer from schedule-itis: a sense that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that is needed. Still, most people seem to find the time to do those things they deem most important.

So, if you come to the conclusion that you need time during the day for quiet communion with God, you will need to find the time that best suits you. Some people are early risers while others are night owls – carve out a niche of time that suits you best.

A consistent place is helpful as well. If at all possible, try to avoid a place with too many distractions or temptations. If weather permits, going outside might help. Remember that Jesus had to leave where he was staying and walk a bit to find solitude.

Let’s assume you’ve established a time and an appropriate place of solitude. Now what? To be honest, the first time you really enter the quiet zone may seem strange. We’re so programmed to hearing back-ground noise that quiet may be disturbing. I would simply say, talk to God as you would talk to a friend – forget the flowery, churchy language. I would also say, spend more time listening than talking.

Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalm 46-10a

He said:  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—  from violent men you save me. – 2 Samuel 22:2-3 (NIV)

Solitude allows us to focus and hear from God – through our prayers, through reading and pondering upon scripture, and by simply listening and waiting upon Him. I’m not saying you will hear an audible voice, but you will likely receive very deep and clear impressions as the Holy Spirit does His work. I also believe you will find your quiet place to be a refuge – a place of peace where you can not only hear from God, but you will get to know Him better. The effort to find and maintain your quiet place is well worth the effort.

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Prayer as Public Spectacle

January 21, 2009

Corporate prayer has a long and storied history in Christianity (and other world religions as well). Public prayer has been a way of calling people to worship, a means of congregational intercession, and a way of teaching others to pray.

There is a danger, however, when we pray aloud before a group, that the intended recipient of our prayers may not be almighty God, but the assembled crowd. We may, intentionally or unintentionally, cross the line between humbly approaching God’s throne of grace with our petitions and giving a speech to a crowd using spiritual language. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for us to allow our personal agendas to slip into our public prayers.

I have to admit, I approach this topic with a sense of trepidation. In critiquing the public prayers of others I’m all too aware of the times I have fallen into this same trap – praying to be heard by the crowd more than by God.  But the public prayers offered up (out?) during President Obama’s inauguration brought this to mind. Apparently, I’m not alone – Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) had an excellent post on his blog yesterday. I invite you to check it out here.

Three prominent figures offered “official” prayers during the festivities – Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist and pastor of the Saddleback Church, is well-known among evangelical circles. He hosted both Barack Obama and John McCain at his church last year. Bishop Eugene Robinson of the Episcopal Church, USA, is well-known as the first avowed homosexual to serve as a bishop in the ECUSA. Rev. Joseph Lowery is a pastor and veteran civil rights leader, who offered the benediction at the close of the inauguration ceremonies.

Each of these men was invited by President Obama, as is his right and part of long-standing tradition. These three men represent very different segments within the Christian community of our country. Each is well-known and controversial in some way. Dr. Warren’s invitation evoked ire from the left for his support of Proposition 8 in California, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. Bishoop Robinson is a vocal advocate of the gay/lesbian/trans-gender lifestyle and a divisive figure within the Episcopal Church. Rev. Lowery has been at the fore-front of the civil rights movement for years, earning both accolades and ridicule from various segments of our population.

Even before these men opened their mouths to pray, the media spent much air-time and bandwidth speculating about what they would say? Would Warren pray in Jesus’ name? Would Robinson mention God at all? Would Lowery say something controversial? As it turned out the answers were, in order: Yes, What?, and Of course!

Now, my comments regarding these men’s prayers are nothing you haven’t heard if you’ve watched 30 seconds of coverage in the past 24 hours. Warren prayer in Jesus’ name 3 times in 3 different languages. Robinson addressed a generic ” God of our understanding,” whoever that is, and Lowery’s prayer was very poetic, ending with a not-so-subtle dig at Caucasians.  I show my own evangelical bias when I say that Warren’s speech seemed more God-centered and less political or sectarian in nature. I would have said the same for Rev. Lowery’s prayer except for a recitation he has used before:  “…help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.” I wasn’t personally offended by that, but found it rather judgemental of whites in general.

You are, of course, free to disagree.

My point is that such public-event prayers tend to lapse into political speech. Personally, I believe both Warren and Lowery genuinely and sincerely offered their prayers to God. Robinson’s prayer was more to “whom it may concern,” sincere or not. All of these public prayers were spectacles within a larger spectacle – the inauguration of a president. I’m all for praying at inaugurations, but I wonder at all of the hype and media attention that surrounded these prayers (he opined, typing furiously away at his blog!)

A particular passage of scripture came to mind yesterday after the public inauguration events were over. Read it and mull over it. It sure made me think. . . and not very highly of myself.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. – Proverbs 14:34

Like I said, think about it. Oh, and remember to pray for our new president and our nation! But maybe we should all do it from our prayer closets and not in front of cameras. Just a thought.