Four Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323This past weekend in my message “Making Space for Prayer,” the first part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church, I shared four quotations on prayer that many people asked me about later. Here they are for your edification.

“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have set about praying some of the time somewhere.” – Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 74.

“One of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. . . . We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. . . . And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut.” – John Piper, Desiring God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 150-1.

“Work, work from early till late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther, quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 86.

“One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners. So let’s try to begin together, which is really all we can do.” – Ruth Haley Barton, “Prayer,” in Sacred Rhythms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 63.

Learning to Stop

 

2016-06-06 12.44.01Ten years ago the standard response to the question, “how are you?” was “fine.” That was not a particularly informative answer but it was, well…fine. In today’s American culture, however, the standard response to the question, “how are you” seems to be “busy.”[1]

One social commentator points out that it is not only adults who are busy anymore, but also students and kids who are moving at breakneck pace. We are scheduled down to the slightest half hour, racing around from one activity to another.[2]

In the midst of our fast-paced, packed-out lives, we can often lose time to think, to rest, to play, to be with others, and more.

Of course, that is no less true for leaders in the church. Unfortunately, it is not difficult for me to think about seasons of life as a pastor when I have been rushing from one activity to another as my days, nights, and weekends fill up with endless pastoral needs: sermon preparation, staff meetings, pastoral care visits, weddings, funerals, church council meetings, and more.

In an article entitled “Black Friday and the Importance of Sabbath Rest,” Danielle Tumminio points out that we’ve come a long way from fifty years ago when stores, banks, and businesses were closed on Sundays. She writes:Read More »

An Overview of Fasting

On Wednesday at Eastbrook we begin our forty day journey with the book of Job entitled “Finding God in the Darkness.”  This past weekend in my message “Still God” I mentioned how fasting can be a helpful spiritual practice to help us regain a hunger for God.

I want to refer to a series of posts on fasting that I wrote a number of years back as a resource for understanding fasting in general, certain specific aspects of fasting, biblical backgrounds on fasting, and a few other practical helps on the topic. I hope this is helpful as you utilize fasting to say ‘no’ to yourself and ‘yes’ to God.

Stepping into the deep life with God

In my message this past weekend, “Deep: Changed with God,” I mentioned the importance of taking tangible action for growing deeper in the life with God. We should not merely relax into the recliner of salvation until Jesus returns. No, as I mentioned in my message, we must actively engage for growth as the Apostle Paul counsels the believers in Philippi: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:12-13).

One of the classic ways to do that is to engage with spiritual practices – or spiritual disciplines – in our lives. Just like someone learning a language, trade, or skill must step forward with tangible means to progressively develop that ability, the same is true in our life with God. In his masterful work The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard introduces us to such spiritual practices by categorizing them into two groups: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. While clearly not exhaustive, he lists them in this way.

Disciplines of Abstinence

  • solitude
  • silence
  • fasting
  • frugality
  • chastity
  • secrecy
  • sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement

  • study
  • worship
  • celebration
  • service
  • prayer
  • fellowship
  • confession
  • submission

Disciplines of Abstinence are those in which, as you might expect, we abstain from certain things, namely, “the satisfaction of what we generally regard as normal and legitimate desires” (159). St. Peter is thinking of these sorts of activities when he writes: “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Disciplines of abstinence are helpful in that they help us bring our normal human desires into right order, when often they grow inordinately important in our lives.

Disciplines of Engagement are the healthy counterbalance to and partner of the disciplines of abstinence. When we take something out of our lives, we must put something new and healthy in its place. We must not only stop doing some things, but choose to do the right sorts of things in their place. We abstain from our wrong engagements, and then move forward with new disciplines so that our souls are properly engaged with God.

Take a moment and consider whether you have ever experienced these sort of spiritual practices in your life. How have they helped you? How have you struggled with them?

 

Two Basic Disciplines of Abstinence

Let’s take a more in-depth look at two basic disciplines of abstinence that I believe are of vital importance in our life with God.

Solitude
Solitude is our intentional choice to step away from interaction with others, whether in person or in other forms of communication. Solitude is abstaining from companionship. Jesus did this throughout his life, as the gospels attest. We read about his practice most pointedly in Luke 4-5, where, after a jam-packed days of ministry to others, he draws away.

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place (4:42).
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayer (5:16).

In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard says: “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops” (161).

Solitude is a place to explore our isolation from others, to cling to Christ, and to be strengthened for His service.

Silence
As you might expect, silence is the discipline whereby we step away from sound. In a culture that is sound-saturated, from iPods to noisy traffic, it is important for us to set aside time apart from the external clutter of sounds.

It is amazing how infrequently we experience quiet. Even the places and times that we describe as quiet, we are often saturated with ambient noise.

This discipline clearly connects with the discipline of solitude. We choose to not only be alone, but to be alone without speaking and in a place of quiet.

Silence is a place where we return to God for our reassurance and approval.

What is your experience of solitude and silence as means for connecting more deeply with God?

 

Two Basic Disciplines of Engagement

Along with the disciplines of engagement, I believer there are two disciplines of engagement, study and worship, which are foundational to developing our deeper life with God.

Study
In study, we are chiefly engaging with the Word of God. This goes hand in hand with solitude. As we draw away from others in solitude, we draw near to God through the study of the Scriptures. We feast on the riches of God revealed there and are strengthened.

David Watson captures this well:

If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.

Although study has the whiff of academic scholarly pursuit, it really isn’t like that. That said, it does involve much time and effort. It entails giving time and effort to meditation on key Scripture passages and reading the Bible as a whole. But the time spent there should keep us firmly rooted in the everyday realities of life with God.

As Calvin Miller says:

Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.

Worship
“In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty, and goodness of God through thought and the use of words, rituals, and symbols” (D. Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 177).

It is worth worshiping God because He only is worthy of worship. And we do so by fixing ourselves within His goodness and greatness.

Take a Scripture passage like Isaiah 6:3:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory”

As we speak the words, we consider their meaning and speak them back through our own mouths in worship to God.

Worship is the place where we kneel down in humility before a great and good God, recognizing Him for who He is and gaining proper perspective on our lives.

What is your experience of study and worship, whether alone or in community, as means for connecting more deeply with God?

10 Things Jesus Didn’t Say to Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus1Last night I had the privilege of spending time with our Celebrate Recovery group here at Eastbrook. I am always encouraged whenever I see a group of people coming together to enter the pathway to healing and recovery with great vulnerability and persistence. This takes such great courage.

I wove together some of my own family story around recovery themes with the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus recorded in Luke 19:1-10. There is an interesting progression here of Zacchaeus first seeing Jesus, then seeking Jesus, and then finally standing with Jesus as he strives to rise above his situation and not sink beneath it. In the midst of preparing the message, I drafted a list of ten things Jesus didn’t say to Zacchaeus. I thought I’d share that here.

When He encountered Zacchaeus, Jesus didn’t say…Read More »