Real Prayer: asking, seeking, knocking

This past weekend at Eastbrook, as we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount, Pastor Ruth Carver took us into Matthew 7:7-11. This passage is so well known, but Ruth helped open it up for us in new and meaningful ways.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

Jesus tells his disciples (and the crowd) that real prayer is simply making requests of God – asking Him for things. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Jesus tells a parable to show what God’s heart is like. (Matthew 7:9-11)

  • Earthly fathers are “evil” but still give their children good gifts when they ask.
  • The Heavenly Father, even more, gives His children good gifts when they ask.

Why we sometimes don’t ask God for things:

  • We think God has bigger issues to deal with than our problems.
  • We don’t really think our prayers will make a difference.
  • We don’t feel worthy to ask.

How do we practice this kind of real prayer?

  • Real prayer is persistent.
  • Real prayer is in the context of our relationship with the Father.

Ways to step forward in real prayer:

  • Ask God for your daily bread.
  • Pray for things in the moment that you care about.
  • Pray about what you and God are partnering on together.

When God says “no”:

  • Sometimes we’re actually asking for a stone or a snake – something bad for us.
  • Sometimes God is building our character and reliance on Him.
  • God sees the big picture and we do not.

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching on real prayer in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Has there been a book about prayer that has been helpful to you? Share the title and gist of the book with your small group.
  2. Look up and read the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, the complete Serenity Prayer, or other prayers you have learned. How can praying “other people’s prayers” help us in our relationship with the Father?

The Weekend Wanderer: 17 April 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


intercessory prayer“David Garrison on Why We Must Pray for Muslims Around the World” – “Prayer changes things. It changes the hearts of Muslims even as it changes our own hearts. Let me tell you how I became acutely aware of the impact that prayer has in drawing Muslims to faith. In 2014, I published a book called A Wind in the House of Islam. It was the culmination of a three-year journey that took me 250,000 miles throughout the Muslim world where I was able to gather more than a thousand interviews from Muslims who had come to faith in Jesus Christ and were each a part of a work of God within their community that had seen at least 1,000 baptisms.” Garrison goes on to say that “84% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred during our lifetime, in fact, during the past 30 years,” which is precisely linked with the advent of recent prayer movements for the Muslim world. Join us the movement of prayer for the Muslim world during Ramadan.


Missing Word in Race“The Missing Word in Our Reckonings on Race” – Phillip Holmes in Christianity Today: “When trying to solve any problem, large or small, it’s important to remember that hasty solutions based on poorly diagnosed problems lead to failure and frustration. This is true whether we’re talking about marketing, medicine, or ministry. And it’s especially true when it comes to repairing an injustice as complex as slavery and racism in America. Today, there is a tendency to oversimplify the problem. But anyone objectively examining the history of American racism knows that the problem is far from simple. In his own reflections on American race relations, the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck expressed confidence that the resources for a solution existed within Christianity. According to biographer James Eglinton, however, he lamented that this solution would never come to pass unless the American church ‘underwent a profound transformation.’ Unfortunately, I see little evidence that such a transformation has taken place. Although pockets of hope and moral clarity exist here and there, white evangelicals have largely glossed over the embarrassing parts of their history and reacted indignantly to any suggestion of needing to make amends.”


books“In Praise of Reading Aloud” – Ali Kjergaard at Mere Orthodoxy: “It felt a bit awkward at first, a group of friends in their mid twenties sitting around in my library in an old Capitol Hill row house. We had all brought our copies of various Tolkien, some with a well-loved copy of The Fellowship, others brought stacks of the lesser known stories; The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, Sigurd and Gudrún. Different levels of Middle Earth experts all brought together by a common love of Tolkien. We had discussed the idea of a ‘Tolkien reading night’ for awhile, but on a rainy night we were attempting to make it happen. But would we be bold enough to flip open the pages and read the words aloud? Reader, we did. And it has made me wish I read aloud more.”


Surge Capacity“Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful” – I hear a lot from people that they are tired but don’t know why. Here’s an explanation from Tara Haelle at elemental: “It was the end of the world as we knew it, and I felt fine. That’s almost exactly what I told my psychiatrist at my March 16 appointment, a few days after our children’s school district extended spring break because of the coronavirus. I said the same at my April 27 appointment, several weeks after our state’s stay-at-home order….I knew it wouldn’t last. It never does. But even knowing I would eventually crash, I didn’t appreciate how hard the crash would be, or how long it would last, or how hard it would be to try to get back up over and over again, or what getting up even looked like.”


burnout“The Exaggeration of ‘Burnout’ in America” – But I always like opposing views on matters so here is Jonathan Malesic in The National Review with a different take: “I bet you’re burned out after enduring a full year of the Covid-19 pandemic. If you have kids, you’re probably trying to teach them at home, either between work shifts out in the world or while sharing a kitchen-table office with them. You might have had to care for sick family members while somehow avoiding the virus yourself. And if your job is in health care, education, transportation, or retail, then you have likely worked nonstop at great risk for months on end….In the last few years, burnout has become an important keyword for understanding our misery at work and frustration with the rest of our lives. The pandemic only increased burnout’s relevance. But not all forms of burnout are borne equally, and the popularization of the term has both flattened its meaning and diluted its usefulness in addressing the problem with work in America.”


Jesus cross“Recovering the Ars Moriendi – This article from Miles S. Mullin, II, is from a few years back, but I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago while preparing for Holy Saturday, and think it is still worth the read. “Familiarity with death meant that resurrection possessed a considerable poignancy for the women, bringing a hope that countered the ubiquitous fear of death. As the good news spread, the first-century readers of the Apostle Paul’s  First Letter to the Corinthians (and most readers since) had an acute sense of what it meant that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26, NRSV). Until Easter, death had been victorious, the destroyer of lives, families, and hope. But victory only tastes sweeter when defeat is the norm. For the first Christians, the news of Jesus’s victory over death as ‘the first fruits’ (I Cor. 15:23) was sweet indeed.”


Music: Ólafur Arnalds, “Still / Sound,” from Sunrise Session.

The Pastoral Work of Prayer-Directing: Song of Songs [Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson, part 2]

As I continue my journey of re-learning and recovering what it means to be a pastor, I am blogging my way through Eugene Peterson’s Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. In this book, Peterson seeks to recover a sense of pastoral practice and integrity based on the Megilloth, the five scrolls connected with five key Jewish festivals:

  • Song of Songs at Passover
  • Ruth at Pentecost
  • Lamentations on the Ninth of Ab
  • Ecclesiastes at Tabernacles
  • Esther at Purim

The first of the Megilloth that Peterson explores as a resource for pastoral ministry in Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work is Song of Songs. While it might seem like a strange place to begin, but Peterson points out that “much of pastoral work has to do with nurturing intimacy, that is, developing relationships in which love is successfully expressed and received — shared” (24). The is spiritual in the broadest sense, encompassing both our “vertical relationship” with God and our “horizontal relationships” with other people. Peterson discusses the connection between our intimacy nurtured through relationships with others, including our sexuality, and our intimacy nurtured through relationship with God through prayer. This intimacy and longing for relationship is sacred and, in many ways, defines what it means to be human. Pastoral work engages with this tender intimate area, both in its earthiness and its divinity. As Peterson writes:

We live in a whole world of creation and redemption in which all the relationships which stretch along a continuum of sexual identity and spiritual capacity are involved in our daily growth and discipleship. Pastoral work refuses to specialize in earthly or heavenly, human or divine. The pastor is given a catholic cosmos to work in , not a sectarian back-forty. (26)

Peterson goes on to reflect on how salvation recreates and redeems our lives and relationships. The Exodus event is pivotal to our understanding of salvation and the Passover celebration of the Exodus rehearses God’s saving work again and again. While Song of Songs, with all its romantic imagery, may seem like a strange book to read at the Passover meal, Peterson argues for its appropriateness in the midst of “nurturing devotional intimacies and relational wholeness — the personal, immediate, experiential aspects of the gospel in the context of salvation” (31). The pastor ministers at the crossroads of the human and divine, the everyday and the transcendent, as we try to help everyone—including ourselves—stay alert to the wonders of God’s salvation.

The pastor’s task is to gather people together every Sunday, center each week in a response to the risen Lord, and nurture a participation in the resurrection life in Christ that works as well on any Wednesday afternoon at 5 o’clock as on Easter at sunrise. (32)

Building from Karl Barth’s commentary on Genesis 2, Peterson traces themes through the prophets before portraying Song of Songs as an extended commentary on Genesis 2 in light of the saving work of God in the Exodus. Creation and covenant come together in relationship with God and the other as depicted in Song of Songs. While some of the greatest interpreters of Song of Songs, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, seem to read it only figurally, Peterson encourages us to see what is going on through their eyes:

The ancients may not have known what the book was made of [liturgical fragments, wedding songs, and love songs], but they know what it was — an exposition of love in a creation in which all love in one way or another is an aspect of salvation. (39)

It is because of this that we can read the unabashedly erotic language of the Song of Songs simultaneously as both an expression of the goodness of human love and beauty within God’s creation and as a reflection upon the spiritual intimacy of love with God.

The erotic must be read in the theological context. The ancients did not read the Song devotionally because they were embarrassed by its sexuality, but because they understood sexuality in sacramental ways. Human love took its color from divine love. (42)

Pivotal here is concept of covenant, which grounds love and intimacy within a framework of committed relationship. Just as covenant roots sexual intimacy in ongoing human relationship, so, too, does covenant ground spiritual intimacy of human life in relationship to God. “Covenant, in effect, means that humanity cannot understand life apart from a defined and revealed relationship with God” (44).

Building upon his exploration of intimacy, relationship, salvation, love, and covenant, Peterson then walks through aspects of Song of Songs to show how it relates to pastoral work. Here are some highlights:

Pastoral work is a concentration on names. After the Bible, the church roll is the most important book in the pastor’s study. We work in communities that are composed of names. The pastor (like Adam in the garden) gives names — presents a person by name at the baptismal font, invokes the name of God at the table, proclaims the name of God from the pulpit, and combines those names in every pastoral conversation and prayer. (48)

Intimacy is not easily achieved….Pastoral work acknowledges the difficulty and the pain of the quest and shares it….It is the pastor’s task, rather, to be companion to persons who are in the midst of difficulty, to acknowledge the difficulty and thereby give it significance, and to converse and pray with them through the time so that the loneliness is lightened, somewhat, and hope is maintained, somehow. (49-51).

Every person in every parish is involved in the desires and the difficulties of intimacy….Which is why prayer is the chief pastoral work in relation to a person’s desires and difficulties with intimacy….Prayer is thus the language, par excellence, of the covenant. (54-55)

Pastoral work is a ministry for taking seriously the details that differentiate us from each other and from God, and then praising them, for “in separateness only does love learn definition.” By listening to attentively to a persons’ dreams, desires, and longings, and by sharing passionately a persons’ struggles, painful frustrations, and difficulties significance is given to them. (60)

The single most significant phrase that a pastor can speak (either aloud or sub voce) is “I will pray for you.” (61)

In closing, Peterson connects the delightful praise of the Song of Songs with pastoral prayer lifted up in connection with the eucharist. Just as the two lovers of the Song experience joy and delight in one another, we experience joy and delight in God at the eucharistic meal that extends into our life together. And so, the pastor offers prayer in joy, gratitude, and reconciliation, not just for the abstractions of salvation and community, but for the real people we minister to, counsel with, visit in their homes and hospital beds.

Prayer is the pastoral work that is most suited for recognizing the compelling quality of God’s invitations and promises, and perpetuating it in others. (71)

[This is the second in a series of posts on Eugene Peterson’s Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. You can read all the posts here.]

30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World (2021)

The Muslim celebration of Ramadan began on Monday, April 12, and concludes 30 days later on May 11, followed by celebratory feasting. Every year we encourage our church to prayer for the Muslim world during this time. We have found this to be a great opportunity to cultivate intercessory prayer for those who do not yet know Christ, greater love for Muslims, and a better understanding of Islam.

I am so thankful for the outstanding resource developed in 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World. There is both a print booklet for adults and one developed for kids.

https://vimeo.com/263358279/df12998267

If you are interested in understanding Islam further, please explore the following resources:

A Prayer on the Aroma of Christ

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Oh, the sweetness of the aroma
  of the knowledge of Christ.
It is the honeyed savor of God’s
  love and grace amongst creation.

Like the sweet aroma
  of lilacs in Spring,
so is Christ’s victory
  sending its perfume through the earth.

Like the thick-aired freshness
  after a Spring rain,
so does Christ’s redemption
  breathe sweet, dense life into humanity.

With those who have noses to smell,
  whose olfactory glands are spiritually opened,
God’s great victorious grace
  hangs heavy in the air for all to relish.