Praying from Where You Are: Letting Our Experiences and Emotions Fuel Our Prayers

2014-11-13 13.14.09Many of us struggle with prayer. We struggle with what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and so much more. One of the most common concerns we face with prayer is whether it is okay to simply bring who we are from right where we are to God. Another way to say it is: can I be real with God in prayer?

The answer to this question is definitive: yes.

In prayer, it is always good to take our cues from what we find in Scripture. With this question, I would encourage us to take our cues from the Psalms and from Jesus. The Psalms are filled with expressions of the full range of emotions and human experience. Consider just a few examples of this:

  • agony (Psalm 22)
  • isolation (27:10)
  • joy (28:7)
  • repentance (51)
  • suffering (55:3)
  • yearning (63:1)
  • rejection (85:5)
  • abounding praise (150)

All 150 psalms reflect the range of human emotion and experience in ways that are both affirming and instructive.

Jesus also reflects a range of emotions in prayer. Whether it is his angst before Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) or his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the Cross (Luke 22:39-44), Jesus prays from the reality of His experience.

While we can argue that both writers of the Psalms and Jesus do not let their emotions or experiences control them, at the same time they allow their emotions and experiences to be a valid starting point and fuel for their prayers.

As I often like to say, there is nothing you can throw at God that He cannot handle. So, let us bring our real selves in the real presence of God in prayer. Do not hold back, but allow your emotions and experiences to lead you beyond yourself and into the transforming presence of the God who is there.

Ajith Fernando, “Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings”

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I first heard of Ajith Fernando when he was the morning Bible expositor at Urbana ’93, which I attended when I was a college student. Since that time, his writings have continued to be an influence in my life and ministry, whether his books The Supremacy of ChristReclaiming Friendship, or Jesus Driven Ministry.

When the bombings occurred this last Sunday in Sri Lanka, after reeling from the devastation of these events, I wondered to myself, “What does Ajith Fernando, as a native Sri Lankan, have to say about all of this?” Thankfully, it did not take long for Christianity Today to reach out to Fernando, whose important reflections are posted on their website under the title: “Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings.” I would encourage you to read the entire article, but here is a quick summary.

I have thought of at least six necessary responses from Christians to what has happened:

1) Lament Loss
Christians must join the nation in lamenting and mourning over our losses. Protestants have been somewhat lacking in espousing a theology of groaning (Rom. 8:23) that opens the door to lament (though that seems to be changing)….In addition to Easter time, April is New Year in Sri Lanka and most Christians have cancelled their usual festivities because of what has happened.

2) Condemn Evil
The Bible is loaded with condemnation over the wrong that takes place in a nation, and the ministries of the prophets are a good example of this. Where possible and appropriate, we need to strongly condemn—with no reserve—the barbaric acts that have happened. Like the prophets, we may also need to denounce the failure of our national leaders to take appropriate steps to protect the people in response to intelligence reports.

3) Alleviate Suffering
Part of the Christian answer to the problem of evil is action to alleviate suffering, as people made in the image of a God who works. The Bible is loaded with advice to care for those who are wounded and vulnerable. We must look for opportunities to help. Some of these are more formal projects done in an organized manner by groups—Christian or general community efforts….Visiting people in the hospital, donating blood, transporting the needy, providing meals, keeping people in our homes—these should be standard Christian practices which become part of the Christian lifestyle.

4) Leave Vengeance to the Lord
In our hearts we must apply the principle of God’s “holy-love” as we think through the situation. The Bible is clear that our holy God punishes wrong. The reason we are to “never avenge [ourselves]” is because we “leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19)….We must let justice take its course. But even if it doesn’t take place on earth, we know that it will at the final judgment….

5) Don’t Bear False Witness
The Bible is severe in its condemnation of false accusation and harming the innocent. Racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice often comes from lumping large numbers of people alongside a few radical members of the group they belong to….in Sri Lanka, for centuries we have lived harmoniously with Muslims. I often feel that my Muslim neighbors are better neighbors to me than I am to them. If we lump all Muslims under the category of terrorist sympathizers, we do many of them a huge injustice which is abhorrent to God….

6) Pray
While it may seem foolish to spend time praying during a crisis when there is so much to do, this is the most powerful thing God’s people can do in a national crisis (1 Kings 19). We need to mobilize individual and corporate prayer among Christians. Leaders must take the lead in calling for prayer….

Freed from the Fear of Death

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It was sadly ironic to read about the terrible church bombings yesterday morning even as I prepared as a pastor for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Recent times have seen not only church bombings but church buildings burning, whether in Louisiana or Paris. Every Christian knows that the word ‘church’ means people and not buildings.  Even so, it is beyond unsettling to see our houses of worship violated in such harsh ways. Still, the hope of the resurrection sets us free from fear, both in our physical circumstances and against the ultimate enemy, that is death. Here is an excerpt from my message at Eastbrook Church this weekend that reflected on the freedom Jesus brings us from the fear of death.


 

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Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the time of the New Testament come from the persecution under the Roman Empire. In contemporary Tunisia, in North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly. Perhaps the most famous story from the early 3rd century comes when a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied allegiance to the emperor over any other being, but also acknowledge him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God led her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, ended up in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals, which rent them to pieces. They chose that fate rather than to forsake the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?

I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Rather, there was a greater reality overpowering the all-consuming fear of death. And that overpowering reality is found in Jesus’ resurrection.

So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.

But it is not the end of the story.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that not only the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome, but also the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.

Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And death does not have to be the end of our story.

Andrew Brunson on the presence and absence of God in suffering

If you have not yet listened to this message from Andrew Brunson reflecting on the presence and absence of God, you should listen to it soon. Brunson talks about his experience of God’s absence through a good deal of his imprisonment in Turkey, of how his reading of prison biographies did not prepare him for the difficulties he experienced, and how God stripped him down to the most basic level of devotion. “The most important thing I learned was not presence. The most necessary thing I learned was a simple devotion, a simple faithfulness, a simple love on my part.”

Our Lives a Journey of Joy

In the midst of our pursuit of God, we can sometimes focus so much on the seriousness of discipleship that we miss out on the joy of our life with God. For me personally, there are times when I emphasize the challenges or trials on this earth to the point that I ignore or unwittingly downplay the gracious gift of our joyful life with God.

Of course, it is true that we are citizens of a heavenly home, who are, in a sense, just passing through this land of earth for a limited time. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear as he rehearses the faith-filled pursuers of God in the Bible. We read:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Our sense of displacement is an unavoidable aspect of our life on earth. As the old song says: “I am a pilgrim and a stranger traveling through this wearisome land.”

Yet it is also true that God is the creator of joy, who longs Read More »

C. S. Lewis: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven”

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This from C. S. Lewis in his wonderful book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:

I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?

How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?

No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were place here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which , if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.

– C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego: Harvest, 1964), 92-93.

Faith at the End of All Things [Daniel 12]

I concluded our series on the book of Daniel last weekend at Eastbrook Church by focusing on the final words of the book found in Daniel 12:5-13. This concludes the final vision of Daniel, which is also the longest vision, stretching from 10:1-12:13. This message brings together themes of persevering in our faith and the hope of the resurrection.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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