Archives For Prayer

bell-spirit-motivationGetting from yawn to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. Neither does it require a master’s degree in astrophysics or child psychology.

The overcoming of lag in the school day requires prayer, creativity and effort. Overcoming lag begins by looking at what is possible. It utilises possibility in order to break through the feeling that this period of ‘’yawning’’ is an unnavigable barrier.

With a compass built of prayer, creativity and effort; that which is impossible can points us towards that which is possible. Prayer leads us in humility out from a navigational bearing that keeps us dangerously over focused on ourselves, and our situation.

That new bearing directs our learning. It helps lead us out of an unproductive quagmire.

The parent-teacher who is creative and teachable will have little trouble with this tactical manoeuvre. The only downsides are the side effects of having been slowly caught up in the lag themselves.

With this lag comes a muggy swamp like feeling that is as embracing as fog.

We can end up feeling like we’re part of the scene in Rocky IV, where Rocky Balboa reflecting on how to respond to the loss of Apollo Creed, is met by Robert Tepper singing in the background,

…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home.”

This may seem overly dramatic, but most teachers or Homeschool parents at some stage throughout the school year, would consider it a close analogy to how the lag-of-the-long-big-“yawn” can feel.

Teaching through this can also feel akin to the scene in The Neverending Story where Atreyu battles through the ‘Swamp of Sadness’. With The Nothing pursuing him, Atreyu loses his horse, Artax, and exhausted, almost gives up, tempted to succumb to the swamp himself.

Like Balboa’s prayer, renewed determination, effort and courage, that which was viewed as impossible once more becomes the possible. It may be that “…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home,” but it doesn’t mean that getting from yawning, to “yes, we can!” is unachievable.

Like Atreyu, the brave who are aware of the swamp are ready to counter its effects. The compass of prayer, creativity and effort, along with the ability to discern the possible out of the impossible, finds a way through the fog.

Prayer should accompany creativity and effort because “to pray well is the better half of study”[i]

The act of prayer is an act of faith. Every sigh and every groan directed towards the ears of God lands on the heart of God.

As Friedrich Schleiermacher noted,

“Don’t listen to those who teach that, before you approach God, you must have your mind composed and your heart at peace; that it is unseemly to appear before Him in this agitated state, while the dread of pain and disappointment, the clinging to some good thing which you are on the point of losing, still tosses your heart to and fro, and leaves no room for submission to the Holy will of God. If you waited until submission had won the victory, you would feel neither the need nor the inclination for such a prayer, and the privilege of offering it would be useless to you […] such disquietude should not keep us back from God.[ii]

Paul in his own letter to the church in Rome made it clear that our sighs and groans aren’t wasted on God.

‘The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.’[iii]

In his famous letter to the Ephesians, when Paul calls on Christians with the metaphor, to put on the whole armour of God, he follows on with the instruction to also pray like breathing.[iv] Such is the importance of prayer in the conflict of everyday life.

We’re motivated towards Holy transformation, because the God who is Holy, graciously transforms our motivation.

When the Pharisees came to argue with Jesus, seeking proof of his divinity, Mark’s recount tells us that ‘Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit.’[v] This happened even after Jesus had multiplied bread and fish, to feed a large crowd.

These groans and deep sighs proclaim God’s permission to lean on Him. They proclaim God’s gracious move towards real humanity whereby humanity is empowered by God to learn from God. The acceptance of this life by the Spirit is the out working of His received grace. We have permission to believe; permission and strength to revolt against The Nothing; to walk through and rise above the fog.

Getting from “yawn” to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. It might mean breaking routine. An earlier than planned library day or morning tea by the river.

It begins with out-of-the-box solutions grounded in the wisdom of God. It begins with creativity, effort and the ability to discern the possible even while being overshadowed by that which is viewed as impossible. It’s enabled by a counter-cultural determination to start with prayer and involve God in the decisions of the day.

It’s the existence of the possibilities unlocked by prayer, creativity and effort, that moves the schoolroom from “yawn”, to “yes, we can!”

This is practicing the art of dialectic. The hope produced by the existence of impossible possibilities. It is the homeschooler as Atreyu and Balboa. It is Paul writing from prison and it’s Schleiermacher refusing to surrender to the expectations of others.

‘The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your heads be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

– (John 14:26-27)


Sources:

[i] Commonly attributed to Martin Luther

[ii] Schleiemacher, F. The Power of Prayer in Relation to Outward CircumstancesSelected Sermons (p. 41).

[iii] Romans 8:26, ESV

[iv] Ephesians 6:18, ESV

[v] Mark 8:11, ESV

milada-vigerova-prayer-unsplashPrayer books are too often under read. Where this applies in my own life is ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ and the ‘Moravian Liturgy/Hymnal’. I have both, yet rarely look at them. It’s something I’m attempting to remedy.

My reasons for not throwing myself into them includes a wariness of anything that might enable empty ritual, lifeless chanting or thoughtless routine. All three of which are in some way, shape or form negatively attached to liturgical call and response [order of service instructions], and scripted prayer.

Taking into account that the foundations of my own Christian journey, which begins in Catholic, and ends in reformed Pentecostal and Evangelical-Anglican Churches, I don’t see this aversion as a simple bias. Pentecostal worship tends to also lend itself to repetition. Plus, many a musically gifted Pentecostal brother and sister can turn two minutes worth of words and chords, into ten minutes of singing the same line over and over again.

I’m with lay preacher, A.W. Tozer, who said:

‘I cannot speak for you, but I want to be among those who worship. I do not want just to be part of some great ecclesiastical machine where the Pastor turns the crank and the machine runs […] Can true worship be engineered and manipulated? […]  Engineers do many a great things in their fields, but no mere human force or direction can work the mysteries of God among men. If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit’ [i]

I don’t want to be part of a detached mechanical process where we try to push the superstitious buttons so as to get God to “show up.” Repetition in this sense, is not only pointless, it’s pagan. We cannot conjure up God as if we have some special power over Him. Though He chooses to receive even sighs as prayer, He is not at our beck and call. We cannot please Him by our performance at church any more than we can impress him by our church attendance records.

For starters, ‘to exist in the Church means to exist by and in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ […] to be in the Church is to believe’ (Barth, 1942:291) [ii]; Jesus: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).

In other words: God is there and is willing to be there.

This means that there is a place for liturgy and scripted prayer, just as there is a place for that ten minute extension of a two-minute song.

There is a place for these. When the storm comes, the trained, not the charming, the most entertaining or talented, get the job done. When we’re left speechless, when our mind goes blank, reflexes kick in and that prayer we made an effort to learn by heart is recalled word for word. The repeated words of that worship song are remembered, bringing light into an otherwise dark moment.

The principle is simple. Repetition encourages talent. It sharpens skill. The untrained rescuer poses a danger to others as well as to themselves; the soldier, pilot or sailor acts on that training with great skill because over 90% of their time was dedicated to “boring” drills. The musician recalls notes with precision because of training that involved repetition.

Whilst I’m wary of liturgy and scripted prayer, I need to remind myself that the mechanisms which produce a “zombified” empty ritual, wrongly called worship, is not the full story.

The feasts of Israel, beginning with Passover, are designed to recall-with-precision God’s declaration and liberation of slaves from Egypt. This was to proclaim Good News, the news that recalls ‘God will be our God and we will be His people”. Christmas and Easter, in their purer forms, are repeated annually for much the same reasons. There is a richness in liturgy and scripted prayer that can be mined and utilised for the betterment of an embattled world.

moravian-prayer

If, in our just recoil away from empty repetition, we jettison liturgy and scripted prayer, we jettison its usefulness. If that happens we’re left the poorer for having done so.

Happy Reformation day!


Sources:

[i] Tozer, A.W 2009, Whatever Happened to Worship? Authentic Media (pp.11, 60-61)

[ii] Barth, K. 1942 The Passing & the Coming of Man, CD II/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.291)

Image credit: Milada Vigerova Photography. ‘Prayer’ (Sourced from: Unsplash.com)

Barth quote 3In the footnotes of his segment on Karl Barth, Dean Stroud comments that the first part of the quote pictured to the left, is ‘one of Barth’s great sentences – to be read slowly and enjoyed greatly’[i].

I agree with this, although it is not complete without the second part – which I’ve added from the text.

There Barth is talking about what it means to understand that God’s permission to pray is also an invitation to exercise our new freedom in Christ. That is as responsive sinners called to pray, we are called to take part in what Eberhard Busch rightly calls the ‘first act of Christian ethics’[ii].

The theme of prayer as an expression of freedom in Christ, comes alive in light of the context.

The sermon Stroud is referring to is called ‘A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew’. It was written and delivered by Barth in Bonn on December 10, 1933. According to Stroud, ‘copies were made the following day, and Barth even sent a copy to Hitler.’[iii]

What grabbed me, reading this for the first time today, is the connection Barth identifies between prayer, praise, discernment and confession.

Barth writes that ‘we discern the word we hear, in order to confess it to one another.’ However, we don’t achieve this alone; ‘not through the power of our minds but through the power of the Holy Spirit’[iv] – {in my opinion another one of Barth’s ‘great sentences’}

He strongly asserts that:

 ‘Our text tells us simply to pray for the church that it become a church of discernment and confession. If only we then would once again pray for this unanimously!
What does it mean then to pray? To scream, to call, to reach out so that what is true once and for all time might be true for us: Christ has accepted us.
Ecclesiastical discernment and ecclesiastical confession would indeed follow such a prayer, if earnestly offered, as thunder follows lightning.
In the mutual accepting of each other as Christ has accepted us, it must follow that in the church of Jesus Christ all joylessness is on the way to becoming joy, all discord is at least on its way to becoming peace, all distress of the present moment would somehow finally be engulfed by the hope for the Lord’s presence.
…The thoughts of many people are occupied in this particular time more seriously than before with what it is that the church misses and what we miss in the church.
Let us note that our text does not speak about this, but rather where it could speak of such things, simply prays and tells us to pray to this God of patience, of comfort, and of hope, who is the Lord of the church.
…Perhaps this time has come upon us in the church so that we might learn to pray differently and better than ever before and thereby to keep what we have.’[v]

Its form and content, as far as sermons go are standard Barth. In addition, considering its close proximity to the Barmen Declaration (May, 1934) of which Barth was a primary contributor, it is fair to say that the events are connected to some degree.

Unfortunately, other than some well placed footnotes, Stroud doesn’t provide a lot of commentary on Barth’s thought and context. What Stroud does provide though, is an excellent introduction outlining the historical setting and the role Barth took on as a ‘chief advocate for a non-compromising response to the heresies’ [vi] such as the ”German Christian” movement, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and “positive Christianity.”


Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.73

[ii] Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.47

[iii] Barth, K. December 10, 1933 A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew, in Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.64

[iv] Ibid, p.73 & p.74

[v] Ibid, pp.73-74

[vi] Ibid, p.63

Five Links: January Edition

January 18, 2016 — 1 Comment

Five Links Jan Edition 2

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these lists. I don’t do enough of them. Starting here, I’m hoping to change that.

1. In what is the simplest explanation on how to pray that I’ve heard in a while, this week, Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis wrote a piece on prayer for the Orthodox Christian Network. Entitled, ‘How Often Should I Pray? Akrotirianakis writes:

“Prayer is not about following “rules” or “heaping up phrases” (even beautiful phrases) but speaking to God from our hearts.
When someone asks me “how often do you talk to your wife?” or “how often do you talk to your son?” the answer is “as often as I can. At a minimum, I talk to them in the morning before I leave and at night when I get home. And sometimes I call them during the day, not for long periods, a quick call or a text. I make special time to spend with each of them and for us to spend as a family—this is extended time, more than the good morning or good night words. Prayer works in the same way.”

2. Christina Grau, writer and homeschool mum extraordinaire, shared some general thoughts on God, popularity and motivation. In the context of Homeschooling, parents can at times feel overlooked, overworked, under-appreciated and underpaid. It’s worse in an environment where encouragement is so distant that homeschoolers are tempted to find encouragement solely in “likes, shares and comments.”

In response to When Your Audience Doesn’t Applaud, Christina notes:

”God isn’t looking for someone who has wonderful audiences and receives thunderous applause. He’s looking for someone willing to serve, even when no one appreciates them.”
“Sometimes doing the littlest thing IS doing a big thing. Are we willing to do the ‘big’ thing, when it means we may never get noticed?’’

3.  From August, 2015. Still, a good read:

Joe Hildebrand, ‘The Rise of Mob Rule In Australia’

‘This is the new mob: One that derives its power not by its size but by the volume and frequency with which it shouts.Unlike genuine people power, this is just pain-in-the-arse power. Instead of a matter of who’s got the most numbers it’s a matter of who’s got the most time on their hands. Once, if a government policy was considered abhorrent enough, it would be met by a cohesive organised campaign, such as the shearers’ strikes that established the ALP or the Vietnam moratoriums to the anti-WorkChoices campaign.
Now the most common method of protest is ferocious spontaneous uprisings which, instead of targeting a policy, tend to target individuals.’

4. Ronald Reagan, New Years Greeting to the Soviet People, 1st Jan. 1986:

‘Our democratic system is founded on the belief in the sanctity of human life and the rights of the individual — rights such as freedom of speech, of assembly of movement, and of worship. It is a sacred truth to us that every individual is a unique creation of God, with his or her own special talents, abilities, hopes, and dreams. Respect for all people is essential to peace, and as we agreed in Geneva, progress in resolving humanitarian issues in a spirit of cooperation would go a long way to making 1986 a better year for all of us.’

5. A copy of Martin Luther King Jnr’s, typed and archived sermon, ‘Tough Mind & Tender Heart; Matthew 10:16, 30th August 1959. Stand out quote:

‘Nothing pains some people more than having to think. This prevalent tendency toward softmindedness is found in the unbelievable gullibility of men and women. Take an attitude toward advertisements. We are so easily led to purchase a product because a television or radio ad pronounces it better than any other […] One of the great needs of humanity is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.’

Soli Deo Gloria.


 

‘It is not only a permission but an order to deposit with God and entrust to Him all our baggage.’
(Karl Barth, Prayer 1949, p.28)
‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust Him, and He will act.’
(Psalm 37:5)

Path_walkway

Prayer Graffiti

September 30, 2015 — 3 Comments

IMG_4709After ruling out a couple of Renaissance teens tagging the pews, pause and consider the depth of meaning behind the act of engraving an empassioned prayer, possibly by someone who was illiterate, on the walls of what would have been considered to be God’s-own “house.”

It’s not unlike those who bravely crawled, touched and called out to Jesus. Who upon seeing and hearing this turned, smiled and said to them, “be healed, no greater faith have I seen in all of Israel.” (Matt.8:10/Luke 7:9)

Prayer is apart of change. It’s in the free act of prayer, grounded in the free and loving act of why and how God, in Christ,  addresses us – in Gospel and law – that our time and space, is repurposed and redefined.

When life sends you a storm, draw God a strong boat.

‘God is not deaf, but listens; more than that, he acts. God does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon his existence. This is what the word “answer” means.’
…………………………………………………– Karl Barth, Prayer 1952:13
‘For we know that our defence lies in prayer alone’
………………………………………….– Martin Luther, Large Catechism.

Salva Nos Jean Mouton_Latin and English