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Archive for April, 2014

Rhythm_Repetition

Undoubtedly, the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most powerful ways we can pray. In it, Jesus brilliantly covers the gamut of those essential aspects of relationship, worship, alignment, confession, and intercession through this short, but profound, prayer. I’ve always looked at the Lord’s Prayer more as a “prayer principle” than something that has value in simple repetition (as some Christian traditions use). However, I’m beginning to change my view somewhat. While I certainly don’t espouse “vain repetition” of the prayer as a way to get God to hear and respond to me (as Jesus warned in Matt. 6:), I do believe that it is powerful to use a “reflective repetition” of the Lord’s Prayer as a way of centering our hearts and minds to the ways of God.

What brought this to mind was a recent conversation I had with one of my Whole Life Worship colleagues. He shared with me about how he used the Lord’s Prayer as his “breath prayer”; and how powerful that spiritual practice was for him.

(A “breath prayer” is a short phrase of prayer that can be said in the time of one breath.)

My friend prays each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer twice, followed by a pause to reflect on what was just prayed. I call this the “Lord’s Prayer Double-take.” The reason for the repetition and reflection is because it is so easy to mindlessly pray through the Lord’s Prayer. Its familiarity actually works against our ability to pray it with meaning.

So here’s an example of how the Lord’s Prayer “double-take” might go:

“Our Father who art in heaven. Our Father who art in heaven.”

You are my Abba Father. Through Christ, I am your precious child.

“Hallowed be Thy name. Hallowed be Thy name.”

Your name is holy. You are holy. You are almighty, merciful, awesome, perfect.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

You are the King. What You say, desire, decree and intend will be accomplished.

“On earth as it is in heaven. On earth as it is in heaven.”

I align myself to Your kingdom and will. Make me an instrument of what You want to accomplish in our world.

And so on, and so forth.

I’ve found that the Lord’s Prayer “double-take” helps me to grasp on to the meaning of this prayer every time I pray it. It helps me to explore the depth and brilliance of this prayer. It also gives me a deeper desire to pray this prayer more often and with great joy.

How do you view and use the Lord’s Prayer?

What do you appreciate the most about the Lord’s Prayer?

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As we seek to worship God with our everyday ordinary lives, one of the biggest hurdles to meaningful connection is when we encounter those situations that overwhelm us: trials, conflicts, roadblocks, setbacks and the like. Usually, there are strong emotions that accompany these events, like fear, anger, anxiety, sorrow or discouragement. If you’re like me (which I suspect you are), we tend to react to these emotions. I’ll either push them away or compensate for them or try to fix them (both the situation and/or the emotion). This usually leads me to make poor decisions that lead me away from the ways of God.

The Psalmist prays, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps 61:3). Peter elaborates on this by writing, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus taught his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me” (John 14:1). Scripture also affirms to render “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

One way that has helped me to deal with overwhelming situations and to turn them over to God is the spiritual practice of “Welcoming Prayer.”

Welcoming Prayer is where I welcome things into my soul that are “unwelcomable”; namely, unwelcome emotions that are negative and uncomfortable. It is very counterintuitive, in that I usually avoid or try to get rid of these emotions at all cost. However, we all know that, in spite of our best efforts to get rid of these emotions, they never really go away – and when they come back, they come with a vengeance! So welcoming prayer actually helps us to deal with these emotions as they come to us, which is so much better than putting them off. But we deal with them in God’s presence.

There are three movements to Welcoming Prayer:

1. Welcoming. As the emotion comes to me, I welcome it to my soul. I say (sometimes aloud), “Welcome, Fear” or “Welcome, Anxiety” or “Welcome, Insecurity.” But I also invite the Holy Spirit to come and stand with my soul.

2. Noticing. I do not react to the emotion, but I notice how it is manifesting itself in my body. I will feel something in my stomach. I might feel tension in my neck or my jaw. Perhaps the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. Noticing these things keeps me from reacting to the emotion (which defeats the purpose because that’s what it wants me to do), and gives the Holy Spirit some time and space to move in my soul. Often I will name the physical sensation

3. Surrendering. When I have sufficiently described how the emotion is being manifested, I begin the process of surrendering. I surrender my need for survival, security, approval, affection, power, control, and to change the situation/person/event etc. This is where I also make declarations of who God/Christ is in my life: my Provider, Lover of my Soul, and Sovereign over all things. In this movement, I am transferring my trust and worship from the source of those emotions back to God. Usually during this part of the prayer, I will begin to feel the physical manifestations of worry and fear leaving my body.

What makes this prayer so powerful is that, although the situation hasn’t changed, my perspective and my position has. Instead of being overcome by the emotions, I am in a place of trust and confidence in the loving arms of God. By welcoming these thoughts and emotions – and not reacting to them – the Spirit of God renders them captive to the obedience of Christ. I am then in a position to hear from God as to what my next step in this situation is, rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I am still very much a beginner in this prayer, but I’ve already seen powerful results. I’m already praying this prayer several times a day because I find it to be so transforming and renewing. More than anything else, it always leads me back to whole life worship of God.

So, try it in your life situations … and tell me know how it goes!

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Traffic School

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No, I didn’t get a ticket and, no, I didn’t go to Traffic School – although I have in the past and I would not want to wish either of those experiences on anyone!

God is teaching me some deep stuff through how I handle myself behind the wheel in traffic. And a lot of it is taking place at a “school”: namely, my grandson’s (Aiden) school where I drop him off every morning. Hence, today’s blog is entitled “Traffic School.”

If you want to get a microcosm of fallen human nature, all you need to do is watch people in the parking lot of an elementary school in the morning. It’s all there: cutting people off, double parking, road rage, rule breaking, selective finger gestures, and just about every form of rudeness and self-centeredness that one can think about. People in a hurry combined with long lines and limited space is a virtual petri dish that spawns and multiplies specimens of impatience and impertinence.

And those poor teachers and administrators who have to direct the traffic – Lord, have mercy! They have that look in their face that says, “I’m your kid’s teacher. Don’t run over me!”

I’m exaggerating a little. Sometimes it’s not that bad and every once in a while I come across a driver who is considerate and generous. But most of the time I find myself being tested.

I try to come with a good, Christ-like attitude. But it’s amazing how quickly I lose my spirituality and meld into the group think of “hurry up” and “it’s my turn now!” I wonder if there are other well-meaning Christ followers in that crazy parking lot who struggle like I do?

I am definitely a work in progress and, if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that one of my “besetting sins” is being an impatient driver (which is why I don’t put a Christian bumper sticker on my car). But this is life in the “everyday ordinary” and how I live in these moments determine who or what I am worshiping. So here are a couple of things I am working on while in the school parking lot:

1. I pray the Jesus Prayer – a lot. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It’s easy. It’s true. And it’s effective. I pray it when I enter the parking lot. I pray it every time I get cut off by another driver. I pray it when I drop off my grandson. I pray it when I leave the parking lot onto my next thing. It reminds me of who I belong to and my limitations and my need for what only God can give me.

2. I do an Examen. I notice the feelings and emotions that happen when I am treated rudely by another driver or when I feel like I am in a rush. I ask God to reveal what is underneath all these emotions. I ask the Spirit to speak to me, to give me perspective, and to give me peace.

3. I talk, play and am present with my grandson. This gives me perspective and grounds my spirituality in reality. Aiden is a delightful child. When I am truly present with him, I am elevated above the mundane craziness in the cars around me. I am reminded why Jesus says we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So, as much as possible, I keep my attention on him until I drop him off with his Kindergarten teacher. Aiden helps me to be Christ-like and reminds me the joy of being his grandpa.

So what “school” is God giving you real life instructions about living out your spirituality?

What helps you to refocus on Jesus when life gets crazy?

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Breath Prayer

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Last night I woke up at 3am in a panic. Something just gripped my mind and heart as I was filled with anxiety. A small, still Voice told me, “Just breathe … and pray.” So I took deep breaths. I tried praying the Jesus prayer, but it was too long. All that could come out was, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner.” So each breath I prayed, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner” over and over and over again. Sure enough, God showed mercy on this sinner. The anxiety lifted, perspective was granted, and peace came.

I was reminded of the power of the “Breath Prayer.” The breath prayer is a short prayer (a few words long) that fits in the moment of a breath. In some ways, breath prayer is one of the ways we can seek to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:18) as breathing is something we do all the time. You can pray it aloud or in your mind. Breath prayer is the quickest and most effective discipline to get me back “in touch” with God. It is also the most rhythmic and portable spiritual practice. It aligns with the tempo of physical inhalation and exhalation. And you can pray a breath prayer anytime, anywhere.

Depending on the situation, the breath prayer can be a desperate and immediate cry for help (like my 3am attack) or it can be a long-range desire or petition. One of my long-term breath prayers is “Lord, help me to love as You do,” as God helped me to realize my deficiency in my life (and, interestingly enough, also my deepest desire). Or if someone you know has a great need, you can do powerful intercession through a breath prayer (“Lord, grant grace to _______” or “Draw ________ with Your love” or “Give _______ wisdom”).

The power in the breath prayer is repetition. You pray it over and over and over again. You can pray a breath prayer 20 times a minute. You can engage in this prayer several times a day. You can pray it in your car or waiting in the checkout line at the store. Like the relentless prayer of the widow in Luke 18:1-3, breath prayer is a way to keep knocking on the door until something happens.

Many authors have written great stuff about the power of breath prayer. Richard Foster (“Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home”) mentions a dual-breath prayer that utilizes the power of inhalation (“Fill me, Holy Spirit”) and exhalation (“I empty _____ from my soul”). Ruth Haley Barton (“Sacred Rhythms”) advocates finding a breath prayer that captures your deepest desires and longings as revealed by the Holy Spirit. She describes this as a “gut prayer” because it is a prayer that requires little thought, but deep soulfulness.

Most of all, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant or a theological scholar to pray a breath prayer. It’s a prayer that anyone can pray at anytime. It is a prayer that God hears, certainly. Like the power of water in erosion, persistent breath prayers can dramatically change the contour of situations, hearts, and societies.

But even more important, God uses breath prayer to shape our hearts and souls. It refines our motives, desires and petitions. It helps us to practice perseverance. It brings us to the throne of God at times that we normally might not even think about God – during our everyday ordinary daytime hours or in the wee hours of the night.  As the name of God is on our breath, His presence comes into our thoughts and His peace enters our hearts. Breath prayer postures us to constantly offer our lives and our desires to God. Breath prayer aligns us for Whole Life Worship.

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Pressing Jesus

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An hour before our 9:30am Easter Service, I received some bad news from my Pastor of Tech Ministries: our plans to do a live video feed of our Cardboard Testimonies hit a huge roadblock; the video processing unit was not working. This was devastating news because it would mean that most of the people in the worship service would not be able to read the words written on the cardboard sheets held up by those giving their testimonies.

For those of you who are not familiar with Cardboard Testimonies, it is a powerful tool where people write (in 2-6 words) their area of brokenness on one side of the cardboard sheet, and how Christ transformed/healed that brokenness on the other.

This live video feed would enable everyone in the Worship Center to see clearly those powerful words of testimony to God’s greatness.

My first inclination was to give up and just make do. There just wasn’t enough time or know how. But something inside of me told me to “press in.” So I went to one of our Techs and asked him if this problem was “impossible” or “improbable.” He told me that it wasn’t impossible, but it was highly unlikely to get it to work. He also told me that working on it might cause additional problems in the worship service.

I prayed a quick prayer for guidance and sensed the Spirit again saying, “press in.” So I told him to work on it, and that I would take responsibility if something went wrong.

Then I gathered my worship team and asked them to join me in prayer for this.

I prayed, first giving Him thanks for helping us overcome every hurdle that we faced in preparation for these Easter services (and there were many). But then I did something I rarely do: I pushed back on the Lord. I cried out, “But how could you bring us this far and leave us like this? Over 30 people courageously stepped up to give their Cardboard Testimony of what you’ve done for them, and now no one is going to get to see it? We have been planning and praying for this moment for seven weeks. We cannot take this any further; you’re going to have to show up. Please give us what we need to glorify you!”

And then we waited as we continued our other preparations for the service.

Thirty minutes later, my son came to our break room yelling, “It’s working! It’s working! We have live video feed!”

It was the most powerful Easter service in recent memory. People, even newcomers and visitors, were weeping during the Cardboard Testimonies. After the presentation, the church gave God and the testifiers a standing ovation that lasted minutes.

It is difficult to discern whether to “press in to Jesus” or to “let go and let God.” There’s no formula. There’s no cut and dried method.

I think it’s more about relationship than technique. It’s  about paying attention to the Spirit and about having ongoing conversations with God. It’s about walking with Jesus in daily, ordinary life that we learn how to respond when something “out of the ordinary” happens.

I just read this morning about the two disciples who walked to Emmaus on that first Easter morning (Luke 24). The Risen Jesus joined them, but they had no idea it was him or that he had risen from the dead. But when he was about to leave them, it says that the disciples “pressed him to join them” (v. 19, New Jerusalem Bible). Because they pressed in – pleading him to stay with them – their eyes were soon opened to see the glory of the Resurrected One.

It still happens today. As I experienced, when Jesus causes us to press into him, he can open our eyes to see him so much greater than we thought or imagined.

When was a time where you pressed into Jesus and then saw him do something remarkable?

What are some qualities that differentiate between “pressing into Jesus” versus “demanding God to do something”?

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Post Lent Reflections

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Whew! After six worship services, four rehearsals, hours of set up and tear down, creating videos, powerpoints, coordinating volunteers, and many prayers (some frantic and desperate, others more reflective and contemplative) I can say with Jesus, “It is finished!” Of course, his work was the greatest and most difficult deed in all of history. Mine was just a very small part to continue the proclamation and remembrance of this great event to our generation.

I have a couple snippets of reflection; things that empowered my life over the past 47 days, when I took on the ashen cross to commence the season of Lent. I made a commitment to be more focused on the Lord and more faithful in my rhythms. So here are a few things I picked up:

– As in the Lent tradition, I chose to not say the word, “Alleluia” until Easter Sunday. It’s not that I didn’t praise God during that time. I praised Him constantly during my Personal Worship Times, Worship in the Everyday Ordinary, with my small and large faith communities. But I chose to reserve the word “Alleluia” until Resurrection Day. And when I said it (it was at 4am on Easter Sunday; in preparation for Sunrise Service), it was like an “explosion” of joy coming out of my mouth. I praise God for many things, but to praise Him for conquering the powers of darkness and death through the Resurrection is the greatest. That word has a deeper meaning to me, as does the event that begins all the “Alleluias.

– Praying “Fixed Hour Prayer” and Lectio Divina on the Lectionary passages throughout Lent was a wonderful journey. Something very powerful happened in my soul as I walked with Jesus and the disciples in the Gospel readings. When Palm Sunday came, as I read about Jesus setting his face like flint toward Jerusalem and the Cross, I felt that turn. The spiritual intensity was ratcheted up a couple of notches. I was no longer just reading about the journey – I was on the journey and finding myself in the Gospel stories!

– The Lenten way of the Cross, combined with a new discipline that I’m learning (called “Welcoming Prayer” – more on that in future blogs), has helped me to overcome tendencies and patterns that lead to darkness. There has definitely been some “dying” going on, especially toward how I react to hard situations or interactions.

As a Baptist (or Presbyterian, for that matter), I was never really taught about the rhythm of the Church calendar. But spending the past Lent season in these spiritual practices have opened up a new door for me. I can’t wait to see and experience what the Lord has for me in the next 50 day season … to Pentecost!

What new spiritual discipline or practice has helped you expand your Whole Life Worship to God?

What was meaningful to you during Easter, Good Friday, Holy Week or Lent?

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Today is Good Friday. One of the most beautiful and haunting hymns that speak of the crucifixion of our Lord is the spiritual, “Were You There?” It is simple and to the point, like all of the spiritual songs of the African-American slaves. Each verse has a simple phrase describing the atoning death of Jesus on the Cross. But what gives me chills is the soulful expression at the end of each phrase.

Oh – oh – oh – oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble … tremble … tremble.

I’ve always viewed this spiritual as a reflection of what took place in the past, that the event of the Cross was something that happened two millennia ago. I’ve also assumed that the singer of this song is wondering what it would be like to have been there at the time of the crucifixion.

But I realize now that there is another possibility.

The Cross is the ultimate nexus point in time. It is not only the instrument used in the death of our Savior; it is the “cross point” where all of human history intersects. It is the door for the past, present and future of humankind to meet. And it is there we must “cross” that threshold in order to leave our current reality of death and enter the new reality of life in the Kingdom.

In the stories surrounding the Cross, you and I are there – if we enter into this nexus.

I am there in the crowd that cried for Jesus to be crucified. Every time I sin, every time I take the throne of my life in prideful defiance, every time I choose to be “God” of my destiny, I am crying out for the death of Christ.

But I am also there as the women who courageously followed Jesus and, as a minority voice, cried out for love and righteousness against the worldly wave of hostility and injustice.

I am Barabbas. I am the murderous sinner who was pardoned, while Jesus took my penalty and my pending execution.

But I am also Simon of Cyrene, called to carry the Cross and walk with Jesus down the “Way of Suffering,” not fully knowing how this inconvenient suffering will later serve to produce true Life and transformation.

I am the thief on the cross who cursed Jesus; my words of mockery and disdain coming from the venomous well of self-centered entitlement and bitterness.

But I am also the other thief, stricken with grief and regret over a poorly lived life. Yet, humbled as I look to Jesus as my only hope for redemption.

Most of all, though, I am on the Cross with Jesus. My sin affixed to him with every blow from the cat-of-nine-tails, every pounding of the spikes, every tearing from the crown of thorns, every drop of spittle spewed in contention, every insult hurled in anger, and every ounce of burdensome weight that squeezed life from the Nazarene.

And so I died with him. And I was buried with him.

But I will rise with him, too.

Oh – oh – oh –oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble!

Yes, I was there when they crucified my Lord.

And, gratefully, that is why I am a Whole Life Worshiper of Jesus Christ.

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