Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Contribute Nothing

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39, ESV)


As we wrapped up our last class of the quarter, we reflected on what we had discussed. We had talked about Lent, to which most of my friends had never given a second thought, and how we might apply that in our non-liturgical forms. We had moved through several Christian discipline subjects (Meditation, Silence/Solitude, Prayer, and Study) after our initial discussion and challenged each other how we can deepen our relationship with Christ and know God more fully. We generally agreed that Meditation and Solitude are foundational to all the rest and are not an easy thing to accomplish. And today, as we summed it all up, my friend Jim made a fascinating observation.

We aren't required, or even capable, of doing anything to enhance our relationship with God. In choosing to pursue the disciplines, whether at the time of Lent or in some other way, the goal is not to give something up for temporal, human reasons (though there isn't anything wrong with that by any means). The goal is to lay aside what I think is important so I can hear and experience God. I need to, as Jim said, let the life He offers wash over me completely. Only in doing that can I deepen the experience God wants me to have and grow in the relationship. Much like Christ said in this passage from John, the result of this connection is not an increase in me, but in the Spirit flowing from God through me.

The Crooked Path offers many opportunities for learning and spiritual growth. I have been challenged, as were those in the class, to take every opportunity provided to move closer to God. He is the constant and has already provided what will suit me best. God is the single source for it all and I, in the end, contribute nothing except my obedience and a willing heart.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Noisy Gong

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV)


We're nearing the end of the sojourn discussing Lent and the Christian disciplines. Only one more class remains and this week was the second discussion on study. I was particularly influenced by some writing by Francis Chan regarding the goal of study and how we relate to the world around us. A core question was, "When people are around you, do they get glimpses of God? Or do they just see a lot of knowledge?"

Taking this question to heart, I have to ask myself, "To what end do I do my study?" I've said all along, the practice of disciplines - whether in conjunction with Lent or not - is to deepen my relationship with God. But if I'm seeking to go deeper without any regard to what others see, then I'm doing what Paul warns about in the 1 Corinthians passage. I'm a lot of noise with no real substance.

Practice of the disciplines is a good thing. Study, the kind that digs deep and seeks to learn and apply something that will truly change my life, is also a very good aim. But if that life is changed only in a superficial way, then Paul is correct - "I am nothing." My focus needs to seek to strengthen my relationship with my Father and extend my reach to my brothers and sisters.

Along my travels on this Crooked Path, hen a dark, lost world sees me they should see Christ. As Chan says, when I encounter someone, I need ask the question, "How can I lift up this person with the knowledge I have?" Anything else, is just a noisy gong.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Knowledge Isn't Enough

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:15 & 3:16-17, ESV)


Our world seems to value knowing "stuff" so much. The information age (and the accompanying overload) have given us 24x7 access to pretty much everything. Yet in the midst of our hurried and harried lifestyles, the art of true study has taken a back seat - or even worse. So many of us have lost or never even had the patience, diligence, and just plain old desire to really learn about something and experience it deeply. And even those that do study, narrow their focus to the point where the results don't lead to much more than being a knowledgeable expert on a subject which nobody really cares about anyway.

As one of the topics in his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard foster discusses the pursuit of study. He equates true study with the "thinking on these things" we know so well from Philippians 4:8. And study isn't limited to books or articles or research either. Study includes the observation of our world around us and the people we encounter. Study embraces every possible aspect of learning so that we may evaluate the lesson to be learned and see how it can deepen our relationship to God and, in turn, cause us to advance His Kingdom here and now.

In my travels on this Crooked Path, I will doubtless acquire knowledge of all kinds. I should never allow myself to think that knowledge is, by itself, sufficient as a means to an end. I need to go deeper and study ... learn. I must reach out to the One Teacher who will shape my mind so I reflect Christ, not just facts and knowledge, to all who I encounter. Only a true student of the Master can achieve that end.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Prayer Challenge

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.' They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." (Nehemiah 1:4-11, ESV)


This week, in our class on Lent and the Christian Disciplines, we discussed prayer again. I opened with this passage from Nehemiah and we talked through it on its own and in comparison to the Model Prayer our Lord presented the disciples. We talked about Nehemiah's penitent heart and manner, his sincere humility before his God. His acknowledgement of who God is and what He had promised to His people. If ever there was a model prayer, this is definitely in the running.

The challenge here is to evaluate my own prayer life and practice. Am I investing in it the way I should so that it is as rich and complete as it can be? Or am I approaching the work of prayer as a "necessary chore" that I'd like to get over with as quickly as possible? The latter accomplishes very little in terms of my spiritual progress. The former will change my life completely.

In preparation for this topic in class, I found a couple of posts from Christianity Today ( by Anna Broadway. I hadn't read Ms. Broadway's work until I found these posts, but she offers some great insight on personal prayer. She talks about "prayer walking" and truly praying for those around her in her NYC neighborhood. The focus on compassion (which she noted was distinctly lacking in her prayer life) was challenging. Foster had noted this in Celebration of Discipline as well. I left the class today knowing I want to learn how to pray in a deeper, more passionate way that seeks what God wants - not merely what I think should happen.

The Crooked Path being what it is - crooked - needs to be surrounded in prayer. Those prayers should become an integral part of who I am and seek to advance God's Kingdom here on Earth. They should be compassionate prayers that ask Jesus to reign not only in my life, but in the lives of all those I encounter, even if it is a casual one. My prayers need to be more than just talking to God; they need to listen to His voice and seek out a way to be His hands and feet in a difficult world.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." (Luke 11:1-3, ESV)


Such familiar words ... and so many thoughts behind them. While these might not have been the best educated of men, they were "good Jews" from their youth and they certainly had said their prayers since they were old enough to talk. Yet, here they are asking the question of their Master and it should give us pause to think. Just why did they choose this time in their relationship to ask Him that question?

I asked my Sunday School class about this today. We talked about how long they had been together (we speculated somewhere around a year or so) and what they had seen. In Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, he offered that they had seen something in Jesus that was different. We discussed the authority and power with which Jesus prayed - direct prayer for people that resulted in lives being changed. And, it made us think a bit about our approach to prayer.

In James (specifically 4:3), the brother of our Lord says the believers of his day didn't see results from their prayer because they asked the wrong way for the wrong reasons. We discussed this a bit in terms of treating God as some "cosmic slot machine" or a "genie" of some sort. But it is more than just "asking the right way". It extends to our hearts as we approach God's throne.

Foster says, "Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of spiritual life." I think that really meshes well with the thoughts we've shared in class and on this forum regarding meditation (having our hearts in the right place to be able to hear God when He speaks) and silence/solitude (putting ourselves physically in a place away from the noise of life so we are more apt to hear God when he speaks). Prayer, in this frame of mind, is a natural extension of our hearts as we commune with God.

The Crooked Path is varied. It brings so many different things into my experience, all of which are seen by God. He wants me to seek him diligently and deepen my relationship with Him. This is more than mere "talking to God" - it is an active practice of moving closer to Him. In choosing to do that, I need to echo the words of that disciple quoted in Luke ... "Lord, teach me to pray."