“Lord, teach us to pray.”


Lord, teach us to pray.
(Luke 11:1)

I dare you to live that prayer.

I love this verse because it shows that this whole prayer thing can be learned. No one is born knowing how to be the perfect husband. Or mother. Or pray-er. You aren’t the first aspiring Jesus-follower to have a hard time figuring this out. I’m no prayer expert but I’ll share a few insights I wish I’d known earlier.

God hears me even when I don’t think I can hear Him.  I’ve often been tempted to think that my prayers were getting nowhere because I could not “feel” something happening.  Or, I have felt like I was being a hypocrite to pray when I didn’t really feel into it.  My love is weak, my heart is distracted.  Yet I have learned that even my weak love and feeble prayers mean loads to our Father in heaven.

Don’t act like a professional. Don’t try to sound cool.  Don’t try to learn the religious lingo of strange Christians you meet.  Just get real with God.

The Bible helps.  I used to separate my Bible reading and prayer.  But something happened when I started to use the Bible to help me pray.

There are many pathways in prayer.  Of course we can pray quietly with our eyes closed.  But we can also pray loudly with our eyes open.  We can write our prayers – or type our prayers.  We can pray in a closet or on a chair, standing or kneeling.  Some people really connect while in nature.  Some connect while singing or listening to music.  Silence is good.  So is darkness. Or a sunrise. You get the idea.

I need both structure and spontaneity.  It’s no mistake that Jesus left us a very sticky, but structured prayer that many call the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13)  I often use that as my prayer prompt. (TRY THIS)  And then I also go completely off-script and pray my heart.  Sometimes I buy my wife a greeting card with structured poetry written by someone else.  But then I add my own words as well.  I use both.

Put God-time on your schedule.  Some people are spontaneous and others are quite scheduled.  Regardless, life has a way of slipping away from you.  Twenty-four hours come and go and you can’t figure out where they went.  If communication with God is going to happen, it needs to make the schedule.  Every single day.  Pick a time.  Avoid giving your leftovers.  Get with God, turn the phone off, and let it rip.

There is a threshold. I can’t explain this scientifically, but I have found that there is something like a threshold in the place of prayer that, once crossed, makes all the agony in getting there worth it.

Hell hates prayer.  Expect every possible distraction to keep you from pursuing your relationship with God in this way.  Depressed people get hope in prayer.  Husbands start loving their wives in prayer.  Children soften their hearts in prayer. So I expect an emergency to try and interrupt my time with Jesus.  I expect a million reminders of things I need to do today.  I expect to become sleepy.  I expect to become bored.  But I press on. And I’ve never been sorry when I endured in the place of prayer.

Why haven’t more of my prayers been answered?

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Let’s be clear.

I don’t deserve for my prayers to be answered.

But Jesus took what I deserve. This is the gospel. He lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died. He was treated as I deserve so that I could be treated as he deserves.

Jesus deserves for His prayers to be answered.

So pray.

Pray the kinds of prayers Jesus would pray.

Pray like you believe the gospel.

Why haven’t more of my prayers been answered? Because I have often prayed more like a doubting, condemned criminal under law than an expectant, beloved son under grace. Sons believe their Father.

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. -John 15:7

You are in the gifted program

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Earlier this week I had a conversation with a little boy who was tested for the “gifted program” in his elementary school. Ever experienced this? They take the kid into a room, give him a barrage of tests to assess his mental aptitude, and make their recommendations. My heart broke to find out the boy would not make the cut. You’re not gifted; you’re just normal.

It got me thinking.

Scripture says that you have gifts. Some of these gifts are what we call natural talents. Some of these are acquired skills we pick up along the way. Still others are supernatural abilities that become activated when we start walking with God. It’s quite accurate to say that if you belong to Jesus you are in “the gifted program”.

Don’t underestimate your gifts.

When you are using your gifts, it feels like life.  When you do something else, it feels like strife.

Blessed is the man who does not waste his life trying to do things he was never wired to do. Blessed is the woman who accepts the reality that she has only been called to do a few things.  When she gives herself to those few things it feels like life.  When she tries to do something else it feels like strife.

Blessed are you when you wrap your life around your gifts.

This is one of the reasons I love the David story so much.  I know we usually see the pictures of pint-sized David with an under-sized slingshot taking down the super-sized giant.  But before he ever dealt with Goliath he had to deal with himself. On his way to the battlefield we find a scene that’s almost comical: Size XL King Saul tries to lend his massive armor to a size small David. Nice idea with a fatal flaw.

It didn’t fit.

I wonder how many of us live lives that don’t fit.  We go to school and major in subjects that fit someone else.  We apply for jobs with all kinds of benefits, but they fit someone else.  We join churches and clubs and organizations that plug people into positions that fit someone else.

There was nothing wrong with Saul’s armor. But it didn’t fit David. There is nothing wrong with being a teacher or an engineer or an organizer or a manager. Unless it doesn’t fit.

Are you living a life that fits?

He gave gifts to men. -Ephesians 4:8

Apparently one of David’s “gifts” manifested itself with a slingshot. And when it was time to take down the giant, he did not need the armor of men; he had learned how to roll with the gifts of God. There is something about the gifts of God. They’re always enough.

It’s almost counter-intuitive because we assume that our greatest achievements will come from our greatest labor.  Yet when we start flowing in our gifts it usually feels so natural that we wouldn’t even call it work.

We assume our greatest progress will come by working on our weaknesses.  Yet our greatest potential lies not in improving our weaknesses, but in really developing our strengths.  Your greatest contribution won’t come in trying to learn Saul’s armor, but in mastering the slingshot that has your name on it.

I know your slingshot doesn’t seem as impressive as someone else’s armor.  I understand that your mind may seem insignificant next to someone else’s genius. I realize that there is a little boy in every one of us that longs to have somebody tell us we are gifted. Well, someone has, so resist the urge, drop the armor, and pull out your slingshot.  Because when you wrap your life around your gifts you will come alive.  It fits.  It’s life.   But when you start trying to fit into a life that is not your own, it’s strife.  Frustration.

I dare you to believe the truth:

When you use your gifts:

God is most glorified.

You are most satisfied.

And others are most edified.


* For more ideas on how do discover your gifts and focus on your strengths may I suggest: (1) Jump into community. That’s where your gifts will rise to the surface. (2) Talk to elders or leaders in your life and ask them to pray with you about your giftedness. (3) Read more about giftedness. Check out 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 for some lists of spiritual gifts.

Playing it safe is folly

fear1What if playing it safe is stupid?

Many, many Christians are atheists unawares. These words have been ringing in my ears all day long. Regardless of what we say we believe, what do our lives reveal about our true belief? The deepest (and truest) parts of me long to pour myself out for the name and fame of the Lion of the tribe of Judah-Jesus. Not the tamed and domesticated Mary had a little lamb, his fleece was white as snow-Jesus.

Every time I hear someone describe the church as a safe place to run and hide from danger, I am sure they are not reading the book of Acts.

And I long for what I read about in the book of Acts.

Nietzsche was wrong. Nobody killed God; we’ve just domesticated Him. We’ve made Him too safe, too dull, too predictable. And the church has followed suit. Few things disturb me more than church – loaded with potential – yet domesticated beyond the point of holy recognition.

I keep thinking about how so many Christians approach Scripture. Did people spill their blood to bring us a Bible that would be treated like Chicken Soup for the Soul? Do we see the stories of holy Scripture as a distant narrative of a fairy tale promised land in an age long gone … or as the active invitation into the life of God and His great drama of the ages? Why are all these average Joes with questionable character and weak moral fortitude used to change history? It’s incredible.  Prideful, lustful, fearful, self-consumed people have this encounter with an invisible God who dares them to live beyond themselves. As if to say, there is no excuse for you and me not to jump in the story.

Everybody is going to die. Few people really live.

Everybody deals with fear. Few people truly opt for faith.

Everybody goes to church. Few people ever become church.

Everybody says they believe. Few people actually try to move mountains.

So let’s go for it. As I sit here at my desk preparing for our annual vision meeting this weekend, my heart is stirred. I long to pour my life into the things that will pass the eternity test. I long to be a part of a movement of people who invest in things that will pass the eternity test. I long for us to subordinate our lives and possessions and desires for the sake our King and his call on our blood-bought lives. When we stand to give account for what we did with our freedom and our time and our possessions and our education and our opportunities, I want to hear these syllables: Well done.

Yet I often wonder if I have what it takes. I’m afraid. I often wander from the God I love. I’m sinful. I have doubts about a vision that includes realities I have never seen with my own eyes. I’m prone to worry about money, and human opinion, and the embarrassment of failure. It would be easier to settle for safe.

But something deep says, if we’ll go all the way, we’ll never be sorry. No playing it safe. No Christian atheism. No fear.

I beg you to pray with me that we will not settle. Pray for us to have wisdom. But then pray that we will have the guts to believe.

For eternity,

Mike Patz

Catching our breath

“Let Us make man in Our image…”

It wasn’t the dust or the fingers or kneecaps that reflected the divine image. It was that invisible part. The breath of life. Because we were made for so much more than we can see or smell. We were made for more than flesh.

We were made for the deeper realities. Deeper purposes. When humans walked away from God the deeper things went dormant and the flesh began to rule. The dust was never meant to be our defining characteristic. When we live by what can be tasted and touched alone we settle for a diminished existence. Something less than the real life. The full life.

We miss the ruach. It’s the Hebrew word for wind, spirit, breath.

It’s not that there is a moral divide between the physical and the spiritual. Biblical faith does not get caught up in the gnostic error of condemning all things physical and elevating all things spiritual. Jesus does not call us to simply pursue the invisible and ignore the earthly. We are to be fully human.

Made of dust. But defined by His breath of life.

When they bit the fruit they really did die. They became fractured. Alive, but dead. Human, but less than. Incomplete. Not just them, but us … missing something we can not put our fingers on.

We lost our ruach, and we’ve been trying to catch our breath ever since.

That’s why the problem has never just been the dust we were made from. It’s the dust without the Ruach. That’s the essence of what the Scripture calls “the flesh.”

And that is why the best news we ever received was when God would take on flesh. Because what the first Adam lost, the second Adam has restored. Fully God, fully man. Recapturing the original intent: made of dust, but defined by our breath of life.

And if you’ll look to the One who lost his breath on the tree we call the cross, you’ll catch your breath, and find your life.

 

Letter from a Birmingham jail – part 7

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Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

…….

Selah.

Letter from a Birmingham jail – part 6

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There was a time when the church was very powerful–

In the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

…….

I will not cease praying for the church to reclaim her calling as the subversive Gospel-alternative in a world of outright darkness and dead religion. May it be true of us: “by their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.” I was contacted this week by a justice activist that pointed out that many of those who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. for the civil rights of oppressed school children now march for the civil rights of unborn children.

Enough thermometers.