Friday, January 27, 2012

As Then . . . So Again

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion . . . will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

We imagine David as vulnerable and poorly armed for battle. We are wrong.

He had been offered the King’s armor. He had even tried to wear the “helmet of bronze and the coat of mail.” He had strapped on the King’s sword – and the weight of all that strength was paralyzing to David. He could barely move. He laid all of that aside and took up the weapon he knew best – a sling.

This is God’s way. What looks to us like pathetic weakness is actually power in God’s hand.

But David stepped into the valley that day armed with something that no one there could see, certainly not Goliath and not even Saul. It was not weapon that could be held in the hand or placed on the head or draped over the body.

Perhaps David’s most formidable weapons that day were stories and memories: stories and memories of God’s help, God’s deliverance, God’s presence in trouble, God’s power in the face of threat. David had lived this. David had seen this. And it made him confident. These stories had made a giant killer of a shepherd boy.

This is no mere belief in God. When it’s time to face a giant it simply will not do to say “I believe in God.” Killing giants requires more than the kind of agreeable mental assent we often label as ‘belief.’ Those who kill giants have stories to tell. They have seen God at work. They know what Go can do. They are utterly convinced that God is able. And for this reason they are dangerous.

David had field experience . . . literally. In the remote regions where shepherds dwell David had faced enemies. When beasts came to prey on the flock under his care, David had gone at them aggressively. And time and time again God had delivered. Every such story was a weapon in David’s soul.

As then . . . so again. What God did once God will do now. David knew this. Do you?

Throughout the Bible this is God’s way with us. When Joshua was called upon to take the place of Moses God encouraged him with this promise: “As I was with Moses so I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5). As then . . . so again.

When the disciples were in a boat with Jesus and worried about the fact that they had forgotten to bring bread, Jesus reminded them of how he had fed thousands with meager provisions and how they had gathered days worth of leftovers (Mark 8:14-21). Why worry about bread? As then . . . so again.

So what stories do you tell? When and how have you seen God unmistakably at work in your life? When have you known his presence as close to you as your own breath? When have you sensed his peace taking up residence deep in your chest? Be specific – and remember. Tell yourself and others this story. Rehearse it. It will make you dangerous today against whatever you face.

Psalm 143 is a Psalm “of David.” In it the Psalmist cries out to God about threats coming from an enemy – an enemy who “has crushed my life to the ground.” The Psalmist responds to this threat with memory: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done” (Psalm 143:3-5).

As then . . . so again. What work of God will you remember today?

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the works of your hands . . . my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life . . . destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” Amen. (from Psalm 143)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thursday Book Club: A Praying Life

I want to let you know about something that’s starting this week. I know . . . short notice.

Anyway, I’m trying to gather any and all interested persons in a five week book club to read through and discuss Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World. The format is very simple: you read the book week by week and we gather and talk about what we’re learning. You are welcomed to bring a lunch with you . . . or not. This will be a very relaxed kind of thing, not a “class.” We’ll open each week with “what did you read that you liked or learned from, etc” and then we’ll see where things go.

The Book: A Praying Life by Paul Miller (in the Peachtree Bookstore now)

The Day: Thursdays beginning January 26 – ending Feb. 23 (a good read just as Lent begins)

The Time: 12:05 – 12:55 pm

The Place: The Lodge @ Peachtree Presbyterian Church (one of the classrooms upstairs)

Call 404-842-3172 for more information

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Circle Maker: Praying "For" and "Through"

Seems to me that Mark Batterson may be the E. M. Bounds of our age. Bounds wrote almost 100 years before Batterson, but the voices are similar. Both of these men talk about prayer like it really does something. Both urge the kind of praying that expects something - a confident coming before the throne of grace, a persistent knocking like a widow demanding justice.

When was the last time you found yourself flat on your face before the Almighty? When was the last time you cut off your circulation kneeling before the Lord? when was the last time you pulled and all-nighter in prayer?

There are higher heights and deeper depths in prayer, and God wants to take you there . . . But if you want God to do something new, you can't do the same old thing. It will involve more sacrifice, but if you are willing to go there you'll realize that you didn't sacrifice anything at all. It will involve more risk, but if you are willing to go there you'll realize that you didn't risk anything at all.

Make the sacrifice . Take the risk. Draw the circle. (Circle Maker, 34)

Batterson calls this "praying through." Praying through is different than "praying for." It is marked by a particular intensity and consistency.

So what are you praying "for?" What are you praying "through?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vague Prayers: Reflections on Mark Batterson's "The Circle Maker"

Over the past several weeks I’ve been making my way through Mark Batterson’s latest book, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears.

The way Batterson approaches prayer reminds me of a statement I heard from the late Elizabeth Achtemeier. Achtemeier taught Bible at Union Seminary in Richmond, Va. for many years. In this particular sermon she was talking about the prophets and how they viewed and spoke about God. Without recalling the exact context, I remember her observation that “many people in our churches believe in God . . . they just don’t think he does anything.”

The Circle Maker has challenged me because it raises my suspicions that my own prayer life proves Professor Achtemeier’s point.

In my own defense, I do believe there is a variety of streams or schools of prayer. Richard Foster’s Prayer covers them quite well.

Most of my reading has dealt with a more contemplative approach to prayer - and that has naturally shaped the way I pray. Contemplative prayer seems to be a way of giving attention to God in the midst of what is actually there – the circumstances that exist now, the people I encounter. The act of paying attention is at the heart of this kind of praying.

But Batterson’s book is about a way of praying that visualizes what isn’t actually there – at least not yet. It goes beyond paying attention to visioning a desired reality. This is how Batterson prayed as he went to plant a church in Washington, D.C. His book is full of examples and stories of how he has seen God work through prayer.

My discomfort comes from the sense that I’ve never really prayed this way. But I want to. At least I think I do.

To be specific, I want to pray circles around my ministry and my family.

From time to time I’ll post a quote from the book. I might offer some commentary along with it. Batterson is an engaging writer – pithy in the style of Rick Warren. I’ll begin today with this statement about vague prayers.

A few years ago I read one sentence that changed the way I pray. The author, pastor of one of the largest churches in Seoul, Korea, wrote, “God does not answer vague prayers.” (p. 25)

If our prayers aren’t specific . . . God gets robbed of the glory that He deserves because we second-guess whether or not he actually answered them. We never know if the answers were the result of specific prayer or general coincidences that would have happened anyway. (p. 26)

Questions: Does God answer vague prayers? How do you know? And what specific prayers are you bringing before God these days?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Winter - Spring 2012 Bible Studies Begin this Week

"MIDWEEK" starts this Wednesday, January 11 @ 6:00 p.m.

Wisdom . . . what exactly is it, and how do we get it? We learn early on that we will be rewarded for being smart (good grades). And ewe eventaully learnd that we will be admired for our wealth (status). But wisdom is rarely applauded. We recognize it, but how do we pursue it? This semestrer in "Midweek" we'll be looking at the books of Proverbs and James and thinking about what it means to live with wisdom. Not a bad pursuit for a New Year.

"SOLA SCRIPTURA" starts on Sunday, January 15 @ 9:00 a.m.

Making use of Eugene Peterson's book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best, we'll spend some time with the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had a prophetic ministry that lasted about 50 years . . . a half century of being ignored. How did he stay at it? And how do we walk faithfully with our God when it seems to be doing little "good?"