Does God speak to us today?

Plug that question into your web browser, and you will come up with a dizzying array of differing responses. Near the top of the list, I encountered this one: Does God Speak Directly to Man Today? While I might like to think that it’s a bit on the “extreme” end, it is probably far more mainstream an answer than I could care to admit.

Bottom line: the author states, “If one wishes to know the will of God on a subject, he must search the Holy Scriptures. This is the only source of sacred information relative to things spiritual (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).”

This is a satisfying answer, I suppose, for those who view Christianity as primarily a religion, a theological system, a set of beliefs. Answers like that are safe. They avoid potential problems, such as:

Finally, there is a very obvious flaw in the assertion that the Lord is speaking directly to people today. Such a view allows anyone to fabricate, out of thin air, any claim he or she wishes, with no demonstrative means available of either confirming or exposing the statement.

However, for those who like to think that, as I’ve frequently been told by fellow Believers over the years, “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship”, the concept that God speaks to us only through the Bible is less than satisfying.

Imagine the following relationship. You never actually see the other person in the relationship. You speak to him on the phone, but he remains completely silent. The good thing is that you have a book he wrote that describes, among other things, how to have a relationship with him. However, even this marvelous book is not exhaustive and there are things it doesn’t cover. You ask him questions. Dead silence. There are parts of the book you don’t understand. You ask more questions. Dead silence. Finally you join a book club with other people, for the sole purpose of studying this person’s book. You form relationships with other book club members, but the person you really want a relationship with remains an enigma outside of the pages of his book, always silent, always distant, never speaking.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Jesus is that…well, that bizarre. In fact, call me a raving lunatic or extremely misguided or someone who fabricates stuff out of thin air, but the relationship I have with Jesus Christ is far more immediate, intimate, and real than the non-relationship I described — and I hope it will grow even closer and more real in the days and years to come.

I believe God “speaks” to us today, in a variety of different ways, some very subtle (“the still small voice”) and some more bold. I believe He speaks to different ones of us differently. I believe He “speaks”, perhaps most often, in ways that have nothing to do with actual words. At the same time, I believe that if someone is so fully convinced that God only speaks through the pages of the Bible, he or she will not recognize His voice, even if He were to shout loudly…which, in my limited experience, He tends not to do.

In fact, I’ve never heard an audible voice. Sometimes words and sentences have come to mind in a way that I knew was not my own thinking. Sometimes I’ve just known things. Sometimes God has spoken through other people, through circumstances, through memories, through music, etc. Sometimes I was sure it was Him; other times not.

Jesus told us, “My sheep recognize my voice.” I don’t think He merely meant that His followers in our current age would acknowledge that the red letter parts of the Bible were things He said while on earth, or that we would hold to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. I tend to be somewhat concrete in my thinking (much to my far more symbolically-minded husband’s frustration) and I cling to the fact that Jesus spoke highly of the faith of children, rather than pointing out that they were not yet capable of higher-level, abstract reasoning.

Besides, I like to think that this particular sheep, prone to wander though I may be, has been doing a somewhat better job of following the Shepherd lately, and is becoming far more familiar with His voice.

St. Patrick’s Prayer

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

[Note that people sometimes pray a shorter version of this prayer just with these 15 lines about Christ above. The conclusion follows below.]

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Praying outside of the prayer closet

“She wants you to pray for her.”

And so I did, right then and there, in the restaurant. What she wanted and needed was not just that I would bow my head in silence, during which I could have been thinking of anything as far as she could tell. No, she needed to hear and see that I was praying, even if she couldn’t understand the language I was speaking.

That’s why I stood by her chair, rested my hand on her shoulder, and prayed aloud.

Recently I have come across some articles and blog posts taking issue with public prayer, claiming that Jesus’ words about praying in one’s closet meant that we should pray only in secret isolation and never where anyone might see or hear us. I’m not here to offer a theological rebuttal to that impractical and — I fully believe — unbiblical assertion. All I know is that it seems ridiculous to me that Jesus would have wanted me to respond to this woman, “I will pray for you just as soon as I find a secret hiding place.”

Other people in the restaurant might have found my behavior odd, wacky, or even offensive — especially when I raised my other hand towards heaven. I wasn’t putting on a show. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone with my piety. I wasn’t shouting out flowery prayers. I wasn’t “preach-praying”. Frankly, I didn’t give anyone else in the restaurant a thought.

It was all about her. 

She needed prayer. Her head had been resting on another woman’s shoulder as she wept and wept, a torrent of tears that had been held inside of her for a very long time. Her story was grim and painful, her situation tragic and desperate. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and take her and her children — including the baby she had not been able to see for two months — back home to America with me.

She was a bar girl, a prostitute we had “bought” for the evening. The bar owner had lured her into coming to Pattaya and working there, with promises of better wages to support her children back in her home village. She had only been in town, working at the bar, for three weeks. She looked deeply sad…and shell-shocked.

I prayed for her. I knelt down by her chair, fighting back my own tears, looked her in the eyes, and said, “I came all the way from America to tell you that Jesus loves you.” Over the course of the evening, I told her more than that, and I spent even more time listening to her. (We had interpreters to help us overcome the language barrier.) But I meant my words. My trip would have been entirely worth it to me if all I had accomplished the entire time we were there was telling her about the love of Jesus — because she was worth it. She was that lost lamb Jesus told about, the one that it is worth leaving the 99 sheep in order to search for.

We did more than pray. She now knows about the Tamar Center and about the hope it offers her. My new friends there will follow up with her and stay in contact.

Now I’m back in the States. I want to be the type of person here who is willing to pray in restaurants — not to be obnoxious or to make a show, but to be there for those in need. I want to feel as free and open here as I did there in Thailand. I want to be brave enough to take prayer out of the closet and into wherever it’s most needed.

Reading on the plane

I grew up hearing stories about a German pastor in the 1800’s named Johann Christoph Blumhardt. My aunt recently discovered that a book about him had been translated into English, and kindly sent me a copy.

Wow. I’m being blown away. Talk about spiritual battles, victories, and learning to pray! It’s a mind-boggling account and — while parts of it resonate deeply with me — I’m finding some of my theological beliefs being shaken up or, at the very least, coming up for questioning and re-examination.

I devoured it on the plane, marked it up extensively, and would love to get other people to read it so we can discuss it together. Ever read anything like that?

Prayer in action

This evening I’m embarking on the first leg of a trip that will no doubt prove to be an adventure in prayer unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

It is also the culmination of prayers…mine and others.

In the morning, I will board a plane for Tokyo, where we will change planes for our final destination: Thailand. I will be part of a team ministering in Pattaya, partnering with local workers reaching out to those caught up in the sex trade. We will be doing a number of outreach efforts, and my prayer is that I might be Jesus’ hands and feet, His mouthpiece, to all those I meet.

I expect my heart to be broken. Irrevocably broken. In fact, that has been my dangerous, reckless plea: that my heart would be broken by the very things that break the heart of God.

It’s a dangerous, painful prayer that Bob Pierce prayed, and that I have made my own. There was a time when I greatly feared heartbreak, fully believing that I had already suffered enough of it, and that I could not bear any more. But now I no longer want a small, protected, stingy, hard heart. I want mine to be as much as possible like my Father’s.

I fully expect to see Him move on this trip. Even if it’s just to continue His work of turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and of further liberating my heart from lovelessness and selfishness. But my prayer is that my being there will make a difference…a very small drop in a painfully enormous and overwhelming bucket.

Please pray with me…and for me.

Prayer is a mystery…part 2

Over the years, I have prayed with a lot of different people, from different cultures and different expressions of Christianity. I’ve prayed with older people whose prayers were spoken in quiet, somber, reverent King James English. I’ve prayed with Asian believers when everyone in the room was taking very seriously, all at the same time, the verses about “crying out to the Lord”. I’ve prayed, years ago, with newly-saved hippies in the Jesus Movement. I’ve prayed with people who spoke in tongues. I’ve prayed with people who were very staid and formal…very casual…very intimate…very exuberant…very passionate…very weepy…very joyous…I’ve prayed with people who knelt, people who stood, people who raised their hands, people who shouted and ran around, people who sang more than they prayed, people who wept, people who prostrated themselves face down on the floor…I’ve prayed with Catholics and Baptists and Jews and people from pretty much every Christian denomination…and even a cult or two…

All that various and sundry prayer experience is mainly because I’m not exactly a new kid on the block — and I used to get around a lot. Maybe I still do, come to think of it.

There are some seemingly extreme differences in how people pray, and even in how the same person will pray in different settings and circumstances. Certainly my “God, You are amazing and I want to worship You!” prayers are quite different from my “This situation is desperate!!” prayers. Not every conversation with my husband follows the same format and style either.

Sometimes I will use the term “prayer-compatible”. There are people you can pray with…and then there are people you can pray with. It’s not just that you can be real and uninhibited (in prayer, anyway) in front of that person, but that there is this mysterious sense of unity. You don’t have to pray exactly the same way or have the same “style” — it’s deeper than that. When you are prayer-compatible, it’s not just polite praying back and forth, or even all crying out at the same time — at that time of prayer, you are on the same page, in agreement over what you are praying, hearing some of the same things from the same God, and responding in similar ways. The prayers get real. Sometimes that other person will start praying for something that you were about to pray for…or you discover that something extremely important to you is also important to them…and you are not just praying together, you are experiencing that awesome mystery of gathering in Jesus’ name and knowing He is there with you, guiding those prayers. Your agreement with each other turns out to be agreement with Him….and you know that. Their prayers become your prayers, and yours become theirs, and they all become His.

When you find a group of people like that…or just one person…don’t let go of them. Pray your hearts out with each other. Enjoy the beautiful, powerful mystery.

It will change you.

It may even change your world.

Prayer is a mystery…part 1

When I was very little, I learned that prayer was “talking to God”. I think it was a Sunday School teacher who encouraged us to “talk to God as if He was your friend”, but I’d already learned from my parents that “Hey, what’s going on? I heard a funny joke today” wasn’t considered an actual prayer. We were expected to be reverent, serious, with eyes closed and hands folded, and any silliness would have been unthinkable. After all, we were talking to God.

It was wrong to give Him a laundry list of requests, especially if they were for ourselves. My mother would remind us, in her humorous way, not to pray like the boy no one really knew who supposedly prayed, “My name is Jimmy; gimme, gimme, gimme.”

We were supposed to avoid praying by rote, but we did have a few formula prayers, mainly grace before meals. (Why is that prayer called “grace” anyway?) My bedtime prayers, for years, ended with me asking God to protect me from fire and flood — because fire terrified me, and I couldn’t swim. After my first earthquake, I added that.

Since my mother listened to those bedtime prayers, I felt somewhat inhibited about praying for some of the other things that scared or troubled me. How could I complain that I thought my parents had been unfair about something, or ask God to change their minds about something they had forbidden me to do? How could I confess something I didn’t want to get in trouble for? How could I ask God what to do about the weird, stinky boy who shared a desk with me at school? How could I admit my childish doubts? Somehow I got the idea that prayer had to be sanitized and proper, and meet with my parents’ approval.

Then, at age 10, I read the Psalms.

I was shocked some of them were in the Bible. All that lamenting and questioning and complaining! Why hadn’t God struck David dead for talking to Him like that?

That was the summer that I read straight through the Bible for the very first time. I was constantly bombarding my father with questions — and suggestions for how the Bible should have been written, to make it more understandable to kids. (For example, I wanted more editorial comments in the Old Testament, along the lines of, “Children, this was very wicked and evil, so don’t even think about ever doing anything remotely like it.”) Luckily, my father just so happened to be a pastor, with a scholarly bent — along with a great deal of patience with me — and he seemed to delight in answering my questions.

I still remember the twinkle in my father’s eyes when I expressed my outrage over the Psalms. “Oh, baby girl,” he said affectionately and with almost a chuckle, “you’ll understand when you get older.” Knowing that answer would not satisfy, he went on more seriously, “What you need to know is that you can come to God with anything. He can handle our toughest questions, and whatever we throw at Him.”

It took me years to learn that…really learn it.

In the meantime, I grew up with two praying parents, and heard about — and experienced — many answers to prayer. But I would often wonder how prayer worked. Why were some prayers answered and not others? What role did faith play? Could we actually get God to change His mind? If not, why pray at all?

I grew to appreciate this quote from C.S. Lewis:

”I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me.”

However, it didn’t — and still doesn’t — answer all my questions of why…and how…

Prayers without words

IMG_1176 Ah, but Gandhi was hardly a Christian, some might point out. His ideas of prayer and our ideas should be fundamentally very different. Aren’t we praying to entirely different Beings? I’m reminded of another Gandhi quote:

IMG_1175 And then there is a Bible quote:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭26‬ NASB)

Learn by doing

Every once in awhile, a new karate student will ask me excitedly about book recommendations. They will notice my bookshelf in the dojo and expect me to match their enthusiasm with a reading list or, at the very least, a book title to start.

Inevitably they are disappointed at my answer.

Karate is best learned by doing. I urge my students to get their feet out on the floor and train, to get the basics down before worrying about anything else. I tell my beginners that the book recommendations will come later, much later. First they need to do karate — practice, practice, practice. After they have matured in their training, the books will be helpful rather than a confusing hindrance.

I feel slightly hypocritical when I say that. My standard m.o., when embarking on a new endeavor, is to gather a bunch of books and resources on the topic. Karate was a rare exception for me, and I’m thankful for it.

It’s important, with some disciplines, to spend more time doing than studying. Sometimes it’s best to do first, read later. Sometimes a foundation of training and experience is needed in order to glean things of real value from reading.

I think prayer is like that.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” he didn’t give them a lecture in different types of prayer, or why one should pray, or any of the other topics typically covered when prayer is taught. He gave them a model for prayer, and told them to do it.

I chose the title of this blog carefully. I want my “adventures” to be in prayer, not about prayer. This won’t be an academic discourse, or a bunch of theories. It will be mostly my story, my experience, my journey.

My parents made sure, when I was a little kid, that I prayed daily. Unfortunately, it did not become a lifelong habit — there were times when I was, sad to say, not on very good speaking terms with God. But now I am seeking more than just a daily habit or discipline. I’m not content with prayers that don’t make a difference, in me and in my world.

I’ve done quite a bit of training in basics. I’ve been breaking open a few books lately to supplement my own experiences. But, most of all, I need to remember to pray.

Just pray.

That’s the most important thing. Learn by doing.

Prayer can be difficult


Some people seem more naturally suited to a life of prayer. I think of monks or nuns, dedicating themselves to prayer numerous times throughout the day. I imagine them to be serene of temperament, easily given to peaceful contemplation. There are the elderly women in churches, the “prayer warriors” who quietly organize prayer vigils, meetings, and events — and who arrive early at every church service to pray. Then there are the fiery intercessors, who seem to have some unique “in” with God, with prayer lives that puzzle us lesser mortals. Of course, I also think of my parents, the go-to people for prayer in our extended family and circle of friends. My older brother and I dubbed them “the big guns”, as in, “This situation is desperate. We better call in the big guns to pray for us.”

I am not one of those for whom prayer comes easy.

So that’s what any potential readers of my blog need to know straight off. If you are looking for great wisdom borne out of decades of a wonderful prayer life, there are lots of wonderful books you should read instead. But if you are interested in my journey from someone who struggles with prayer to someone who…well, who does whatever it is that God has planned for me…then keep on reading.

I chose one word for 2015, as the thing I would focus my entire year around, and that word was prayer. My goal is to become the sort of “prayer warrior” God wants me to be. I know that will take much longer than a year. But here I am, determined and excited to see how far this year will take me.