Praying the Bible

As I’ve been getting acquainted with various aspects of today’s prayer movement, I’ve grown to appreciate a greater emphasis on Scripture. I was familiar with taking a Psalm and making it a personal prayer, but this goes beyond that.

This morning I stood in Resurrection Sanctuary and prayed through Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 and through about half of Philippians. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would illuminate what I was reading, that He would apply those truths in my life. I was open with God about my own struggles. I shared my thoughts about what I was reading. I prayed that I would be obedient to what I was reading, and I prayed for my family and for the Church, getting very specific to what I was reading.

Years ago, during a time of discouragement and wanting to do my own thing, I told my parents, “I’m not cut out for Christianity!” Today, I was reminded of that. It’s still true. After all, I’m prone to wander. I fall so very, very short. I have a long ways to go before I can confidently and truthfully say, as in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

Christianity without the constant, indwelling presence of Jesus will never work for me. I don’t have what it takes to be a good Christian, or to follow the teachings of Jesus on my own. The only way I could do that is to twist the Bible all around, and ignore the parts I don’t like. In other words, I might as well make up my own religion.

  
So I stood in this little old church this morning, and once again pleaded with God for mercy and grace. I want to know Him more…want to serve Him better, even as every selfish bone in my body balks…and I want to love Him more. I want more of Him. I’m lost otherwise.

But it’s not just that. I want to know Him more because He is so worth knowing. I want to know this amazing, all-powerful God of the universe who cares so deeply for little old me. I want to know the Father who loves me so much and has done so much for me. Why wouldn’t I want more of such a wonderful God?

Prayer of repentance

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart:
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we my delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.

– from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

A place to pray

The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing”, which would necessitate the ability to pray anywhere and everywhere. That, in turn, would seem to imply that we don’t need a special place set aside just to pray.

So why do I have this in my living room?

IMG_2482

To be honest, I don’t have a theological reason, or a particularly profound one. There is nothing particularly holy or sacred about anything in this picture. But I have discovered that I am the sort of person who benefits from having a place set aside for prayer. It is a constant reminder that I have committed myself to a life of prayer. It is both an encouragement and a gentle rebuke when I fall short. It is a place where I can shut out all (well, as many as possible) distractions and focus on God.

I need physical, visual reminders. I’m just that sort of person. And I am growing increasing aware of my need for places and spaces that are set aside…consecrated even…for prayer.

IMG_2434

It’s a rather puzzling realization for a house church person to be making.

Under the shooting stars

header

Jensen Chapel at Thousand Pines was filled to capacity that late summer evening during the college-career camp I attended at age 19. There had been a few songs, an inspiring sermon by a preacher whose name I can’t remember, and then Bob Shepherd got up to lead more singing.

This was in the days before “worship music”. Yes, we had music from people like Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts, and more — but Contemporary Christian Music was just beginning to be a thing, and it was not yet any way near as wide-spread as today, or as welcome in church settings.

Besides, Bob Shepherd was from a different era. He was a familiar and beloved figure from my childhood, from the unforgettable “song services” that he had led over the years. He was in fine form that night, and we sang hymn after hymn after hymn, exuberantly and whole-heartedly, with a number of favorite old choruses thrown in for good measure, until he was drenched in sweat, lost his voice, and left most of us exhausted.

I didn’t want to stop. That song, “I could sing of His love forever” was years off in the future, but on that wonderful night I really did feel as if I wanted to sing of God’s love forever…and ever…and ever…

Luckily my wonderful friend Diane felt the same way, and so did four of our new friends. We found ourselves in the outdoor amphitheater, under the stars, praying together, and singing until we finally ran out of voices and songs. There was an incredible meteor shower that night, the best I’ve ever seen. None of us wanted to stop praying, but we didn’t want anyone to miss out on particularly spectacular shooting stars, so we found ourselves pointing them out in our prayers — Praise You, God, for that huge falling star right over the mountain in front of us! — and then laughing at ourselves.

It was one of the most joyous, most deeply meaningful, most profoundly beautiful and precious times of worship and prayer that I’ve ever experienced. It was so sweet, so real, so intimate — and that last part seems all the more remarkable since Diane and I barely knew our new friends at the beginning of the evening.

There are a few things I think of as pinnacle life experiences, and that night was one of them. For awhile, in my youthful idealism, I thought that I could duplicate it. Given the right setting — out under the stars, perhaps — and the right people, maybe we could have that same sense of hearts knitted and joined together in an incomprehensibly mysterious way, feeling as if we were soaring high into the skies, the earth fading behind us. We could hold hands and hearts while marveling together that Heaven seemed almost within reach, so close that maybe we actually were catching a glimpse, a foretaste of it. Maybe if the right things came together in just the right way…

It was not to be. After a bitterly disappointing time half a dozen years later, when I tried to manufacture a similar experience with someone else, I realized that life’s greatest hours are better left as treasured memories. That doesn’t negate the fact that since then, I have experienced a deep bond of unity during some special prayer and worship times with others, and I value those very much. But that night under the shooting stars in Thousand Pines was one of a kind, a rare and priceless gift — really and truly a foretaste of Heaven itself.

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.