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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Mystery of Prayer

I'm going to let you in on something. 

Prayer is a complete mystery to me. 

I've studied it, I've read books on it, I've read blogs on it, I've met with different pastors about it, I've asked a million questions about it. I've practiced structured prayer, I've practiced silent prayer, I've practiced jumbled prayer, I've done lists and days and notecards. The more I learn, the less I know. Prayer is difficult and weird. 

There came a time of my life when I just got tired. When I felt like prayer wasn't doing what it was supposed to do. There was crisis, there was prayer, there was still crisis, and prayer felt useless. It made it all the more confusing. I am a logical person, but I couldn't figure it out. I wanted to know how it worked, but there was just no knowing. 

I grew tired of all the need. I grew tired of people asking for prayer and me not really knowing how to help them. I grew exhausted of all the crisis and suffering - was prayer really the only way to help? What was prayer really doing for these people? How much prayer was enough? 

So, I packed up prayer and I put it in a box and I stuffed it away. 

I've recently started to open it up again. 

Because the months that I spent prayer-less or absently acknowledging something, those months were some of the hardest of my life. I lived lost, I lived by pride, I lived confused, I lived tethered to my emotions. And only looking back now can I see that the way I was living was in direct correlation to my prayer life. Maybe I had misunderstood prayer all along. Maybe prayer works far deeper and bigger and wider than I even realized. Maybe prayer was more about where I was centering myself, who I was coming back to, what I was dependent on. Maybe it was more about the presence of God than I anticipated. 

The one thing I heard over and over again in those months was that prayer is not an option. We cannot be fickle or negotiable about the role of prayer. It is a priority, and it is by this that we must live. Prayer is the root of faith. I heard it and read it over and over again. In my friend's blogs, my friend's sermons on Sunday mornings, my Church History textbook. Prayer is the way that we operate. Prayer is our guide, prayer keeps us centered, prayer keeps us ever aware of the presence of God.

And I don't think I ever doubted the importance of prayer, I just wasn't sure how to do this really important thing. But those words repeated to me over and over again. It filled my heart and refreshed my mind. This must be the characteristic of the Church. We must be people of prayer. That began to inspire me.

And as ministry life got crazier and I felt the weight more than I've had before, I realized that this weight wasn't meant for me to carry alone. Yes, I have human people here who help me, but I began to fully see there were greater Hands meant to help shoulder the burden with me. And the way to do that was through prayer. It was lighter to turn to God, even when it was jumbled and I wasn't sure what I was saying, or I was awkwardly throwing words up to God in desperation, not quite sure what was falling or what was sticking or how this whole thing even worked. He has a way of doing that. I think that's the true beauty of it. 

I keep a conversation in the back of my mind often. I met with a friend a little while ago (who told me once that "pastors need pastors" and I nearly melt with grace every time I think about it) and he told me a story of when he was called on for prayer in a time of tragedy and death. He said he had the same thought, same wrestling, the impact of the sadness was almost overwhelming. What did that time of prayer really do? And the man he was with said, We pray until God reveals otherwise.  

We pray until we don't. 

That's it. Prayer will always be a puzzle. I think it's meant to be a puzzle. But God has called us to a life of prayer. And I am committed to it. There are the days when I think about the state of a dark and divided world and my empathic instinct feels crushed. But I am learning to turn towards prayer, an intimacy with God, because that truly is the only way. The awareness of his presence is the unveiling of Emmanuel. 

He is with us. Of that I am certain.

Let's pray on. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Joy of Learning with Friends

I made myself a vow when I started seminary (the second time around) that this whole journey would be about me learning things new. New perspectives, new thoughts, new things I had never thought before. About becoming a better pastor, a better follower of Christ so that in turn, others may become better followers of Christ. A fuller and freer me. And I have found (in almost a sweet, rough tangle) that the more I learn, the less I know. And the fuller and freer me has not come without struggle. 

As I walked away from my last semester class today, I recognized the gift that this semester brought more than any of my other semesters had. It brought the gift of friendship. I met classmates who were likeminded and who shared such incredibly wise insights. I took notes on what my classmates shared more than anything. I was so encouraged by their quest to know God more fully and their grappling to understand more fully this life we live as Christians. I walked away each class so inspired by their pursuit (Emily and Frank, if you're reading this, this one's for you!). 

Once Emily said, I desire for my emotional response to be tethered to knowing who God is. Then I knew she was a winner.

Tonight we processed, the three of us during group discussion time, how sometimes we can look back at history, especially the time of Christ, with rose-colored glasses. My Church History professor is always telling our class this, that we can often look back at things in the past with the knowledge we have now. And we can often think seriously people, get yourselves together, because we can see now what they couldn't see then. Because they were living it! But that's not fair. We can't look back with our perspective now, or with our lens now. Too often I have rolled my eyes at the disciples or sighed at how long it took them to grasp that the King was going to take on a different role than they first imagined. How naive of me. 

Because Jesus really changed everything. I mean, to the core, everything. His people were waiting for the Messiah, the King, to overthrow and to dominate. But Christ came to do something so completely different and far grander. How confusing that must have been, Emily, Frank, and I dialogued, but how hopeful it must have been when they discovered that the Kingdom was much greater than they ever could have imagined. 

And then, all semester, Emily talked about family. So much of her perspective is this perspective of family; her words and thoughts were saturated with it. This is the core of our identity, our very DNA. It is our very fabric to be like God, and instead of stressing or worrying or living rigid lives, God tells us to partner with him. Yes. He has reordered our priorities and our abilities, which should make us so very hopeful. And when God talks about a hope and a future, that is for you. This is how God IS towards YOU. This is who you are, this is where you belong. We are a family. Be the family. Doesn't that make you just want to jump up and be free!?

I shared tonight how much I resonate with Peter; how his story reminds me of me. How he walked with Jesus for years, but never really understood what was going on. He was like the Andy Dwyer of the Gospels, stumbling and bumbling around. Telling Jesus he wouldn't deny him, then speaking denial three times in mere minutes. Just missing the point left and right. But in Luke the 24th chapter, when Peter sees the empty tomb and the linen cloths by themselves, he went home marveling at what he had seen. It makes me tear up even now, that Peter must have thought "oh, I see now. THAT'S what Jesus was talking about. That's what all this was for."

And then the beginning of Acts, you see a completely different Peter. The resurrection gave him such a great courage. He became a man of great faith. It gives great hope. 

Frank, Emily, and I all marveled at the marvel. 

I hugged my friends goodbye tonight and truly I was so grateful for our intersection on each other's journey. What learnings gained. A true gift to cross one another's path.