Tag Archives: prayer

Be Overcome or Be An Overcomer . . . Your Choice

overcoming

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil . . . Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12

I’ve been wrestling with how to respond to Charlottesville and especially to the alt-right event in my city (San Francisco) this weekend. The easy thing would be to be overcome by the evil demon of hatred for the lunatics that wave confederate flags, don riot gear, and carry weapons and shouting “Jews won’t replace us!” That’s what my lower nature wants to do, repay hate with hate, even though Jesus prohibits it. That’s the definition letting evil overcome me, i.e. come over me, seep inside me and ruin me.

Jesus said labeling people “raca” gets us into trouble with God and with one another (Matthew 5). It’s an Aramaic word that is probably best translated “empty” or “worthless.” Jon Carlson said, “When we insist that others are ‘raca,’ that others are empty and worthless because they’ve given themselves over to evil, we don’t defeat their evil. We actually endanger ourselves, feeding into the very destructive tendencies we wish to overthrow.” That’s what it means to be “overcome by evil,” when we take on their evil by hating them with the same hate with which they hate us. Continue reading

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Contemplation

 

Morning Contemplation

I’ve always been weak on waiting, not just waiting on God, but waiting on––or for––just about anyone or anything. If there’s such a thing as a “gift of waiting” I either didn’t get that one or I did but I buried it somewhere along the line so as not to have to use it.

My friend, Stuart must’ve sensed this when he gave me a copy of Thomas Merton’s book, The Seeds of Contemplation. I’m now a Merton fan. He was a pretty smart guy, but more, a guy who spent a lot of time waiting on God. That’s sort of the job description of a Trappist monk I think. They’re professional waiters (so to speak).

Anyway, on a prayer retreat last month I read the book while listening to 1970s Jesus albums (yes, the vinyl kind) that my host left in the garage of his house. The two seemed to go together somehow. Continue reading

Providence, Prayer, and Protest

protestI said in a previous post that “’Liberty and justice for some’” isn’t a world we can tolerate, especially when we’re not included in “the some.’”

So, what can we do about it? What do our biblically informed consciences tell us? They say a few things, that God is sovereign and worthy to be trusted, they remind us to intercede in prayer, and they tell us to interfere with injustice with our mouths, feet, and hands.

I’ve heard a lot of social media talk during this election cycle about the first two; God’s sovereignty and how prayer is our primary responsibility to influence elections and social policy. I’m quite interested in those truths, believe in them (in a manner of speaking), and have a few things to say about them if you’re willing to listen.

Providence…

First of all, yes, God is in control, but that’s a far cry from him being controlling. I hear people say that at the end of the day God will have his way! No doubt about it, but only insofar as they’re referring to the “end of days,” not necessarily at the end of each day.

Yes, God will get his way in the very end of time, but to claim that he always gets his way in the meantime is to insinuate that it was his way for Hitler to murder six million Jews, for 800 million people in the world today to be starving, for nearly half a million people to die in the Syrian conflict so far, for radical Islamists to bomb, behead, and traffic millions of innocents, for millions of babies to be born with horrific maladies! None of that has anything to do with God’s way or will.

It’s an absurd claim that God will work it all out, at least by the end of this 24-hour cycle or even by the end of our lifetime. Sometimes, even oftentimes, he does. Thank you, Jesus! But it’s only in the hereafter where our tears and sorrows completely disappear and God’s will is done with perfection.

Prayer…

Pray, they say, and God will give us the President we should have. Yes, pray––pray a lot and pray with faith! But to expect him to finagle the Electoral College because he loves America so much or because enough people prayed is just being naïve. It’s simply not how he routinely manages his omnipotence.

I would concede that prayer is our first responsibility to hinder the work of hell and to cooperate with the release of heaven (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…). It is not our last resort in hell hindering, but it is the first.

I wonder if prayer comes first so we can give the Creator a chance to inject his perspective of world events and at the same time identify our worldly attitudes about those events. In other words, when we pray for the world we don’t come with our agendas, infused with our politics and preferences. We come asking him to ask us to ask him for what he wants! We begin with saying, How should we pray for this mess, Lord? Give us your perspective on your tangled up world. “For we don’t know how to pray as we should…” (Romans 8)

I wonder how we’re doing in the “Thy will be done” department. Do we want what he wants or do we want what we think we need? Do we pray, not so much with a blank slate, but with a Scripture-filled slate, trusting him to do what we can’t do about the mess we find ourselves in?

And then I wonder if we’re engaging with the powers that influence the atrocities, greed, and inhumanity to man or are we too busy interceding for Aunt Sophie’s foot surgery and Uncle Orville’s toothache? Just wondering.

The best prayers are those that begin in the heart of God. He shows us how to pray about a certain matter, we do so, and when he answers we praise him! Prayer then is a partnership, a collaborative conquest over hell and for the release of heaven. So, yes, let’s pray.

Lastly, prayer is where we begin, but not where we end––not by a long shot!

Protest…

God is in control! Amen! So, we must pray for him to intervene. Amen and amen! But then what? He does often intervene, but in addition to prayer we have the responsibility to interfere with the black hole of inhumanity to man. Someone said, “If I pray for God to move a mountain, I must be prepared to wake up next to a shovel!”

Those who know me are aware that I’ve never been nearly so vocal about politics and politicians as I have been for the last year. I admit that a certain candidate, who will remain anonymous, if not infamous, suckered me into this. I simply couldn’t, in good conscience, stay out the fray, especially since so many of my brothers and sisters have ridden the T. Train through the campaign season.

Okay, so whether or not you agree with my assessment of this particular individual’s suitability for public service, please hear me out about our responsibility to do more than pray and sit back and wait for God to do his sovereign thing. Prayer doesn’t let us off the hook. It usually sets the hook (God’s hook) firmly in our mouths.

I’m glad that Lincoln and Wilberforce did more than pray about the abolition of slavery. I’m glad that Martin Luther King did more than pray about civil rights for Black Americans. I’m glad that Billy Graham did more than pray for people to come to Jesus!

We have to do more than pray that God will intervene. Empowered by the truth and by his presence we have to interfere with the world’s destructive direction. We who possess heavenly “firepower” must interfere––at the polls, with our pens (well, computing devices), and with our petitions. In addition to our prayer petitions sent to the Lawgiver we must utilize our right to petition our lawmakers, if not through letters and peaceful protest, at the very least, through the vote.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

PS If you haven’t already, please consider getting my book, The Other End of the Dark. The profits go to Freedom House, a safe haven and therapeutic environment for women and girls who have survived commercial sexual exploitation. Supporting their work is one simple way to protest against the horrific injustice of human trafficking.

Alcoholics Know How To Pray

large_prayer-for-beginners-g13leaizI recently ran across a copy of the prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous groups use in their meetings. The first stanza is the most familiar to the general public, but the whole prayer, originally written by Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr, has become a salve to my chapped soul. I have used it repeatedly in my own conversations with the Father in the last few years. It’s not in the category of the Lord’s Prayer, but it sure does cover the basics for how frail followers should pray.

The whole prayer goes like this:

God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that He will make all things
right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen

Along with Scriptures that correlate with each segment of it, I’ve also used it in preaching on the street in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Though most of our friends in “the TL” are addicted to something (alcohol and crack are their most common inebriants of choice), there are a few who aren’t. But all of us are hooked on one form of self-indulgence or another to one degree or another. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t turned myself in to Jesus as a teenager, drugs and alcohol would’ve devoured my life altogether. Thank God he gave me an alternative – himself! Continue reading

God, the Traffic Engineer

mad driver in a car

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Job 38:4

I left off in a previous post on “Stuck in Traffic” with a description my near apoplectic plight while stuck in an interminable San Francisco traffic jam. If I’d been driving a Sherman tank I might have been able to clear a path and get to my appointment on time. As it was, in order to keep from getting out of my tiny economy car and leaping atop the cars like they do in the movies, I was forced to stay belted repeatedly reciting “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want!”

That sinking feeling of, “What the *&%$ is going on up there?!” gives way to the point when you don’t really care what’s causing the holdup. You just want it to clear up so you get where you’re going! Nevertheless, I’m the sort that requires, if not a solution, at least some kind of explanation for what’s holding my life up. Where is God when I’m trying to get someplace, especially a place he told me to go? Continue reading

A Primer on Prayer

prayingAside from the relentless enticement of the Holy “Spirit of grace and supplication” I can’t account for how much I’ve always loved spending time with the Lord. Sure, there’s discipline involved, but for me, it’s been more the desire, that clearly comes from him, than discipline. I wondered if after I “retired” from pastoring I would continue taking daily prayer walks, having what I call, “Concentrated Conversations with God,” and interceding for friends and pre-friends. It’s sort of part of the pastor’s job description to pray a lot, so when I didn’t have a job to describe, would I keep doing what I used to do while on the church payroll?

I admit that, during the period that I call “The Great Sadness,” which included loss of marriage, ministry, house, money, and health in one fell swoop, there was a bit of a lapse in my prayer routine. I did pray during those days, but my prayers sounded more like the petulant protests of a spoiled child than the praises of a grateful son. As my pain and cynicism subsided they gradually morphed back into two-sided life-giving conversations again. That’s not to say that petulance and doubt have no place in the prayer life. If you doubt this, just do a speedy scan of the Psalms, many of which are aches and pains put to poetry. Anyway, I was actually sort of surprised that there is such a thing as a prayer life after pastoring. In fact I’ve found that in many ways our conversations are more genuine and more profound than ever. Continue reading

This Sinner’s Prayer  

praying hands12 But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:12-14

I can’t say that David had the same things in mind that I have in mine when he wrote, sang, and delivered these lyrics to Israel’s “Worship Pastor” (what an amazing job that would’ve been!). But that’s the beauty of the Bible’s poetry. It’s more visceral than academic. Nevertheless, as I was reading this on a day when my own sinfulness was more evident and more bothersome than most days it fostered a conversation with God about my “errors, hidden faults, willful sins, and great transgressions.” Continue reading