Thoughts and Prayers

ringing-icon-on-a-mobile-phone-showing-smartphone-call_fkJ4m7vd.jpgOver the years, I have gotten to the place where I don’t blog in a reactionary way as I once did. But the school shooting in Florida last week has gotten me thinking.

Ok, that’s not exactly right. The Parkland High school shooting has gotten me praying and thinking – trying to find something to do besides praying and thinking. yes, I have been praying and thinking about what do to beyond praying and thinking.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, I hear a cell phone notification tone during Young Disciples Time at our 8:30 am worship service. It wasn’t too loud; actually, not really loud enough to be distracting.

But loud enough to get me thinking.

You see, I was already determined to focus the pastoral prayer that morning on inviting God to challenge us, God’s people, followers of Jesus, to do something as a response to the incredible rise of school shootings.

We need to pray, this is beyond question. But it seems that at times like this – especially as there are SO MANY times like this! – to say we should pray can become a cop out.

“Well, I’ve prayed, I don’t know what else I can do!” we might be tempted to say.

And then the notification tone. Which, of course, made me check my phone. It wasn’t on silent!  I quickly, simply, silently, switched it to silent.

I did not pray and ask God to silence my phone.

That would have been missing the point entirely of God having created us in God’s own image and calling us into partnership for stewarding creation.

I can, of course, pray and ask God to help me remember to silence my phone. But it makes little sense to leave such a thing to making a request of God when there is something I can do.

So: I don’t know exactly what we are going to do as Americans about the tragedy of school shootings, but I know prayer can’t be all we do.

We must at least remember, as we pray, that prayer is communication between us and God.

We talk, God listens.

God talks, we listen.

Not always necessarily in this order.  ( we who recognize prevenient grace would likely have to admit that some of the times we pray we pray in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging.)

When we dare pray about school shootings, I feel pretty confident God is going to answer us.

Are we ready to hear what God has to say? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that if by “praying” I mean “tell God how bothered you are about ______ and leave it up to God to fix it,” I’ve not actually come to grips with what prayer is.

Rob God?

Today’s reading is Malachi 3.  While this chapter is overflowing with substance for discussion and thought provocation, the part that always captures my attention is

Will anyone rob God?

In context, this question is about robbing God by denying the tithe. We rob God when we decline to participate in God’s ordained pattern of support for ministry and aid in fighting selfishness and materialism.

But is this the only way we rob God?

I was pondering this on the way to work this morning.  Stopped at a red light, I checked my mirror and reminded myself to be patient while waiting for the light to change.  The man driving the car behind me appeared similarly patient.

Pulling up next to me, in the left turn lane, were 2 young women, I believe heading to high school.  My mind wandered back to making those morning treks myself. As I began to think about all the different places people at this same red light might be going, I checked my mirror again, and heard a voice gently encourage me to pray for the man behind me.

I have no idea his destination or his story, but I know he is a man created in God’s image, and into whom God has breathed life.  I know God’s will for him, like for me and for everyone, is to bless him, and draw him into a good, healthy, and hopeful relationship with his creator.

So I prayed for these things for this man.

Then, as I prayed, Malachi 3 returned to me.

Do we rob God when we forget that others are created in God’s image as we are? Do we rob God when we fail to treat others as beloved of God, as people whom God wants to bless?

not robbing God

If it were this easy, EVERYONE would do it!

prayI followed this SUV most of my way home the other day.  While I suppose some of you may tell me that God was trying to tell me something else, here is what I took from this “inspirational” sticker.

Prayer does work, I agree.  In my experience, however, it rarely works is a way that I infer from this sticker.  In other words, I don’t believe prayer that “works” is like a “Precious moments” moment.

Abraham bargained with God.  Jacob wrestled.  David sang and danced prayerfully, but also wrote long laments about the sense of God’s absence, of begging God to remember His promises.

When it came down to it, Jesus was so stressed in prayer that he sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)

Prayer works  in part because prayer is work.

How to Pray

I have the great privilege of speaking at the chapel services of our preschool every Wednesday. It brings me great joy to have this opportunity; and it is also usually a challenge.  I do not always speak in ways that 3-5 year old children can understand and draw meaning.  I enjoy the challenge.

At the end of my talk, I lead the group in prayer.  Following the prayer yesterday, one of the 4 year olds asked me “why did you pray with your hands like this?”  She put her hand behind her back.

I realized I had been standing with my hands behind my back while praying.

Some of you might suggest I should have taken her to task for having her eyes open and head up during prayer (I hadn’t even thought of this until sitting to write this post).

I realized that learning to pray typically includes some particular postures: head bowed, eyes closed, hands folded in front, or open upward lying on one’s lap, etc.

Apparently, such postures have slipped in their significance for me.  In leading the prayer, I did bow my head, and I did close my eyes.  I had not, however, held my hands together in front of me.

Obviously (right?) one does not have to fold one’s hands together to pray.  One does not even have to bow one’s head and close one’s eyes – else how would one pray in traffic?  Yet some would say that teaching others to pray,especially when the others are children, should involve these standard behaviors.

How do you feel about this?  How important is it that we teach our children exact, particular postures for prayer?

If it is true for Muslims, isn’t it true for Christians?

This past Sunday I preached about corporate worship. (I don’t mean the worship of corporations, but worshiping together with others) I chose not to approach it from the angle of being requiredor commanded, but rather stressing the benefits, the need, the value of worshiping together.

It turns out the Federal Bureau of Prisons agrees with me; there is power in worshiping together. John Walker Lindh, well known a decade ago as a young American convert to Islam who went to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban, is part of a group suing the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the right to pray together. They are allegedly allowed to gather, to talk politics, football, etc., but not to pray.

I told you there is power in gathering for worship and prayer!

Prayer, both directions

As I drive to the church from my house, I see planes taking off from DFW Airport.  Large planes and small planes, they follow one anther often less than two minutes apart.

A couple of weeks ago I began praying for each plane I saw go by.  This practice quickly brought to mind the wide variety of stories of each of the thousands of passengers.  Some of the planes may have carried someone I know.  Since I now pastor pilots, some of these planes may have been flown by people I know.

I have found this prayer practice helpful in getting me beyond me.  With a new job and a new house (and a new house PAYMENT, which I’ve never had before) and a new baby It would be, and sometimes has been,easy to get caught up focusing on myself.  Praying for people by the hundreds has been a good exercise for me to remember two things.  First, there are so many needs and desires and joys all around me. God is interested in the welfare of everyone of these people.  Each of them has been created in God’s own image and as such is intended by God to represent God to the rest of us.  The second thing it has helped me remember is how all of our lives intersect and overlap.  I don’t know who is on any of these planes, yet I could have crossed paths with them in the past week, or might tomorrow.

Then, two days ago, I noticed flight patterns changed.  Planes were no longer taking off to the south, but coming in for landings from the south.  Now, suddenly, I am praying for people who are coming into DFW rather than those who are leaving.

What difference does it make?  People are coming into our lives every day.  Others are leaving.  Each one has a past (behind them) and a future (in front of them).  Prayers appropriately focus on both pasts and futures, but feel a little different from each other.

It seems, sometimes, that a lot of prayer is about the future.  Over the last few years especially I have come to realize that praying about the past – how we remember it, how we live in response to it, is at least as important and beneficial as praying about the future.

As you pray today, pray in both directions.