Thursday, April 27, 2023

Reasons to Pray: Trust Comes Before Faith


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:

We Pray Because Trust Comes Before Faith

We fear silence. But the thing that calms that fear isn't faith; it's trust. Faith is the assurance of what we hope for. Trust is confidence in the character of God.

Before we can have faith that God will answer a given request, we simply have to learn to trust the character of the God we're talking to. In my experience, trying to will faith into the equation doesn't make the possibility of silence any less terrifying, but trusting the character of the listener certainly does. Trust allows us to say, "I don't understand what God is doing right now, but I trust that God is good."

What if I pray and the cancer doesn't disappear? Or I don't get the job? Or she doesn't come back? Or he's still addicted?

Without trust, we suppress the disappointment that God's silence leaves with us. We build a wall to protect ourselves from the very God we pray to. We carefully nuance our prayers, guarding ourselves against allowing God to disappoint us like that a second time.

With trust, we can come to the God whose character doesn't seem to match his silence, saying with brutal honesty, "Where were you? How could you? What were you thinking?"

Jesus hasn't revealed a God we can perfectly understand, but he has revealed a God we can perfectly trust. Trust is the certainty that the listening God hears and cares. I trust the God who, even when he doesn't make the suffering go away, wears the suffering alongside me. Trusting the God revealed in Jesus means silence is real, but it's not forever.

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Truth is...believing in the existence of God is one thing, but experiencing his unwavering love is something else. Something else entirely.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Reasons to Pray: You're Overwhelmed


For the previous four weeks, we've been contemplating some reasons why we tend to not pray, as discussed in Tyler Staton's book, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools. Now it's time to turn those hindrances from praying into inducements to pray.

I Give Up!

Pray Because You're Overwhelmed

The great social sin of the modern world is naivete. Belief is out; cynicism is in. Where did that modern phenomenon come from?

Historically, the Enlightenment set forth the great myth of human progress, which assumes that with the passing of time, everything is improving, people are becoming more whole, and the world is getting steadily better. That assumption, which served as the backbone of the developing world, was deflated by two world wars and the bloodiest, most barbaric century in recorded history. The balloon was popped on the optimism of human progress, leading to an equally widespread sweep of disillusionment.

You and I have been groomed by a post-Enlightenment story of deconstruction that doesn't trust God anymore but has plenty of reasons not to trust people either. The result is multiple generations of people who find safety in pretending they don't need either one  -  I can trust myself, guide myself, be enough for myself.

Jesus once wisely said that we'll know a tree by its fruit. So what's the fruit of that story of self-sufficiency in the life of the modern person? We're overwhelmed. Everyone I meet is drowning in "their thing." It doesn't matter if "your thing" is an artistic endeavor, profit margins, wining and dining clients, or raising children. We can't see past "our thing" because "our thing" (whatever it happens to be) is all-consuming.

We've avoided becoming naive, but we've done it at the cost of becoming overwhelmed. The story that was supposed to free us is really just swapping jail cells. If the story we thought would free us is trapping us, the logical thing to do is look beyond it. Instead, even in the church, our prayers don't exchange overwhelmed lives for transcendent peace. They simply drag God into our overwhelmed lives, and the only way we can make him fit is to shrink him down to a reduced size. We keep on praying, but we lower the bar of expectation and power in prayer.

We kick like mad to keep our heads above water, all while talking passively to an imagined God who is powerless to do most anything except give us the right perspective to make it through the day. We dwindle God down to a divine Being just as overwhelmed and powerless as we are, and our prayers to that God are understandably vague and infrequent.

Constantly overwhelmed lives should drive us to prayer at its purest and rawest, but the tendency for many of us is to pray safe, calculated prayers that insulate us from both disappointment and freedom.

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Truth is...Who else can we turn to when there's nobody to turn to? If I can't handle all the "stuff" flying around me, it only makes sense to put it all in the loving care of The One who is ALSO all around me. It's time to get positively Davidic and cry out to God. Perhaps the most honest and effective prayer we can ever utter is a single word: "Help!"

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Why We Don't Pray: Fear of Doing It Wrong


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:


We Don't Pray for Fear of Doing It Wrong

Some of us are kept from praying because we listen to everyone else's prayers and it makes us feel like we're up after Winston Churchill in high school speech class.

I'm not eloquent. I'm not confident. I'm not comfortable. I hear other people pray out loud, and it only furthers the insecurity.

Many Christians spend years limiting their experience of prayer to sitting in a pew while a professional Christian talks to God in words they'd never use in normal conversation, leading to the misconception, "I must be doing it wrong."

Some of us don't pray often, not yet anyway. Maybe one day we'll master the lingo and learn the mechanics.

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Truth is...We too often forget what Jesus said in Matthew 6:7-8: "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Why We Don't Pray: Fear of Selfish Motives


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:

I'M king of the mountain!

We Don't Pray for Fear of Selfish Motives

We are paralyzed by self-evaluation. Prayer sputters when we evaluate and second-guess the words we speak to God as they come out of our mouths.

Why do I really want this? What's behind this request? Have I really put in enough time with God to ask for something like this, or am I just texting him when I need something? Is this desire really pure enough to bring before God?

Let's say, hypothetically, your roommate doesn't know Jesus. Before uttering a word of prayer for her, you're confronted by a question that spirals inward. Why really do I want my roommate to find God? Is it because of a pure desire for her to be met by divine love that makes her whole? Or do I find comfort in someone else reaching the same conclusion I've made, like if this whole thing is just a superstitious way of making life bearable, at least they'll laugh at us one day, not just me?

Or do I think I've got all the answers and the world would be better if everyone thought like me, believed like me, and behaved like me? Am I just cloaking narcissism in faux compassion? Or is it that I carry around some sort of religious guilt my conservative grandma drilled into me as a kid, so now I pray for my roommate but it's really just to feel okay about myself?

We know all too well the cacophony of motives forever swirling inside us. When we pray, we become increasingly aware of those motives. And some are paralyzed by the subsequent self-evaluation.

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Truth is...Come back in four weeks for a full response to this, but suffice it to say that there is nothing good that happens by stepping into this whirlpool. There's a difference between thinking too much of yourself and thinking of yourself too much, and this fear of selfish motives is firmly in the latter category.