Friday, May 31, 2013

Life-Prayer


This Sunday, in every church in America, there is going to be someone talking about his or her prayer-life. maybe not the pastor, but someone. He or she will approach someone else and ask them about their prayer-life.

"How's your prayer-life?"

Prayer is important. In fact it is so important I didn't want to write this at all. I didn't feel qualified nor good enough at it to write about prayer. I mean, there are times in my life where I feel my prayers bounce back off the ceiling and hit me hot in the face. Useless words spouted at a God who is either not listening or just doesn't care?

What if there was more to prayer than talking to God? Not that talking to God isn't crucial, because it is, but what if that was just a part of the story? In Ephesians 2, Paul tells the church at Ephesus they are God's poem, his workmanship, his masterpiece. If that's the case, there might be more required than just a few whispers towards the ceiling before bed.
Most great musicians will tell you they don't know how a song works before they play it in front of an audience. Sinatra used to bring a crowd of people into the studio when he was recording. It helped him to see the people react to the song. Dylan used to do a similar thing. I once saw a documentary on Jay-Z making the Black Album and he was bringing two or three people into the studio with him just to listen to the beats he was choosing between. He knew if it didn't play in front of a crowd, it didn't play.

Maybe there's a part of prayer that's more like that. Maybe prayer plays in front of a crowd more than in a quiet room. Not in a "look at me, are you seeing this?" way, but in a "are you SEEING this?" way. Maybe prayer is part of the mystical union we have with one another which allows us to feel what someone else is feeling, to experience pain and joy with someone, and to learn from someone else's mistakes.

Just like any other healthy relationship, we need to spend time alone with one another. The nature of that time alone with God is extremely important, and as I talked about earlier, you don't actually have to be in solitude with God to have solitude with God.

There's nothing worse than someone bragging about their alone time with God. The public life-prayer is for other people, to encourage fellow Christians and to bring us closer to a true understanding of the above-all in-all through-all Savior we worship. We need a little spiritual PDA. The time you spend with God alone, the things you say, the things you do--some of that stuff needs to stay private.

Don't kiss and tell.

I once read an article in a surfing magazine that basically said surfing along is only honorable if you don't tell anyone about it. Prayer and fasting are done best when you don't tell anyone about them. How many books or blogs (hopefully not this one) are really just some person telling you how awesome his or her spiritual life is, hoping you think he or she is super pious? 

That's dumb.

I hope this is an honest account about how little I have it all together. That said, while prayer is beneficial when done in secret, your life-prayer is public. Your actions should be love letters to God or at least sappy texts sent in the middle of the night.

Prayer is done in secret, in your head. Life is done on the world stage. Prayer is your behind the scenes director's commentary to life. you can't be good at one without getting better at the other. 

But still. Don't be that guy. Don't try to make people think you're "super-spiritual guy" at the expense of the truth. It's lame. More importantly, it robs us of our joy and takes away from what is actually happening when we unite our spirits to God's in prayer.

You're like wood. Fire wood. When you put wood in a fire it burns. The wood ceases to be wood and becomes something else entirely. Some of it becomes ash. Some becomes charcoal, but most of the wood becomes fire. Prayer is you putting yourself in God's fire, knowing you will be changed. Knowing the Divine will consume you and transform you into Himself.
Don't you want a prayer life like that?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Losing a Hero

"The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind on God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. "When I awake, I am still with thee" (Psalm 139:18). The thoughts are as travelers in the mind. David's thoughts kept heaven-road. "I am still with Thee." God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory?... A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge." --Dallas Willard
Sometimes in life we have people we have never met who make an enormous impact on our lives. Think of how many kids wear number 23 in sports having never met Michael Jordan, having never even seen him play in person. For me, I actually got to meet my hero. In the winter of 2010, I was in seminary in Denver and took a class taught by Dallas Willard, distinguished philosophy professor at the University of Southern California. Dr. Willard wrote most of my favorite books in the world. The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, Hearing God, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and other books and papers of his have transformed my view of God, my relationship with Christ, and my life.

Dallas Willard went to be with Jesus yesterday at age 77. Cancer took him from this world and into the next, but it didn't win, because Dallas Willard finally received total communion with the God who he described so beautifully.

Other than direct relatives of mine, no one had a greater impact on my spiritual development than Willard. When I met him, I was craving a deeper relationship with the Lord, but had no idea how my philosophical, abstract thinking could fit into what I thought was the frigid, rigid world of modern theology. His class opened my mind further.

His last words on this earth were "Thank you." His humility, grace, and thankfulness even in death are envious. The way he lived his life and the way he wrote are equally envious. He showed me it was OK to think, and more than OK to think outside the box. In a world in which Christians are growing apart, building up defenses against one another, and bolstering theological arguments against perceived attacks on their "truth," Willard remained steadfast. He wrote from the heart. He ignored joining sides with petty arguments and instead continued to do what he did best: lead people like me into a deeper relationship with a forming and transforming God. He kept his head when everyone around him was losing theirs--a man Kipling would be proud of. He not only knew there was more to God than systematic theology could ever show, and he did the best to show HOW much more. He knew the difference between legalism and living a life guided by devotion to the Spirit, and he wrote extensively on the subject of the all-consuming Grace which he found so surprising.

He was my hero. We are worse off today because he isn't around. His God is, and the Savior he loved is still working in weirdos like me, making us see Jesus more clearly through the words of giants like Willard.


 
 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rethinking Truth

I loved the movie 'Lincoln.' If you haven't seen it, there's no excuse for you to be reading this blog. You have something to do. If you have seen it, you'll remember the scene in which the President recalls a bit of Euclidian mathematics as a proof for human equality.

Abraham Lincoln, in the film, refers to this proof from Euclid: "Two things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." I remember hearing this proof in a logic class in college, and even then seeing its uses in my daily life.

Logic is a terrific servant, but can be a terrible master in regards to theology. We have to remember not to constrain a poly-dimensional being, in this case God, to the three or four dimensions in which we operate. God doesn't feel the constraints of the river of time, so any talk of "pre" or "post" in regards to God can become burdensome and rob Him of His mystery and other-ness. In the same way, any argument which doesn't take into account the ways in which God has operated throughout history or the Scriptures is equally flawed. Which is why we must tread lightly and humbly in attempting to understand such a vast and lofty being.

Back to Euclid's proof. What can we use this for in terms of thinking about God? Does this have any theological significance for us, and does it help our understanding of Jesus? I think the implications of this proof are endless, but I'd like to take a look at one statement Jesus makes and go exploring.

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Jesus is the way. The way is Jesus. Jesus is truth. Truth is Jesus. Jesus is Life. Life is Jesus. Using transitive relation we get the above set of statements. The second set is the one that I find most interesting. Truth is Jesus and Jesus is Truth, so Jesus and Truth are equal to one another. All that is truth is equal to Jesus. Now, there's no way to "prove" this statement, but to a person who believes Christ's statement in John 14, or the Bible itself, Jesus presents an extremely interesting notion of Truth. This notion is basically a hypothetical syllogism because it is contingent on someone accepting an unprovable premise, namely the reliability of the Bible. If you accept Jesus, you must accept what He says about Himself. If you accept what He says about Himself, you accept that all that anywhere there is truth, there is Jesus--even if that truth exists outside of the realm of traditional Christianity or organized faith.

Please don't skip the rest of the article and burn me at the stake just yet.

This slope isn't as slippery as you might think and it doesn't necessarily lead to any heresies I can think of off the top of my head. Instead, it should allow us as believers in Christ to better relate to those outside of the faith and allow us to see God working even in things we once considered to be opposed to Him. Colossians 1:15-20 should always be our guide when thinking of the risen Christ--the One who is above all things, in all things, and in whom all things hold together.

We have to encourage people to seek the truth in whatever way they choose, knowing and trusting that if they truly seek Truth, they will find Him. This sounds dangerous, but if you accept Jesus at His words, there is nothing more certain than those seeking Truth are on the path to Jesus, even if they remain unaware to that fact. Allow me to frame this more carefully: Jesus is the absolute Truth and those earnestly looking for truth based on deviations from His absolute Truth will--if they stay faithful to finding Truth (Jeremiah 29:13)--find Jesus waiting for them with open arms. This isn't universalism, it's an understanding of life based on both John 14 and Matthew 7:7, "...seek and you will find..."

With open minds and hearts ready to accept rather than reject, we can begin to move through the world in the same way He did, knowing anything else equal to truth is necessarily equal to Him. Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on truths, but has the clearest image of Truth. We have to be careful not to fall into a quagmire of relativism, but also to be more aware of our similarities than our differences with all people. Just because we have found Truth doesn't give us license to judge, condemn, or impair any other person in their search. In fact, we are called to be lights in the world. Lights show people the way to Truth, allowing them to see more clearly that which they seek, allowing them to understand what confounds them, and allowing them to see Christ as the way instead of Christians in the way.

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.