When You Can’t Pray for Yourself


b15architecture_interiors007-imagea“When you cannot pray for yourself, begin to pray for others. When your desires flag, take the Bible in hand and begin to turn each text into petition; or take up the tale of your mercies, and begin to translate each of them into praise.” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 31)

This is what I read just before my response to Matthew 9 shared in the last blogpost. F. B. Meyer served me as a wise spiritual director in a place of felt dullness and disconnectedness in prayer. I imagined sitting together with him. What might he have actually said in counseling me?

“Alan, if you don’t feel you can pray for yourself, let God bring the concerns and needs of others to mind. Let your heart be turned inside-out to extend grace to others in prayer. Don’t let your life stay small.

“And do you find that your heart just isn’t ‘in it?’ Take a text and let each verse become a point of connection with God. Respond to Him. Pray honestly just what you think and feel in the moment. Talk to Him about what matters to you, what concerns you, what involves you. Be patient and persistent. Be there and stay there with God. You won’t be sorry if you persevere. You may well be if you don’t try.

“Do you need a sort of jump start of the heart? Let the Spirit surface in your thoughts and feelings a remembrance of His many mercies–present and past. Let Him raise the level of gratitude in you as you remember the many good things He has done on your behalf.”

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In Search of Guidance


F-B-Meyer-Pix

[Note: I leave today for Nigeria to lead 50-some pastors in the Journey there. I will return in about a week. I would be grateful for your prayers. The next few posts will be some of my favorites from among the 1,500+ posts I’ve now written]

One of the best little books on the theme of guidance that I’ve ever read was written by F. B. Meyer over 100 years ago: The Secret of Guidance. Here are just a few insights that I found helpful:

 “How much of our Christian work has been abortive because we have persisted in initiating it for ourselves, instead of ascertaining what God was doing and where He required our presence!” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 7)

Have things changed that much in one hundred years? How often do we try to make something happen for God, rather than seek to discern what God is already doing and joining Him there. This is what Jesus did. I find myself praying, “Father, enable me to discern Your work in the situations and in the lives of those around me. Show me how I might join You in what You are already doing.”

“There is all the difference between a will that is extinguished and one that is surrendered. God does not demand that our wills should be crushed, like the sinews of a fakir’s unused arms. He only asks that we should say ‘Yes’ to Him. We ought to be as pliant to Him as the willow twig is to the practiced hand.” (Meyer. p. 13)

[A fakir was an Indian mystic who often refused food to the point of near starvation]. There is a great difference between a broken will and a abandoned will. God does not wish to crush our will, but rather to bring its strength under the guidance of His mighty hand. He doesn’t so much desire our “I quit, Lord” as much as He does our “I am willing, Lord” and “Your will be done, Lord.”

“One good form of prayer at [a time of change and crisis] is to ask that doors may be shut, that the way be closed, and that all enterprises that are not according to God’s will may be arrested at their very beginning.” (Meyer, p. 16)

This seems like a good prayer to pray in times of transition. I would be grateful if You would keep me from walking very far down the road that dead-ends.

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The Fruit of a Dark, Dark Night


(An edited journal excerpt from June 1991)

Job 14:14-17 NIV, “If someone dies, will they live again? 
All the days of my hard service 
I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you; 
you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps 
but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
 you will cover over my sin.”

In the dark night places, as John of the Cross calls them, and in what I’ve been describing as dry or waiting places, I am looking to God to take initiative. “You will call and I will answer You.” So much of my prayer is my calling, expecting His answer. This, of course, has its place in my life. But sometimes my calling isn’t done in a listening posture. I’m only listening for God’s reply to my request, and not listening more broadly for whatever it is He may wish to say.

God calls to us from a place of deep desire. He longs for the one He has made. He longs for me. Do I believe this, especially when dry seasons make God feel far away? John of the Cross says that the dark night is a place where God’s purifying, fiery love does its work in me.

This place of “hard service” is a time of waiting on God’s own renewing work in me. I don’t renew myself. I trust God to do His renewing work.

One thing that encourages me as I think of the bigger story of Job is that his season of deep testing results in an increased level of influence and leadership. “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.” (Job 42:10-12 NIV)

Can I find hope in this for myself? Might this trying, dry season actually be the means by which You drive my roots deeper for future seasons of greater fruitfulness? Father, I look forward to You blessing me beyond anything You have done on my behalf in the past. Thank You, Father.

God, in this season of dryness and waiting is gathering together all of my desires, my thoughts, my motivations and my energies so that He might unite them in obedience to the greatest command, “to love Him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and all my strength.” 

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Practicing the Presence of God


Two of our DR Journey leaders at the last retreat.

Two of our DR Journey leaders at the last retreat.

A while back, Richard Peace shared some from the book he had just finished—Noticing God (InterVarsity Press 2012). He said that, really, all spiritual disciplines are, in essence, noticing God. We do not have to get God to listen. He is always listening, always present. The problem is we don’t always notice God. I especially appreciated his listing of other ways of talking about this discipline of “noticing God”:

  • “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  •  “the habitual presence of God” (Diogenes Allen)
  • “the practice of the presence of God” (Brother Lawrence)
  • “recollected prayer” (Carmelites)
  • “the practice of inward orientation–of inward worship & listening” (Thomas Kelly)
  • “a continuous conversation with God” (Laubach)
  • “a conversational relationship with God” (Willard)
  • “a dialogue with God” (Mark Virkler)
  • “listening to the God who speaks” (Klaus Bockmuehl)
  • “a deep sense of the immediacy of the Spirit.” (Richard Foster)
  • “the manifest presence of God” (A. W. Tozer)

Why all these descriptions? Because our various Christians traditions all have some way to describe this orientation to a simple awareness of and communion with God.

Would you reflect and share your comments?

What is helping you most these day be more aware of the good reality of God’s presence always with you?

Playing Games With God


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Worn bricks on a doorstep at the San Juan Capistrano mission.

“For those of us on an intentional spiritual journey, our awareness of the deadly and debilitating nature of the religious false self is essential. Rigorous religious practices, devoted discipleship, sacrificial service, deeper devotional activities may do nothing more than turn a nominally religious false self into a fanatically religious false self.” (Mulholland, M. Robert. The Deeper Journey. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, p. 48.)

There is such a world of difference between a fanatically religious false self and a true self energized and compelled by a deep experience of the faithful love of Jesus. The spiritual fruit is so different. One tends toward pride, the other humility. One towards harshness, the other towards patience and gentleness. When I put on a fake face when I go to a church gathering, that is an expression of this religious false self. When I pretend that I’m further along in my journey than I really am, that is too. Jesus is inviting me to walk in the light, in the truth, and in love—the real me coming face-to-face with the Real.

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God’s Presence and Our Sense of Identity


And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’” Exodus 3:12 NIV

In the midst of the burning bush encounter, God’s answer to Moses’ words of self-doubt and low confidence was not an affirmation, but a reminder of the Divine presence. The Lord does not let Moses keep the focus on himself, but draws his attention back to God. This is critical, subtle and necessary. We so easily expect God to enhance our self-referenced sense of identity, whether it’s positive or negative. God gives Moses an answer to the question he isn’t asking, but desperately needs to hear.

Father, thank You for this word that touches me where I am needy. I can feel the need for Your Spirit drawing my attention away from my own sense of worthiness or unworthiness (the latter being the more common feeling these days). You want me to see Yourself, because You are life. You are creative. You are good. You are wise. I am only these things in relationship with You. Apart from You I can do nothing.

As I engage the work You are giving me, Father, You will be with me and I will worship You. Your presence with me will be significant because You really are the holy God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who it is with me makes all the difference. Remembering Who You are is what matters.

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A Surprising Path to Freedom


I don’t think many of us would see an immediate connection between freedom and obedience. Obedience sounds like a constricting, limiting word. It isn’t really. Yesterday, I was walking along some train tracks. What if a train came along and said, “I find these tracks limiting. I prefer to make my own way.” Would this expression of freedom be a fruitful one? This attempt at freedom would be a disaster. The train is free to travel long distances only if it stays on the tracks. There it can travel fast and far. It will go nowhere good by jumping the tracks. It’s real choice is between the freedom of obedience and the disaster of disobedience. There might be a moment of false freedom as the train flew through the air for the first time. That moment would be followed by the painful, even deadly crash we all know would come next.

What are the tracks on which the Lord is inviting us to travel? What apparent limitations to my freedom are actually His way of increasing my true freedom? God’s ways are life-giving ways. I can travel far in them. I won’t go far if I leave them, at least not in the way of life. Father, give me eyes to see Your narrow way as the richest, best way for me. Protect me from my instinct to seek freedom where I would only find ruin.

(Edited journal excerpt from May 1991)

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