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Greetings! I find myself praying and trusting that you have experienced something of the fresh affection and deep delight the Father and the Son feel for you in this fall season. I’m feeling deep gratitude for some of these myself.

I’m sending along this little email to link you to blog posts over the last couple of months that have been most visited. I hope one or two of them will prove encouraging to you in your spiritual life and leadership:

  • Morning Prayer: Overcoming Powerful Enemies” – This is one of those posts from a while back that has ended up being a commonly found Google search item. I share about overcoming my own powerful enemies of anxiety, fear, self-doubt and low confidence, based on Psalm 118:17-19 NIV.
  • Unhurried Life: Help Get the Word Out” – Towards the end of summer, I asked friends of the blog to get the word out about my book, An Unhurried Life, via Facebook, Twitter, Amazon reviews, blog posts, etc. I was grateful for so many who took initiative and helped spread the word. We saw quite a few new readers get on board. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, but would be willing now, please click through for a few suggestions of how you could now.
  • An Autumn Prayer” –  As we entered September, I shared my autumn prayer from a year ago. It was a prayer for focus and simplicity.
  • Five Soul Care Questions” – If you’ve been reading the blog recently, you’ll know that I just finished a six-part blog series on this theme. I took the five key questions of Romans 8:31-39 and reflected on them. There was a very positive response to these.
  • When You Can’t Pray for Yourself” – I shared and reflected on a great word from F. B. Meyer in his book The Secret of Guidance. The substance of his counsel? When you can’t pray for yourself, pray for someone else.
  • Psalm 3: The God Who Sustains Me” – In Psalm 3, David says, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” I reflected on what God’s sustaining has been like in my journey. 

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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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An Autumn Prayer


(Would you share via Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites about my book, An Unhurried Life? I have a nice little thank you for three of you who do who’ll be chosen randomly on September 12 evening to receive a signed copy, as well as a copy of one of my favorite out-of-print books. Click to learn more)

We’re not quite at Autumn yet, but I always feel the draw of fall once I pass Labor Day and enter a new school year.

One year ago, this was my autumn prayer:

A Prayer for Fall
I want You
      and yet want so many other things.
But only one thing
      is needed.
Only one thing
      can be at the center.
Focus my heart and mind
      on You as the One.
Reweave the frayed edges of
      my will, my mind, my heart.
Make me whole and holy.

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Thoughts About Our Thoughts


A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

In classic Christian literature, there are many good things on the theme of distracting thoughts in prayer. There is a way of thinking that focuses our mind and heart towards God through Jesus. There is also a way of thinking that turns in on itself, even with thoughts about God, that doesn’t help us much. Here’s one way of talking about our distracting thoughts in the context of prayer that I recently read and found helpful:

“As likely as not, without any deliberate intention on your part, you will actually find yourself chasing the first thought with a second one, such as “I must stop this‑I’m not supposed to be thinking”. That easily leads to an infinite regression, one thought trying to catch another. There is no need to take any notice of any of them! Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children trying to attract attention to themselves. If you ignore them, refusing to be distracted by them, then sooner or later they will get bored and go away.” (Tugwell, Simon. Prayer in Practice. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1974, p. 39.)

For example, when I sit down to prayer, often a whole series of distracting thoughts will cross my mind:

  • I really should look through my email inbox really quick and make sure I’ve answered the critical ones.
  • Is there something I forgot to do that needs my attention?
  • I wonder who has posted something on Twitter or Facebook that I’d be interested in.
  • I feel hungry, tired, distracted, worried, fearful, etc., so I’m not at my best to pray right now. I’ll pray later.
  • I need to use the restroom, check the mail, straighten up my desk, finish just one more “to do.”
  • Etc, etc., etc.

If I latch onto or act on these thoughts, they really can become an ongoing string of continued thoughts that draw me away from my intended attentiveness to Jesus. I let myself become distracted by my distractions, worried about my worries, afraid that I’m feeling fearful, frustrated with my frustrations. There is a way of continuing to offer my attention to Jesus, simply and peacefully while allowing all those noisy, distracting thoughts chatter away, but more in the background.

For Reflection or Comment: What do distracting thoughts look like when you stop to offer your attention to God and pray? What have you found helpful in resisting the temptation to get wrapped up in such thoughts?

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When Prayer Is Realized


IMG_1408

A hallway at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, CA

This weekend, I’m taking a two-day personal retreat at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, CA. It’s both my first visit and my first stay. On a similar retreat, a few years back, I was drawn to one of the prayers of Paul in Ephesians:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” –Ephesians 3:16-19 (TNIV),

I imagined myself training a ministry leadership team and asking this question:

“What would you expect to happen in the lives of Christian for whom you prayed this prayer regularly? What changes in their lives, their relationships and their work would you anticipate?”

How would I answer such a question? What would I envision as fruit of such a prayer?

  • God generously and richly strengthening us with inward spiritual power (16).
  • More and more vital, robust interior lives that give evidence to Christ’s real presence dwelling in each of us and among all of us who trust Him (17a).
  • Inward empowerment that enables His indwelling our lives and communities.
  • Actions, words and attitudes of our lives saturated and grounded in genuine, selfless love for God and one another (17b).
  • Loving lives and communities that enable us, together, to more fully grasp the vast dimensions of Christ love for us and for His world (18).
  • A greater perception of what we can never fully comprehend, that Christ is committed to our good, delighted in our lives and pleased to call us brothers and sisters (19a).
  • The outcome that we are filled in every way and to every degree with God’s own fullness (19b).

If God answered this simple prayer for the community of God’s people in our particular church community, we couldn’t keep people from coming and staying. We wouldn’t be inviting them to a program, a service or a meeting, but to a people in whom God is richly, powerfully and lovingly present. Father, may the grace of this prayer find places to bear fruit among us. Amen.

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Praying for a Lifetime


www.gemhelen.com“I do not find as life goes on that the principle of putting prayer first in daily life becomes any easier to keep. It is true that long habit makes it natural to keep the Rule of Prayer, but, on the other hand, decreasing vitality makes it harder to use times which were formerly easy. I have had, like many others, to use the early morning because the struggle against wandering thoughts was too hard in the evening. I feel sure that the constant warfare which is necessary to keep prayer in the first place must go on as long as life lasts.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 78.)

Beginning with prayer did not somehow become easy as Ward aged. It isn’t happening that way for me either. He actually found that the diminished energy of aging made it harder to engage in a regular habit of prayer. But harder isn’t impossible. Harder is just harder.

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The One Who Welcomes Our Prayers


IMG_2266“God must not be represented as one who needs to be cajoled, and prayer must not be presented as a device by which we wring from a grudging Father what He does not want to give us. Prayer is not an overcoming of God’s reluctance, for He already wants the best for us. It is not because God’s will needs to be changed, but because of our own weakness and ineptitude that prayer must be continuous and persistent.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 42.)

When I pray, how do I imagine God’s posture towards me? Do I have a vision of the Father that looks more a human father on a bad day? (Being a father is a hard job, and few are well-prepared for it).

Continual prayer is not about pestering God into doing what we want Him to do. We do not need to jumpstart Him. Praying continually is an invitation to live in constant communion with a measurelessly good God who is always available, always caring, always for me. I have lived so much of my life as though God were distant and rarely available. I have behaved as though I did not have access to all the resources of heaven as a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. I pray continually not to gain favor but to abide in favor.

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Reliable Constants of Life in Jesus


Morning walk on our first morning in Singapore last week.

Morning walk on our first morning in Singapore last week.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

These simple pieces of counsel are an invitation to a steady and faithful way of life in Christ. This is how God wants us to live in Christ. Choose joy. Live in continual communion with God. See and affirm grace in every circumstance. This invitation inspires me. I feel hungry and thirsty for a life of deep joy, loving communion and faithful gratitude.

When it comes to the invitation to “rejoice always,” I find a complaint rise up from somewhere within me. I don’t think it’s an especially holy place. “But I don’t feel any joy. I feel depressed. I feel weary. I feel downcast (in the language of so many psalms).” The answer that arises in me comes from what feels like a better place, “Don’t measure or base your life on surface feelings. Those feelings are what they are. Joy comes from a deeper and more real place that has roots in eternal reality. You have more reason to be joyful than you can possibly imagine. A glimpse of the glories of God’s very presence would overflow your heart with a joy you couldn’t possibly contain.”

I also think of what my friend, Jon Byron, once said about worship. He calls it a “stimulated response” to God. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Worship is a response to a vision of–an encounter with–glory. Isaiah has a vision of the Lord’s glory and is overcome with holy fear and profound awe. Then, he worships God. Perhaps rejoicing, prayer and gratitude are also stimulated responses. Father, I welcome Your Spirit to open my eyes to see what I’m too often missing, to open my ears to hear words of love, grace and power, to open my heart to receive and express vital life. Thank You.

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The Prayers of a Leader


From my recent trip to the Dominican Republic to lead The Journey.

From my recent trip to the Dominican Republic to lead The Journey.

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s leadership prayer for the Thesslonians in this case was to ask that God might enable them to be worthy of His choice of them. I understand this to be a worthiness of loving God back, not a worthiness of performance for God. It is living for God’s pleasure rather than my own (though the fact is that my truest and deepest pleasure actually is God’s pleasure for me).

Paul also prays that they would experience God’s empowerment and provision so that every good desire in their hearts would come to full fruition. Paul asks God to enable Christ’s followers in Thessalonica to do everything they have in their hearts to do to bring pleasure and credit to their Father in heaven. Paul believes that this will result in the beauty and weightiness of Christ to be with each of us and all of us. And it all happens according to the generous favor of the Father and the Son.

I keep wondering what it would be like if we were praying prayers like these for one another.

About Prayer: Less is More


A view from the Journey in the Dominican Republic last month.

A view from the Journey in the Dominican Republic last month.

Matthew 6:7-8 NIV, “And 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.

I’ve prayed with followers of Jesus in many traditions. When it comes to us Evangelicals, we are the wordy ones. In this text, Jesus says that it is pagans who don’t know the Father who ramble on endlessly, assuming that the more words said, the better the prayer and the more likely God will hear and answer.

Why so many words? Might it be that we have forgotten that our loving Father already knows what we need before we ask? Do we really believe we need to inform Him of something He does not yet know? How would our prayers become simpler if we really believed that He both knew and cared about what we need (even if we’re still waiting for His response)?

So, when I pray, I might do well to begin with no words at first, but a simple remembering of God’s presence with me, in Spirit and with favor. He wants my good. I can remember that. I don’t need to inform Him. I don’t need to convince Him. I don’t need to cajole Him. I just need to ask.

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