Sometimes when I’m talking about prayer with a group of people I’ll say, “So, prayer can be defined as talking with God, right?” And people often nod. Depending on where the group is.
Then I’ll say, “So, is Jesus God?” And when I’m having this conversation, most people will say “Yes.”
And then I’ll say, “So, when we read about people talking with Jesus, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they are praying, right? When the woman who was getting water talks to Jesus about religious differences between the Jews and the Samaritans, that was prayer? And when Martha tells Jesus to make her sister help with the chores, that was prayer? And when the teachers of the law asked Jesus questions or argued with him, that was prayer?”
And usually people start to look confused. Because that’s not prayer, that’s conversation. But the reasoning is sound. Prayer is talking with God and Jesus is God.
Maybe it feels a little informal or too familiar. Maybe we are missing the opportunity to see the person we are talking with, like Martha did. But if we are wanting to learn to talk with Jesus, looking at all of these conversations as prayer might help us learn how to converse.
Awhile back, I posted a video about using feasts as a way to approach reading the Bible. With a holiday weekend coming in the US, taking a look at reading and feasting may give you some ideas of how to incorporate new ways of understanding the text into your living.
If you don’t drink coffee, you may not know that some coffee tastes better than others. There is instant coffee. It’s fast. And some of it, like VIA, is okay.
There is motel room coffee. It’s convenient. While traveling this week, I teased my friend about making decaf coffee in the motel room coffee maker. He laughed. He said caffeine didn’t bother him either way, so he grabbed the first packet. I said, “But decaf motel room coffee?” He said, “I don’t expect much.”
There is slow coffee, freshly ground and poured through a Chemex. It’s good. Another friend takes the time to make coffee in his Chemex. It’s slow, bringing water to a boil, grinding beans, preparing the filter, waiting for the water to distill through the grounds. Some would say that this is a very fussy way to approach coffee. My friend disagrees. “If you only have one cup a day,” he says, “It’s worth it.”
A group of people I’m teaching will come to class with papers they have written about trying some spiritual practices. They will have sat quietly. They will have read short passages from the Bible four times, listening. They will have talked with God in ways different than they are used to. In each case, they will have followed direction laid out by someone else. It will have felt very self-conscious on the way to being aware of God. But it will be part of an ancient way of living that starts with “Be still, and know that I am God.”
They will have sampled Chemex living. Deliberate, thoughtful, intentional, waiting. I don’t know yet what will stay. They may find quick yet thoughtful solutions sometimes. But if I only have one life with God, being deliberate may well be worth it.
First published October 15, 2013
I was reading about a conversation Jesus had with a woman from Samaria. In this conversation, Jesus speaks seven times, the woman speaks six. Jesus speaks first, asking her to do him a favor. Each time she speaks, it feels like a diversion, a change of subjects. Each time he speaks, it is a response that pulls her back to a theme. It never feels manipulative or judgmental, even though Jesus is honest with her. By the end of the conversation, after his last answer, she hurries away to bring other people to converse with Jesus, to find out whether they think he’s telling the truth.
When we talk about prayer, we often say that’s it’s like conversation with God. We talk about how we should approach praying, how to become ‘better’ at it. We talk about having the right motives, the right attitude.
We talk as if we are the only ones talking, the only ones with motive. But as I was reading, I started wondering for the first time: “What does God want from prayer?”
- Where is he trying to direct the conversation? Does he want to guide us to understand something?
- What are his ways of responding to our attempts to change the subject? Does he say, “that’s stupid” or does he, as with the woman, he acknowledge the idea but redirect the theological discussion to a new level?
- When we ask what he means by something he says, how does he respond? Or do we ever ask?
- Does he ever initiate conversations, simply asking for a drink of water as he did when talking with the woman next to the well? Who might be his proxies with that request, the people who are asking for water on his behalf?
What does God want from prayer?
First published November 17, 2011
I love stories about people praying and then having answers. It’s exciting.
I mean, look at this story. Paul writes a letter to some people in Rome. He talks about his travel schedule and his desire to visit them. And he asks them to pray for him.
Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. (Romans 15:31-32)
In the travelogue that is the book of Acts, we find the end of that story.
And so we came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. (Acts 28:14-15)
It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Paul asks, God answers, and he is refreshed by the people from Rome. It would never happen that nicely for us, of course, not being as spiritual as Paul, but it’s nice nonetheless.
Of course, there is part of the story that doesn’t show up between the prayer and the answer. Paul does go to Jerusalem. He’s beaten and then arrested. After a plot to kill him, he’s taken to Caesarea. He stays in prison there for a couple years. He appeals to Caesar and is taken as a prison to Rome. On his way there, the ship is wrecked but they safely gets to Malta. He’s bitten by a snake but lives. Another ship takes them.
And so he comes to Rome, in chains, but safe.
Sometimes the middle is muddled, but the ship may yet arrive.
I published three posts last week about Nehemiah’s rule of life. They weren’t telling the whole story fast enough. I finally gave up and shared a link for the whole conversation.
A few weeks ago, I wrote out a conversation between Sarah and her mentor, Carol. We explored James’ comment about obeying the royal law. It took me a couple thousand words over several days, about the same number of words in the first half of the letter of James. And you need the whole conversation to understand the point.
Last Sunday a friend asked how my class had gone. I spent a few minutes talking about the Sunday school class I had just taught. But I wondered why he was asking, since he hadn’t asked before. It took me two days to realize that he had been asking about the graduate course I had taught a couple days before.
These stories tell us that sometimes a point takes more than a few sentences to make. Sometimes a story takes pages. Or weeks. Or generations. Sometimes the meaning of a question takes days to understand.
We would never read Doris Goodwin’s massive and powerful biography of Lincoln and his cabinet and stop after every paragraph and say, “What’s the lesson I can take from this.”
And yet, we often read a few words or paragraphs from the Bible thinking we ought to be able to apply it to our lives that day. And wondering whether something is wrong with it or with ourselves if we can’t make that application.
Although Paul told his apprentice Timothy that all Scripture was profitable for one of several uses, he didn’t say that each sentence by itself would be life transforming. Or even day transforming.
Think of it this way. Every conversation with Nancy doesn’t give me something to do. But across the days and weeks and years, the cumulative conversations have shaped me and our relationship.