Looking for conversations with God.

We talk about prayer as conversations with God. Sometimes we wish that we could hear both sides of the conversation, instead of just our own. One way that we can understand these conversations a little better is to read the accounts of others. There are a few of these conversations in the Old Testament. And, assuming that prayer is talking with God and that Jesus is God, every time there is a conversation between Jesus and one of the disciples, or the Pharisees, or some person that Jesus is healing, we have a picture of prayer.

So, for example, if you are looking for something to read while sitting in your chair ready to read something from the Bible, consider one of these conversations:

  • Moses had several conversations with God. They start in Exodus (See, for example, the burning bush story in Exodus 3-4) and are also found in Leviticus and Numbers. Does the way Moses talks with God change across the forty years they talk? How much do they disagree with each other? How much do they agree? 
  • The woman at the well in John 4 has several conversational turns with Jesus. What do they show about how he listens to her heart’s longing? How willing is he to listen to her questions and respond? 
  • The disciples, Martha, Mary and the crowds in John 11. The whole chapter is conversations. How does Jesus interact with all these different people? How does he respond differently to different comments? Do his comments reflect an awareness of different personalities?
  • In John 7, Jesus talks with groups of people who are debating with him. Use an online Bible that lets you look at cross references and footnotes. How many times are the answers Jesus gives based on Old Testament verses? If he uses the Bible to answer questions then, might that still be true?

 

In praise of being unoriginal

Hope.Paul is writing to his apprentice. It’s likely his last letter, his address at Timothy’s commencement. It’s the speech where every instruction matters, every emotion is raw.

Paul’s words are what no self-respecting American commencement speaker would say.

“What you heard from me,” Paul tells Timothy, “keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” A few sentences later Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

We chafe at the kind of conformity Paul is describing. We are part of a culture that celebrates originality. We want everyone to embrace innovation. We all have endless opportunities to publish everything we can possibly make up. We aspire to live with the same originality as everyone else does.

But we can buy books and take courses that teach us the principles of nonconformity. We can learn how to innovate. At some point, we search out, practice, and share what fits with our values. So when Paul is encouraging his apprentice to work within a framework of teaching, isn’t he doing what human beings do all the time?

Depending, of course, on whether we like the values in the teaching. When we agree with the results of teaching, we celebrate consistency. When we dislike them, we complain about conformity. If a way of life heals people and relationships and the planet, that seems worth learning and passing on.

And agree with Paul or disagree about what he teaches, pay attention to the process of generational transfer. To pass on a way of understanding, we need to learn the framework, make what we teach consistent with that framework, and teach people how to teach people how to teach.

 

Hypothetical willingness

We were finishing talking about 1 Corinthians. It was the end of an eight-month study with a group of men. We were talking about making a difference by expressing love in life-threatening ways. We were talking about the Ebola outbreak in western Africa.

Ebola is a scary disease. No known cure. Spreads crazy fast (every person infected likely means four more people being infected.) Causes death in 60-90% of cases.

We were talking about the role of God’s people in running hospitals, providing treatment, praying. People like Kent Brantly, a doctor from Texas treating patients in Liberia. He’s just been diagnosed with Ebola symptoms. Someone said, “If your daughter told you she was going to help, wouldn’t you try to talk her out if it?”

“No way,” I said as I began to tear up. “If she had a way to help and she told me she sensed God calling her to go, I wouldn’t argue. It would hurt like hell, but she’d be doing something that mattered.”

I was surprised by my passion.

doorA couple days later, I was thinking about that conversation: “So what am I doing right now?” A hypothetical commitment is nice, but it does nothing to help the people in a small hospital in Sierra Leone that a doctor friend of mine loves.

So I started thinking about what I could do now.

  • I could give my friend money to send on to Sierra Leone for the protective gear necessary for caregivers.
  • I could finish a couple of writing projects that would generate some revenue to help fund that care.
  • I could ask God to give courage and words to Pastor T, working in that village, exposed to those people.
  • I could write a post telling you about the challenge.

Or I could say, “how sad” and click on.

More on helping you read the Bible

This is part two of a conversation about reading the Bible that we started yesterday.

Second, schedule the conversation.

Recently, I started setting the chair time on my calendar for 5:45. I get up at 5:30, and the coffee maker runs at 5:17, so it’s ready when the alarm goes off. And I often look first at email. or facebook. or twitter. or all three. But I need a reminder so I have the alarm go off at 5:45 and I sit in my chair.

Most of us schedule important things. We set time for dates, not because it’s drudgery but because we need reminders. We set reminders for classes and for work because it’s important. (I wrote more about this recently).

So why not schedule conversations with God?  In a chair? Routinely. Because that way we don’t have to decide when and where.

Third, read anything from the Bible.

Seriously. Anything.

whatever. @naswanson at cornerstone for kids #harvesttourI’m a reader. At any given time I have six books I’m reading from. business books, commentaries, writing books, Lord of the Rings. One day I was beating myself up for jumping around in my Bible reading and I thought, “But that’s how I read!” So I relaxed.

It’s okay to read various parts of the Bible from day to day. As you are sitting in your chair at the scheduled time, read the text from the sermon you heard Sunday. Or read the book of Mark. But read from the Bible (not just 300 words.) I’ll offer more suggestions about this one next week.

Fourth, ask God what he’s saying.

I (usually) love it when someone says, “What were you thinking about when you wrote this.” or when someone says, “I love that post” or they say, “Seriously? I’m not sure I agree.” I love it because it means I can talk to them. I can explain. I can engage.  I can say, “Ah. look at what I wrote two months ago. That’s part of the same conversation.”

And I never have those conversations when no one asks. Because it’s tacky to say, “Have you read my blog?”

Since I assume that God is behind the words of the Bible, I make asking God questions part of the routine of interaction.

 

How can I help you read the Bible more?

I was talking to a group of young (compared to me) adults the other night. Here’s the first part of what I told them, in answer to the question above.

I’m going to assume that you are typical. I know, you are special and wonderful and amazing. But so is everyone. And so that makes you typical. And I’m going to assume that you are churchgoers. That’s not a negative thing. It just means that you fairly regularly go to church.

There’s a big body of research that says that 45% of churchgoers read the Bible at least a few times a week, 18% every day. So if you are typical, more than half of you read the Bible once a week or less.

Which is fine, I suppose. Except that Bible reading is the single biggest factor connected to growing spiritually.

I’m not sure that the best way to get more people reading the Bible is to tell people to read the Bible. We hear that all the time. So instead, I want to make four practical suggestions to help 55% of you get a bit more connected to reading the Bible.

First, pick a chair.

(I wrote about the chair before)

downsized_0720041659It could be a library chair or a chair in a coffee shop or a chair in your living room. But it’s got to be a comfortable chair where you can sit with a cup of coffee and spend fifteen minutes reading the Bible and talking with God.

Not too comfortable, I suppose. But pick one.

Why? Because human beings are habitual. And if we know that’s the chair where we sit to talk with God, it means that we don’t have to make that choice every day.

This is mine. It’s from my office at home. I have two chairs, but this is my morning coffee with God. My life changed when I picked this chair.
I sit there with my Moleskine notebook and my Field Notes pen and I write the date in the top right corner of the page and I start writing to God and then I read something. And I do this early in the morning.

+++

More tomorrow.