Category Archives: prayer

Praying for the hallways.

When people say, “Prayer works”, I wince. “God works,” I say, sometimes out loud.

Because prayer isn’t a formula or an incantation. In fact, we would be better off replacing the word “pray” with one or more of the hundred words we use to describe our interactions with persons.

Like “converse” with God or “invite” God or “agree” with God. Or, as I discovered one week this summer, “leave ourselves open to loving ambush” by God.

I was with some friends, talking with God about a conference about to IMG_2008start. In the course of conversation, I asked God to guide the hallway conversations. I wish I could remember more details of what I asked. I do remember being emotional about the request, as if it mattered. And I’m pretty sure I said something about building relationships.

Then I left that room and went to the conference sessions.

  • That afternoon, I was walking through the hallway and made eye contact. Unavoidable eye contact. With a person who I’d not talked with seriously for a couple decades. We talked.
  • The next day, I walked out of a session and into a conversation with a person I knew slightly and was slightly threatened by. We had a thought-provoking lunch.
  • The next day, I stepped out of a session to deal with a small issue back at the office. While I was sitting in the hallway, I talked with a person I’ve known for several years but never conversed with.

It took me a month of thinking about the remarkable and disruptive conversations I had before I finally connected them  with my request that God guide hallway conversations.  And I understood that God pays attention to what we ask with a depth of understanding of our hearts and needs that even we don’t have. 


Without a net

Sometimes, I start writing without knowing what I am going to say.

This isn’t exactly like speaking without thinking. That happens often enough in conversations. Someone asks a question and I start talking, and jumping from idea to idea. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve seen me face to face. Or, perhaps, you’ve looked in the mirror.

blankWriting without knowing what you are going to say is completely different. You know that you can delete your words. You can edit. This kind of writing happens when you pull up a white page and start to type. And you wait for clarity to show up.

In particular, for me, this happens when it’s time to write in one of my teaching or speaking or emailing or blogging settings. It’s time to write. And I start. But I wait for God’s Spirit to remind me of some question, some answer, some topic.

Nothing comes, regardless of how many words appear. I could go to the archives and take a day off. I could pick an argument. I could write an open letter to one person. But sometimes I just want to be present with the keyboard and the words and the white page, trusting that the presence, rather than the specific content of the interaction, matters.

I wonder if this process of discovering what I’m thinking by writing is one image of what praying is like sometimes. Sometimes we have specific things we want from God. Sometimes we have specific prayers we say because they are need to be said (See, for example, three prayers from Ruth Haley Barton). But sometimes we start into conversations with God without a net, knowing that the other conversationalist once told a thousand demons to leave (and they did), but trusting that he also was willing to sit for awhile and chat over supper.


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What I will do.

In my journal the other day I wrote, “runners run” It was October 9. I hadn’t run for a couple days. I was a little achy. I was hesitant. But I knew that what runners do is run. More than talking about it, more than reading about it, more than worrying about it. They run.

morning runA couple lines later in my journal, I wrote the words from a song: “In the morning, O Lord, you will hear my voice.

The writer has the same kind of resolve that I did about running. “Prayers pray,” is what it says.

The writer goes on: “In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”

These words are from psalm 5, a song about lament and cries for justice. It is not a pleasant song to listen to, with its calls for divine punishment. Unless, I suppose, you are in ancient Israel being lied to ad betrayed, or ancient Babylon watching family members being attacked. Or not so ancient.

But what captures me? The writer addresses those cries and laments and calls to God. In the morning first thing, like me sitting in my chair with my coffee and Bible and journal. Like a runner lays out clothes and shoes the night before so that there are no excuses in the morning. Like a parent prepares the cereal and the bowl and the toaster the night before. Like a planner writes out the six things for the next day the night before. Like a praying person plans to pray.

I do want to make confession. A couple days later I said, “God, I don’t even know what to say. So what do you want me to ask about.”

But I think that’s the point. Regardless of our competence or speed, prayers pray.

What I mean when I say pray.

(first published September 12, 2007)

I have had some people ask me to pray for them recently. I’ve told some other people that I am praying for them. I realized that I probably better tell you what I am doing when I agree or offer to pray. After all, it could be dangerous.


Picture a conversation between a dad and a child, in kitchen of the house, early in the morning. The dad has been up for a long time and is on his second cup of coffee, the child not as long, but long enough to be sitting at the table with a glass of milk.

This is not a dysfunctional relationship, but a dad and a child who get along, a dad that actually shows up and cares and provides and loves.  And the child? A child that is probably 6 or 7, old enough to converse and to acknowledge the people around, young enough to get tired and pouty, young enough to forget, young enough to think that there are no boundaries and then to discover that there are, young enough to not have skills to do much that is beautiful or productive…unless you are looking through a loving dad’s eyes.

See the picture?

Now picture a friend of that child sitting on the back step, crying in the early morning mist. Something is lost, someone is hurt, something isn’t right.

The child and dad look out. The child waits for the dad to do something, the dad is watching the child. The child slips down from the table and walks to the sliding glass door.

“Come in.”

But the friend just shakes her head.

The child walks out and sits down next to the friend, just sitting, listening.

“You can come in and talk to my dad. He can do anything.”

“I can’t. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t care anyway.”

“Yes, he does. But I know. He doesn’t look very friendly at first. I’ll be right back.”

The child walks back into the house.

“Dad? What can I do? What can you do?”

The child walks back out and sits next to the friend. He gives her a hug.

“That’s from my dad.”

He hands her a glass of milk.

“That’s from my dad, too. He knew you liked chocolate in it.”

He sits quietly for a minute.

“My dad said you can sit here as long as you need to. He said I can sit here with you.”


That’s what I’m doing. I hope you don’t mind.


From strength to strength

The mom of my friend died the other afternoon. We talked together a few hours before.

He knew it was coming. He was anticipating the arrangements, the conversations, the travel. He was feeling weary. I knew the feeling. Some of you do, too.

A couple hours before we met, I had been reading a prayer. I came across it, I confess, by opening my Bible to Psalms. No reading pattern, no plan.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

That’s us, you and me, those of us who are on this journey, this pilgrimage, this process of learning about following Jesus. That’s us, you and me, driven by our weakness.

“As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.”

It’s a valley near Jerusalem, a valley of dryness. People on pilgrimage bring water to dry places.

They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.

This is the sentence that stopped me, that made me reflect. Because on my pilgrimage there are many moments that don’t feel like strength. Moments like the one sitting with my friend.

But what if this is us, you and me, though we often don’t realize it. That’s us moving from oasis to oasis, with long stretches between. That’s us, moving from time of healing to time of healing, with need of healing between. What if the moments of strength are what sustains us in the in-between? What if the walk of faith is characterized, as Paul wrote by “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” What if the strength is a series of texts in the moments we need it for when we need it rather than the whole book, a drip rather than a reservoir.