Tag Archives: conversation

How can I start praying again?

Dear Jon:

Something just hit me and I hope I don’t get struck down for saying this: I used to pray, something I used to do quietly on my own since I was a kid. But a year ago or so, I began questioning the purpose: If God has a plan for me and knows what I need, why barrage Him with all of these pesky DMs? But, if the purpose of prayer is more to lay our woes at His feet so they aren’t constantly zinging around our heads, then that makes more sense.

Dear friend:

I understand your thinking. I’m wrestling through some of the things that we tell people about prayer myself. What I’m pretty clear about though is that praying is more like this conversation we are having than it is like DM’d spam.

Think about our relationship, you and me. We’ve met face to face just a couple times. But we touch base through twitter pretty often. And we email several times a year. And we are both involved in a group of people who are interacting with each other at least quarterly.

Though we are able to do things for each other, particularly help each other think, the best part of our relationship is that we have a relationship. We are friends in ways that surpass the distance, that surpass the specific actions we can do for each other.

The content of the communication is often less important than the fact that we are interacting. Every touch, every exchange, deepens and enriches our understanding of each other.

I think that’s what God’s desiring as we pray. Doing stuff is part of it. Sometimes it’s handing off woes. But the bigger thing is developing a relationship between persons. With one of those persons being God.

Related posts on prayer:

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How to answer a simple question.

I work at a church. Every Sunday morning, I know that someone will ask me how I’m doing. I know that someone will say, “How was your week.” And I will not know how to answer the questions.

So I decided to figure out how to have an answer.

1. Don’t think, “I wonder why they are asking. I better answer well. They are paying part of my salary.” And get tongue-tied.

2. Don’t think, “Great. They are asking me, I need to ask them, and then we’ll be talking for an hour. And I have to fix the projector.”

3. Every Sunday morning, when you are driving to church, remember that someone will ask you these questions. There is no excuse for being surprised. (If they ask, “why did you drive backwards through the softball field last night,” you can be surprised.)

4. Every Sunday morning, think through the names of the people that you are likely to see. That way you won’t be scrambling to remember. And it’s possible that the review session will give you something to ask first: “How are you feeling after the Boston Marathon?” (Hi bib #13577).

5. Be honest with the person who is asking, letting them know that the reason you keep edging away from them is that you are getting toilet paper for the three empty stalls upstairs.

6. Be honest with yourself that you aren’t nearly as busy at this moment as you would like to believe that you are.

7. Stop rushing for fifteen seconds and look in the asker’s eyes. You’ll find out whether the next sentence is going to be “great” or is going to be “my mother has Alzheimer’s.”

8. Remember that touching, talking, listening, stopping, and speaking truth were all ways that Jesus got involved in the lives of people. People just like me.

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just one picture, please

Philip was a normal guy.

After Jesus invited Philip to follow him, Philip went to find his friend Nathaniel. Rather than talking about his own understanding of Jesus, Philip rooted his invitation to his friend in theology:  “This is the one Moses and the prophets pointed to.”  When Nathaniel argued, Philip merely said, “Come and see.”

When faced with a crowd of people needing food, Jesus asked Philip where they could buy it. Philip responded, “Eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough for each one to have a bite of bread.”

When someone comes to Philip and asks to be taken to Jesus, Philip goes to find Andrew. Together they go.

Philip seems to be the kind of person that doesn’t demand much, that doesn’t lead much, that doesn’t expect much.

I’m not being critical when I say that. There are way more Philip people than there are Peter people (loud, intense) or John people (working right alongside Peter and Jesus). Philip people quietly do their work. Philip people don’t worry a lot about theology, don’t get into the big arguments, don’t remember all the footnotes.

So when Jesus says,

“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip replies with:

“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Philip’s request makes sense. Many of us travel long distances for an autograph from a famous person, for having our picture taken with the band. Philip would be happy with the glimpse of God that Moses got. Philip would be happy with once, simply, clearly, a view of God.

For Jesus, that request is a frustration. He just said that seeing him is seeing the Father. God offers supper conversations, not merely snapshots.

Are you talking to me?

(This is the second of a few posts on Psalm 4, written as a followup to Oscar Hammerstein and reading the Bible)

1. Some people think that because Psalm 4 follows Psalm 3, it was written at the same time. If so, then David is a king in a coup, kicked out of the capital by his son. If so, then maybe these words are his: How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

2. (I’m sorry if you are new here or if you didn’t read yesterday’s post. We started talking about Psalm 4 and I was wondering who wrote the words I just quoted.)

3. But what if these sentences aren’t from David talking to the people around the traitor Absalom. What if it is God talking? What if he’s talking to people like you and me?

4. But how would you do that? How would you give words to someone like David to write? Unless, of course, you were having a conversation with him, and he was taking notes.

5. Dear readers. Are you still with me or have I hopelessly confused you? My guess is that unless you are reading this before your first cup of coffee, you are with me.  You know that paragraph 1 is to a general audience, 2 is to people who meet a special condition, 3 is back to a general audience and 4 is to God.

That’s how Psalm 4 is written, switching audiences, requiring attention.

By the way, I didn’t write 4  just as an example. It is an explanation.  I think that this poem/prayer reflects  a conversation. David talks to God and says, “are you listening?” God talks to David – and all of us who look delude ourselves, who go searching for gods – and says, “are you really talking to me?”

It’s a good question. It takes reflection. That’s why David writes “selah” here. It’s a word for a pause.


You mean I haven’t talked about that before?

I really wasn’t planning to plunge into a series on prayer.

Next week I’m teaching about prayer at a denominational conference. To help me think, I went to the group I teach on Sunday mornings and began exploring this question: 

What does it mean that so many people end prayers with some version of “In Jesus’ name, amen.”? Why, really, do we do that?

It was a wonderful conversation, one that led to making two people from the class sit on chairs in front of the room so we could see the side-by-side image that showed up in the two chairs post this week.

As I’ve spent the rest of the week writing about prayer, other topics keep bubbling up in my brain and yours. I’m seeing them in the comments and in emails. And I’m realizing that there are some things that I often say when I’m talking with people about prayer that I have never written about.

  • Why do we call them “prayers”? How is that different from calling them “formulas” or “incantations”?
  • And why do we limit ourselves to the word “pray” when we talk about interaction with God when we have many other words for our interactions with each other?
  • What does it mean to pray constantly? Does the idea of “ambient intimacy”, taken from social media, help us understand what that might be like?
  • Where is heaven? Although that is a huge question, far beyond the topic of prayer, it would be helpful to know how long the string on our tin-can prayer telephone is. Or, perhaps, the imaginations that work so well in understanding science fiction literature might help us understand where heaven is.

Those are posts coming very soon. But I probably should ask, what do you wonder about this thing called “prayer”?


If you don’t want to ask in the comments, send me an email at jnswanson at gmail dot com.