A Historic Jewel That Can Help Us With Prayer

practice-the-presencePrayer is our soul’s traffic way to heaven where God communicates to us and we to Him.  Prayer is as important to our spiritual life as breathing is to our natural life.  Prayer is like spiritual breathing.  This is why the Bible says to “pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 no matter what; pray all the time (never be finished with prayer). 

Probably one the best books every written about living in an ongoing daily awareness of God’s presence through prayer was a book titled “The Practice of the Presence of God” which was written in the 1600s by Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence started out life as Nicholas Herman of Lorraine. He lived in France from 1610 to 1691.   He worked as a soldier and footman.  Later he decided he wanted to walk in a closer relationship with God and joined a monastic order called the Carmelites as a lay brother among them.  He was not a priest but just an ordinary man who wanted to walk closer to God.  This should be the testimony of every authentic Christian, “an ordinary man/woman who wanted to walk closer to God.”

This should be the testimony of every authentic Christian, an ordinary man who wanted to walk closer to God. Click To Tweet

Lawrence worked in the kitchen as a cook for 15 years.  It wasn’t something that he necessarily wanted to do.  As a matter of fact he had an aversion to kitchen work.  But he decided to do it to the glory of God and cultivate a sense of God’s presence as he did.

The book is largely a compilation of letters.  It can be read, or listened to for free online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence/practice.

Arthur Wallis,  A movement of God will last as long as the Spirit of prayer that inspired it. Any claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit but our prayer life is unaffected is suspect.  The Holy Spirit is an intercessor.  His work in our life will be seen resulting in prayer.

Breath Prayers

One of the features of the book is his cultivation of a continual sense of God’s presence. Not only would Brother Lawrence anticipate his regular extended times of prayer in the mornings but he would also cultivate a habit of praying to God continually throughout the day.  He used the idea of “breath prayers” throughout the day, as many Christians have done for centuries.

Breath prayers are traced to ancient Eastern Christianity.  They were ways to help move towards ceaseless prayer (1 Thes 5:17). The breath prayer is a short, simple prayer you can speak in one breath .  Gregory of Sinai said, “One’s love of God should go before breathing.” The idea is to address God with the inhale, as though you were breathing God in. Then the petition you make is said on the exhale.  You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated in one breath.  In doing so over the course of time you cultivated a sense of God’s presence throughout the day.

Lawrence describes this practice and how it cultivated a close relationship with God.  Thus by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherin it would be a difficult for me not to think of God, as it was at first to accustom myself to it…As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise.

Listen to some of his approaches to developing the habit of continual prayer.  It’s possible to accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with God, speaking to Him freely and in simplicity. We need only to recognize God intimately present with us and to address ourselves to Him every moment… God requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you and still gives you in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can…. It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church; we may make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God, some more, some less: He knows what we can do. Let us begin then; perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part.

He also addresses the issue of feeling God’s presence.  We pray continually not to feel God’s presence, but to cultivate a sense of focus upon Him.  The awareness of feeling God’s presence often follows but it shouldn’t be our aim.  We should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him…. In order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficult.

One key God has shown us to a fruitful life full of His purpose is taking root downward in His presence through prayer.

Isaiah 37:31 (1 Kings 19:31)  “The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

John 15:4  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

The Practice of the Presence of God is a short book that I would encourage everyone to read or listen to.

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Upside down or Right side up

jesus-therapyLk 9:23-37 MSG…“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?… (Lk 14:26-27,33; Mt 10:24-40; Mt 16:24-25;  Mk 8:34-35).

Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery.

Christians often attempt to twist the wondrous God of salvation history into the role of a divine therapist who aids the individual Christian in his or her personal quest for spiritual fulfillment and self-discovery. In doing so we have reduced the sweeping biblical narrative of “God redeeming for himself a people” (God’s family Tit 2:14-15) through whom He demonstrates His glory as they walk together (Eph 1:22-23, 3:10-11), to little more than “receiving Jesus into my heart as a personal savior.” Little wonder that we so casually take our personal savior from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, and church to church, desperately hoping that we can somehow improve our quality of life by escaping the immediate pain which often clouds the very redemptive relationships that God has placed us in.

We often want a just my size God, fluffy and approachable who doesn’t care about His own commandments.  Surely these were mere suggestions that served some other purpose for some other day.  After all, He understands our weaknesses and only wants us to be happy. Those commandments and our obligation to them are surely eclipsed by His unconditional love for us and His desire for our self fulfillment.  Sounds logical and therapeutic but that doesn’t mean these ideas are right.  We must keep in mind that while God “made us into His image” (Gen 1:26-28) we should not attempt to make Him into ours.

I grew up in the 60s and finished High School and College in the 80s.  Near the end of it I gave my life to Christ but before that I lived with the current philosophies of the day. Because I had a lot of training in Psychology I was very familiar with the thoughts behind many of them.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Hierarchy of needsOne of the philosophies that had taken hold of culture (and continues to do so) was put forth by Abraham Maslow called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”  He began to develop it in the late 50’s and by the time of his death in 1970 it had become a cornerstone of the anti establishment 60s and self-help culture of the 70-80s. It continues to fuel the narcissistic culture of today. Unfortunately, like many cultural philosophies, it was and is often embraced by Christians.

His theory was attractive.  Instead of the determinism (do your duty based on what life brings your way) of the previous centuries that fought 2 world wars and suffered a worldwide depression, it offered a new sense of freedom.  The previous generation’s life was in many ways “determined” by intense sacrifices and fulfilling duty and responsibility.

Maslow’s theories offered freedom from that bondage of duty and responsibility.  You could grow past those motivations to what he called “Self-actualization.”  Self-actualization is achieved when you are able step into fulfilling the highest expression of you (expressing your individual talents, gifts, and desires that give you a sense of harmony with the universe).  In other words you fulfill you “self-destiny.”  I think it is ironic that it is very similar to what many eastern religions call “nirvana” which is an “ultimate experience of some pleasurable emotion of harmony and joy in your life.

I remember working in a University book store in the early 80s and the growing self-help section of books were filled with different angles of Maslow’s basic premises.  They offered all kinds of advice, help, and techniques to help achieve personal fulfillment.  Now 38 years later we see fruit of many of those ideas that have lead to the breakdown of important areas of life and culture.

Famous feminist Gloria Steinem released a book about her life journey called “Mygloria-steinem-book-dedication life on the road.” While I probably won’t read it I did read the opening dedication to Dr. John Sharp of London who helped her end the life of her child through abortion.

 “Dr. John Sharp of London, who in 1957, a decade before positions in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a 22-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken and engagement at home to seek and unknown fate, he said, “you must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharp, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.

 “You will do what you want to do with your life.”  Sounds pretty Maslowish.  As I read it I wondered how many children were prevented  from coming in the earth due to this idea?  How many children grew up with absent or nonexistent parents due to this idea?  How many men and women have undergone the pain and abandonment by a spouse or “partner” due to this idea?  How many children have grown up in foster care, like a dear friend who lives with us now, because one or both parents pursued this idea?

I am not just thinking about unbelievers here.  How many Christians have embraced this idea to the detriment of their own families or the family of God?  I remember a relative of a young disciple years ago who gave her advice at her at her graduation, “you just have to do what’s right for you.”  Unfortunately in following this advice she has struggled through a series of bad relationships that has cost her and now her child is paying the price.  A narcissistic pursuit of self fulfillment will always end up working to destroy the most valuable/eternal things in life, relationship with God and people He places in our life.   

Jesus’ Design turns Maslow’s upside down and right side up

Christian MaslowIf we are followers of Christ we need to heed His call.  His destiny isn’t rooted in some sort of Maslowian crapshoot leading to personal fulfillment.  It is about following Him and letting Him lead.  It is about valuing what He values and giving our lives to that end.  Contrary to avoiding sacrifice and responsibility that would seem to limit freedom, it is through those things He guides our lives and works His will in us.  As we follow His design we end up finding the fulfillment and freedom we all wanted in the first place.  After all, He is the Creator and like any creator He knows how what He created works the best.  

 

 

 

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No Other Plan…so walk in it!

ErasmusThere was a story allegedly told by Erasmus, the famous Renaissance scholar and early church leader from Rotterdam, about the importance of God’s plan.  It was designed to emphasize how important it is that we take up the torch of Christ’s ministry with great commitment to love Jesus and His people, the church.  In the story, Jesus returns to heaven after his time on earth. The angels gather around him to learn all that happened during his days on earth. Jesus tells them of the miracles, his teachings, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. When He finished, the archangel Michael asked, ‘But Lord, what happens now?’ Jesus answered, ‘I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church. And that church will take my message, my life, to the world.’ ‘But,’ responded Michael, ‘What if they fail? What then?’ Jesus answered, ‘I have no other plan.”

Paul reveals the central feature of God’s plan in Ephesians

Eph 1:18-23  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling….22-23 MSG  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.  (23)  The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

When God’s people walk together with Him and each other according to His design they become a manifestation of His life and Kingdom on earth.  We are “Christ body, in which He speaks, and acts, by which He fills everything with His presence.” The church becomes the signpost to a watching world of Who and what the gospel of Jesus is.

When God’s people understand His calling it changes their whole approach to their life together.  They end up doing what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-25,  Then Jesus said to his followers, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me.  (25)  Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for My cause will find true life.   

What was His cause, what is His will, He had already said it verse 18,  upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not stop it.   

God does not give us the choice of commitment to loving Jesus and His church.   Even when church programs are static, personalities are irritating, and hypocrisy is among them, the Bible doesn’t give us the choice of loving Jesus and not wanting anything to do with His bride. 1Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Don’t fall for the devil’s primitive way of dealing with problems

Civil war amputeesNot long ago my wife and I went to a display on the medical advances that happened as a result of the civil war at the Lincoln Historical site in Springfield IL.  What is often shocking when you look at medical care during the civil war was one of the main treatments for injury or infection.   They simply amputated the injured or infected limbs.

That was a large part of the display we witnessed.  It was shocking to see the photographs of all the people under care that had limbs cut off.  It showed doctors with their primitive saws out cutting off limbs.  This display also showed the later shots of military veterans at various celebrations who were missing limbs.  Their whole lives and their families were obviously affected by their relative having lost their limbs.civil war amputees 1

Over the 39 years I have been serving the Lord and participating with Him as He builds His church, I realized that our enemy influences God’s people to deal the same primitive way with injury or infection.

 

I have seen quite a bit of the primitive approach of amputation in the two institutions God created and ordained to carry His image, marriage and His church.

 

Ephesians 5:28-32  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;  (29)  for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,  (30)  because we are members of His body.  (31)  FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.  (32)  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

With little vision worth sacrificing for, and God’s people being motivated by a consumer brand of Christianity, people treat injury and infection in the same primitive ways they did in the civil war.  Just remove the limbs from the body both in marriage and the church.

Some would say the immediate relief from the pain associated with the injury or infection was worth it, but there are long term consequences, especially if it was not directed by Jesus.  There is long term effects on their legacy.  How much better it would be if the people involved in marriage and church were committed enough to laying down their life for Jesus’ sake to work with Him (the Great Physician Lk 4:23) through the pain and infection.

Ephesians 4:1-3  Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,  (2)  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,  (3)  being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

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