Prayer and Charity

“It (prayer) is the needle by which we draw the thread of charity through our neighbor’s soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together in one Christ.”  Thomas Merton

For more about Thomas Merton follow the links below:

Where Am I Going–a quote by Thomas Merton

On Thomas Merton by Mary Gordon–Book Review

 

Listen Up!

Another key component of clarity is listening to God.  As Michele said in a previous post, sometimes it is easy to get so busy doing things for God that we are too distracted to listen to God.  Our Lord is a God who constantly communicates with His people.  He spoke creation into existence and continues to speak to us through His world.  He sent the prophets to tell the people His what He wanted them to hear.  We have His written word, the Holy Scripture and finally He sent Jesus, the Living Word.

The Bible has a lot to say about listening and hearing.  I’ll give you a few examples:

“This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased:  listen to Him.”  Matthew 17:5 (God’s words about Jesus)

 

“Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  John 18:37 (Jesus speaking to Pilate)

 

“So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:17 (the apostle Paul writing to the Christians in Rome)

We are instructed to listen, and to listen particularly to the words of Jesus.  In order to do this we must of course, study the Scripture;  but in addition, we must read the Scriptures prayerfully.  We must hear not only what the God’s Word said to the people at the time it was written, we must hear what it is saying to US and what it is saying TODAY.

Of course, there are many ways to listen.  One simple way is prayer.  To do this, our prayer life should not always be words and asking;  we need to make time for silence and waiting.  This is often when God speaks.

We can listen to the advice of others we know to be godly, those who are more experienced in the faith:  this could be your Pastor, a mentor, a spiritual director, or even the members of your small group. The Quakers actually have a tradition called a “clearness committee”– a group that assembles to help a member listen for God’s will by meeting, praying and asking questions.

Certainly every one of us should be listening in our church services every week — the Word of God as spoken in the readings, the sermon or even the hymns may be God’s special Word to you.  Don’t miss it!

If you’re seeking clarity, keep listening.  Not in a vacuum.  Pray, study, worship.  Test your answers against Scripture and in the company of others.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   Matthew 11:15

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — Movie Review

Yes, the Mr. Rogers you may have watched as a child on television was the real Fred Rogers — not a character he invented.  And no, he was not a “living saint” but a real person who had learned through certain practices to control his anger and to be fully present to others.  What were those practices?  Nothing we can’t each easily undertake.  According to his wife, Joanne, he read Scripture, swam laps, prayed for people by name each day, and wrote many affirming letters.

In the film, Lloyd Vogel, investigative writer for Esquire is given the task of interviewing Fred for a series on heroes.  He has a reputation for revealing the worst about people in his articles, and has his doubts about Rogers.  Could anyone really be that good?  However after his initial meeting with Fred, he tells his wife (in a rather disappointed tone), “he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He also finds the tables are turned– instead of interviewing Mr. Rogers, Lloyd becomes the interviewee.  Through his genuine interest in people, Rogers questions Lloyd about his life and family and helps him to reconcile with his father.  The plot is based on a true story.

Tom Hanks makes a very believable Fred Rogers.  I remember how our daughter, Beth, would watch the program as a preschooler and actually answer Mr. Rogers if he asked a question.  Not surprisingly, in the film Rogers says his goal is to look into the eyes of a single child, being fully present.  In my experience, he succeeded.

If you watched  Mr. Rogers as a child, or with your children, as I did, this movie will bring back many good memories.  It is poignant without being sappy.  I enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to others.  We could all use a good dose of Mr. Rogers’ practices in our lives;  and we could all use a friend like Fred, who really listens to what we say and accepts us “just the way we are.”

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  Make every effort to see this one if you can.

For another movie about Fred Rogers see this post:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Movie Review

Praying Women by Sheila Walsh — Book Review

Subtitled, How to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Say, this is a good, basic book on prayer.  There are quotes by well known Christians at the beginning of each chapter, and sprinkled throughout — I love quotes, so this was a plus for me.

In the introduction, Sheila lists some of the comments she received from her Facebook readers about their experiences with prayer.  Many expressed the same struggles, which most of us encounter:

  • I get distracted or bored
  • I just say the same things over and over
  • Why bother if God knows everything?
  • Is God really listening?
  •  I never get an answer
  • I’m too depressed to pray
  •  God must be angry at me

In each chapter, Sheila walks readers through some of these issues, using examples from her own life.  At the end of every chapter there are prayer reminders and a prayer that suits the theme of that section.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on praying with the words of Scripture, which focused on Psalms.

Her conclusion?

“God is not looking for perfect words or perfect people–He longs for our ongoing daily presence in prayer and worship.”

VERDICT:  4 Stars.  Not extraordinary but solid, biblically based and an easy read.  Most will enjoy it and come away with some useful suggestions for improving their prayer life.  One caveat– Walsh is a Baptist and speaks of “accepting Christ” which contradicts Lutheran theology.

Prayer Disciplines Part 2

During the last couple of years my prayer life has become less and less organized.  Oh, I still pray.  I often pray while driving.  If I wake up during the night, or very early, I pray.  I pray before falling asleep.  Thoughts of God constantly linger around the edges of my mind.  I may actually pray more that I did during my sporadic attempts at “discipline.”  I’ve come to think, as Frank Laubach once said:

“All thought can be conversations with thee (God).”

At any rate, I’ve decided to give up or give in to God’s grace and pray the way I am.

Just this week, I discovered a prayer discipline I never recognized in myself as I read “Creating a Life with God” by Daniel Wolpert. Along with many of the prayer exercises I learned in my Spiritual Direction course such as centering prayer, the Jesus prayer, lectio divina, the examen and journaling, he mentions creativity as prayer, saying:

“Since prayer connects us to God, creativity–as it connects us to the creative power of God–becomes a prayer practice.”

Throughout my faith life, periods of personal creativity have been times when I especially feel God’s presence and His pleasure with me.  One of the first times this happened was after a class on spiritual gifts led me to write a Vacation Bible School program for our church.  At the time, and for several years afterwards, our house would be littered with library books, craft ideas, Sunday School material and anything else I could find that related to the VBS theme for the year.  Several of the people who assisted me with preparing those programs mention them as times of special fun and meaning despite all the hard work that went into them.  It became a time of consuming passion for the project and for God while it lasted.  Since that time I have had the same experience in creating and leading workshops for my church and other Christian groups, writing talks for retreats, newsletter articles and even letters of encouragement or sympathy to friends.  I often sense God working through me to touch others in these ways, and when one project ends, my heart is restless until another presents itself.  How delightful to think of this as prayer!  And how delightful to realize that God can use me with all my restless and unruly thoughts!

This was written years ago.  For more current information of my prayer life see these posts:

Fanning the Flame #8 — Prayer Vision

Fanning the Flame #8 Continued … How should I pray?

 

 

 

Prayer Disciplines Part 1

This is from a reflection paper I wrote years ago while attending a two year program on spiritual direction. It mentions my personality type as revealed through the Meyers-Briggs testing method.  For those who are not familiar with this, you will find more information by following this link:

https://www.mbtionline.com/

 

As a INFJ the routines of church attendance and Bible study come fairly easily to me.  I love the ritual of the liturgy and the church seasons.  This is the “J” part of me coming out.  The “NF” part of my personality, however, identifies with a character in the novel “Absolute Truth” by Susan Howatch.  She says:

“… my busy over-educated brain is a positive hinderance to prayer, and far too often my thoughts speed off on tangents that are intellectually fascinating, but quite irrelevant to the task of praying….”

In consequence, times of inner silence and contemplation elude me.  I’ve discovered that while it is easy for me to be quiet, it is difficult to be “still.”

In 1990, after attending a Via de Cristo retreat, I got serious about prayer as a discipline and since that time have sampled numerous prayer techniques which seem to work for a season.  Shortly after the retreat, I started going into work early.  I would spend a few minutes each day sitting in my car and praying with the “Pilgrim’s Guide” we were given on the weekend.  At times I’ve walked regularly, using that as my time alone with God and nature. For a while my Saturday morning housecleaning routine became a time of prayer.  I played Christian music and dedicated the time to God or sometimes to a particular person or event.  One summer I spent time almost every evening in my backyard, sitting alone in an adirondack chair and praying directly from Scripture.  I’ve used devotional books as a daily aid to prayer and meditation.  None of these routines really seemed to “stick” on a long-term basis.

To be continued ……

 

Overcomer–Movie Review

My husband and I watched this film together last night.  As the credits rolled, I turned to him and said, “What do you think?” His response was “a cross between a Hallmark movie and an after-school special.”

I have to agree.  The plot was formulaic and predictable.  The happy ending (although it does involve a death) tied everything up neatly.  People are reconciled, the underdog triumphs, conflicts are resolved, wrongs are made right.  This seldom happens in real life.  There is also some questionable theology for Lutherans, who do not believe a person can “decide” to follow Jesus.  God chooses us, we do not choose Him.

That being said, the film was uplifting and will raise your spirits.  Sometimes we all just need to be inspired and entertained.  It’s a movie you won’t be embarrassed to watch with your children or your Sunday School class.  No questionable language or nudity — hooray!  It raises plenty of issues to discuss with young people — things like forgiveness, prayer and Bible study.

The basis for the film is this Bible verse:

1 John 5:5 New International Version (NIV)

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Overall Verdict?  I give it three stars

For a related post see:

What’s So Wonderful About Webster? by Stephen and Alex Kendrick–Book Review

Small Groups Made Easy – A Book Review

Ryan Lokkesmoe is a well-known author of several books on small groups, as well as, small group curriculums. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part addresses the practical applications of small groups. He covers logistics, planning, leaders, childcare, and location, as well as many more.

He gives practical, simple principles to follow to make sure the group is instituted, planned and lead well so that it can succeed in the first part. I found the principles to be easy and effective if a bit simple.

The second part is based on 12 basic Christian studies which I enjoyed more than the first part. I felt that the studies were well thought out and provided ample questions to engage all participants. He backs up his study material with ample scripture references and ends each study with the most important thing – Prayer.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I felt it was well-written and gave sound advice but could have given a little more detail in the implementation part.

I have received a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

Martin Luther on Prayer

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired, although not in the hour or in the measure, or the very thing which they ask;  yet they will obtain something greater and more glorious than they had dared to ask.”

Martin Luther

More about prayer from Martin Luther:

A Good Prayer to Start the Day by Martin Luther

A Prayer by Martin Luther

Martin Luther on Praying for One Another

Freedom In Prayer

“If you have any trial which seems intolerable, pray,–pray that it be relieved or changed.  There is no harm in that.  We may pray for anything, not wrong in itself with perfect freedom, if we do not pray selfishly.  One disabled from duty by sickness may pray for health, that he may do his work;  or one hemmed in by internal impediments may pray for utterance, that he may serve better the truth and the right.  Or, if we have a besetting sin, we may pray to be delivered from it, in order to serve God and man, and not be ourselves Satans to mislead and destroy.  But the answer to the prayer may be as it was to Paul, not removal of the thorn, but, instead a growing insight into its meaning and value.  The voice of God in our soul may show us, as we look up to Him, that His strength is enough to enable us to bear it.”

James Freeman Clarke (April 4, 1810 – June 8, 1888)  American theologian and author

For other quotes on prayer go to these posts:

Martin Luther on How to Begin When Busy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Praying For One Another