Scripture as Prayer

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Scripture as Prayer

I was reading Mark 4 today. You remember Mark 4? Jesus tells a bunch of parables:

  • The sower (who sowed the word and the seed on good ground brought forth abundantly)
  • The light under a bushel (the one about being responsible for what you hear…)
  • The kingdom of God is like a man who sows a seed and while he waits, it grows
  • The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (starts so small and becomes large enough for birds to nest)

Then Jesus fell asleep in the boat as he and his disciples crossed to the other side. The a whopper of a storm came and was swamping the boat. How terrifying!

The disciples woke Him up asking why he didn’t care that they were perishing.

Jesus calmly rebuked the wind and told the sea, “Peace, be still.” And it was so.

Then he asked them why it was that they were afraid and had so little faith?

What did the wind and the waves swamping the boat have to do with faith? Usually I will study a passage out. I love good hermeneutics with historical context, word study, scriptural context, etc. It seemed to me that today this passage was calling for more.

A passage like this has much to say at a spirit level, a heart level. Simple study won’t teach me why Jesus fussed at his fearful disciples just because they were about to drown. So I did a Lectio Divina (click here for one way to employ this Benedictine prayer practice).

Lectio Divina is a way to allow Scripture itself to become prayer. One prays as one reads, allowing the Holy Spirit to teach through the Word and at times, sanctified imagination. Often I find enlightenment or inspiration as I read prayerfully.

Today I began to understand that as I allow my heart to be good ground for the seed of God’s Word, that I can become fruitful by His work in me. His work causes natural spiritual growth. And when I am allowing God’s kingdom to grow in and through me, perhaps when the storms come, I will remain fruitful (or at least less fearful).

Of course, I have to give myself some grace. If the disciples who were right there in Jesus’ presence got fearful when their boat was swamping in a storm, I shouldn’t feel so bad when I panic or get out of sorts over my very real stressors. I visualize those disciples bailing out the boat, crying and arguing over whether or not to wake up Jesus and why the heck doesn’t He care what’s happening. I take comfort in watching (in my imagination) Him calming the storm…and though He was chiding them, giving them patient grace.

That’s a good way to pray through my own weaknesses and fears.In praying through that Mark 4 story with Lectio Divina, I was able to ask for grace more quickly myself when I just don’t seem to have enough faith.

 

 

Besetting Sins, Forgiveness, and Grocery Stores

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Besetting sins, forgiveness, and grocery stores. VickiTalksPrayer.com

We had a cat crisis yesterday. They ran out of their favorite food, which is not safe for any of us. So after work, I stopped off at a grocery store that I’ve visited for years. There was a strange feeling in the air. Quickly I realized that shelves were half bare. Then I saw the “STORE CLOSING” signs.

I wasn’t surprised, really. Over the past years, I had found that I had to make sure I was in the checkout line of the old cashiers because the new ones behaved rudely. I quit buying food from their deli because I could see unsanitary conditions. No wonder that shoppers quit going there. Did greed or laziness keep them from training and supervising their employees? Did their own bad choices drive them from business?

Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (KJV).

We old-timers often talk about the bad habits, bad manners, bad behavior that we naturally slip into as “besetting sins”. Some besetting sins we are quite aware of: like the tendency to snarl at family members before the first cup of coffee. We even joke about it.

Some besetting sins are obvious to others, but we are blind to them. Perhaps we have a streak of greed that causes us to make rash decisions, or jealousy that drives others away, or co-dependency that makes us cling fast to toxic relationships.

I have a suspicion that besetting sins hinder us in running the race that God has set before us. Do you remember the movie Chariots of Fire and watching the scenes of the runners starting a race? They were watching for the goal line. If they took their eyes off the goal, they might trip.

The problem with besetting sins is that they cause us to look at the wrong things, think about the wrong things, and tangle our own feet. We wonder what on earth (and we often think someone else did this to us…).

That’s why the Lord’s Prayer tells us in Matthew 6:12 to ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (KJV). We need God’s forgiveness for obvious things, but also for those entangling, besetting sins.

I’m praying for my old cashier-friends at the grocery store to find new jobs quickly. I thanked the one who waited on me while I paid for the cat food for her years of friendly service.

And I’m asking God’s forgiveness for my own besetting sins.

 

Message from Mark 16

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Message from Mark 16

I’ve been camped out in Mark 16 for a bit. I love camping in a Bible passage. Sometimes I dig around hermeneutically with word study, historical context, memorizing the passage. Sometimes I love to practice lectio divina.

Lately I’ve enjoyed learning from God about Mark 16 through lectio divina. Here are some of the messages I’ve been pondering upon:

Mark 16, as you know begins with the 2 Marys and Salome bringing spices to anoint the body of a dead friend and instead they hear the wonderful news of the Resurrected Christ. The chapter ends with our familiar Great Commission.

If I were writing a story, I think I’d make this chapter the denouement, where all the loose ends were happily tied up. Is that what happened? No!

Instead, the chapter opens with great news of the Resurrection and then follows the entire body of the story filled with disobedience, fear, and disbelief. Good grief. They act like real people.

First Mary, Mary, and Salome meet the angel who tells them that Jesus has risen. Then he gives them instructions: “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee: there you shall see him, as he said unto you.”

Clear instructions. Not complicated.

What did the ladies do? “…neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid.”

Afraid of what? Afraid of the angel? If they were afraid of the angel, you’d think they’d quickly obeyed. Afraid of the Risen Christ? Then you’d think they would have obeyed even quicker.

What if, in a rather misogynistic culture, they were afraid that the menfolk would not believe them and reject the message? I wonder if perhaps they’d experienced being respected by Jesus but marginalized by the menfolk and were afraid to repeat that kind of pain? So, they disobeyed.

What happens next? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (the one Jesus had delivered from seven devils). So she goes  and tells his disciples, as they were busy weeping  and mourning, that he was alive and had been seen by her.

Their response? They “believed not”.

Jesus first came to women. To marginized, unheard, unimportant women.

Then he appeared to two “nobodies”. Just to two nameless followers as they walked out in the country. These two told the disciples the great news that Jesus was risen!

Their response? “Neither believed they them.”

Then finally Jesus came to the big guys, the inner circle, the ones who were busy mourning, weeping, and disbelieving. He upbraided them for their hardness of heart and for not receiving the message from those women and unimportant people.

And then, what did Jesus do? Punish them? Lecture them?

No.

He reminded them of who he created them to be and of the reason he created them that way. Remember when he sent 70 of them out two by two? He told them to heal the sick and share the gospel. They came back rejoicing that in his name, even the devils had to flee (Luke 10).

So in the Great Commission, Jesus reminds the disciples that he’s already given them the gift and mission to go in his name and “share the gospel, cast out devils, speak with new tongues, be safe from poison and snakes, and heal the sick”.

This was not new. It was not a surprise. They’d already done all those things. It was a gentle reminder, a clear reminder of who he made them to be and why.

My take-aways from this?

While some people may feel marginalized, God goes out of his way to show that marginalization is not God-business.

Even important, wise, anointed leaders can be so busy in their own pain and garbage that they miss what God is doing.

When we goof up, cop out, give up there is an answer: Go to God. Ask him to remind you who he made you to be and why.

And don’t marginalize people OR maybe it is cool to be marginalized because maybe God will talk to you first 🙂

The answer has always been there…just sometimes we need to refresh the message.

 

 

Presence

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Presence

I’ve been a therapist for 20 years. I notice nonverbals without thinking about it. For years I’ve been immersed in being present with my clients, so I notice them without really noticing, if that makes sense.

Many people have had a “God moment” where they tangibly feel a warmth or tingling when they are praying or are being prayed for. These moments are beautiful but transient. They are gifts but not lifestyle. What if there was more, a walk with God so mature that our relationship with Him was more than hoping for an occasional God moment? What if we were present with Him, so present and immersed in him that we notice Him without noticing- always

God is immanent. What if we could be attuned to him everywhere and became subconsciously aware of him always?

Like Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence had spent his life as a monk doing mundane kitchen work but he looked for God (and himself IN God) so persistently that he came to live in God’s presence. Always there. It took practice but Brother Lawrence came to always live in God’s presence.

Ahhh… it is what I want.

 

The Gift of Noticing

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The Gift of NoticingEver known a friend for a long time and think you know her well- even predictably?  Then, all of a sudden that person begins a new behavior, comes up with a radically new idea, or shares part of the past you never knew? It is surprising but the revealing shows that that friend trusts you with this new information. It is our part to notice the new thing, to attend to what our friend is saying with her words or actions.

Sometimes I feel like I treat God like a comfortable old friend. I learned all about Him in Bible school. I graduated from a Christian university with a Bible minor. Been serving Him for years. I know Him well, comfortably, predictably…like an old, comfortably-bored married couple that doesn’t notice much about each other anymore.

Good heavens! Who am I talking about? The God of the universe? Dull, predictable, ploddingly pleasant? Oops.

Scripture should be enough to help cure that thought pattern: Lamentations 3:23 reminds us that His mercies are NEW every morning. (Plural mercies, NEW, daily)

I’ve started to notice that when I slip into comfotable ploddingness, God blesses me with the senses to notice something new. Today it was the beauty of learning a new bluebird song (Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord). God gave me the gift of noticing it. I want to develop that gift- I don’t want to plod.

Often the new thing to notice comes in a normal-life disruption. Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” (As in, He is running the universe, not me- despite the fact that I think I give Him pretty good advice from time to time…I need to notice what He’s doing and work with Him, not kick against Him.)

If I notice, notice, notice those new mercies each day, I might truly get to know the Christ who calls us friends, God who creates those mercies.

What IS a Silent Retreat

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What IS a Silent RetreatOne of my favorite things to do is go on Silent Retreat. When I tell people I’m heading off for one of them, sometimes I get asked, “What IS a Silent Retreat?”

Silent Retreat is an extended time of listening, watching and waiting on God. Often I am too busy in normal, hectic life to be quiet long enough to truly know I’m hearing from God.

There’s not a definite Silent Retreat format. Here are some ways that I’ve been on Retreat:

1) I first discovered retreating when an old friend and I used to go on quarterly weekend retreats to pray about an organization we co-led. We would get up in the morning and head out into the woods, each going in separate directions. We’d spend hours alone with God, just listening, journaling, watching. Then we’d come back at the end of the morning. Often we’d find that we had heard the same thing from the Lord (imagine that- same Holy Spirit)!

2) Next I found that a local Christian conference center was starting to have Silent Retreats. I started attending their silent weekend each year. At their Silent Retreat, they set up stations all over the center with quiet prayer activities. I find the guided activities uplifting and also spend hours walking alone with God. Sometimes, when life has been rigorous, I take silent naps 🙂    I learn something new from Him each time I go- about Him, about me, about His plans for me.What IS Silent Retreat?

3) I also have started attending weekend Silent Retreats at a monastery. These are sponsored by the spiritual formation school that I hope to take spiritual direction courses with. At these retreats, I also spend long walks around the grounds, sit in my simple room and meditate, walk the labyrinth, or sometimes join a group lectio devina. Again, I come away refreshed and encouraged in the Lord. Always, I hear something I needed to know.

4) Some people go on absolute Silent Retreats where they simply sit and listen for an entire weekend. No other activity and definitely no group things. I haven’t participated in one of those yet but will someday.

Are there other Silent Retreat formats that you have discovered?

Talking With God in Everyday Life

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Have you ever noticed that there are lots of ways we humans talk with each other?

-Sometimes we sit face-to-face and discuss serious things.

-Sometimes we work alongside each other and conversation helps move the work along.

-Sometimes we busily call instructions from another room.

-Sometimes we just sit quiet and are “with” the other person.

I think that we can talk to God in these ways, also.

-Sometimes we sit and have “devotional prayer time”.

-Sometimes we’re working and chatting with him about the work, or asking for Help, or complaining to Him about it…

-Sometimes we cry out for help while dashing about daily life.

-Sometimes we sit quietly and listen to Him, or just sit and be “with” Him.

I think this is part of what Brother Lawrence was explaining in the classic, “The Practice of the Presence of God”. We are always with God and He with us, so we should get into the mindset of noticing and keeping the communication going- in lots of different ways.