Saturday, February 24, 2018

Prayer Request

When someone asks us to pray for them, we always give assurance that we will pray.  When asked to pray, no one ever says, "No."  But, sometimes we do the unpardonable thing.  We forget.  It is not that we did not intend to pray when we said we would because in the moment we figured we would.   The truth is saying "Yes" to someone's prayer request is something we do without even thinking.  We respond not out of concern and love, but out of habit and a duty.
 
I have a friend who when asked to pray responds not by saying, "Yes" but by saying, "I will pray for you now."  Wherever he is, he prays.  Whatever he is doing, he stops and prays.  If he is in a store, or on the street, or in an office, he prays.  When asked to pray, he prays not later, but now.  He gives no regard to what is going on around him, who is watching, or what someone might think.  He just prays in the moment.
 
Maybe, just maybe, this is what people are really asking of us when they ask us to pray for them.  Maybe they are not asking for prayers in the future so much as they are asking for prayers in the present moment.  The present moment is really an important moment for the person asking for prayers for that person is seizing it, risking being vulnerable, and asking for help.  It is an act that requires faith, but also a certain amount of courage.  It is an act which says, "There is something I cannot do by myself and I am asking you to help me."  Such faith and courage surely is worthy of a response that also speaks of that same faith and that same courage.  When asked to pray, do not wait until later.  Pray in the moment. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Ask and Listen

I remember the first time it happened.  A young woman came into the office overwhelmed by a broken marriage and the divorce that loomed in her near future.  She was distraught, down, and not sure where life was taking her.  After a time of listening to her, I ask if we could pray.  And, then, remembering a book I had recently read on prayer, I paused for a long few minutes of silence and asked God to tell me how to pray for her.  My mind was going in several directions, but in that moment of asking and listening, I heard one word surfacing in my spirit,  "Peace.  Pray that she will have peace."
 
I wish I was further along in this journey of praying.  I do not always pause and ask God how I should pray when someone asks for my prayers.  Too often I just jump in with the words which seem appropriate in such a moment.  They are often words that sound trite and expected.  Sometimes they leave me with an empty feeling which makes me wonder how they affected the one for whom I was praying and who was listening to my praying. 
 
The better course when praying for others is to go slow instead of praying in a rush.  The better course is to ask God, "How should I pray for this person?' and then sit in the silence until some sense of direction is heard.  It may be something that is misunderstood by the one waiting for the praying to begin.  Maybe this is what keeps us from asking and listening.  The disciples saw Jesus praying and ask to be taught how to pray.  It is a good discipline for us as well.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The First Voice

Beware!  When you enter the silence to listen for the voice of God, the first voice you are likely to hear is your own.  This is one reason why it is necessary to practice this spiritual discipline of listening.  It is not something that we are likely to get the first time.  Actually, we may find ourselves hearing many different voices, but the one most likely to deceive us is our own.  It is most likely to deceive us because it is saying the thing we want to hear.  We do not enter into this discipline without expectations of what God might say to us and so it is easy to hear what we want to hear Him saying to us.
 
Discernment is important as we begin to learn how to listen for the voice that Elijah heard long ago as he clung to his despair.  If what we perceive as voice of God sounds like a repeat of something we have thought, it is likely we have not really moved deep enough into the silence.  One of the hardest things to silence is our own voice which quietly speaks the needs and wants of our own ego.  It is only as we begin to spend time in the silence that we will learn to recognize how our own voice is expressed.

And, of course, the same thing can be said about the voice of God.  The way it is expressed and the way we hear it may not be what we expected.  It may even surprise us.  The voice of God can surely be heard by those who are intent on listening, but instead of a monologue it may simply be a single word.  It may not even be experienced as a word, but it will be experienced as the way He has chosen to make Himself and His will known to us.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Far Fetched

For some it surely seems far fetched that anyone of us could hear God speaking to us.  Actually, incredible and amazing are better words.  It is unfortunate that we live in a world where there is such skepticism when it comes to the Sacred One entering into the human realm in such a way that something resembling conversation is possible.  The problem with dismissing the possibility that God would speak to is that it requires dismissing those parts of the God/human story where His voice is spoken and heard.  
 
But, what it also means is that the Holy Spirit is silenced.  The Word tells us that the Holy Spirit does such things as teach us, remind us of the teachings of Jesus, convict us of our sins, and provide leadership to us.  It also speaks of Him as one who abides and dwells in us.  Are we to expect that this holy one who is present in us has now been silenced so that His voice can no longer be heard?  Is the Spirit limited to an indirect role instead of a direct one?  Are we to look for divine clues left for us so that we can figure out what it is that God would say to us?

While all this listening to God stuff sounds strange, maybe even off the wall, to some, it seems more like a part of the mystery of God being God.  The fact that I cannot understand it completely is no problem for all of our journey is a journey that is filled with faith from beginning to end.  It only makes sense that God would continue to find ways to speak His word and His will to us.  Too many things about this relationship that He has initiated with us point us toward expecting to hear Him as we learn how to listen. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Voice

Listening for the voice of God in the silence is not an easy thing for most of us.  Our first problem is with the silence.  When it comes, it seems so loud that we cannot abide it.  We do not know what to do with it.  Not being accustomed to being in silence, it is disconcerting and we find ourselves actually distracted by the fact that there is no noise commanding us to listen.  It is as if we are listening for something that is not there any longer.  Trying to hear what is not there to hear is the first thing that must be laid aside in order to hear the Voice that seeks to be heard in the silence.
 
And, of course, at first we do not really know what we are expecting to hear.  By the time the boy Samuel finally responded to the Voice in the dark silence of night, God had called out to him three times.  He heard each time, but he did not know what or Who he had heard.  He needed someone to guide him into being able to hear.  Each time he heard his name being called in the darkness, he went to his spiritual mentor, Eli.  Finally, with his attention awakened, Eli realized what was happening and told the boy what to do.  Apparently, Eli had memories of hearing the Voice.
 
The truth is we may not be able to recognize that God is speaking when we start journeying into the silence.  A part of us may not actually expect it to happen which is, of course, an adversary to hearing.  Learning how to listen and discern does not come naturally to most of us.  Like any spiritual discipline, it is likely to take practice.  It may even require having someone like Eli to help us figure out what is happening in this place we are not accustomed to walking.  The land of silence is a strange place for us and it will require not just determination, but faith that God will speak to us as surely as it has spoken to others.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Scary Place

The scary place is not the house down the street that is supposed to be haunted, or a room crowded with strangers.  It is not the deep woods, nor is it the dentist's office.  The real scary place in our world is the place filled to overflowing with silence.  Everywhere we go we find there are people who understand our fear so they pipe in music into places like elevators and turn on six blaring televisions in rooms where we must wait with others.  When we leave the noisy world for home, we turn on all kinds of noise makers until exhaustion drives us to bed.
 
Jesus may have found meaning in the silent places such as the wilderness or a mountain top, but we would rather follow Jesus into the lion's den before going to the silent places.  Yet, as we grow in our faith, we find a certain curiosity about the spiritual benefits of the silent places.  Others have gone there and found a deeper faith.  Maybe such might be true for us is what we think, but still there is this fear of what it might be like to experience the silence.
 
Would we really find the presence of God in such a scary place?  If the silence was truly overwhelming, so heavy it seems that it is dripping like water from a rain soaked tree, would we find something in that place which would truly satisfy the thirst we have for an intimate walk with God?  Why is it that we are programmed to run from the quiet places?  What would happen in our walk with God if we dared to enter into the silence with every intention to sit there and just stay?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hearing and Listening

The ear makes no distinction between hearing and listening.   But, there is a big difference.  Any husband who has been married more than a few days knows that hearing and listening are two distinct things.  Hearing what a wife is saying is one thing, listening is another.  Ask any woman if the difference is not clear.  Hearing takes place without any listening when the one doing the hearing is not concentrating on the one doing the talking, but occupied with other things. 

Is it not possible that God is speaking more than we are hearing because we are not really listening?  Oswald Chambers wrote, "What hinders me from hearing is that I am taken up with other things."  The real issue may not be the silence of God, but the fact that we are distracted and taken up by other things which seem so important to us.  Certainly there are the obvious things with which hinder our hearing and listening ability.  The thing that seems to be glued to the palm of our hand is one, a re-run on the television may be another, and a job may be still another.  But, it could also be some unexpected things like our insistence that a certain number of chapters in the Bible must be read every day, or a certain amount of time must be spent in prayer, or serving on a bunch of committees at the church.

The voice of God may indeed be filling up the world around us, but we are not really listening.  Every now and again we catch the sound of His voice, but never enough to stop us in our tracks to listen to the voice.  Maybe we should just lay everything down and put it away for a moment and speak the words that the boy Samuel spoke long ago in the darkness, "Speak, (Lord) for your servant is listening."  (I Samuel 3:10)