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Texting God Isn’t Loving Him

 

Recently I took The 5 Love Languages assessment, which tells whether you give and receive love most through: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, or acts of service. It turns out my strongest love language is quality time. I love long, face-to-face conversations with people. Visits over coffee. Walks through nature. Meals at home. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing as long as we connect in a meaningful way. Even a decent phone call can communicate love.

But in the past months, I haven’t given God even that. Instead I settled for texting God. Life got busy, and I made excuses. I was doing lots of great stuff, all for him (that’s what I said). Meanwhile, we stopped talking like we used to.

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Credit: Lord Jim (https://flic.kr/p/8iH4En)

Many things can make fulfilling quality time. Texting is not one of them. Texting is useful for simple questions or quick information.

“I’m at store. Do we need milk?”

“Yes”

“K. Got it.”

“Thx :)”

Texting is a great tool. And a poor way to love someone.

We used to meet every morning. I’d settle in a chair with my breakfast, coffee, and Bible. Sometimes writing in a journal; other times meditating on what I read. I would tell him about the day I had planned. Sometimes he’d tell me what he had planned too. I liked to listen for a while and wait on him to interrupt the stillness. The front porch was a good place to sit on warm spring mornings, watching the tree limbs swaying and birds taking flight.

Now my prayers are short, direct, to the point. A few seconds sent heavenward. Texted prayers.

“Get milk.”

Usually I think of them in the car. “Thanks for the sunshine today, God.” Or, “This day is tough. Please give me strength to get through it.” Maybe it’s because driving gives me time to think or because the Christian radio station is playing. Maybe I’m lonely driving by myself. But texting while driving is a dangerous habit. Another driver or a light or the GPS soon distracts me. I press send and move on.

That kind of relationship never grows deep. How could it? There’s no time for intimacy in 140 characters.

In the book Too Busy Not to Pray, Pastor Bill Hybels writes:

“Some people tell me they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer; they pray on the run. These people are kidding themselves. Just try building a marriage on the run. You can’t build a relationship that way, with God or with another person. To get to know someone, you have to slow down and spend time together.”

Some friendships can survive months or years without contact and yet the friendship won’t suffer for it. The friends say they “pick up where we left off.” But could you imagine treating someone you’re dating or married to that way? Your relationship will die. There may be nothing left to pick up when you get back to it. I’d guess most committed couples expect to hear from their partners daily. Months or years are out of the question.

If that’s the case, and there’s a God of the universe who cares for us, then how much more should we communicate with our Creator, Father, and Savior? No wonder Paul wrote to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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When Some College Kids Prayed Together

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It was January of my final year in college. A friend had just returned from a semester studying abroad, and he told me there was this group of friends that he wanted me to meet. Another mutual friend said the same, inviting me to check out the group. They told me the group gathered upstairs in the student union every night of the week. Their one goal? To pray.

“About what?” I asked, a bit wary of religious fanaticism.

They replied, “Personal struggles, family needs, our campus, missionaries, unreached people, the world at large—anything and everything.” So one night I agreed to come.

I never left.

My latest book project is dedicated to that group, a strange conglomeration of college students who I never thought to meet—students passionate for pursuing God, understanding the Bible, living like Jesus, and praying always. Students who geek out over the prophecies of Isaiah and get excited to sing old hymns in public locations. Students who spent a week-long road trip together and never once started a fight through cold campsites, irregular meals, or getting lost several times. Students who pray for hours until the campus security guard kicks them out to lock the building and who then continue to pray in the night air. Students who confess their strongest temptations and worst fears and hold each other accountable as they grow together. These students became my closest friends and most admirable inspirations in my relationship with God. They are, in short, the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.

I realize we enjoy a rare community. Not everyone has friends who stop you and say, “How are you doing really? Tell me. What’s on your heart?” Instead, I’ve met many students who crave intimate spiritual community and don’t know how to find it. They suffer from loneliness and stagnation. They may have a relationship with Jesus, but they are cut off from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Young adults need mentorship from older generations, but we also need fellowship with our peers. We need to commiserate with those going through our same life situations. We need friends we can rely on for encouragement and support as we walk alongside one another. And together, as the body of Christ, we are strengthened.

I’d like to share our story with you. That’s why I am in the process of writing a book about how God has worked in and through the prayer group over the three years since its start. New people have joined while others have left. The atmosphere of our prayers have transitioned through different seasons. There have been nights of tears and days of celebration. Sometimes God was tangibly present in our midst; then there were times when we cried for his guidance and healing.

The deep intimacy you desire is possible. It isn’t a far-off dream. It’s real. I’ve experienced it. You don’t have to be alone. You can have life-giving relationships with a community of people and, most crucially, with God.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Books

 

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“Here I Am”

After my boss told me about the company layoffs, I realized that I have the time to write this post. For one reason or another, I made other priorities. But now that excuse is no longer valid.

My job required frequent reading and study of the Bible. Some months back, I can’t remember exactly when, I came across Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Recorded in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God’s throne. Isaiah is overwhelmed by his unworthiness to be in the presence of God. One of the creatures worshiping the Lord purifies Isaiah with a coal from God’s altar, thus making the prophet able to stand before God’s throne without guilt. Then in verse 8, God speaks from his throne, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah volunteers without hesitation, like a child eager to please his father. “Here I am! Send me.”

For the child, any opportunity to work with his father feels like a special mission just for him. It is an honor. Isaiah doesn’t know the job description yet. All he knows is that God has accepted him, and now he will take any task from his Father.

As I read this scene, it reminded me of God’s call to Samuel. He responded in a similar way even before he realized he had heard God’s voice. In 1 Samuel 3, the boy runs to his guardian, Eli, crying, “Here I am!” Confused, Eli sends the boy away. This happens twice more before Eli guesses that the Lord is the one speaking. Samuel had mistaken the voice, but he still had the right response. He got up from bed every time to obey the call. He came to Eli ready for whatever the priest had to tell him.

“Here I am.” These three words stuck with me ever since. Recently, I decided to see where else it appears in the Bible. It turns out that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and lesser-known Ananias all used this simple prayer. In each case, these words mean more than, “I’m listening.” Three short words succinctly express a willingness to hear God and a submission to his direction. These are words of obedience and service. The longer version would be: “Here I am, ready and willing. What do you desire or request? Say the word. Everything I am is yours.”

This prayer is not for the faint of heart. Abraham was told to sacrifice his heir and beloved son (Gen. 22:1-2).

Jacob was sent to his homeland, which he had fled in order to escape his brother’s vengeance (Gen. 31:11, 13). Later in his life, Jacob prayed this after hearing that his son Joseph was alive and a ruler of Egypt. God tells him to not be afraid to go to Egypt, where he would die and his descendants later became a nation in slavery (Gen. 46:2-3). Several generations later, Moses prays the same way when God calls to him out of a burning bush, and God sends him into Egypt to free his people. When David’s son Absalom rebels against him, David is forced to

A reminder I made for myself

A reminder I made for myself

retreat from Jerusalem. But he trusts God’s judgment and tells his priest, “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26, emphasis added). Finally, there’s Ananias: the disciple in Damascus whom God chose to visit Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish militant arresting Christians (Acts 9:10-12). Ananias essentially says to God, “Are you kidding me?”

With these “encouraging” stories to guide me, I decided to take up the challenge. I re-evaluated my life and asked where God wanted me to go next. I prayed, “Here I am.” Pretty soon, God presented me with the opportunity to be a small group leader with students at my alma mater. The offer took me by surprise, and I had to stop and ask if it was really God’s voice. Sure, I had said the prayer, but this wasn’t the response I had expected.

Then this past week, my boss told me the bad news. Another surprise. Several positions, including mine, had to be cut from the company budget. Suddenly, I didn’t have work the next day. One phone call, and I had 40 extra hours of free time each week.

So here I am, Lord. Say the word.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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Who Can Pray ALL THE TIME?

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

When I hear this verse quoted in Christian circles, it seems people commonly suggest that this is an important principle for Christians to follow and, at the same time, that it’s one of the hardest for us to strive towards. We get lost considering how someone could feasibly pray nonstop and if that is what these words even tell us to do. So without getting into the nitty-gritty, quoting famous pastors and analyzing the words in the original language, I want to simply add a few thoughts to the stew.

I’ll start with some word pictures. That’s what Jesus would do, right? I think he called them parables.

There’s a young woman who is hopelessly in love with Mr. Right, Prince Charming, her true love–take your pick. She goes around to all of her friends and annoys them to no end because she cannot stop talking about her special guy. She tells them about all the ways that he is perfect and has no equal. She tells them that she would give her life for him. She tells her friends that they will have a beautiful wedding with a seven-tiered cake. Her friends stop answering her calls and tape her mouth shut whenever she comes to visit. They think she must talk about her beau even when she is in a room alone, because nothing can get her to stop thinking about him.

Bella-Twilight

Bella Swan in “Twilight.” Can a girl get more consumed by her love?

Then there’s a young man who has a constant companion to go with him everywhere. The two friends are inseparable. Elbow to elbow in everything, they talk all day, every day. It never crosses the young man’s mind to not say something to his friend. A day doesn’t go by in which the young man stays silent to his friend. If they were apart, they might get too busy to call or visit. If they didn’t spend every moment together, they might not keep in contact. But because of his friend’s physical presence, the man cannot help but remember the friend right next to him. There is hardly a moment when the man is not aware of his friend’s presence.

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Sam and Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” From the Shire to Mordor, Sam rarely leaves Frodo’s side.

Now put yourself in the position of the young man and woman. You have someone you desperately love and who is always with you. With both of these cases being true, can you imagine not talking to the person? Or would the two of you be talking incessantly? It would be almost impossible for me to avoid conversation, and I know this is true because I’ve experienced it. If you love God and believe he never leaves you, then you know what I mean.

Seeing God in these terms makes it easier for me to “pray without ceasing.” Obviously, I can’t devote every moment to conscious interaction with God. No human could. But for me, praying without ceasing means having God on my mind throughout the day. I might notice the rare sunshine on a January morning and whisper a quick thanks to God for giving a bright moment at the start of my day. A friend might mention she feels a cold coming on, and I will quietly ask God to boost her health and strength. God talks back, too. It could be that a friend will cheer me up when I’m down, and I hear God tell me that he loves me and will always lift me up.

If you truly thought of God as your greatest love, would you struggle to remember him throughout the day? If you wholeheartedly knew that God is your best friend, always by your side and listening, would you forget to give him attention? If you fail these tests, perhaps you should reevaluate how you treat your relationships, because God deserves more thought and more attention than your dearest love or closest friend. Why wouldn’t you talk with him constantly?

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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Looking Ahead and Waiting on God

My church likes to mix things up every now and then. Yesterday, we skipped the traditional sermon and instead spent time in reflection and prayer. There were “stations” set up around the main room of the church building, and the pastor encouraged everyone to wander through the different stations and to seriously listen for God’s voice.

A whiteboard in one corner invited people to write down what they thanked God for in 2012. Another whiteboard asked what people may have failed at in the past but will try again in 2013. On one wall, people could put up sticky notes with the names of people who need prayer. The opposite wall had a few prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, to read if people wanted more inspiration. A wall with chalkboard paint let others write out their dreams and goals for 2013. Then, hidden behind the main stage, a couple more stations offered communion bread and juice as well as candles to light if people felt God calling them to something for the new year. Most of all, the pastor wanted us to take advantage of the time and open space by asking God what he wanted us to do in 2013.

After I spent some time at the different stations, I sat down and typed on my tablet a prayer I’ve had on my mind often lately:

What do you want from me this year? What are your plans, God? Please tell me. Let me hear and recognize your voice. Who do you want me to be? Where do you want me to go? Please speak and give me the ears to listen.

The truth is I still feel unsettled and restless despite my fortunate circumstances. God has provided for me more than I deserve. Yet, my life feels like it has reached a standstill. I was chugging along, growing and making changes, until a landslide blocked the rails ahead, and I can’t see around it. I feel stagnant.

I’m bugged by this idea that I’m not doing enough, even though I know there’s no such thing as “enough.” I know I’m not doing as much as God deserves for all he’s done for me and just for who he is, but there are good reasons why the Bible says working for righteousness is ridiculous. Doing enough doesn’t exist. I know God deserves more than everything I could give him, even if I could feasibly dedicate every moment of my life to his service. But shouldn’t I give him as much as I can? Even with that more realistic goal, I’m still nowhere close.

I want to do more for God, but I don’t know where to start or where to go. God hasn’t given me much guidance with this, either. I keep asking him for directions, but he hasn’t called me. I’ve lost my guide in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. The best that I can make out is that I’m supposed to wait. Waiting is almost harder than working.

On my company’s blog, the first post of our newest employee struck me where I thought I was safe. The blogger, Andrew Fouché, wrote on patience and God’s timing. He talked about how God gives us “seasons of patience” in which we may not see anything happening, but God is preparing us while we wait for his perfect plan to be revealed. For a long time, I’ve liked to consider patience as one part of the spiritual fruit that didn’t give me trouble. As I read the blog post, though, I realized that my patience really just extends to waiting in line, heavy traffic, or for someone to email me back. It seems easier to be patient with other humans than with the holy and eternal God.

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt for the first time? The Prince of Egypt got it wrong when Moses ran into the desert as a young man with barely any facial hair. The real Moses then spent the next 40 years learning how to care for sheep. He married and had sons during his exile. Moses probably never expected to return to Egypt. But then he saw the burning bush and heard God’s voice tell him that Moses would deliver the nation of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses was 80 years old. When Moses finally traveled back to Egypt and announced his mission, God hardened the pharaoh’s heart so that it took 10 divine plagues on Egypt to free the Israelites.

Fast forward through the Red Sea, Mount Sinai, and a whole nation traveling through the desert. God eventually brought his people to the land he promised to give them. The people disobeyed, though, and did not trust God, so he sent them back into the wilderness to wander for 40 years without a homeland. Moses survived through their wanderings, living to 120, which wasn’t as unusual as it is today. Just before Moses died, God took him up Mount Nebo to see the whole land he would give the Israelites. Moses saw the land, but he wasn’t allowed to enter into it. He died on its borders, and then God chose another man, Joshua, to finish the work and bring the people into their country.

The life of Moses encourages me as I wait on God. As restless as I feel, I know God will use me in his own timing, and he will have me ready for whenever that is. God has work for me, and he has a plan. I can’t see ahead to what he has in store for 2013, but I can trust him and practice patience in the meantime.

Please speak and give me the ears to listen.

Happy New Year.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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Reading Update: Time to Confess

Bus trips do offer many advantages. One of my current favorites is long, uninterrupted time to catch up on my reading. Another trip this weekend allowed me to finally finish 19 Gifts of the Spirit by Leslie B. Flynn and then devote my whole reader’s attention on Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. While I didn’t ride the bus quite far enough to wrap up the book, I did get a good start and plenty to think about.

Too Busy Not to Pray, included on the suggested summer reading list, seems to cover every question you could have on prayer, as well as every excuse you have to not pray more often. Over 20 years after its first publication, this book is still popular among Christians and relevant to today. I felt challenged as I read it to devote more of my time and focus to thoughtful prayer.

The stories Hybels shares are inspiring to the point of making me want to stop mid-chapter and fall on my knees. These are not only encouraging anecdotes on the blessings God bestows to people who diligently pray with faith. One section caught my attention in particular, and it had nothing to do with making requests of God. In chapter six, Hybels provides a basic pattern to help develop good praying habits. He says following the pattern as you pray is like using a fitness routine that balances your all-around strength and endurance. A good fitness routine will work out your core and leg muscles along with building up impressive biceps. Instead of only lifting weights, you also add various types of cardio to the mix.

In the same way, Hybels argues that beneficial and effective praying means more than presenting God with your wish list. To practice more balanced praying, he uses the ACTS pattern: adoration of God’s nature and character, confession of personal sins, thanksgiving for God’s blessings and answered prayers, and finally, supplication for help and intervention from God. Visit this blog post I found for more details on how Hybels explains the ACTS pattern.

What caught my attention, though, was what Hybels had to say about confession. Personally, I rarely hear Christians talk about confessing their sins or weaknesses. They usually tend to ignore them altogether, or at least won’t talk about their personal faults to other Christians. I think we Christians have too much difficulty admitting to other Christians (or even non-Christians) that we are still sinners. We think everyone else in our church is doing just great striving for holiness and would never slip up, let alone foster certain darling sins. Well, it’s about time we all admit we suck at obeying God. Please excuse the colloquial speech.

I’ll start the confessions and say I have trouble spotting my own faults. I don’t think this is unusual among people, but when I try to evaluate my sins, my mind goes blank. Don’t think I would ever call myself perfect, though. I know that I am a sinner and that God’s grace and Christ’s price gives me my only hope to live with God for eternity. As a young child, I used to ask God to forgive me for the sins I didn’t know about because I was terrified of forgetting to confess something I had done wrong. Now that I’m older, I’m still ignorant of the specifics on my rap sheet. My self-image is distorted and warped, like an imperfect mirror that fails to show an accurate reflection (1 Cor. 13:12).

Every once in a while, God gives me a nudge in the ribs so I will look away from the bad reflection. He often uses my close family members, the people who know me best and are not afraid to say where I come up short. Recently, one of these wake up calls told me that ignorance of my sins gave me a sense of humility and holiness, which really just masked the pride lurking underneath. Sometimes I struggle to stifle the pride, other times, I leave it be and neglect to name it for what it is.

So how do we fight pride? My strategy: confession. We ask the Holy Spirit to give us a better image of how we really are. We listen to those closest to us about the faults they see. We refuse to live ignorant of our faults, and then we admit the true nature of our mistakes and weaknesses. We say, “I am not a good person.” Compared to Jesus, such a person does not exist. We all come short. We all are sinners. Only then will we have the humility to see our true human state.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Books

 

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Pray Until You Pray

So I haven’t exactly been posting every week like I promised. I apologize. Really, I shouldn’t be writing even now, but we all know studying isn’t that important, anyway. Right?

On today’s menu, I want to share a quote I recently stumbled across. Quotes are addictive, and if you’re the type to collect them, post them on your calendar, give them to friends, write them on your hands and arms, this one is for you. It’s simple enough to memorize. Just four words can’t be that hard. Even so, maybe you should scribble it on a palm just to be safe. But don’t worry too much because you already know the quote. Why do I say that? You read this post’s title, didn’t you? And if you didn’t, you should be ashamed of yourself because you are horrible at skimming.

If you fail at skim-reading, here’s a second chance: Pray until you pray.

I found this conundrum when reading J. B. Chapman’s writings, but it doesn’t come from him. With a quick Google search, I found it is an old Puritan saying and at least a few other blogs already have posted about it. A couple of these blogs also quote D. A. Carson‘s commentary from A Call to Spiritual Reformation. My favorite part of what Carson says is, “But in the Western world we urgently need this advice, for many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers.”

Isn’t it true? We love our routines and habits. It’s easy to fall into the pray-before-eating-and-bed regimen. You mumble a quick, “Bless this food,” before swallowing your dinner or the Lord’s Prayer as you slip into sleep. And that sums up your conversations with the Creator of the universe. But is that really prayer?

According to J. B. Chapman:

Well-meaning people have reduced prayer to a formula and have ignored the Master’s warning that the use of vain repetitions is to imitate the heathen (Matt. 6:7). Many books have been written on prayer. Many sermons have been preached in the effort to tell men how to pray. But the crux of the matter is in the simple question: does anyone answer back from the other end of the line? If there is no answer, the fault may be in a poor connection. The wires, so to speak, may be grounded. It may not help to simply “cry louder,” although no one should be ashamed for others to hear him pray and to know that he practices prayer. But whatever the trouble, that trouble must be removed and an answer secured before prayer is really prayer.

To him, “pray until you pray” means spending the time and effort to open up and reach out to God. It means making a connection. If you call someone, but the call doesn’t go through because of low reception, can you say you talked to the person? Of course not. The call dropped before the other side could answer.

It’s not just about the time you spend praying, either. “There are many who put a great deal of time but so little heart into their praying that they do very little praying in the long time they spend at it,” says R. A. Torrey in The Power of Prayer. “On the other hand, there are others who may not put so much time into praying but put so much heart into praying that they accomplish vastly more by their praying in a short time than the others accomplish by praying in a long time.”

So here’s the situation: pray like you mean it. Don’t go ring God’s door bell and then run off. At the same time, don’t deliver a meaningless speech for an hour to impress your Bible study group or to fulfill some strange prayer minutes quota. Pray from your heart and wait for God to pick up.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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