As I turned to leave Ibondo village, I realized I’d forgotten to pray for the interns I was entrusting to Matayo for the weekend. So I turned to the preacher and said (in Swahili), “I want to pray for these guys before I head back to Geita.” Continue reading
Tag Archives: prayer
Forgive my tone today. I’ve been reading in preparation for Easter sermons, and I’m in a bit of a bad mood. Just before being arrested and crucified, Jesus prays for all the future believers in the world, and much of his prayer is for unity. But we’ve apparently opted to read his words in this way: Continue reading
image courtesy of heavenawaits
[I'm building a small soccer field in my back yard. We moved a bunch of dirt around to make the yard level. Then we added manure and planted grass. The grass is growing, but it'll be three or four months before we can play on it, I think. But that's all besides the point -- just a little aside.]
Five Tanzanian guys helped to plant the grass on the soccer field; and we got it all done in one day. Christie and I wanted to feed the guys a good Tanzanian meal, so we asked Margaret to cook for the guys — and to cook something they’d really enjoy. She did. And the guys anxiously awaited lunch.
Once we were all washed up and the food was set out, we decided to pray. Not all these guys are religious, so I asked Kulwa (a Christian) to pray before our meal. After some discussion as to whether he should pray in Sukuma or Swahili (Swahili was decided upon), he bowed his head and began by saying:
Translation: ”We should thank him (or her).” Or even “Let’s thank him (or her).”
See that little ‘m’ towards the beginning of the word? That’s a direct object marker; it tells us we’re thanking a single person (or being, in this case). Kulwa could have said, “Tumshukuru Mungu,” and it would have been a very specific, “Let’s thank (him) God.”
But the him is assumed when preparing to pray, right?
Not if you’re Oscar, one of the other guys in the group — one who was not so accustomed to praying before meals. He heard, “Let’s thank him/her,” and quickly responded aloud, interrupting Kulwa’s prayer with an emphatic, “Thank you, Margaret!”
We all had a good laugh. [Except maybe Kulwa who possibly thought Oscar's comments sacrilegious.] In the end, though, God was thanked, Margaret was thanked, the guys where thanked, and I’m going to have a beautiful (yet small) soccer field.
Also, it’s always a good idea to thank both God AND the cook for the food.
image courtesy of heavenawaits
A few days ago I posted several very practical ideas for improving our prayer lives. Then I published an essay covering some of the stresses of being a missionary in small-town Tanzania. Today I want to combine these ideas of prayer and stress by offering you a form of meditative prayer which will (likely) bless you greatly.
I can’t remember from whom I learned this practice, but he called it “centering down.” And I was told it was a Quaker form of prayer. I’ve done a little research since then, and it seems the idea of centering down is much bigger than this one very particular prayer practice. Centering down (as best as I can tell) is the practice of contemplative prayer which allows one to experience God’s presence deep within himself. It seems to reach well beyond thinking about God and encourages us to be one with God and to delight in his presence.
There must exist hundreds of ways to accomplish this. The method I’m offering today is only one of these. I’m not suggesting you replace your regular prayer time with this practice, but I do believe it is a wonderful discipline which will bless your life. Though I now realize “centering down” is a much broader concept, I’ll still refer to this form of meditative prayer as just that. [I've also heard it called "re-collection prayer."]
- Find a comfortable seat. Don’t lean forward, though neither should you slouch as if attempting to sleep. I like to sit in a hardwood chair or even on a stool. I’m sure many sit cross-legged on the floor; I do not know, however, if they make an “O” with their thumb and index finger. I also don’t know if they refer to their sitting as “criss cross apple sauce.” But I really hope they do.
- Close your eyes.
- Place your hands face-down on your lap. This represents letting go of all that has filled your mind.
- In silence, give to God all your anxieties, concerns, and worries. Surrender to him all those thoughts which occupy your mind. I begin by thinking this phrase: ”Lord I give to you….”
- Now, maintaining this same posture, rotate your hands so that your palms are face-up. This is symbolic for receiving blessings and peace from God.
- In silence, ask God to grant you peace. You may ask for any number of blessings (such as strength, courage, faith, patience, etc). I begin by saying: ”Lord, please fill me with your…”
- Sit in silence for some time, focused on God — and simply resting in his presence.*
This form of prayer has helped me immensely over the past few years. One of the greatest benefits (for me) is that it helps me rid my mind of stray thoughts and concerns — so that I can practice being present with God. Fully present with him.
I can imagine, too, that centering down would be of tremendous value to those who tend to be anxious or worried.
I can’t help but think of these two passages. I’ll leave you with them:
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7
“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7
*If you read this post and worry that centering prayer will take you too long, you most likely are wrong. I’ve been amazed at the impact less than five minutes of this centering down exercise can have on an entire day.
P.S. — The irony is not lost on me that the image accompanying this post is of clenched fists during prayer — which could symbolize either 1) an unwillingness to give to God our concerns or 2) a refusal to accept from him his blessings. But it does make me wonder why our traditional posture of prayer involves clenched (or at least folded) hands.
image courtesy of heavenawaits
I was reading this morning, and the first words of Colossians 4:2 stood out to me:
“Devote yourselves to prayer…”
προσκαρτερεω (proskartereo) =
to be devoted or constant; to be steadfastly attentive to
I looked up a few other passages where this word (devote / proskartereo) appears in the New Testament:
- Acts 1:14 – Believers, with one mind, were continually devoting themselves to prayer.
- Acts 2:42 – Believers devoted themselves to several things, among them prayer.
- Acts 6:4 – Apostles appointed deacons so they could devote themselves to prayer and ministry.
- Romans 12:12 – Devotion to prayer listed as a key element in church unity and function.
Early every morning I pray alone — usually over a list I keep. Then Christie, Baylor, and I pray together after reading scripture at breakfast. Every run I go on involves at least a little bit of prayer time, and sometimes a lot. Also, Christie and I pray together every night before bed. I can certainly say I’m “devoted” to these four prayer practices. But I’m not sure I can say that I’m devoted to prayer. I want to be. And perhaps I’m on my way there…
Committed to a Game
But I’m forced to think about things to which I’ve been truly devoted in my life. When I coached high school soccer, I spent:
- 12 hours a week practicing with the team
- 5-10 hours a week taking care of the logistics of practices, scheduling, and travel
- 5-10 hours a week coaching in, and traveling to, actual games and tournaments
- 2-4 hours a week scouting other teams
- 2 hours a week painting and caring for the field
That’s over 30 hours a week I spent on soccer (in addition to a full-time job). A game. I was truly devoted to a game. And it paid off. Our team was very successful. But I was devoted to a game.
So if prayer truly is powerful — and if New Testament authors were right to encourage us to be devoted to it — I can only imagine what would result from a deepened level of commitment to prayer in my own life. Or in our families and churches.
Consider how devoted you are to:
- your job
- your children
- your blog
- church attendance
- other churchy opportunities* and activities
- college football teams
I wonder if we even committed to a “least common denominator” approach to prayer — devoting to prayer only the amount of time equal to what we spend on the least frequent of the above activities — what would happen?
I want to challenge you to pray more. I’m not suggesting that you start by attempting to pray for an hour a day. But pray more. I’m convinced we begin to devote ourselves to particular activities by increasingly devoting small increments of time to those activities.
Tomorrow I’m going to post some practical ideas on how we can begin to devote ourselves further to prayer. And I’m not just thinking through these as an exercise for others. I desperately want to learn to pray without ceasing; and I could use your help in getting me there. If you’ve got some practical ideas, feel free to post them below. [I'm not compiling my list until late tonight or early tomorrow morning.]
* Just a little shout out to Nacho.
See also: 3 principles for training our minds.
I have been blessed by God these days to have a healthy spirit of thanksgiving. I am an incredibly blessed man, and I know this is God’s doing in my life. In looking through some old writings of mine, I came across this prayer — which was worded on behalf of the Geita mission team, and prayed aloud before our Thanksgiving meal this past November:
Father God, you are all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present.
you are good and right and holy and true, and we can only define those ideas because of who you are.
you are our creator and sustainer. you formed our bodies, and you breathed your own life into us.
you have loved us with a greater love than we will ever understand while on this fallen earth.
yet you have loved us in such a way that we’re able to experience true life even while on this fallen earth.
not that you’ve taken away all sadness or removed all difficulties from our lives –
but you’ve allowed us to pass through these times with great hope… and love.
you’ve given us your Son, who brings us into relationship with you,
and you’ve sent us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live as you have purposed.
thank you, God, for being a God who comes near to his people.
thank you for being a God who loves us unconditionally, with grace and mercy abounding.
and, Lord, we thank you that, in your loving kindness, you’ve poured on us great blessings.
we know these blessings are not for us alone, but for us to share with those around us,
and to demonstrate to others what it is to live in Christ,
and in his community.
now, Father, we want to thank you for just a few of these many blessings by name:
thank you for calling us to africa,
for purposing for us to be here, and for making a way for us.
for moneys raised and moneys that still will be raised.
for sending congregations willing to send us,
and for family members willing to support us in being sent.
thank you for the groen family and the mwanza team.
for their willingness to share from their experiences
and to serve as our tutors for living in africa and serving a people different than ourselves.
thank you for our time at language school in iringa,
for the teachers who were skilled in teaching swahili,
for the ability to set aside several weeks in order to focus only on language.
and for our time at riverside
to bond as a team,
to adapt to a new culture,
to prepare for the work you have prepared for us.
thank you for the new babies on our team –
for ann elise, baylor, and jude.
they are in many ways the most amazing gifts you’ve given.
a few of us have experienced the pains of birth (all of us have witnessed them),
which have served as a reminder that we live in a fallen world, and that sin has consequences for all.
but, God, the pains have been greatly overshadowed by the tremendous joy of having children.
thank you that each child is healthy and growing:
growing up in size and ability
growing closer to parents and teammates
growing in understanding and thinking
and growing firmly in the love you have for them, and show them through their parents and teammates.
thank you, God, for putting us in geita, to be lights in a dark place.
thank you for 2 out of 3 families being in our homes
and that the 3rd has a comfortable place to wait.
thank you for the relationships you’ve enabled us to form,
whether they be with government officials or muslims,
seamstresses or juice-makers,
our own employees or guys at hardware stores,
kids without families or tall, wealthy, English-speaking Catholics.
you’ve blessed us to know people, and through us for them to know you.
thank you, God, for delivering us from evil and protecting us from satan.
we thank you for the growth we’ve experienced as a team, coming through difficult times.
and we thank you for opening our eyes to the need for accountability and openness.
thank you for overcoming evil and darkness with your forgiveness, mercy, and love,
both from you and from those who have been called by your name.
and, Father, we thank you for dreams and visions of what is to come.
we thank you for giving us big ideas, and for making it possible for us to accomplish them.
we thank you for those glimpses we have of the future that make the present seem worthwhile.
we thank you for hundreds or thousands who will come to know you and your love,
who will accept Jesus as Lord and give their lives to you.
we thank you for all who will be touched by our ministries,
for those who will be able to put more food on their family’s table,
or live just a little healthier than they might have otherwise.
for those who will have a better water situation or a more permanent house in which to live,
for those who will be given a home and a family after having been orphaned or abandoned.
we thank you especially for those who will recognize our service to them and repay it in service to others.
for those who will recognize your love for them, and return it to you and then to others.
for those who will recognize a life well-lived, and themselves begin a journey to live that life.
God, we’ve only begun to touch on the blessings you’ve poured out on our families. but we want you to know that we are thankful for these, and all others. we know that every good and perfect gift comes from you. and we thank you for these gifts in our lives. Father, as we eat this meal together, we eat in thanksgiving. we celebrate those things you have done, those things you are doing, and those things you will do. we celebrate your good blessings for us as we share this food together.
For what are you thankful? And have you expressed your gratitude to God today?
What you think about is important.
Lately I’ve been reading from Paul’s letters. And I can’t get over how much significance he gives to our thoughts and our minds. What we think about, and the way in which we consider it, greatly affects our lives — especially those of us who aspire to be like Christ. Here are three principles I’ve taken from Philippians 4:4-9 and Colossians 3:1-11. The passages themselves are well worth a read. But today I’ll leave you with only the principles.
Preface: The way I understand (and experience) it, there are three things on which I can meditate: evil, the anxieties and concerns associated with the future, or that which is good. And Paul addresses how we should deal with our thoughts in each of these situations.
I Will Control My Thoughts
- I will put to death all evil thoughts. Any temptation will be immediately dismissed from my mind. When a bad attitude comes to my attention, I will deal with it both severely and with immediacy. Sin will not be further entertained or regarded as having any value.
- I will turn my anxieties into prayer requests. I will not meditate on my worries or concerns, but instead will offer them to God. He is both able and willing to give me peace.
- I will think on what is good and right and pure and lovely. I am to direct my mind and my heart to dwell on the things of God.
What’s On My Mind
- We (or I at least) have a tendency to believe we are not sinning unless we perform evil acts. Whether it be lust, rage, greed, or some other sin, we convince ourselves it’s okay to think about it (consider it, even) — provided we don’t act on our thoughts. [This despite Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount.] I’m convinced Christians entertain far too many* sexual thoughts about women (or romantic ones about men) to whom they’re not married. We hold anger tightly in our hearts as if it were meant to be there. We spend much of our free time meditating on what we could do if only we had a little more cash. We’ve become accomplished at keeping our hands clean — while our minds remain filthy.
- Some of us may have a tendency to tell others they shouldn’t worry. I am
sometimesextremely guilty of this. I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and don’t understand why some people worry so much. ”Just don’t do it,” I think. But that’s not Paul’s solution to ridding our lives of anxiety. He doesn’t say to put these worrisome thoughts to death (as he says of sinful thoughts); instead he suggests we turn them into prayers to God. We give our anxieties to God, and he exchanges them for peace.
- We think of “meditation” as a good thing (I think) — but it can only be as good as those subjects on which we meditate. Meditation on evil is sin. Meditation on tomorrow is worry. Meditation on that which is of God, though, is both healthy and beneficial.
- Thinking on those things which are good does not limit our thoughts to scripture, cuddly angels, and service to old people. I’d argue it has more to do with recognizing God at work in the world, and doing away with this false dichotomy of spiritual versus physical. God is present in all, and when we meditate on what is good and true, we see our relationships and daily activities in the light of a God-filled existence. That is good — seeing kingdom principles at work in the “mundane.”
A Few Practical Ideas
- Becoming a Christian isn’t a magical charm by which our thoughts are transformed overnight, or Paul wouldn’t have had to write these things. If we’re not actively working to train ourselves to think better, we won’t. We need a plan of action. You need to develop one.
- When evil enters my mind, I say aloud, “Get away from me, satan. I’m a child of God, and you have no power over me.” Or something like that at least. And then I pray that God will help me to cast these sinful thoughts out of my mind. [Many of us are open to the prayer part, but shy away from the speaking aloud bit. But I know for me...] Opposing the devil out loud with words seems to be more helpful than prayer alone. I believe there is much power in our words. [And it doesn't hurt that we're calling something sin out loud, and will therefore hear it called that as well.]
- I don’t worry a great deal. Very rarely, actually. I suppose it is a gift that God has given me; and I’m thankful for it. But my best practical advice in this area, then, is not for those of us who worry, but for those of us who don’t. We should have patience with those who do struggle with anxiety and worry. Encourage them to hand every worry over to God. Help them to turn those anxieties into prayers. Don’t oversimplify it and discount their feelings by saying, “Just don’t worry. It’s a sin.”
- I’m currently trying to think of ways to train myself to meditate on that which is good. My best idea so far is to wear a bracelet (I don’t normally wear a watch or anything on my wrist). For at least a time, then, I’ll not be able to forget I have something on my wrist. And every time I notice it there, I will take a moment to think on God’s goodness in my life and to say a short prayer of thanksgiving.
Do you guys have some other thoughts on the subject — or better yet practical ideas for training our minds?
* Not that even one is appropriate.
I’ve not been on the internet much this week — so I’ve really got no (new) links to share. But I’ve not ever missed a Tuesday’s “morning blend,” and don’t want to start now. So I present to you a few of my favorite links in the history of “morning blend.”
This is a great article that basically sums up our team’s strategy for evangelism in Tanzania. The author gives some pretty good arguments for small groups, and also supplies us with a list of core values that should be established early on in any group. A must read for evangelists, missionaries, and church planters — or for those who don’t understand yet exactly what we’re doing in Geita, and want to.
David Hosaflook suggests every Christian should be involved in the Great Commission — and then offers how to do so through prayer.
Have you ever wanted to see Jesus riding a tyrannosaurus rex? Or rocking a baby allosaurus to sleep? These questions are rhetorical, of course. Who would turn their back on such joy?! And Jason Boyett, author of the Pocket Guides, is just the man to bring you these pictures.
“Dance Praise puts a whole new spin… on today’s high-energy dancing games by combining two of today’s most popular entertainment trends – contemporary Christian music and dance arcades. ” I’m not falling for it. No way — this is a trick. You know, a spoof done by some youth minister. Fake. It’s not real. There’s no way it could be. I’m no fool. Can you imagine being bamboozled by this hoax? Nope — not me; no internet expert web designer’s gonna’ take me for that ride. You’ve gotta’ get up pretty early in the morning. Definitely this is not true. I can say that without any hesitation… I think.
Yes, pets are to blame for most of the problems in our world. But this guy’s got the answer. Alas, so many cats and so few recipes. But I tell you, I knew when I lived there that the Chinese were onto something…
You know how Google automatically tries to complete your search query with frequently requested search terms? Yeah, this site is dedicated to that. And there are some really funny “autocompletes” out there. In addition to fatties being kidnapped, here are just a few of my favorites. [Keep in mind, a lot of people had to search for these things...]:
- Why is daddy in a dress?
- My brother was eaten by wolves on the Connecticut Turnpike.
- This looks like a job for emergency pants.
- Bacon is a little hug from God.
- I did the macarena with a homeless guy in an elevator because Big Bird said to, and he’s my leader.
- Amish Online Dating
Really? Amish Online Dating? ”My name is Obadiah, and I enjoy long walks on the beach, making furniture, and reading by candlelight. I’m looking for a wife who can cook over an open fire, wants to have a lot of children, and… DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO USE THE INTERNET?”
This is the post where I solve most of the world’s problems. Or the one where I at least mention some of the world’s problems. Or I’m about to talk about things that might be of absolutely no interest to you, and probably aren’t nearly on the level of world problems. But as long as you’re around, here’s what’s been on my mind lately:
- I like writing. And I particularly enjoyed writing the post prior to this one: i’ll have the fruits of repentance — no, the sushi. Something about it was just fun for me. You can probably expect more modern-day retellings of Biblical texts in the future.
- Christie and I have been watching The West Wing lately. I didn’t think I’d like it, but she told me I would, and I do. But what I really like is that the White House has a “Situation Room” (on TV and in real life). I mean a whole room (5000 sq ft in real life) just for situations. How many times have you wanted to say, “We have a situation — quick, everybody to the room we created for this very purpose.” Christie and I are trying to figure out a way to put a situation room in our house. Of course it will double as a room in which to play cards, store bicycles, and do our new missionary initiations and hazing.
- We live at an altitude of 4350 feet. And there’s nowhere for me to run that doesn’t involve hills. So running has been more difficult for me here; it’s taken more breaths, more heartbeats, and more concentration, plus there are people everywhere. In the states I prayed a lot when I ran, and I’ve really been missing that here in Geita. So last week I forced myself to do a really slow, long run, and was able to get completely out of town, away from all the people. I found a pace at which I could really concentrate; and I had an incredible prayer time. I prayed out loud, and it was some of the best praying I’ve done in months. If you’re a runner, try a long, slow day this week — and pray out loud. I really think you’ll be blessed.
- I’m in favor of a return to the selling of indulgences. I mean it’s way easier to buy your way out of sin than it is to actually live an obedient life. And with all the extra money our churches make, we could build some monster buildings and have really awesome bands and coffee shops and stuff. Plus we could probably get a bunch of disgruntled and old-school Catholics to convert over and grow our own denomination’s numbers.
- It seems a lot of the people arguing for evolution are also in support of “going green.” But if evolution is true, then isn’t everything people produce natural? Cities, automobiles, factories, exhaust, waste… it’s all beautiful nature. Because we’re just animals creating a habitat — bees with their combs, beavers with their dams, and humans with their oil, sewage, and nuclear waste. Go green, my bottom… THIS IS GREEN!