20170322

Prayer for the Self-Centered

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy. For when we betake ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God.

― Abraham Joshua Heschel

Lenten Reflection: Prayer for the Self-Centered
By Steven Dilla

“We are losing the power for self-expression, because genuine self-expression is an answer to an ultimate question, but we do not hear the ultimate question any more,” remarks Abraham Joshua Heschel. The rabbi, in his book Man’s Quest for God, explores the ways perpetual self-concern displaces the divine:

It is hard to define religion; but surely one thing may be said negatively: religion is not expediency. If all our actions are guided by one consideration—how best to serve our personal interests—it is not God whom we serve but the self.

True, the self has its legitimate claims and interests; the persistent denial of the self, the defiance of one’s own desire for happiness is not what God demands. But to remember that the love of God is for all men, for all creatures; to remember His love and His claim to love in making a decision—this is the way He wants us to live.

In many ways the season of Lent is an invitation to retune our hearts to this reality—which Heschel summarizes: “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.” This binary doesn’t answer our need for self-fulfillment as much as it displaces the importance of the desire entirely.

True prayer expands our hopes, desires, and joys beyond the limits of our own lives. Feelings are, by nature, self-centered—true prayer is God-seeking and kingdom-focused. Rabbi Heschel explains:

The focus of prayer is not the self. A man may spend hours meditating about himself, or be stirred by the deepest sympathy for his fellow man, and no prayer will come to pass. Prayer comes to pass in a complete turning of the heart toward God, toward His goodness and power. It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts, which constitute the art of prayer.

Feeling becomes prayer in the moment in which we forget ourselves and become aware of God. Thus, in beseeching Him for bread, there is one instant, at least, in which our mind is directed neither to our hunger nor to food, but to His mercy. This instant is prayer.

Prayer: The Small Verse

“Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your heart.”

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 33 (Listen – 3:49)
John 12 (Listen – 6:26)

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20170321

Prayer for Disquieted People

Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God—people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?

―Henri Nouwen

Lenten Reflection: Prayer for Disquieted People
By Steven Dilla

“The original meaning of the word theology was union with God in prayer,” remarks Henri Nouwen. Today we view theology as an intellectual pursuit and prayer as an event to do, rather than an experience to enter into. In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Nouwen reflects:

Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God’s heart. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God—even though everything and everyone around us keep suggesting the opposite.

It is in prayer that we find rest for our disquieted souls, Nouwen believes; and from prayer that we begin to lead in our own lives, families, and vocations. What we find in prayer has immediate ramifications in shaping our thoughts, words, and actions.

In a salient example for American culture today, Nouwen explains:

Words like right-wing, reactionary, conservative, liberal, and left-wing are used to describe people’s opinions—and many discussions then seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for the truth.

Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.

But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.

Prayer: The Greeting

Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 32 (Listen – 5:47)
John 11 (Listen – 6:37)

 

20170320

Prayer for Busy People

The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.

― Timothy Keller

Lenten Reflection: Prayer for Busy People
By Steven Dilla

How can you spot the difference between a thriving prayer life and a moralistic or legalistic prayer life? Timothy Keller contrasts these two views, for which he uses the shorthand gospel vs. religion, by observing:

Religion: My prayer life consists largely of petition, and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

Gospel: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

Central to the practice of healthy, gospel-centered prayer is the awareness of God’s presence in and around our lives. However, the busier our lives become the more difficult identifying God’s presence can be.

This is not a new problem, when Saint Ignatius of Loyola developed a work called The Spiritual Exercises in 1522-1524 C.E. One of the enduring prayers from this work, the Prayer of Examen, was designed to be prayed even when the necessities of life made other forms of prayer impossible.

Today we give you an adapted version of the prayer. For a fuller explanation of the prayer download Prayer of Examen (PDF).

1. Recall You Are In The Presence Of God
As you sit in silence, renew your awareness of God’s love for you as your one true and perfect Father.

2. Review Your Day With Gratitude
Review your day (or the previous day) from beginning to end. Identify and give thanksgiving for God’s presence throughout.

Process your day’s high and low points. Search for encounters and experiences where you showed grace and your heart was at peace, and those where you did not. Is there anything God is asking me to (1) start doing, (2) stop doing, (3) start believing or thinking, (4) stop believing or thinking, (5) to commit to, (6) or to stop committing to?

3. Renew The Gospel In Your Heart And Life
As you recall actions you’ll find yourself naturally thankful where you have lived a holy life and naturally convicted where you have not. The good news (gospel) is that, although you are guilty and unworthy, through Christ you are fully accepted and loved.

4. Look Forward With The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

The Call to Prayer

Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31:23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 31 (Listen – 2:32)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

 

20170317

Shattering Selfishness

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ.

―C.S. Lewis

Lenten Reflection: Shattering Selfishness
By Steven Dilla

At some point we become seduced into believing our life, dreams, and work are the most significant and complex things going in the world. Though we would never admit such things, it’s only a matter of time before this belief yields a near-overwhelming concern that God cannot handle things so complicated without our guidance.

Prayer becomes dominated by our efforts to grasp for control and our insatiable longing for success. With each circumstance beyond our control we resolve ourselves to refocus—not realizing this only deepens our commitment to ourselves. Søren Kierkegaard warns:

It is the Spirit who gives life. The life-giving Spirit is not a direct heightening of our natural powers—what blasphemy! How horrible to understand the Spirit in this way!

Christianity teaches that you must die. Your power must be dismantled. The life-giving Spirit—that is the invitation. Who would not willingly take hold of it? But die first—there’s the rub!

Each of us can go along, dedicating our lives to pursuing our dreams or fleeing our failures—both will catch up and crush us. The invitation of Christ is to abandon ourselves—to dispense with our successes and aspirations as well as our failures and shortcomings—for the transcendent love and grace of God. Kierkegaard concludes:

You must first die to every earthly hope, to every merely hu­man confidence. You must die to your selfishness, and to the world, because it is only through your selfishness that the world has power over you.

What, exactly, does it mean to die to yourself? It is more than not seeing your wish fulfilled or to be deprived of the one that is dearest to you. True, this is painful enough, and selfishness is wounded. But it does not follow that you are dying. No, but personally to shatter your own fulfilled desire, personally to deprive yourself of the dearly desired one who is now your own: this is what it means to wound selfishness at the root.

Christianity is not what we are all too eager to make it. Christianity waits before it applies its remedy. This is Christianity’s severity. It demands a great sacrifice, one which we often despair of making and can only later see why it was necessary to hold out and wait.

Prayer: A Reading

Then, speaking to all, he said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross everyday and follow me.” — Luke 9:23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 28 (Listen – 5:54)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 29 (Listen – 6:23) John 8 (Listen – 7:33)
Exodus 30 (Listen – 5:06) John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

20170316

Take and Eat

Genuine faith is never satisfied with the religious way of doing things – Sabbath worship or an hour or a half-hour of each day.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Lenten Reflection: Take and Eat
By Steven Dilla

The image of Scripture as food is never more vivid than in the season Lent. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” says Jesus. We recall that the offer had been extended to Christ: quench your material longings by your own ability. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings.

But how are we satisfied by the word of God? The basic metaphor of Scripture as nourishment demonstrates Christ’s expectation that we would not simply intake his word, but digest it. It is through daily meditation that we carry the word of God with us—breaking down the whole into discrete parts which can be processed into our thinking and habits.

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote that this action—carrying and integrating the word of God—is what separates real faith from false religion:

Christianity is nothing else but faith right in the middle of actual life and weekdays. But we have reduced it to quiet hours, thereby indirectly admitting that we are not really being Christians. That we should have quiet times to think about God – this seems so elevated and beautiful, so solemn. It is so hypocritical, because in this way we exempt daily life from the authentic worship of God.

Yet this process activates our heart’s defense mechanisms. Kierkegaard confronts our refined ways of avoiding this tension:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.

Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Nourishment is incomplete until food is converted to energy—faith to action. Truly our lives are transformed through the food of God’s word; our potential for flourishing is unlocked through its nourishment. It is our desire to maintain control over our lives, Kierkegaard warns, that keeps us from living by every word from the mouth of God; “Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 27 (Listen – 2:52)
John 6 (Listen – 8:27)