Prayer itself has become pat answer or a way to say, “I’m sad and sorry for what has happened.” Our world is overtly challenged if you can at all believe what you read and hear today. We are returning from a month in Europe and have encountered the core stuff of life in a world that is “in the power of the evil one.” Saying that you will pray with or for someone has become a nice little sentiment when you can’t find the words or find yourself overwhelmed by some situation. Political unrest and violence, confrontation with cancer, deception within relationships, painful betrayals and reputational damage, let alone earthquakes, fires, senseless disregard for human life and these stories are only a flash of what is a blinding light of confusion. If this is what one believes about prayer, I will agree that it feels small and offensive to pat down such extreme human suffering with a nice little word. But prayer is the furthest thing from a pat answer:
Prayer is a call on God to intervene and show up in blazing power in a situation that does not have a human answer. Prayer is enlisting the protection, power and deliverance of the one who holds the universe in His hands. A first response of prayer, even before the dust settles, is the most active solution oriented approach possible. It is an admittance that our best efforts are meaningless without God. It is an admittance of need, even to know how to respond. Calling on God who is intimately involved with every cell in every human body to heal and preserve life is wise. A miraculous intervention was needed in so many cases. We must call on God for comfort for those who lost love ones. God is a God of compassion and if there was ever a need for powerful compassion, it is now.
More was done by God to heal, protect, love, give courage, give wisdom and guidance where needed than by any other act of any person. This was in response to the cry of his children through prayer.
If prayer is not enough then I would think there is a denial that prayer is attached to conversation with the God of universe who is present, active and not silent. Prayer is not simply a nice little word.
We are so grateful for your whole being support of us as we endeavor to increase our trust in the only hope in the universe. Keep praying,,, it is never in vain.
In Hope, by His grace,
hud, for nancy too.
Developing Your Inner World – Session #1
Developing Your Inner World – Session #2
Developing Your Inner World – Session #3
Developing Your Inner World – Session #4
I frequently muse about the role that grief plays in our lives. Losses are inevitable and even necessary. If we learn how to grieve and mourn them well, we will come to experience a kind of spiritual freedom only available through letting go.
I’m troubled when I see how often we as believers walk away from the giant resource grief provides us in our journeys to become more mature and more like Christ. Instead, we avoid grief by attempting to get the world to fit into our mold, or attempting to escape the normal movement of life, or seeking peace and safety at the expense of reality. It is often only through loss, suffering and grief that we have access to the central and massive comfort and freedom that Jesus died to provide us, in the here and now.
A few months ago, Nancy took our grandsons to Body World, a traveling science display in Denver. Here in the midst of an exhibit displaying the phenomenal physical marvels of being human, she found that the context screamed of hopelessness–no purpose, no future. Along with the fascinating display of the human body came a number of banners with quotes that seemed to rob the viewer of reasons to live, such as, “When you die, you just lose consciousness.” In a culture that denies grief and death, it is difficult to hold a biblical view of reality that finds hope in the midst of a broken world and painful circumstances. Like the display, our culture attempts to soften painful realities with slogans that tout “hope” rooted in nothing. Perhaps, as the exhibit implies, if we simply define man as a biological entity, we can remove the inevitable sting of loss. So the slogan, “when you die you die” is intended to comfort us in an attempt to respond to the reality one only sees. And it’s designed to eliminate our desperate need for hope.
The Body World display teaches us that without a future vision we must either live in despair or some form of fantasy. The biblical view is quite different. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul tells believers, “…we are not to grieve as the world grieves, as those who have no HOPE.” And in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says, as believers we are to be ready to give an answer to those who ask, for the HOPE that is in us. Quite frequently we ignore the scriptures instructing believers to “not lose HOPE!” Real hope comes when we place our trust in “true truth.” Why do we so often fail to walk in this freedom, which is given to us who believe? Maybe part of the reason is because we fail to make the necessary adjustments in our thinking that will line us up with the truth we claim.
The truth Christ has given us says that although much of what we experience in this upside down world is not part of the original design, God has given us grief as a major resource to deal with the regular rhythms of transition and loss. Transition, loss, and the grief of dealing with these allow us to offload distortions of reality. We are essentially double minded, and instead of believing the truth, we believe the distortions the world markets to us: a life that makes sense, and personal peace and affluence. One good thing about the globalization of our world is that we are less likely to live in isolation from the painful reality of this messed up world. Buried in the middle of this is a view of life that is grounded in facing life as it comes and being able to grapple with the “bad news”.
I’d like to suggest that we define grief like this: to accurately adjust our views of reality by aligning them with the “truth” of God’s creation in it’s fallen, messed up, mean state! Grief in this context may be thought of as a healthy concession to the fallenness of the present world. Matthew 5:4 says those who mourn will be comforted. It’s interesting to me that these two ideas are linked in this manner. Few of us seem to get this connection, that grief/mourning gives us access to comfort/freedom. How often are our expectations of what life should be like derived from our culture instead of the “Word” written and incarnate? Our culture shapes our expectations as well as our desires. First world individuals are caught in a consumeristic environment. In this environment a desire is never illegitimate, it is only unmet!
Let that sink in for a moment. What helps shape our desires? Is it the ‘truth’ we believe from Scripture, or are we formed by the strength of the environment in which we are placed? If this second view is allowed to shape our perceptions, then the basis for our HOPE is skewed!
For consumers, fulfillment of desire is the highest good and the final arbiter in making decisions. In contrast, Scripture champions freedom, contentment and self-control based in values, not endless pursuit of personal desire. God is not a commodity that exists to make us feel better!
Maybe a thorough sensitizing and awareness of our expectations and their origins is the core work of grief. The first thing we must do in order to move through the grieving process in a life-giving way is to face the truth about our skewed/distorted beliefs of how life should work. Most of us see the application in “large” issues, like the death of a loved one or loss of the ability to work or a divorce. It’s the smaller deceptions that keep us from experiencing the freedom we miss. Let’s examine some of these.
How often are our disappointments in our children or a disagreement with our mate mishandled? Instead of seeing the “matter of fact” of life’s movements, we eschew such for the immediate feeling of control and the satisfaction it seems to provide. Even something as trite as a haircut and color that doesn’t turn out as you expected can rob us of the capacity to celebrate the life that we have in fact been given. Often our view squeezes out the joy that is available because we are restricted by a pinched perspective that prohibits us from seeing the freedom God has for us. Our culture teaches us to win, not to grieve. We want to be right, to fight and to be strong. Grieving the loss of some particular disappointment means that we are called to “let go” and move away from a victim posture. Culture teaches the opposite by telling us to find someone or something to blame.
Any “false” view of reality, no matter how small, can and will set us up for useless pain and disappointment. When we put our hope in a world free of loss and only driven by acquisition, we are committing a form of idolatry.
But there’s another kind of grief. The kind laid out in the Gospels. I call it hopeful grief or good grief. This kind of grief is based on a view of reality that allows us to adjust to what is rather than what we wish was.
Session #1 – Adult Development
Session #3 – Character Development (Part II)
Session #2 – Character Development (Part 1)
Session #4 – Relationship Development
We just put up our “tree” for this season. It carries more weight this year since we have been without this ritual for the last two holiday seasons. Our tree was fresh cut – by hand – by friends – for us – from the Colorado forest. Now I have not reflected at great depth on this, but this tree represents many layers of experience, e.g. history, tradition, celebration, relationships, church, nostalgia…food. Yet, for me a profound aspect of the “Christmas Tree”, or first tree, is what it is supposed to represent. An evergreen symbolizes stability – something that lasts. However, my experience is marked by the tree’s removal and disposal every year. Oh well, so much for stability and security. (Funny how difficult it is to get these trees to stand up!) The point is it poorly represents the secure hope my soul longs for. Nevertheless, it does remind me for a moment.
In trying to return to some “order” and “stability” after 9/11, I am also trying to regain a sense of comfort. I believe we confuse “answers” for truth. The result of which is to empty out our souls and live in torment. (Isaiah 50:11) NASB
The second tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9). Eve and Adam were beguiled by its offer of “divinity” – to know, to be in control…to secure the future, to be god. This illusion of control has plagued us ever since, in that we continue to seek peace and calmness through control! This is an elusive process only popularized by the denial of reality that we are not vulnerable, and that we can eradicate all evil from our experience!
Well…God intervenes in this process, by preventing us from continuing on perpetually in our delusion. He removes us from access to the third tree. (Gen. 3:22) This third tree is the Tree of Life, not spoken of often in Scripture, yet it is the very thing we were created to experience – LIFE! There remains a profound mystery here. Why do we continue to choose mastery/control (second tree) over mystery/faith (third tree)? This still puzzles and draws us to the fourth tree: the Easter Tree, the “tree” on which Jesus died.
I suspect that Easter is the holiday of choice for those who believe.
A friend tells of an experience in Europe a few years ago where he wanted to celebrate Easter, and a local national asked him where he was going. When informed, the local did not know what Easter was, much less why one would engage in celebration.Most of us don’t like paradox because we want to resolve the tension instantly. Click To Tweet
This tree is filled with paradox and is difficult to understand. The word paradox literally means, “beyond what is thought”. Nothing of the cross makes sense unless we move “beyond thought” into paradox. Here are some of the contradictions: the God of Love surrenders to violence; power chooses powerlessness; the response to hatred is forgiveness; an ignominious sign of death becomes the symbol of Life Everlasting.
Most of us don’t like paradox because we want to resolve the tension instantly. This is why we have meetings in which first somebody proposes one side of the issue and then someone else the other. The tension mounts for a few minutes and then there is a vote called for to get the tension over with. We vote, 51% win by telling the other 49% where to get off, and the 49% spend the next decade undermining the decision we thought we had made – all because we don’t know how to hold on to the tension.
The cross cannot be understood theoretically. Paradoxes are not understood so much as lived. The cross is not just something that happened in the past: it is a way to live in the present as we wait for full access to the third tree, the Tree of Life. Salvation is more than an event; it’s a way of living in ever greater fidelity to the truth that each of us is sinner and saint, not sinner or saint. Reconciliation is holding these counterpoints in creative tension while affirming the truth of each. In every experience of the cross, we affirm that neither part of the contradiction rules out the other. Together both parts constitute truth/meaning.
Maybe Richard Rohr’s conclusion in “Everything Belongs”, illustrates just how this fourth tree bears on the “tension” in our lives: “The price we pay for holding together these opposites, is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus was crucified between the good thief and the bad thief; hanging between heaven and earth; holding onto both his humanity and His divinity; expelled as the problem by both religion and state. He rejected none of these, but “reconciled all things in Himself”. (Eph. 2:10)
Somehow, this Christmas season, living beyond what is thought may help us to really LIVE! Being reconcilers in our own world and holding on to the tension that faith demands, settles our souls in a way nothing of this world – governments, money, power, control, tradition, ritual, success, can ever provide. In paradox, certainty is always illusive, while mystery becomes almost tangible. Thank you Jesus for coming and finishing this mystery, this good news that alone sustains us in this marred world.