Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Fruit?) Part 1

Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Fruit?) Part 1

Does prayer make any difference?

Yes!

Does God hear my prayers?

Yes!

Does prayer change God, or me?

Yes! Yes!

In what ways does prayer make a difference?

Ahh, now we’re getting to the juicy stuff.  So far we’ve explored the nature of Faith and the Father in prayer, and that exploration had to precede our guided tour of the Fruit of our prayer. Why? Well, dear friends, if our image of God is messed up and if our faith is built on beliefs, then guess what? It’s pretty likely that the fruit we’re anticipating will be covered in bruises, flies and mold. Nast. BUT if we stand in the covenantal nature of faith and the goodness of the Father’s character, then… then we are far more prepared for that perfectly ripe, delicious pineapple. No, strawberry. No, persimmon. No, kiwi. Nah, mango. Yeah. Mango. Oh, hell, we’ll be ready for the entire fruit basket.

In order to see the fruit of our prayers, we need to first know what we’re looking for.

If, for example, you offer up your supplication one day and expect an immediate response the next, then you may not see the difference you’re anticipating. Sorry, Vecura Salt, Daddy doesn’t always give you an Oompa Loompa right away.

If you treat prayer like a dumping ground for all your frustrations, woes, demands, requests, then chances are, Eeyore, that no tail is going to satisfy

If you think prayer is a one-and-done kind of thing, then you’ll never see the beauty of perseverance. Hit up the Canaanite woman, she’d be a really good mentor for you.

If you think God owes you something, then we need to revisit our conversation on faith and the father ’cause your mindset is slightly off kilter.

Confession time. I am Vecura Salt. I am Eeyore. I’m terribly impatient and ghastly entitled.  I can’t even pretend I’m not. It’s gross, but it’s real. More often than not I enter the throne room of prayer demanding my Oompa Loompa or whining about my lost tail. Maybe we all do. Maybe we’re all Vecuras and Eeyores from time to time, treating prayer like our own personal slot machine full of goodies. We drop a penny of effort, pull the handle of a single prayer, and expect a royal dividend to come spewing out into our laps while we sing along with Janis Joplin, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz?” [Pull handle] “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a color TV?” [Pull handle]  “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a night on the town?” [Pull handle] And when we don’t get that Mercedes Benz or Color TV, we cry, complain or give up all together.

So what, then, are the ways that prayer makes a difference? How do we know what to look for? If prayer isn’t a slot machine, what is it?

Let’s start with this: Relationship. Yeah. That’s exactly the place to start growing some fruit. For just as Faith is based on a covenantal relationship and God the Father is our faithful covenant keeper, so too the Fruit of our prayer is about growing in covenant relationship with the Triune God. I suppose we could say that Relationship is the sum of this whole Prayer: WTF? series. And don’t you think that is simply marvelous? I mean we strive and strain to construct stones of religiosity. We’re exhausted, utterly burned out on religion. And all the while the Father is whispering sweet invitations like this:

Come to me. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

In a nutshell, we’re offered a life of enjoyment in his covenantal love, no stones attached. All of our efforts are quieted by the gentle embrace of the Father. As we engage in prayer we are ultimately engaging in relationship with the Father, Son, Spirit; joining the dance of perfect love that is expressed within the trinity. And this dance has no rigid formula. It’s not a structured Cha-Cha Slide of hops, stomps, right foot, left foot, hands on your knees, hands on your knees (Although I admit, I’m a sucker for the Cha-Cha Slide, the Electric Slide, and any other slide that gathers the entire wedding crowd on the dance floor, all moving together in one, quasi-synchronized communal flash mob. But, per usual, I digress.). The dance of prayer as relationship with the triune God is different and requires only one move – to love and be loved.

Have you ever sat in the presence of God and simply let yourself be loved? It’s actually an incredibly difficult thing to do. I can’t help but wonder if the challenge is largely due to our own anxious duplicity.  The moment you get quiet in prayer thoughts of uncertainty run as wildly as elementry kids at recess. “Could I be loved just as I am? Is God’s love big enough for me? I’m too messy, broken, addicted, stubborn, selfish… must clean up first. I’ll just give God my clean face.” More often than not we approach God with how we ought to be rather than how we actually are. “The Japanese have two words that hint at the divided self. There is the tatemae, the part of myself I let people see on the outside, and the hon ne, what takes place on the inside where no one can see. Perhaps we need a third word for the sector places we never make known. And that third place is what God invites us to lay open in prayer.” *

We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us… We must trust God with what God already knows. *

If we long to see the fruit of prayer, we begin my scattering seeds of honesty, vulnerability and trust. Trust in the loving character of God the father, God the Son, God the Spirit. You need not clean up first. Come, just as you are. Trust that this triune God can – and does! – receive all of who we are with great pride, compassion and joy. Dear friend, God delights in you. God is not angry with you, judgmental toward you, disappointed in you. God is all-together in love with you, entirely ravished by you. Yes! You ravish the heart of God. Let these truths draw you out on the dance floor.

Begin cultivating the soil for fruit to grow by letting yourself Love. Be loved. Be Still. It really is that simple (or difficult. But whatever).

…………………………

*** Much of these thoughts on prayer come from Philip Yancey’s work, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Read it. Hurry. Do not delay.

A Holy Saturday WTF?

A Holy Saturday WTF?

I am not very good at waiting. Maybe none of us are. I mean, who likes waiting in the check-out lane, waiting in traffic, waiting for spring, waiting for an extra hot, soy, 1-pump vanilla, extra shot latte, waiting for such-and-such to end and this-and-that to begin?

Waiting? Nah. No thanks. I’m a #TCB #GSD kind of girl.

What’s that, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked!

Let’s start with TCB. And before I go any further, you should know I’m a big Elvis fan. I think I was all of 14 when I belted out “Love Me Tender” at a karaoke party in my aunt’s garage. I was in love. Crazy stupid love.

Anyway, Elvis and his Memphis Mafia had a beloved motto, ‘Taking Care of Business – in a flash’. So there’s that.

And, GSD??? Get.Shit.Done.

#TCB #GSD. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Brianna! (in hashtag form)

But on this Holy Saturday, there’s no room for these hashtags. There is only waiting. Yesterday we experienced the ultimate portrayal of how deep the father’s love for us will go. But today, as Jesus remains in the tomb and all our hope seems lost, we wonder yet again, “Where’s the Father?”

I don’t get to TCB today. There’s no shit to get done. There is only waiting. Today we sit with despair, wondering, hopelessness.

Jonathan Martin poetically details the pain of this transfiguring Holy Saturday like this:

There is grace this Holy Saturday, for all kinds of in-between spaces. There is grace this Holy Saturday, for not being who you were, but not yet who you are to become. There is grace this Holy Saturday, for those in the liminal, shadowy place between crucifixion and resurrection.

On this Holy Saturday, the middle day that holds Good Friday and Easter Sunday and creative tension, there is grace. Grace in the waiting. 

It is not a comfortable time and space, and though you may not recognize Me, I AM in it, waiting alongside you. Speaking your eyes wide open, illuminating faces, guiding Lights,
scattering flickers of hope and traces of warmth not only to sustain you…

but lead you by your willingness to holiness embodied, where we can reflect one another, altered—

Me wearing your humanity, You hosting My divinity.

It sounds too good to be true, but I tell you…
you will discover unmistakeable beauty
in unmade-up places.*

*****

* Video from, The Work of the People

* Poem by, Kelly Ann Hall

A Good Friday WTF?

A Good Friday WTF?

 

We’ve recently discussed that Jesus is the answer to our question, “Where’s the Father?” And if I may, I’d like to take this a step further.

Jesus is the exact image of the Father. Yes and Amen! Every miracle is a demonstration of the God who is love. Every hungry soul that was fed, every naked body that was clothed, every marginalized being that was saturated with dignity; all of these experiences were reflections of who God is.

But the ultimate expression of the Love who is God is, I submit to you, the Crucified Jesus. 

This Love in human form walks where we walk, weeps when we weep, rejoices when we rejoice. This Love is a friend to sinners (which, spoiler alert, is ALL of us. Yup. You, me, even Dupree.), a defender of the weak, healer to the sick, liberator of the oppressed. This Love runs down our prodigal road, splits the seas for us to walk right through, moves our mountains of pain and calms our storms of dismay. So far does this Love go that he was willing to endure the agony of the cross.

The cross event is frequently articulated as repulsive, abominable; the ugliest event in history. And I think that it’s true. The crucifixion of Christ, the nails that my sin helped pound in the flesh of this perfect Love, it is revolting.

But I dare say, as heinous as it all is, it reveals an underlying beauty.

The cross reveals the ugliness of human sin AND the beauty of divine love. This is a beauty that will save the world.*

“Beauty is the splendor of truth, ” said Plato. We’re so familiar with asking, Is it Good? Is it True? But we must also ask, with equal regularity, Is it Beautiful? For the living union of truth and goodness denotes the integrity of being from which beauty springs forth. We can sum it up with the single Greek term, Kalokagathia, (Kalos, which means beautiful. Kai, which means and. Agathos, which means good.)*

The cross event is Kalokagathia.

It is good.

It is true.

And it is beautiful.

The cross is cruciform beauty.*

If we want to know the father, we must look to the crucified Christ. On this Good Friday, dear friends, look to the cross. Meditate upon the cruciform beauty of Christ. And reflect that same love and beauty into this wounded and lovely world in which we live.

****

* Featured Image: Rembrandt, Christ crucified between the two thieves.

* Brian Zhand, Beauty Will Save the World.

* Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon: a theology of beauty

* Video from The Work of the People. An organization I love dearly and I think you should, too.

Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Father?)

Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Father?)

What is your picture of God?

Take a few moments to seriously ponder this question. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

Well? What images or words or experiences came to you mind? This is a spiritual exercise of examination and, like I tell my students I tell you, the more you put into this the more you’ll get out of it. I put forth this simple practice because I have come to believe that our capacity to love and be loved hangs on this primary question: What is your picture of God?

If our mental picture of God is skewed, our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others will be skewed as well.*

Maybe you need a little help igniting your imagination. Check this checker board:

 

We’ve got hot Jesus, newborn infant Jesus, party Jesus, all-too-holy Jesus, wrathful God, distant God, old-guy-in-the-sky God.

We’re not done yet.

There’s angry judge God, killjoy God, demanding father God, disconnected, distant, disinterested God, accuser God, uninvolved, unapproachable, unloving God.

We’ve got theologies that teach God predestines all things, including pain and suffering (i.e. Calvinism); that God set the world into being then detached himself from it (i.e. Diesm); even that God gleefully dangles sinners over the fiery pits of hell (thanks, Johnny Edwards).

See where I’m going with this?

So I ask again, what’s your picture of God?

How you view God is so very important. I don’t know how you were raised, what experiences you’ve had to go through, or what teachings you’ve been given that have shaped your view of God. But I do know there’s a time and place for deconstruction. If your perception of God is anything like the checker board above, if it’s akin to the aforementioned theologies then, dear reader, lean in. Listen. If we’re to have a restored image of God we need to demo some of these falsies (enter Chip Gaines).

God is Love (1 John 4:16). This is the most basic, yet most profound truth on the character of God. And it is the perfect starting point for our imago dei renovation project.  Love is the very essence of God. It’s with this proclamation where people frequently argue, “Yes. BUT. God is also just.” or “God is also a God of wrath.” I get it. As we read the biblical narrative there appears to be stories that reveal God as something other than love. So it does make sense that this is a common knee-jerk response. However, what we must understand is that God’s character is not a competition within itself. God is LOVE. God the father, God the Son, God the Spirit exist in perfect love. And this triune expression of love is generously shared with humanity.

Think about this. God IS love and this love was sent to us through Christ, who IS God. You see, long ago God spoke in various ways. Through prophets and stuff like that. But then, in the last days (don’t panic, this isn’t some Tim LaHaye Left Behind language. “Last Days” simply refers to the days of Christ). In previous days God revealed himself various ways.

But then.

In the last days.

Then enters Christ.

No further revelation of God could possibly come! Christ represents the full image of God.

God once spoke through prophets and stuff. But then, Jesus. Full stop. God spoke variously, from time to time. But then, in the last days, through Jesus, God spoke his final, definitive word.

What does this all mean? It means everything! God is love. And if we want to understand this God, then we look to the person of Jesus Christ. This, my friends, is our answer to the question, “Where’s the Father?

In the person of Jesus Christ, especially in his dying for us on Calvary, we see what true love is like, for here we see what God is like.*

Jesus is the image of God. (Col. 1:15) If we want to know the father, if we’re still pondering this particular WTF, we look nowhere else than to Jesus Christ (John 14:9). Every image, picture, idea, word we have of God must be centered on Christ.

What images first came to your mind when I asked you of your view of God? Did you see hot Jesus? Homeboy Jesus? Angry judge? Detached father?

What do you see now? If Jesus is the full revelation of God, how can this deconstruct those false images that may be lingering in your mind?

The root of all healing and growth in life is found in being rooted and grounded in the truth of who God is.*

So let the picture of Jesus be your tools of reconstruction. Just as our faith is not rooted a staunch proclamation of the inerrancy of scripture but in the person of Jesus, so too our view of God is grounded in the person of Jesus.

In Christ, you are a new creation.

In Christ, you are made a child of God.

In Christ, you are redeemed.

Where’s the father? Look to Jesus. Let the love that is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus be your foundation. For this love is your life.

………………………

* Greg Boyd, Repenting of Religion. Read it. It will change your life. 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)

Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)

It was the summer between 4th and 5th grade and I was certain I could fly. I knew I could fly because I loved a big God, and this God comes with a host of legendary tales of miraculous events. This God turns water into wine, converts ordinary mud into sight-restoring salve, raises people from the dead and transforms a scrappy fish sticks happy meal into a supersized fillet-o-fish (aaaand, cue the hand jive! “Big mac, fillet-o-fish, quarter-pounder, french fry, icy cola, thick shake, sundae and apple pie!”).

If this God can do all that, then surely he can make me fly. I had a faith equivalent to that supersized fish fry and I knew, deep in the marrow of my bones, that God would let me fly.

So I dug through our bin of Halloween costumes and strapped on an old pair angel wings. I then proceeded to nail together 2 pieces of scrap lumber in the form of a cross so I could carry it as I ran (because the more Jesus-y paraphernalia you can have, the better). And I began running circles around our driveway, roaring the confident declaration ; “Jesus! I know you can make me fly!” Round and round the driveway I ran, declaring faith in my God; “JESUS! I KNOW YOU CAN MAKE ME FLY!!!!”.

Hours, my friends. This horse and pony show of child-like faith went on for hours. I was so sure that eventually one of my faithful leaps would launch me into soaring victory.  Alas, to no one’s surprise but my own, those used angel wings never set me into miraculous orbit.

So what went wrong? I was a faith-filled kid certain that God could not only hear my prayer, but that God would answer my prayer. I followed James’ instruction manual perfectly. I prayed, I had faith and I did not doubt (James 1:6). Yet, I did not fly.

Maybe I really didn’t have enough faith. Maybe I did doubt. Maybe that’s why I didn’t fly.

When it comes to prayer we are instructed to have faith. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can create a whole new topography by tossing mountains into seas (Luke 17:6). Isn’t that crazy? And have you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s pretty puny. Surely we can sow seeds of that size.

But what if God’s idea of a mustard seed is akin to his idea of time? You know that whole, “One day to God is like a thousand years,” kind of thing? But what if a mustard seed to God is like an Everest to us? How are we ever supposed to know if we’re doing it right?

Prayer. WTF? No wonder so many of us give up on it.

What does it mean to have faith? Where are we to place our faith? How do we know if we have enough faith? These are just a few of the many questions we contemplate as we engage in the curiouser nature of prayer. And I suggest to you that, in matters of faith, more often than not we practice faith in ourselves rather than faith in God. Stick with me here.

For generations Christians have reduced faith to a teetering structural belief system of certainty. The center of this scaffolding isn’t built upon a strong foundation of the person of Jesus Christ, but within a tight grip of bibliolatry. Adherents of this kind of faith sing with gusto their credo song, “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” When our faith is structured around the rightness of our beliefs, little room is left for authentic questioning or wrestling. And while it’s true that we can find passages of scripture that explicitly say, “have faith and do not doubt”, we also find raw experiences with characters grappling with God in prayer. Think of Jacob wrestling with God (Gen. 32), Moses begging God to send someone else (Ex. 33), Paul imploring his thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12) or even Jesus pleading for the cup to pass from him (Matt. 26).

Stories like these, like your’s and mine, reveal a faith that is relational, authentic, and dynamic.

The center of faith ought not be based on beliefs, but on the person of Jesus Christ. When we ask, “where’s the faith?” we are liberated from certainty and welcomed into the faithful arms of Jesus. You see, Jesus is our faith and this faith is primarily covenantal in nature. And Jesus is the faithful covenant keeper. We are clumsy, messy, terribly unfaithful and yet… Jesus. Jesus faithfully holds us by the hand and says, “Come. Come to me with your questions, your doubts, your uncertainties. I want to hear it all.” The starting point of our faith isn’t our intellectual beliefs, but our heart’s posture in relationship with Jesus.

So when we pray, our faith is in Christ. When we pray, we can have immeasurable faith that Jesus, as the faithful covenant keeper and the inaugurator of the Kingdom hears our prayers. Where’s the faith? It’s in Jesus, not ourselves, our beliefs, or even the Bible. Yes. You read that correctly. The core of the Christian faith isn’t the Bible, but rather Jesus Christ – the Bible is the story which points us to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Be free, my friends, from the weight of your belief system. Go ahead and wrestle with God, express your doubts, fears, uncertainties. You might not take off in supernatural flight, but watch how your faith will flourish in new ways.

 

****

For more on this idea of faith and doubt, check out Benefit of the Doubt, by Greg Boyd.

Prayer: WTF? An Invitation.

Prayer: WTF? An Invitation.

Dear, Jesus. 

Hey, God.

Oh, great king of kings and Lord of Lords, creator of heavens and earth, all powerful and mighty God.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. 

What is prayer? I mean, really. What is it? Is it a monologue or a dialogue? Is it a dumping ground for our complaints, requests, wishes, laments? Is it just another task on the burdensome spiritual to-do list?

How does prayer work? Does it change God or me? Is it like a genie in a bottle sort of thing? Is it formulaic – like do I need to confess every bad thing I’ve ever done before God will listen? “Hey, God, I’m really sorry I stole that piece of bazooka joe in the summer of ’89.”

Why is it so inconsistent? Why do some prayers get answered an others don’t? Why does one prayer get answered in a flash while others seem to require years of persistence? Why don’t I feel close to God when I pray and those around me seem to have the code to the secret holy of holies society?

Prayer is one of those bizarre things that raises more questions than it does answers. From Sunday school felt-boards to academic lectures, we learn a plethora of ideas concerning prayer. In effort to contain the unruly collection of ideas, I put together a list of lessons on prayer. A list that I’ve astutely titled, Brianna’s Top 3 Lessons on Prayer. Ready? Ok. Starting with #3:

3.) When you pray, go into a closet and shut the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6)

Wait, so does that mean I’m literally to go into a closet? But which closet? My coat closet? My storage closet? My wardrobe closet? Does it matter? And how can I pray to a Father figure that is unseen and feels so far away?

2.) When you pray, have Faith and do not doubt. (James 1:6)

What does this mean, exactly? Is the some kind of Thomas the Train motto? I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I can do this, I have enough faith. I don’t doubt (except sometimes I do, what happens now?).

1.) Don’t give up! Keep praying until the Fruit comes. (Luke 18:1-8)

How long is long enough? Do smaller requests require less persistence than larger ones? What happens if, after years of persistence, I see no juicy fruit growing on my twiggy Charlie Brown tree of prayer?

Thanks for the lessons. I totally understand now. NOT! (Once a 90’s child, always a 90’s child.)

The Sunday school felt-board lessons were a good starting point. And the adult Sunday education classes provided some additional insight. But many of us are still wrought in utter confusion. In our spiritual haze we mutter, Where’s the Father? Where’s the Faith? Where’s the Fruit? Prayer, WTF? It’s just so confusing! Guess I’m gonna eat some worms.

Ok. Maybe we don’t need to get our shovel and bucket just yet. I’ve got a hunch there’s more to prayer than we’ve previously experienced. In the next few weeks we’ll be exploring this curiouser adventure of prayer. We’ll unpack scripture, watch some videos, and lean into the wisdom of some of my favorite travelers. So don’t eat those worms just yet, my friend. Instead, I invite you to send in some of your curiosities on prayer. What questions do you have? Together let’s get to know the Father, stretch our muscles of Faith and sample some Fruit along the way.

******

-Featured Image: “Prayer 2” by Angu Walters

 

Theology at the Movies: Mary Poppins

Theology at the Movies: Mary Poppins

When is the last time that you let yourself dream? I’m not talking about the calculated dreams that require zero risk, zero courage and zero adventure. Those aren’t dreams. Not real ones anyway. I want to know, when is the last time you allowed yourself to unleash a vision for your life that was so bold, offensively unapologetic, whimsical and bursting with Kingdom adventure?

Why don’t we let ourselves dream?

What are we so afraid of?

We are told, at far too early of an age if you ask me, to put away childish things. Dreaming is simply make-believe, they say. So instead we join Willie and Waylon and sing out our calculations, “Mamas don’t let your babies be cowboys. Make them be doctors and lawyers and such.”

Instead of dreaming we create plans.

We structure the life right out of our life.

But I think God invites us to something far more magical than our puny structured 10-year plan. And if you ask me, we really don’t need to put away childish things at all. Maybe, just maybe, what we need is to learn from the kiddos! They are wildly more open to dreaming AND doing than we old curmudgeons could ever be. Our dreams are stuffed in the attic collecting dust while the children are animating their dreams with grass-stained jeans and skinned knees.

When is the last time your jeans were stained green with grass?

When was the last time you wore a kool-aid mustache?

Kids are some of our best teachers because they are the ones who see beyond that which is to what could be. Kids are the ones who take an ordinary baseball card and tape it to the spokes of their bike to turn it into a motorcycle. They’re the ones who see a pile of blankets and can transform it into a blanket-fort. Where we see trees as good for oxygen, kids see them as castle tower limbs upon which to climb. When invited by Jesus to the adventure of following the leader, kids are sprinting to the front of the line. But when we adults are invited to the very same adventure, we ask a bunch of really important questions like how much is it going to cost me? where are we going? who’s going? when will we return?  Or we simply postpone the entire idea with a lazy, “maybe later”.

I think we’re in desperate need of a jolly holiday. And who’s a better holiday partner than Mary Poppins herself?!

One of my favorite scenes in this film perfectly communicates this idea of dreaming and doing. I’ll set it up for you a bit..

Mary is the nanny to Michael and Jane and she takes them out for an afternoon in park. Whilst at the park they run into Bert, a longtime friend of Mary, who is busy detailing colored chalk scenes of adventure on the sidewalks of the park. Michael and Jane curiously ask about the drawings and Bert invites them to dream of a place they’d like to go. But it doesn’t just end with dreaming. With a little help from Mary, they jump right into their sidewalk chalk daydreams and supercalifragilitisticexpialidotiousally live them out. Dreaming is great, but to animate them you actually have to jump in. And it looks a little something like this…

So I ask you again, dear friend, when is the last time you let yourself dream? What is the sidewalk chalk scene of your life that is beckoning you to jump in? If you’re waiting for permission to play in the land of make-believe, here it is! Jesus wants to set you out on adventure and I know you want to go. Grab a piece of sidewalk chalk and blow off the cobwebs that are blanketing your hopes. The world needs you, your creativity, your dreams and your whimsy. Let yourself enjoy the jolly holiday!

…………………………………………………………………………………

Note: If you’re interested in hearing this post in sermon-style, check out my sermon, “Dreamers & Doers” by following this link: https://whchurch.org/sermon/dreamers-and-doers/