Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A 20 Second Prayer Life!

Dear Friends,

At the risk of offending my liberal progressive friends, I describe myself as a biological male (your gender nowadays is not how God created you but is based on how you “feel” about yourself) and I’m physically attracted to women. Always have been. Always will be. (Another dicey admission to make in these #MeToo days particularly if you already have one strike against you by being a white male). But that’s how God created us. Two biological genders attracted to each other and VoilĂ !; here we are today – 80 billion humans later. God’s plan obviously worked! But many decades ago, I was struggling, as so many Christian men do, with God’s gift of having a strong natural attraction toward women, but what the heck.. I’m not actually lusting; I’m only looking! Right? Then one day I came to a red light. 

I had stopped behind a white van and paid absolutely no attention to it because over to my right, an absolutely gorgeous woman in a very short skirt stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street. As my eyes followed her, she disappeared out of my sight when she walked in front of the white van. My vision started to sweep past that darn van in front of me so that I could see her as she continued to cross the street. My eyes froze. Centered high on the back of the van’s doors was a bumper sticker. White with a blue border. There was just one word in red letters. “JESUS.” At that very moment, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord, “Keep your eyes on Me.” I didn’t look at the woman. In fact I could barely breathe. 

Those words came at the very instant I saw the bumper sticker and didn’t come from my mind or my imagination. To those of us who are spiritually sensitive, God can whisper to our soul and we know that feeling or thought that we have is from Him. For the rest of us, who can be a little dense, God sometimes needs to give us a holy smack-down and do something so dramatic that He gets our attention and we know it’s Him. He most definitely got my attention. From that day to the present, when I find my eyes drawn toward an attractive woman, I look away and pray for them. For their family, their health, that they will come to know and love God, or if they already do, they will come to love Him even more and that they will experience His grace.

My prayer life changed at that red light. In my Evangelical Pentecostal church tradition, a “Prayer Warrior” who would pray fervently for extended periods of time every day – sometimes for many hours – was the coveted goal for those of us who admired these spiritual giants. And for me, especially as a pastor, I was embarrassed to admit that, when it came to sustained, fervent prayer, I was a spiritual midget. As little as ten minutes of prayer was even difficult. I’d pray for the needs of all those I knew and then simply ran out of things to say. 

After my “red light” experience, I had asked the Lord to show me how to keep my eyes on Him when attracted to a woman and was convicted in my spirit that I needed to pray for them. I soon began to pray for others I encountered during my day as well. I was also desiring to simply be with Him more on my day-to-day journey. 

We Protestant Christians are not taught and encouraged (like the Orthodox and Catholic) to live our life in God’s presence during our day. Even for highly-engaged Protestants, church service on Sunday, a short daily prayer for family and friends and we’re good. But more and more of us are tired of just being a “Sunday Christian” and hunger for living our days in the presence of God. We’re not sure how to do this since it’s not something normally taught in a Protestant church and some of us have even had pastors who scorned and discouraged any of the ancient devotional practices because they looked “too Catholic.”

The prayer practices of the ancient church drew His followers into the presence of God, and I found that as I would talk to God, worship Him and pray throughout my day, it was becoming easier and easier to keep my eyes on Him and walk in His presence. I pray the Orthodox Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me) and sing worship songs as I clean the horse corrals. I pray the Jesus Prayer working around the house. The sirens remind me to pray for the sick and injured who are in the ambulance driving past my house to the hospital. 

I wave a hello at Nacho my postal carrier and pray for him. I see my neighbor Heather across the street with her year old baby and pray for them. She’s a nurse and I pray for her health and safety. I pray for the Jimenez family next door who recently moved in. This morning I prayed for Mike, the normally upbeat checker at Smart & Final, because when I asked him how he was doing, he sounded down and depressed. My prayer list is in the “Google Keep” app that syncs to all my devices. If I know you personally, your name is in there along with pretty much everything you’ve ever asked me to pray about. Answered prayers have checkmarks – praise God for all the checkmarks! 

A Greek Prayer Rope – a “Komboskoini”– is in my pocket. Made of wool with fifty knots, the Orthodox use it while saying the Jesus Prayer much in the same way a Catholic uses a rosary. I don't use the prayer rope that way to “count” my prayers but keep it in my pocket because when my hand touches it, I’m reminded to pray. Before that, I carried a small smooth stone in my pocket that I’d found at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, that reminded me to pray and brought me into His presence when I touched it. Some people wear a special bracelet for the same reason. The cross I always wear is a constant reminder of His presence and His love for me. My phone plays the sound of a church bell at the ancient church prayer times of 6 am, Noon and 3 pm. I pray at the sound of the church bell. 

We were created to love God and live in His presence and the things we do during our day will draw us closer to Him, or keep us spiritually sluggish and stagnant, or pull us further away. Paul says to “pray without ceasing” and these short ten or twenty second prayers throughout my day keep me centered in Him – I’m keeping my eyes on Him.

Jesus keeps it simple for us pilgrims who are on this journey to a holy place. He gives us two commandments, “Love God and Love Others” Mark 12:30-31 Our prayers throughout our day to God and for others focus our worship on Him and fosters spiritual growth that brings about “theosis” – a process of transformation that helps us to be less like us and more like Jesus. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, “theosis” is union with God which starts with truly worshiping Him. Here’s why loving God was the Son’s first commandment: because without having a solid relationship with God and living in His presence, I’m spiritually impotent. If I have a feeble faith, I’d be out of God’s will for me, complacent with my sins, my prayers for you would have little effect or actually.. to be honest.. I probably wouldn’t be praying for you at all. 

But we would err by obeying only the first commandment to love God. We are not monastic hermits living in a mountain cave who direct their thoughts and prayers only on God and themselves. We also err with a militant focus on the second commandment to love others that’s encouraged in social justice churches which often produce strong activists but ambiguous Christians. 

Our faith is a well-balanced focus on 1) God and 2) Others. We must develop an ambidextrous prayer life, moving effortlessly from prayers that unite us with God, like the Jesus Prayer, to 20 second intercessory prayers for someone and back again. In this AMEN Corner you're reading about my personal prayer practices that I’ve gleaned from the ancient church and which may be unfamiliar to most Protestants. Look at what works for me -- this one imperfect pilgrim -- and if you think something might also work well for you, give it a try. As I study and learn, my prayer practices are ever evolving. Yours should too. Growth can only take place in change and I heard a cowboy pastor say one time, “if you ain’t changing you ain’t growing.” 

“..but grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen”

2 Peter 3:18

☩   ☩   ☩

No comments:

Post a Comment