Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
I find it so easy to forget that God's primary purpose for me is not my comfort. It is that I might know Him. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis because it highlights the fact that it is in the midst of my pain and suffering that God is doing the most important thing.... drawing me to Himself.
A few years ago (haha) when I was in college at UC Santa Barbara, someone gave me the book by John White called The Fight. It was one of the first Christian books I’d ever read. White defined prayer as “aligning my will with God’s will.”
I’ll never forget that definition. Certainly that is not an exhaustive definition of prayer, but it says something important about prayer.
It is true that God invites us to present our requests to Him, but if my prayer life is limited to giving God a 2-do list, I’m missing out on arguably the more important part of prayer: listening.
It has been my experience that when I give God a list of requests and say ‘Amen.’, I have barely begun to pray. The real prayer comes when I am quiet before God and invite the Spirit of God into the tension of what I want and what I don’t have.
It is my experience that the richest times of prayer have been when I start by asking God for what I want, but end by resting in peace beyond understanding, confident that God loves me and knows what He is doing (or not doing).
Yes, It is my experience that some of the richest times of prayer are times when prayer is simply this: aligning my will with God’s will.
Lord, continue to teach me to pray…
In His Love and Grace,
I give up. It doesn't matter anyway.
When's the last time you said those words? Thought them? They are words that communicate powerlessness that can eventually lead to despair if we continue to repeat them.
How about this - have you ever uttered those words when it comes to prayer? Have you ever seen the act of prayer being useless and fruitless? "It doesn't matter..." I have.
When it comes to this thing of prayer, I have found it easy to slip into a Christian Fatalism mindset. Fatalism is the belief that all things are predetermined and therefore out of my control or influence. Christian Fatalism is the same but with the addition of a belief in God. "What's gonna happen is gonna happen." "It doesn't matter."
The problem is, it's bad theology. And bad theology leads to destructive thinking. Which results in destructive living, at worst, and unproductive living at its best. Fatalism is playing the victim card which says everything is against me and I can't do anything about it. The victim gets stuck in the past and won't take responsibility for their present or future. Theology matters.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)
The Bible unapologetically and consistently puts us in the tension of believing in the control of God (He is sovereign over all things) and the importance of personal choice and initiative (human responsibility). Christian Fatalism is convenient but it isn't Biblical. Paul assures us that it is God who is at work in each of us. It is God who gives us the will to engage in our spiritual journey. It is God who is working on us and he is working in us and as he is working through us. Oh, and don't forget to be working as well!
This is important to grasp as we pray. God is already working before we start praying. And praying is our joining in God's working. Various people have put it this way: Pray like it all depends upon God. Live and work like it all depends on you.
In all of this, whether praying or working, the grace of Jesus is what holds and sustains us. The great Christian thinker and man of God, Dallas Willard said this about grace:
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”
― Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship
This is true of your and my praying too. In our effort to connect deeply with God and intercede for others, his grace meets us and has already been going before us.
Don't give up. You matter, your effort matters, your prayers matter.
Grace and Peace,
Have you ever signed up for something and later regretted it? The best scenario is when you willingly pay for something, followed by "What was I thinking?". That was my experience when I signed myself and my kids up for trapeze school at the Santa Monica Pier. I was pulled by the thought of the lifelong memories we'd make, then I was tugged by the fear for my life. Tug and pull: such is life, right? Especially when life is transitioning and you need to let go of something and grab hold of something new. Ironically, much of trapeze school was like life.
I signed up for something that seemed like a good idea (like life) & my kids were beyond excited. I couldn't wimp out now and let anyone down (like life). We were given minimal instruction (like life) on the ground and expected to "do it" after being shown the stunt once. After I climbed a rickety ladder and stood on the platform, I thought, "How can I back out now?" (like life). It felt like everyone was watching & they were all going to witness me fail (like life). I needed encouragement (like life). The young trapeze worker on the platform said to me, "You'll do great. Don't over think it. Sometimes you just gotta let Jesus take the wheel" (like life). And I did (like life). It was frightening (like life), exhilarating (like life) and I felt closer to God (like life).
In trapeze class, you literally need to let go of your grip from one safe place to get to your next safe place. However, you cannot not let go until you're firmly grasping your next safe place. How wonderful is it to know that Jesus always has a firm grip on us and will never let you go? And what if we fall...from a trapeze or otherwise? There's a harness and a net to catch you in trapeze school. In life, it's Jesus who's always there to break our fall and catch us.
Yes, I signed up for something that resulted in serious buyer's remorse, but later was thankful for the growth caused by the discomfort. Sometimes we need to let go of something and grab on to something else in order to move forward and grow. All the while, remembering that there is always a strong grip on us.
Am I praying wrong?
Two kinds of people ask this question, I find. The first is the person who is new to this whole prayer thing. They have come to faith in Jesus in some way either through a quiet shift or a dramatic leap. And now they find themselves engaged with other people of faith, practicing the things that people of faith do. I've noticed that two of the most intimidating things they are asked to do is read weird, indecipherable lists of names from the Old Testament and to pray out loud. It's a little intimidating to come across the name Maherhalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:1,3), Zaphnathpaaneah (Genesis 41:45) or Churchanrishathaim (Judges 3:8-10) even if you did do Hooked On Phonics as a kid.
But then someone asks you to pray. Out loud. For someone. Your heart rate elevates, your mouth dries up, your brain goes blank. (That would be called a stress response.) The problem we are facing is we are being concerned about the wrong person. Prayer is to God, for us. Our stress about praying out loud around other people is we are focused on what they think more than what God thinks.
In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about the wrong way to pray before he talks about the right way to pray. In the examples he gives about the wrong way to pray, it is ultimately about the heart of the person praying. Your prayers reveal your heart.
The only way to pray wrong has nothing to do with words, eloquence, clarity or content. The only way to pray wrong is with pride in yourself.
So here's how to read those weird names out loud and to pray out loud. For the names...just say the first letter. Boom.
The next time you pray out loud, pray to an audience of One - your loving heavenly Father. You're his kid, he's going to love it. And anyone else listening will be just fine.
Peace and grace,
A very long time ago, my wife Pam made me a cross stitch of Colossians 4:2: "Devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful." It sits in a small picture frame, the little fold-out stand on the back long ago broken off so that through the years it has had to lean up against something in my office. It has been an enduring decoration, standing sentinel in the midst of the clutter, often times getting ignored but, like now, getting moved to the forefront of my attention by the Spirit of God.
I like the idea of prayer. When at Oregon State University one of my spiritual mentors was Tom White, someone who now mobilizes people for prayer all over the world. My first request of the church board when I became pastor of First Baptist Church Placerville (now Cold Springs Church) on June 16th, 1998 was to ask Tom White to come and lead a prayer conference. For a number of years it was an annual event. Prayer is a good idea.
Depending on how well you know me, it may or may not come as a surprise that I am quite ADHD. I don't sit still well. In my head or body. I have always struggled with prayer. Look a squirrel! That's my brain. And my body. Sitting still, having a quiet mind to engage with God is always hard, often feels impossible and is regularly a discouragement. And then the Bible says "Be devoted to prayer...". Dang. Prayer is the hardest thing I do in my spiritual practices. I've been doing this following-Jesus-thing for 44 years and I still feel like a rookie when it comes to prayer.
Apparently I'm not alone in the pastor realm. A recent survey asked pastors what their highest ministry priorities were. Evangelism and discipleship were highest at 43%, preaching was next at 35%. The priority of prayer? 3%. (Not a typo - three. As in one-two-THREE.) In the church it is pretty easy to get people to show up at a potluck. Who doesn't like food? But a prayer meeting (arguably the greatest spiritual meal we might enjoy)? There will be leftover coffee.
Regardless of all of this personal whining and corporate awareness of prayer's challenges, 2022 is the Year of Prayer for David Cooke. I've partnered with a Spiritual Director to walk with me. I'm engaged in a 40 day prayer journey that I'm feeling like I will keep repeating on Day 41 throughout the year (Draw The Circle - Mark Batterson). And at Cold Springs Church we are going to explore the Prayers of Jesus. I figure if I and we are going to explore prayer, it would be good to learn from the one who was asked, "Lord, teach us to pray..."
I'm inviting you to join me. Show up on Sunday's at 2600 Cold Springs Rd/ Placerville or online. Each week I'm going to ask us to know something about prayer, experience something about prayer and do something with prayer. I'm pretty sure it's going to be work. But one thing I have learned through the years is anything I am devoted to is work. And the work is worth it.
I wonder what your experiences of prayer have been?
Grace and peace,
As a support to ministries as a whole, it is hard to know which specific ministry I fit in. I support all ministries in any way I can! I guess you can say I have a foot in each branch of ministry here at Cold Springs, and what a blessing that is! The way in which I support each area varies, but I love being involved where I can.
This past week I had the opportunity to work closely with pastors David Sarmago and Daniel Frank in our Community Care team. It's such a rewarding experience to meet and (almost always) exceed the needs of families that are seeking our blessings and encouragement. To see the overwhelming joy on their faces when we deliver basic-needs items is not lost on me. It's such a humbling reminder of God's tender mercies. The way He works in our lives is truly incredible to me and I'm beyond thankful I get to experience it. Because of Him, we are able to bless families in need. They are blessed with not only what we provide them, but with the reminder that they are not alone.
I'm reminded of the phrase "it takes a village." When we combine our efforts as a church family, we are able to do so much more together than individually. How we are able to bless is so amplified! I look forward to continuing being a part of our Community Care team and blessing the families that the Lord leads to us.
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