On the Way to the Cross: Who’s Hollering?

To the crowd, they were unimportant, overlookable: just a couple of blind guys who sat by the side of the road every day. It was probably their usual spot, on the road that led to Jerusalem. With so many travelling for Passover, they probably expected a good “haul” that day.

They probably didn’t expect to be healed.

Matthew 20:29-34. Continue reading

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Prayer in the “Sacred Ordinary”

Prayer is an effort of the will.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Prayers are not tools for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.

                        -Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer

Tool: anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose (dictionary.com)

The thing about a tool is, you have to pick it up and use it. It does you no good laying on the table.

I spent 2017 entirely in the Psalms, studying/reflecting on them for my daily quiet times, listening for sermons/talks about them, and reading books related to them. (Here’s a summary of what I shared.) I expected the year to be about praise, but it quickly became more about prayer than anything else. The Psalms, more than any other book in the Bible, talk to God as much or more than they talk about God. Continue reading

Walls and Weapons (part 2)

swiss army knife
I cut myself taking this photo of my 20-year-old, dull pocket knife! (c) Carole Sparks

You wouldn’t attack the Great Wall of China with a Swiss army knife…or would you?

Back to our study of 1 Corinthians 10:3-5. Are you ready to “finish the imagery and find our success,” as I said last week? I’m working to memorize these verses as part of my demolition plan! Continue reading

Observations from Psalms

A couple of separate observations from my daily time in Psalms…

The Last Meal of a Condemned Man

People who don’t care about God seem to have an easy life. They don’t get up early on Sunday mornings (unless it’s to play golf). They take shortcuts to prosperity and seem unfazed by it. They focus on themselves and what they can see. Pride is so much easier than humility.

I get it. I think that way sometimes, too. So did David. Continue reading

The Model Prayer in Question Format

What if Jesus’ example of prayer was in the form of questions? I’m not talking Jeopardy® here, as in, “Who is ‘our Father in heaven’?” but something more…versatile.

Maybe Jesus didn’t
expect us to recite
the Model Prayer.

There’s nothing wrong with reciting the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) verbatim. I’ve done it many times and found it meaningful sometimes. But I wonder if such recitation was Jesus’ intention when He gave it to the disciples and other followers. Maybe He didn’t expect us to memorize it and repeat it all together. After all, He says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (6:9, italics added) not “This is what you should pray.”

In Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 118), Timothy Keller shares how Calvin insisted that “the Lord’s prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern. … The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.” Furthermore, Martin Luther paraphrased and personalized the Model Prayer every morning and evening as a starting point for his own, more personal prayers.

If we use the Model Prayer as a template, we can create probing questions from it. These questions will help us pray more personally and effectively. Let’s give it a try. Feel free to formulate your own questions based on what you know of Jesus’ teaching and God’s Will then reflect on the questions to supplement your prayer time.

v.9b  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

God is the Father of all who believe in Jesus, and He reigns as King from heaven. “Hallowed” means valuable or precious, and His name represents His reputation, the respect others attribute to Him.

How can I honor You today, Lord? How can I boost God’s reputation in my circles of influence?

v. 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In heaven, everyone does exactly what God wants them to do. The kingdom…well, that’s a hard one to define, but it has to do with God’s reign. Therefore, when we talk about the kingdom coming, we’re looking at God’s reign expanding here on earth.

How do I want earth to be more like heaven? This might be in your personal spiritual growth, in a specific relationship, or in the nation/world at large.

v. 11 Give us today our daily bread.

Maybe you have a gluten allergy, so the last thing you want to pray is that God will give you bread! I get that. If I was praying for bread, I’d pray for a good, crusty whole-grain French baguette. Just saying…

The bread, as you’ve probably heard before, represents our daily needs. When we pray this, we’re asking God to meet our physical needs for today, which is also an expression of trust that He will again meet our physical needs tomorrow. Think manna (Exodus 16).

Most of us, however, don’t lack for tangible things on a daily basis. So while we thank God for food, shelter, etc., we can ask Him to meet daily personal needs for things like reconciliation or self-control or wisdom.

What personal needs do I have today that can I present to Him?

v. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Our debts to God are our sins: all the times we’ve failed Him. Just as we ask Him for forgiveness, we’re reminded to forgive people who have offended or failed us.

What sin(s) do I need to confess today? Who do I need to forgive?

v. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

We know God doesn’t tempt people (James 1:13), and that testing will never exceed what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We do, however, find ourselves in tempting situations, often due to our own negligence. Satan takes advantage of those situations to entice us toward sin.

Where do I need help not to sin and/or not to give in to Satan?

I could have written so much more on each of these verses! There’s so much theology here, and so much for us to learn, but I wanted to get the questions to you. If you’re struggling with organization in your prayer life, try this for a day or two. I pray it helps you connect with God.

Jesus’ Model Prayer as questions will help us pray more personally and specifically. (click to tweet)

If there’s a section here that doesn’t make sense or something you want to suggest, please leave a comment below. Also, if there’s one question that’s particularly meaningful/helpful for you today, I’d love to hear about that, too!

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 2)

With busy lives and little time for retreat or relaxation, it can be easy to neglect our spiritual growth. This week and last week, I’m sharing some practical ideas for observing spiritual disciplines even while you’re driving down the road in the car. Join in, and let’s see what God can do!

The disciplines of activity are about things we do or things we grab hold of, compared to last week’s list of things we avoid.

Spiritual Disciplines of Activity for the Car

Study – Listen to a recording of the Bible, but don’t let it just drone on and on. Listen to a big chunk such as a chapter or full narrative story (all of Joseph, for example), then stop the recording and reflect on what you’ve heard. At other times, try very small bits of Scripture. If traffic permits, listen to one verse or paragraph at a time, stopping the recording frequently in order to meditate on what you’ve heard. No matter how much you heard, when you reach your destination, take a minute before you open the door to record any insights or fresh understanding.

Alternatively, practice a single verse or passage until you have it memorized. Pull it up on your phone or write it on a card. Look at it when you’re stopped (such as at a traffic light), then recite it while you drive. Check yourself the next time you stop.

You might also listen to podcasts of sermons or audio books on Christian topics.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. -Psalm 119:11

Worship – Sing along with praise music. Recite psalms. Voice prayers of adoration and thanksgiving. The point is that you enjoy Who God is and relish His Presence with you.

We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 75:1

Leave space for God to
respond in your prayers.

Prayer – Pray out loud. These days, you don’t have to be self-conscious. People in surrounding cars will just think you’re talking on the phone. As you pray, don’t take up all the time with your own words. Leave space for God to respond. You’ll be surprised at how He plants ideas and/or verses in your head when you pray like this!

I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. -Psalm 69:13

Fellowship – The easiest way to do this is simply to carpool with other believers. Alternatively, invite someone to accompany you even though they don’t need to go where you’re going. Either way, use your travel time to talk about real things. If nothing else, share your stories of coming to know Christ. If you can’t be in the same vehicle, call the person. Put your phone on speaker and have an in-depth spiritual conversation as you travel. Sometimes this is easier than sitting down face-to-face with nothing for your hands to do and nowhere safe for your eyes to rest.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. -1 John 1:3

Confession – In a spirit of prayer, allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your heart to convict you of any unconfessed sin. If you have a hard time getting started, listen to and meditate on Psalm 51. When you arrive at your destination, phone anyone from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Do it immediately or you won’t follow through (at least, I wouldn’t)!

Confession is agreeing
with God about Who He
is and who I am.

Confession isn’t only about exposing sins. Remember Romans 10:9 (not in NIV but in other translations such as ESV)? It says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There’s an idea of acknowledgement (the AMP demonstrates this) or agreeing with God about Who He is and who I am. I’ve read about and tried a sort of breathing confession that goes like this: As you breathe out, agree with God that you are sinful and in need of His guidance, shelter, presence, etc. As you breathe in, ask for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His glory in the moment. This type of moment-by-moment confession can help you focus on God’s presence and action in your life.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. -Psalm 32:5

Submission – Follow the speed limit for the entirety of a long drive. After all, the Scriptures say, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13). Just plan ahead on this one because it will take you longer than usual to reach your destination!

Ask someone to hold you accountable for practicing some portion (or all!) of these spiritual disciplines for the car over a specified amount of time. Report your activity regularly.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. -Ephesians 5:21

It doesn’t take much to make the spiritual disciplines a part of our everyday lives—just a little intentionality. Try one of these suggestions this week and see how God blesses your effort.

Make the spiritual disciplines a part of your everyday life by practicing in the car. (click to tweet)

I pray these ideas have sparked something in your mind. What from this list do you want to try? What other suggestions do you have? Let’s start a conversation of encouragement in the comments below!

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 1)

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, in the “too busy” attitude of many Christ-followers, it can be easy to disregard the practices of spiritual discipline. We may think they’re archaic or better suited to a mountain retreat rather than everyday living. We may think our days are too segmented or that spiritual disciplines are for those in “full-time ministry.” We may even question their benefit for spiritual growth.

But here’s the thing…

Going to the gym is not enough to get you physically fit. You have to actually use the equipment or participate in a class. Exercise isn’t just for health nuts and personal trainers; it’s for everyone. And if you want even more physical improvement, you have to make small healthy decisions throughout the day like taking the stairs or eating a salad.

Small everyday habits
foster lasting change.

In the same way, sitting in a church pew won’t make you a stronger Christian. You have to participate in the corporate disciplines (the things we do together) but also apply the private disciplines (things you do on your own).  Just like you could go to a health spa, there may be wonderful opportunities for a spiritual retreat where you get to focus on spiritual growth, but those times won’t change you—the health spa or the spiritual retreat—if you don’t practice them in your regular life. Small everyday habits, however, can foster lasting change, both physical and spiritual.

Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:7b-8). Check out 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, which I wrote about last week, for more on Paul’s parallel between physical and spiritual training.

What follows are some suggested practices for spiritual discipline specially designed for our time in the car. For our purposes today and next week, I’ve taken a list of disciplines compiled by Bible.org from the writings of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, both respected, evangelical theologians. Here’s the link to that list. It has explanations, in case you aren’t familiar with any of these terms.

How can you use this list?

Choose to concentrate on one discipline this week or try something different each day. Like working out weak muscles, the more difficult disciplines are probably the ones you need to practice the most! I’ve included a verse for meditation with each discipline. Feel free to add your own verses and to share more ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page.

This week, we look at the disciplines of abstinence. That means the focus is on letting go of something or avoiding something. Next week, we’ll consider the disciplines of activity.

Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence for the Car

Solitude – Being alone in the car is a good start, but make a point of that solitude. Silence your phone and put it in the glove box or somewhere out of sight. If you need music, tune the radio to something without a lot of talking. Center your thoughts on God’s presence with you. Let him direct your thoughts…not to worry, but to worship.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35

Silence – This one usually begins with solitude, but if your children are sleeping or distracted, you might also find a few minutes of silence. Put away your phone as above but also turn off the radio. Practicing silence also means quieting your mind. We have to teach our minds to stay present and still. This is not a time to unload your concerns to the Lord but to seek contentment in His sufficiency and sovereignty.

The fruit of [God’s] righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. -Isaiah 32:17

Fasting – Delay your drive-thru destination for a couple of exits or completely skip your coffee stop. But don’t distract yourself from the hunger or the caffeine craving. Instead, use the feelings to remind your body that Christ is more important than food. Depend on God to meet your need for food or caffeine in other ways, even if it’s just for ten minutes.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. -Psalm 63:3

Frugality – Turn off the heating or a/c for the duration of your drive. Why? Because frugality is about learning to live with less, and temperature-manipulated air is not essential. (Maybe don’t do this on the hottest or coldest days of the year, when it could be dangerous.) Like fasting, use the discomfort to remind your mind and body of God’s place of priority in your life.

Brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Chastity (sexual purity/abstinence) – Determine a period of time in which you will not listen to music with suggestive lyrics. If there’s a provocative billboard on your route, intentionally look elsewhere when it comes into view. If a sexual TV or movie scene often pops into your head, practice taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and replacing that thought with praise. Pray for your spouse (or future spouse), especially for sexual purity and faithfulness. By the way, sexual purity isn’t just for the unmarried.

There are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. -Matthew 19:12b

Secrecy is action
without accolades.

Secrecy – As your drive, ask God to show you a charity to support. Then, when you arrive at your destination, use your cellphone to make an anonymous donation to that charity. Many charities have special text messages that automatically donate a small, specified amount to their cause through your service provider. Another option: pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Someone did this for us once, and it was such a delightful surprise blessing!

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. -Matthew 6:3-4a

Sacrifice – Intentionally let another car cut in front of you as traffic backs up, especially the one that zoomed to the front of the line instead of merging with everyone else. Leave the closest parking space for someone else and take one further from the door for yourself even though it means more walking.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. -Philippians 2:3

Small steps in the spiritual disciplines—even in the car—lead to big spiritual growth. (click to tweet)

Come back next week for ideas on how to apply the active disciplines even while driving down the road! In the meantime…

Have any suggestions for practicing these spiritual disciplines in the car? Please share in the comments below! Did you try one of these suggestions? What happened? Join the conversation!