Poverty of Our Prayer

Yesterday I received the following in an email:

I just wanted to tell everyone that I am so grateful to have each of you in my life. I pray you all have a blessed day. It was difficult for me to decide who I thought would DO this because many people claim to pray, but not everyone does. I hope I chose the right twelve. Please send this back to me (You’ll see why). May everyone who receives this message be blessed. There are 12 months/ 12 disciples/ 12 tribes of Israel / Jesus’ birth celebrated in the 12th month. There is nothing attached. Just send this to twelve others. Prayer is one of the best free gifts we receive. There is no cost, just a lot of reward. Make sure you pray, and pray believing God will answer:

“May today be all you need it to be. May the peace of God and the freshness of the Holy Spirit rest in your thoughts, rule in your dreams tonight, and conquer all your fears. May God manifest himself today in ways you have never experienced. May your joys be fulfilled, your dreams be closer, and your prayers be answered. I pray that faith enters a new height for you; I pray that your territory is enlarged. I pray for peace, healing, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, true and undying love for God.”

Now send this to 12 people within 5 minutes and remember to send this back…. I count as 2, you’ll see why. Suggestion: copy and paste rather than forward.

Generally I ignore such demands for forwards, but this time it came from someone I love, and the request for prayer is not one to be dismissed lightly.  I don’t mean to be a bore, and I don’t want to sound critical of the people who enjoy such things, but in order for me to participate I had to change the prayer.

I do pray, and was a bit put off by the original message, though the person who forwarded it on to me knows I pray.  As the character of C. S. Lewis said in the movie “Shadowlands” , I “pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

Like Lewis, I’m not sure God wants our territory enlarged, contra Jabez and the American gospel.  I think He wants His territory enlarged.  Suffering sucks, but it’s also “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  God, according to Lewis (at least in the movie), “wants us to get out of the nursery and to grow up.”

Our prayer is deeply impoverished by our culture.  I did email this to ten people, but for the prayer to be one I can say “amen” to, I had to change it.  We know that we ask according to God’s will when we pray His words back to Him from Scripture.  Scriptural prayer is powerful, not impoverished.  Here’s my version:

May today you be all God needs you to be. May the peace of God and the freshness of the Holy Spirit rest in your thoughts, dwell in your hearts, and conquer all your fears. May God manifest Himself today in ways you have never experienced.  May you experience the joy of knowing Christ, and may you be obedient to His will and determined to honor Him in all you do even to the point of death.  I pray that faith enters a new height for you, so that you may toil tirelessly in God’s vineyard and His territory may be enlarged as a result.  I pray that you will “be transformed through the renewing of your mind.”

I pray that you “make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love,” trusting that “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  I pray that the “word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and that you will “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

I pray you grow in grace, that you pursue holiness, that you put on the armor of God, that you manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and that you “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and…run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”  I pray that you will have the faith to hope in His love, so that you may proclaim with Job that “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.”

Finally, I pray that you will seek His kingdom above all else, and that you will be content in all circumstances, so that through “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” you will “count all things rubbish for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus,” and in so doing  you “will be his witness to all the world.”

Obama, Oil and Politics as Usual

The primaries have come to NC, and I have to tell you, I never thought I’d pull for a Clinton, but if I weren’t for McCain I’d have to vote for Hillary. Obama is slick, inexperienced and elitist. He’s like one of those infuriating Sprite ™ commercials that tell you “Image is nothing” while using the image of sports stars to sell it to you.

He models “politics as usual” with his empty rhetoric of “run against Washington,” and “vote for change” that uses sound bytes, charm and slogans to pander to voters who think a president can solve all their problems. (Frankly, I already have a Messiah. )

Let’s look at oil, for example. One of his ads claims:

“Since the gas lines of the ’70s, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence but nothing’s changed — except now Exxon’s making $40 billion a year and we’re paying $3.50 for gas. I’m Barack Obama. I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore.”

As reported at the “Chicago Tribune’s” blog this “ad is factually correct. He does not take money from oil companies. A 1907 federal law bars all corporations from giving money to political candidates. However, oil company employees can make donations.” Further, “Obama has taken at least $263,000 from oil company executives, family members and employees since entering the presidential race last year, including $46,000 last month. At least $140,000 has come in chunks of between $1,000 and $2,300, the maximum permitted under federal law.”

He is perfectly willing to take oil money and then dumb down the debate about energy while attacking an easy corporate target. This is the worst sort of political maneuvering. He points to an “enemy,” grossly oversimplifies and distorts the issue and says “They are to blame for your problems, and I am the solution.”

I am not a fan of giant multinational corporations. I am way more Paleo-conservative than neo-conservative, but the oil companies are not responsible for the high cost of gasoline at the moment. Anyone who really wants to education himself on the subject should visit the Energy Information Administration, and especially read their Primer on Gasoline Prices.

According to professor of economics, Mark J. Perry, oil companies only receive about 10% profit per gallon, and he says that figure comes from the EIA itself . By contrast, the government received about 20% in taxes. According to economist Thomas Sowell “The government collects far more in taxes on every gallon of gasoline than the oil companies collect in profits. If oil company profits are ‘obscene, as some politicians claim, are the government’s taxes PG-13?”

Another “lie” by misrepresentation is the unquestioned assumption that oil companies make all their profits from the sale of gasoline. The fact is that gas profits are not “windfall” or out of balance with profits by other industries. The factors that really drive the cost of gasoline, like increased demand, global turmoil, commodity speculation and supply are mostly outside of any one government’s control.

To the extent that our government has any influence, Congress has the greatest, but that body is currently controlled by Democrats hoping to get a Democrat elected President. If you listen to the House Energy Independence & Global Warming Committee’s ” Hearing on Oil CEOs and Price Issues,” you’ll get a real feel for the complexity of the issue and the limitations of government. Even so, Congress still has a bigger role. They are participating in Obama’s “politics as usual,” though, and sitting on their hands to help him win the election.

Imagine for a moment that oil prices became stable overnight. Imagine further that oil companies began selling gas at cost. How long would it take them to be broke? If you look at the EIA’s page for petroleum, Americans probably consume about 400 million gallons of gas a day. That’s 146 billion gallons a year. That’s 14.6 billion dollars in profit, from gasoline sales.

If, suddendly, they did not have that revenue, and did not try to recover it by increasing prices on other products, in about 10 years or so, there would be no oil companies, besides OPEC. In the meantime there’d also be no R&D, no investment in refining capacity, no exploration for new supplies and no investment in alternative energy, all things oil companies spend profits on.

The point of this is that the oil companies are not Satan and Obama is not Jesus Christ. By acting as if this issue is really very simple and characterizing the oil companies as the “enemy” Obama is engaging in the worst sort of typical election-cycle pandering.

Vision and Orientation

Look at what is before your eyes. 2 Corinthians 10:7a

let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12: 1a-2b

So, so often these days we hear about the importance of vision. Vision is important, but it does not matter how sharp one’s vision is if he is looking in the wrong direction. We must be orientated on Jesus; our eyes but be fixed firmly on him.

Eat This Book

Eugene Peterson is convinced that the “way” we read the Bible is as important as “that” we read the Bible. In Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, he argues that “Christians are to absorb, imbibe, feed on and digest Scripture.” A translator of Scripture himself, Peterson recommends a type of Bible-based prayer called lectio divina, in which the person praying meditates on a short passage of Scripture and listens for God to speak through the text, arguing throughout that the lectio divina is not a systematic way of reading, but a “developed habit of living the text in Jesus’ name.”

Because the lectio has been around for so long, there are many, like Peterson, who can explain it better than I. The next three paragraphs come from “Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.

The art of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to hear ‘with the ear of our hearts’ as St. Benedict called it. When we read the Scriptures we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah. We should allow ourselves to become women and men who are able to listen for the still, small voice of God (I Kings 19:12); the ‘faint murmuring sound’ which is God’s word for us, God’s voice touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an ‘attunement’ to the presence of God in that special part of God’s creation which is the Scriptures.

The cry of the prophets to ancient Israel was the joy-filled command to ‘Listen!’ ‘Sh’ma Israel: Hear, O Israel!’ In lectio divina we, too, heed that command and turn to the Scriptures, knowing that we must ‘hear’ – listen – to the voice of God, which often speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly we must learn to be silent. We must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds. The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God’s word to us. This is the first step of lectio divina, appropriately called lectio – reading.

The reading or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally – not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.

My first exposure to the lectio came from a book titled Too Deep For Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Through written in 1988, this book is still in print and is available for $9.00 from Amazon. The most valuable part of this book is Part 2: “Fifty Scripture Themes For Prayer,” with a total of 500 verses on which to practice lectio divina.

These two books and the essay (linked above) are excellent companions to the new ELCA “Book of Faith” initiative. This program, developed because of a proposal by the NC Synod, is adding resources weekly. There are study guides, videos, documents, assessment tools and more.

The Book of Faith initiative “invites this whole church to become fluent in the first language of faith – the language of Scripture; and to be renewed for lives of witness and service as the Holy Spirit engages us.” I can think of no better way to do this than by: “Opening the Book of Faith”, and “Dwelling in the Word” with the lectio divina.