Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I’ve always been fascinated by the Cistercian Order. I’m completely intrigued by those that feel called to a disciplined life of prayer and physical labor in quiet community with their brothers in the faith, drawn out from the world in order to seek God more fully in mind, spirit and body. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to journey north to the oldest Trappist Monastary in the U.S., The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and to stay in the retreat house adjacent to the monk’s quarters. The Trappist monk’s life is a beautiful picture of kinship, full of quiet wonder at the work of God in and among men. The Abbey itself is situated in the hills of Kentucky, surrounded by dirt roads, dense woods, and farmland. Some of my fondest memories of communing with God come from my times of retreat there. It probably has a lot to do with my personality, but times of solitude and quiet tend to revive my spirit and work to reposition my focus on the true things of God, His mercy, and His purposes.

Trappists monks are signified by their fervent, disciplined devotion to prayer. I, on the other hand, am not. I’m, at best, undisciplined and listless. I want to be defined by constancy, devotion and self-discipline, but I would more likely be identified by my timidity and insecurities. Letting myself be overtaken by subtle distractions is one of my many, many vices.

As a protestant raised in the contemporary church, I grew up with the obligatory suspicion of anything liturgical. The mantra in my life, as it is with most contemporary churchers, has been “no one should dictate how I communicate with God” (a very Western/American influenced view of prayer, I’m sure). By default, we’re taught that prayer should be conversational and somewhat informal, and trust me when I say, I believe there are numerous aspects of this viewpoint that are positive and that I will always hold to.

The problem with completely shunning all things liturgical is our own inability to articulate prayer at times. Though we feel free to talk to God whenever and however we want, we just don’t do it most of the time for some reason. For the average believer, prayer is needs based, as opposed to relationship based. And because we’ve tossed out the scripts, we’re often times left like actors with no lines to read. True, spontaneous improvisation is immensely desirable, but can sometimes feel insufficient. Quite often, if we don’t have anything we’re supposed to say, then we just don’t say anything at all.

Before you write me off, let me give an example.

My son has had trouble sleeping the last few days. He started waking up more frequently and became less and less able to put himself back to sleep. Jes and I got into the bad habit of pulling him out of His bed and putting him between us in ours so that he would quickly fall back asleep and we could attain blessed silence once again. We realized that we were going to have to start leaving him in his bed in order to train him to fall back asleep on his own. The first few nights didn’t go too well. He would wake up several times and be completely inconsolable. We had to just let him cry for a while. Well, this has become an ebb and flow of a few days with great sleep followed by a few more days where he chooses spend much of the night restless and crying. When he’s chosen not to sleep, I’ll occasionally kneel beside his bed and try to soothe him back to sleep by rubbing his back. In some cases, this results in me rubbing his back for 30 or 40 minutes straight at 4am. In those moments, I’ve wanted so badly to pray, mostly because of the quietness of the moment, the physical discomfort of it all, and the otherwise ungodly hour that I find myself awake at. But for whatever reason, exhaustion, frustration, etc., I can’t seem to find the words. My spirit longs to commune with God in that moment, but my fatigued body won’t let my mind clear up enough to find the words to speak. This is where the recitation of prayers consoles me. It acts as a physical catalyst for communion with God when my mind is hazy and my body is weary… “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus; I ask for nothing more.”

Prayer is a curious thing. Communication with the living God from our current state would seem to require so much more preparation, effort, or will-power than it actually does. But for whatever reason, we’re invited into the conversation that is already taking place between the Spirit of Christ in us and God the Father.

Prayer changes us in ways that no other spiritual discipline can. It gently, never forcefully, aligns us with the work and will of God. It leads us into the stream of God’s flowing current. His purposes invite us in, despite the language we use, whether we are reciting a prayer or bringing the tired, wordless groanings of our spirit. By the time we position ourselves to pray, we realize that He has already begun His work in us.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Prayer of Martin Luther

iMonk posted this a few days ago, and it has stuck with me ever since I read it.
You can find the original post here.

"Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.

My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.

I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give."

-Martin Luther
May we walk with the same humility as our fathers in the faith; quick to recognize our ignorance, even quicker to confess our sinfulness.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Because of Your mercy…

Jes and I have had many conversations about ministry in the last week. More often than not, our dialogue moves easily into a mutual sense of how undeserving we feel to share in the work of the Kingdom. Our lives are nothing extraordinary. We struggle to find God in the everyday routine we often find ourselves in. We have to work to engage in a consistent prayer life. All too often, we are content to leave God in the background, finding ourselves consumed with the effort it takes to get through each day.

The truth is: we absolutely don’t deserve any place in ministry. As I’ve gotten older and have become all too aware of my own perpetually bad habits, stubborn sinful inclinations, and apathetic tendencies, I grow more and more certain of God’s unrelenting mercy. I’ve shed any sense of entitlement to worldly importance that my younger self sinfully held onto. Any good that comes, any task He graciously includes us in, any person that we are commissioned to effect in a positive way, any positive thing that happens in our life is solely because He is merciful.

“Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!
I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my Hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is still young.” Lamentations 3:21-27