Christians should be the most joyful people in the world. Our receiving of the Gospel. Our hope found only in Christ Jesus. Our joy that will be complete when we are finally in His presence. But I do believe Christians should be joyful even in this imperfect world.
That said, there are exceptions to that joy. In other words, what causes God grief? What causes Him disappointment? The Bible makes it clear that sin is the most responsible. My sin. Your sin.
The rebellion of man went so far as to cause God to grieve. His heart was filled with pain (Genesis 6). And God destroyed everything but the ark and creation inside. You and I know the story. And yet I wonder if it really changes us.
Richard Foster writes of The Prayer of Tears. When we understand our sinfulness, what Christ Jesus had to do to redeem our sin, and our responsibility as followers of Christ, a humbleness that can't be explained becomes reality. The Church Fathers believed in an acknowledgment of sin that led to deep sorrow and weeping. Consider who many call the weeping prophet - Jeremiah. ...let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest. (Lamentations 2:18) The Apostle Paul wrote, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24) These are just two of many Biblical examples.
As the Psalmist declares The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (51:17)
Does your sin break your heart? It breaks the heart of God!
Friday is for confession. I know that doesn't rhyme or isn't cute. But it's true. In fact, every day (and many times a day) is a good time for confession. I have to share with you one of mine today. This will show you how lame I am.
Something really bothered me this morning. Although I never heard an audible request, I was prompted to serve someone. The problem was it was 2:37 AM. It was cold. I was happy in bed. And I was prompted to serve. Ugh!
I went about serving. But I did so muttering under my breath. Why couldn't...? What's wrong with them...? Why do I have to...? Sadly, I confess to being angry.
And then something or SOMEONE stopped me dead in my tracks. "Here you are wanting to serve. You always pray for opportunities to serve. And when you're given an opportunity you whine, complain, and over react!" Needless to say, I was convicted.
Upon returning to bed, I prayed that God wouldn't allow peace or sleep to come until I was really okay with what had happened. And I was wide awake for a little over an hour. Answered prayer. It was a time to reflect on my what I'd been called to do and how serious I was about my prayer to serve.
Today, we look at what Foster calls The Prayer of Examen. If your mind has equated the word "examen" with that of "examination", you're on the right track. The opening chapter was beneficial for me. I thought I would quote it for you here.
How very strange that the Prayer of Examen has been lost to we who live in an age of obsessive introspection. It is actually possible today for people to go to church services week in and week out for years without having a single experience of spiritual examen. What a tragedy! What a loss! No wonder people today are weak. No wonder they are barely hanging on.
Go ahead. Read it again! This time, read it slowly and out loud.
When is the last time you've taken a honest spiritual inventory? When have you truly examined? In this chapter, Foster writes of a spiritual examination.
The examen of conscience has to do with evaluating what we've done with the opportunities God's given us. In other words, when a spiritual nudge encourages us to minister in a particular way, did we fulfill our responsibility? When we're prompted to speak truth, did we speak or simply allow the feeling to pass? When one is honest about who they are, when we stand before God with warts and all, grace takes on a greater meaning.
Foster encourages us to look inward. It's not that we become more absorbed with ourselves. But it's that a honest evaluation entails looking deep within our soul. A practical example is that of a spiritual journal. A journal differs from a diary in that it focuses on the how and why rather than on the who. Again, this is just one example of looking deep within ourselves. It's a misjudgment to think everyone should journal. But it does benefit some. Foster's point is not the journal itself, but a honest evaluation.
I believe Foster to be onto something. Because reality is often uncomfortable for us, often times we choose to ignore it. Being intentional about these evaluations is paramount to spiritual growth.
I pray I've done this chapter justice. Thoughts? Do you have ways in which you take a spiritual assessment?
This week, we continue our discussion on Prayer: Finding The Heart's True Home by Richard Foster. After discussing "simple prayer", Foster turns his attention to what he deems "The Prayer of the Forsaken."
The Psalmist writes, I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (Psalm 42:9 NIV) Elijah and Jeremiah cried out to God at various times in their lives. Jesus himself voiced, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 NIV)
If you've had a relationship with God for very long, I think you understand what Foster argues in this chapter. There are times God seems to be distant. Even a response in the negative would be welcomed. And yet at times we pray and sense we're only talking to ourselves. There are times we read God's Word and it doesn't appear to be living and active (cf. Hebrews 4:12).
Foster does a great job of explaining the concept of relationship. One party cannot force the other into mutual love or sacrifice. According to Foster, God gives mankind a free will for this purpose. You and I have the ability to choose or not to choose a relationship with God (or with others).
At the same time, even though we know God never leaves us nor forsakes us, we sense those feelings of absence mentioned above. Again, according to Foster, God provides those times as opportunities to grow. God cannot be contained or made to show up on a whim. He is no genie in a bottle! His belly can't be rubbed expecting three wishes in return.
The prayer of the forsaken is something we all need to understand. It's one of those things that we must prepare for before we reach those times in our lives. It must be understood God's silence does not mean His absence. And it's during those "dark times" we can grow the most.
What thoughts might you have about The Prayer of the Forsaken?
The church tradition to which I belong celebrates communion every week. And most churches have elders or other leaders who pray prior to serving communion. At times, those who pray have changed their voices in a way that one would think they speak the King's English. It's as if they believe all the thees, thous, and Faaaaaather God included in their prayer signifies a closeness to God that only they enjoy. The inflection in their voice could be a legitimate concern for scaring the unchurched (or make the churched snicker). I've always found this practice to be a bit strange.
I'm asked to pray at family gatherings or other community events. Often times, the title of pastor or minister leads an organizer to invite a clergyman to pray. Please understand, I'm not offended. In fact, I consider it a great blessing to pray. But to think or assume that someone in ministry has a direct line to God or will be heard before any others is laughable. In fact, there are times when I've been asked to pray I politely ask one of my kids to pray. The purpose is two-fold. First of all, I believe if one wants to learn to pray, a good place to begin is to pray. In other words, there comes a time where we must stop talking about prayer and pray. Secondly, my hope is it teaches the more mature in attendance that the faith of a child shouldn't be minimized.
Too often, people aren't comfortable praying in a corporate setting. They feel inadequate, not sure of what to say, or intimidated by what those in earshot might think about their words. This is a huge misconception of prayer and the reason for praying.
Richard Foster begins his discussion on prayer (Prayer: Finding The Heart's True Home) with a chapter on simple prayer. According to Foster, too often we forget that God wants to hear about the details. He wants to know our struggles, our victories, and our challenges. Nothing will surprise him. And just like we desire to be approached and loved by our children, God desires the same.
Sometimes, the best way to accomplish something is the KISS method. You remember the KISS method. Keep it simple stupid! There's no need for the King's English. God's okay with simplicity. In fact, being real makes God really proud.
Prayer is one of the spiritual disciplines I believe no matter how hard one works at it, it never is perfected. There are times I pray that I feel so inadequate. And yet I am asked to pray at gatherings for various reasons. In recent weeks, I've been led to become more disciplined in my life of prayer. Authors like E.M. Bounds automatically come to mind. And then I remembered a book I have on my shelf by Richard Foster (Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home). Foster always gives me something to think about. And as I read this book again (and more importantly focus on what Scripture says regarding prayer), I pray I will be challenged again. In the next few weeks, I hope you'll read my reflections on prayer. And I pray you'll be encouraged to strengthen your own prayer life.
"Healthy prayer necessitates frequent experiences of the common, earthy, run-of-the-mill variety. Like walks, and talks, and good wholesome laughter. Like work in the yard, and chitchat with neighbors, and washing windows. Like loving our spouse, and playing with our kids, and working with our colleagues. To be spiritually fit to scale the Himalayas of the spirit, we need regular exercise in the hills and valleys of ordinary life." - Richard Foster