May 15, 2015

Unanswered Prayers

by Steven Dilla

May15

Psalm 66.19
But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Disobedience can fracture our relationship with God in such a way that he will not answer our prayers. David acknowledges this just prior to talking about answered prayer, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Yet our obedience doesn’t earn answered prayer. If this were the case Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane would have been vastly different. 

Jesus obeyed every letter of God’s law with exacting precision and still faced unanswered prayer. “Remove this cup from me” he begged with such intensity the blood vessels under his skin ruptured mixing blood, sweat, and tears. Yet the Father had other plans. 

Christ would have known this — for, as Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He faced greater battles than we face, yet he was perfect where we fail.

Christ not only prayed to have the cup of the crucifixion and God’s rejection taken from him, he also prayed, “Your will be done.” This is the prayer of a fully surrendered man — a man fully and sacrificially committed to the Father.

Unanswered prayer reveals whether our heart truly trusts God. In this way prayer is different from thinking about God. “To the thinker, God is an object. To one who prays, God is the subject,” observes Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book Moral Grandeur.

What we receive in prayer is greater than any request we can make. In this way no prayer goes unanswered because all prayer deepens our relationship with God — something worth far more than anything we could imagine.

As for the particulars of our prayers, which are God’s joy to fulfill, “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows,” says Timothy Keller. 

Our intimacy with God is deepened through prayer — which is what we need most. Trust becomes the foundation we stand on — in longing expectation — when our prayers are unanswered. Our satisfaction in God makes him the object of our rejoicing when our prayers are answered.

Prayer
Father, help us to know you more deeply through prayer. Help us to develop a discipline of intellectually honest, emotionally vulnerable, and dedicated times of prayer. Answer our requests. Direct our desires. Guide our hearts.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 24 (Listen – 3:37)
Psalms 66-67 (Listen – 2:42)

Inner Vision
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Numbers 25 (Listen – 2:20); Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)
Sunday: Numbers 26 (Listen – 7:47); Psalm 69 (Listen – 4:04)
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May 14, 2015

TBT: To Dream In League With God

by Steven Dilla

May14

Psalm 65.2
O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. 

TBT: To Dream In League With God | by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Religion is a critique of all satisfaction. Its end is joy, but its beginning is discontent, detesting boasts, smashing idols.

The predicament of prayer is twofold: Not only do we not know how to pray; we do not know what to pray for. We have lost the ability to be shocked. Should we not pray for the ability to be shocked at atrocities committed by humanity, for the capacity to be dismayed at our inability to be dismayed?

The purpose of prayer is not the same as the purpose of speech. The purpose of speech is to inform; the purpose of prayer is to partake. In speech, the act and the content are not always contemporaneous. What we wish to communicate to others is usually present in our minds prior to the moment of communication. In contrast, the actual content of prayer comes into being in the moment of praying. For the true content of prayer, the true sacrifice we offer, is not the prescribed word which we repeat, but the response to it, the self-examination of the heart, the realization of what is at stake in living as a child of God.

The quality of a speech is not judged by the good intention of the speaker but by the degree to which it succeeds to simplify an idea and to make it relevant to others. Ultimately the goal of prayer is not to translate a word but to translate the self.

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

Prayer, too, is frequently an inner vision, an intense dreaming for God – the reflection of the Divine intentions in the soul of humankind. We dream of a time “when the world will be perfected under the Sovereignty of God, and all the children of flesh will call upon Your name, when You will turn unto Yourself all the wicked of the earth.” We anticipate the fulfillment of the hope shared by both God and humankind. To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision God’s holy visions.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 23 (Listen – 4:01)
Psalms 64-65 (Listen – 2:39)

Inner Vision
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

*Editor’s Note: The above excerpts are from Rabbi Heschel’s books Moral Grandeur and Man’s Quest for God. While we usually dig farther back in history for Throwback Thursdays, and nearly always stay with Christian writers, we found Heschel’s remarks on prayer to be stirring and challenging as we grow in the understanding and practice of prayer.

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May 13, 2015

Hunger for God

by Steven Dilla

May13

Psalm 63.1
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

We do not eat because food tastes good but because food reduces the unpleasant feeling of hunger. This hypothesis sits at the heart of the Drive Reduction Theory, currently being tested by Dr. Bradford Lowell at Harvard Medical School.

Over the past two decades Dr. Lowell’s research team has created what amounts to a wiring diagram of the complex neurocircuitry controlling hunger, feeding, and appetite. “One reason that dieting is so difficult is because of the unpleasant sensation arising from a persistent hunger drive,” Dr. Lowell explains.

If Dr. Lowell’s theory about how the brain responds to hunger holds through further study, we must ask why it is so difficult to develop the deep hunger for God like David had in the Psalms. 

Our struggle is that, in our pride and idolatry, we have found ways to satiate our longings for God apart from him. In order to hunger more for God we must stop attempting to fulfill our need for identity, control, power, importance, and esteem by our own power.

To develop a hunger for God like David’s, Jonathan Edwards suggests three differences that ought to mark the lives of Christ’s followers:

1. Christians prefer the enjoyment of God to anything in the world. To cultivate this, Edwards says we should set our longings and desires “not so much at the things which are seen and temporal, as at those which are unseen and eternal.”

2. Christians desire to experience as much of God as possible, even before experiencing the good things of this world. This is grown through knowledge of God, participation in community, and experiences in prayer.

3. Christians holdfast to what they have of God, not compromising it for the “pleasures of sin.” Edwards explains, “That which was infused into his heart at his conversion, is more precious to him than any thing which the world can afford.”

What we discover as we grow in these areas is that, in contrast to the Drive Reduction Theory’s understanding of food, our deepest hungers are met in God both because he is good and because in his goodness he meets the deepest pangs of our souls.

Prayer
Use the words of Psalm 63 as today’s prayer.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 22 (Listen – 5:55)
Psalms 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)

Inner Vision
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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May 12, 2015

How to Argue with God

by Bethany

May12
Psalm 60.5-6
Give salvation by your right hand and answer us! God has spoken in his holiness.

In his sermon, Order and Argument in Prayer, Charles Spurgeon said that we should not merely go to God with our requests; we should go to Him full of arguments as well: 

“The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument … I have listened to brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third, and then for a fourth and a fifth, until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.”

Spurgeon gave several reasons to use in prayer: 

  1. We can plead the character of God, praying, “Be in this situation as you are in essence – just, merciful, faithful, wise, patient and tender.” 
  2. We can plead His promises, praying, “Do as you have said. Keep your promises.” 
  3. We can plead His great name, praying, “We have put our trust in you. Arise and uphold your name.” 
  4. We can plead our sorrows, praying, “We are dust. Come deliver us from despair.” 
  5. We can plead the past, praying, “You brought your people out of Egypt. Do not forsake us. Rescue us.” 
  6. We can plead our own unworthiness, praying, “We are great sinners, but your grace shines brightest when it is bestowed on the unrighteous.” 
  7. We can plead the sufferings, death, merit and intercession of Jesus, praying, “Do not look upon us, but look upon Jesus. Remember his wounds and cries on the cross for us.”

Here, in Psalm 60, we see that David prayed with arguments. He claimed God’s promises: “Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my scepter.’” He claimed God’s superiority: “Grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!” He reminded God of His past provision for Israel when he claimed God’s “right hand.”

Prayer
Lord, we order our causes before you as a petitioner comes into court. For we are in the presence of the King of Kings and we give thought to your divine goodness. Help us to order our prayers so that our fervency in prayer awakens and our view of you increases. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 21 (Listen – 5:03)
Psalms 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

Inner Vision
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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May 11, 2015

Crying Faith

by Steven Dilla

May11

Psalm 59.10
My God in his steadfast love will meet me.

The most efficient way for a politician to generate a cocktail of fodder for pundits and bloggers is to overtly mix politics and theology. This has not dissuaded the president from speaking publicly of faith.

“For many of us, prayer is an important expression of faith — an essential act of worship and a daily discipline that allows reflection, provides guidance, and offers solace,” President Obama said last week in a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer. Though less than 600 words, the White House document read like a theology of prayer and presents three outcomes of prayer:

“Through prayer we find the strength to do God’s work: to feed the hungry, care for the poor, comfort the afflicted, and make peace where there is strife. In times of uncertainty or tragedy, Americans offer humble supplications for comfort for those who mourn, for healing for those who are sick, and for protection for those who are in harm’s way. When we pray, we are reminded that we are not alone — our hope is a common hope, our pain is shared, and we are all children of God.”

There is much to be learned about a person’s theology from their understanding of prayer and much will likely be written about the president’s views. But even more can be learned from how a person prays. This is what makes the Psalms so powerful — they teach Christians how to pray by exposing us to intellectually honest, emotionally vulnerable, dedicated times of prayer.

“Faith is never quiet; true faith is a crying faith,” Charles Spurgeon says in his exposition on the Psalms. “If you have confidence in God of such a kind that you do not need to pray, get rid of it; for it is of no use to you; it is a false confidence, it is presumption. Only a crying faith will be a prevailing faith.”

The easiest way to take for granted a country where prayer is nationally endorsed, and — more egregiously — a God who desires to meet us in prayers, is simply not to pray.

Prayer
God, forgive us for presumption in faith. Don’t allow the relatively un-persecuted nature of prayer in our country lull us into complacency. Thank you for hearing our prayers. Give us hearts that abide and lives enriched by our relationship with you through the sacrifice of your son.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen – 4:15)
Psalms 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

Inner Vision
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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