TBT: To Dream In League With God

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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Hunger for God

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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How to Argue with God

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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Crying Faith

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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Renewal in Failure

MayEight

Psalm 54.6-7
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble. 

“Principles are like prayers,” Maggie Smith’s character Lady Grantham explains on Downton Abbey; “noble, of course, but awkward at a party.” The Dowager Countess is right in many respects, principles are awkward — cumbersome and even forced — but that’s just at first. After a principle gains steam it’s called character. Actions which initially require deep intentionality grow natural and become the bedrock on which reputation is built.

Likewise, “the words of psalms in worship helps us to ‘grow into’ beliefs and attitudes about God, note C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste in their book Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming The Psalms for Christian Worship. “Therefore, worship is not just expressive, it is formative.”

“The feelings the psalmists express are ones we need to ‘own’ for ourselves…the psalms give us forms for our feelings. Thus, the sentiments and feelings the psalmist expresses become normative for us.”

Growing character through determination and discipline is not distinctively Christian. In many respects the ability to do so is a reflection of the potential and strength woven into beings created in God’s image.

What is distinctly Christian — the linchpin of the whole growth process — is how a person responds to failure along the way. David’s life is an exemplar, even on the extreme end, of what ought to happen after a lifetime of reputation and character collapses in an instant. 

It would have been easier for David’s relationship with God to become transactional — sacrifices made in order to earn God’s benefaction. Instead, after repentance, David rejoices and offers freewill offerings. The Jewish Publication Society’s Torah Commentary observes, “The freewill offering was one which the worshiper—usually with no prior obligation or commitment—promised to give as an expression of devotion or gratitude.”

David knew he could neither deserve nor earn the forgiveness or favor of God. He lived his life in joyful response to the grace he was so generously given. Perhaps this is why C.S. Lewis reflected, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” 

Prayer
Father God, your grace is our life. Your love nourishes our souls and brings strength to our minds. Restore to us the joy of your salvation.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 16 (Listen – 6:59)
Psalms 52-54 (Listen – 2:26)

Finding Our Way
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Numbers 17-18 (Listen – 5:58); Psalm 55 (Listen – 2:43)
Sunday: Numbers 19 (Listen – 3:39); Psalms 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

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