Pleading Prayer

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12.8-9
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.

Between now and Easter, I’ll be sharing several posts from an excellent series Matt Tullos wrote a few years ago called 39 Words. Matt is a longtime friend and mentor in ministry and writing. I’m thrilled to be able to include a few of his writings for the benefit of our community. — John

Reflection: Pleading Prayer
By Matt Tullos

When we run out of pretty prayers and Sunday School answers, pleading is an intimate, ugly cry that dares to cast away its pride.

If it be your will,
If there is a choice,
Let the rivers fill.
Let the hills rejoice.
Let your mercy spill.
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well.
— Leonard Cohen

As He begins this final journey toward the cross, Jesus prays a haunting, surprising prayer: “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” This plea reveals both His humanity and divine nature.

He knows that life will close in on Him.
No escape.
No turning back.

The world He came to save is now turning against Him. At this moment, one of His followers combs through the garden with a band of conspirators to capture Him. At the time of His greatest need, His dearest companions are comatose and negligent.

He is utterly alone and the weight of the harrowing pain-every kind of pain including isolation, torture, shame, nakedness, blood and farewells, would soon appear under the rays of the moon and the poor light of a covered sun.

We see Him in the garden, a different garden that served as the arena of the man’s fall, and He pleads, “If it be your will…”

Ultimately this cup is the cup of God’s fury. People often glibly use the phrase, “The wrath of God.” There is only One who experienced the wrath of God in its completeness, in it’s fearful symmetry, in a place where the constructs of evil converge into one horrible event.

This is the place where Jesus is kneeling—in the crosshairs of deep malevolence and holy, blood-soaked redemption. And Jesus knows this. He knows this well.

When we plead, we come to the end of ourselves and stumble toward the One who loves us. Beggars are never rejected at the footstool of the Almighty.

Pleading is messy prayer. It’s when we can do nothing else but beg. Are you a beggar today, pleading for God’s attention?

Are you so hungry that you’d be satisfied with the crumbs of the Divine?

Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me.

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 42 (Listen – 2:41)
2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)

Strength in Weakness

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11.29-30
Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Reflection: Strength in Weakness
By Steven Dilla

In this season of reflection we reorient our understanding of Christ’s life—his ongoing sacrifice, pouring himself out from the moment of birth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

Jesus could have been Lord of this world. As the Messiah the Jews had dreamed of, he could have freed Israel and led it to fame and honor. He is a remarkable man, who is offered dominion over the world even before the beginning of his ministry. And it is even more remarkable that he turns down this offer. He knows that for this dominion he would have to pay a price that is too high for him. It would come at the cost of obedience to God’s will.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8). Jesus knows what that means. It means lowliness, abuse, persecution. It means remaining misunderstood. It means hate, death, the cross. And he chooses this way from the beginning. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And therefore it is also the way of love for human beings.

It is only through the power of God’s Spirit that we are able to embrace the radically sacrificial lifestyle of Christ. Remarkably, no Christian is better than another at doing this—we all fail. We all must cry out for God’s strength. Bonhoeffer is a giant of faith, but he was not exempt from this cry; something we see in his Lenten Prayer:

I Cannot Do This Alone
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. — Psalm 71.3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 41 (Listen – 3:03)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

Spiritually Vigilant

Scripture: Job 38.1-3
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

Editor’s Note: In her insightful article on the practice of keeping vigil during Lent, Heather Hughes comments on an observation made by Thomas Merton while he was keeping watch for wildfires. — John

Reflection: Spiritually Vigilant
By Heather Hughes

In a haunting meditation on his experience of watching for wildfires one hot summer night in the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton makes the link between the enhanced sensory awareness of those on vigil and their enhanced spiritual awareness:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light: a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.

Merton is confronted with the immediacy of God’s transcendent mystery; the darkness and isolation of his vigil provide an experience much like Job’s encounter with God’s voice in the whirlwind:

God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness, with You it is always the same thing! Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer! I have prayed to you in the daytime with thoughts and reasons, and in the nighttime You have confronted me, scattering thought and reason. I have come to You in the morning with light and with desires, and You have descended upon me, with great gentleness, with most forbearing silence, in this inexplicable night, dispersing light, defeating all desire.

In his wakefulness Merton perceives more of the world around him, but also the quality of his own soul. Like Job, he learns that his questions, doubts, and accusations do not begin to confront the unfathomable enormity of God’s reality.

This is what we hope to accomplish through the spiritual discipline of keeping vigil: an encounter with the living God, an increased sensitivity to his presence in our lives and in the world, and a better understanding of who we are in light of this.

May we keep vigil during this season of Lent. If not the literal meaning of vigil—praying the hours at midnight—may we keep a mindfulness of God’s presence with us in not only the light moments of life, but in the darkness. For if joy is to come in the morning, first we must sit through the dark. — John

Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name; while he is near.

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 38 (Listen – 3:33)
2 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 3:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 39 (Listen – 2:47) 2 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 2:26)
Job 40 (Listen – 2:09) 2 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 2:45)

Fasting According to our Lusts :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7.1
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. — Richard Foster

Editor’s Note: One of the spiritual uses of fasting as a discipline is to target our fasting at our own lusts, whatever those may be—Social Media, Types of Food, Types of Entertainment. Whatever grasps for our attention most, we may choose to withdraw from in a fast. — John

Reflection: Fasting According to our Lusts :: Throwback Thursday
By Martin Luther

There are, alas! many blind men, who practise their castigation, whether it be fasting, watching or labor, only because they think these are good works, intending by them to gain much merit. Far blinder still are they who measure their fasting not only by the quantity or duration, as these do, but also by the nature of the food, thinking that it is of far greater worth if they do not eat meat, eggs or butter.

Beyond these are those who fast according to the days; one fasting on Wednesday, another on Saturday, and so on.

These all seek in their fasting nothing beyond the work itself: when they have performed that, they think they have done a good work.

I will here say nothing of the fact that some fast in such a way that they none the less drink themselves full; some fast by eating fish and other foods so lavishly that they would come much nearer to fasting if they ate meat, eggs and butter, and by so doing would obtain far better results from their fasting.

For such fasting is not fasting, but a mockery of fasting and of God. Therefore I allow everyone to choose his day, food and quantity for fasting, as he will, on condition that he do not stop with that, but have regard to his flesh; let him put upon it fasting, watching and labor according to its lust and wantonness.

May we fast from whatever lust holds our heart most tightly, loosening its grip on us and tightening our grip on Jesus Christ. — John

Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 37 (Listen – 2:27)
2 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 2:58)

Fasting “Better”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6.4-5
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.

Reflection: Fasting “Better”
By John Tillman

Fasting is at times viewed as an extreme Christian practice. It’s what spiritual weirdos do—tied to mysticism and getting starvation-fueled visions from God. It’s a way to bargain with God or force God to give us what we want.

At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands. — Richard Foster

Much of today’s literature on fasting has little to do with the spiritual aspects. We tend be be fascinated by and focus on the physical aspects of fasting. In fact, many modern articles about fasting are, ironically, about how to fast while minimizing hunger or, indeed, any other physical effects of fasting.

“Hungerless” fasting may be the strangest feature of modernized Christianity.

As fasting has grown fashionable again, we want to do it. But we want to do it “better.” It’s easy for it to become just another spiritual competition of one-upmanship and comparison.

Perhaps this is why Christ’s teaching on fasting almost exclusively discusses private, personal fasting. Perhaps in order for the most to be revealed in fasting, its practice must be concealed.

As we engage in the corporate and partial fast of Lent, may we be more concerned with our personal connection to the Holy Spirit than shows of public observance. May our corporate fast be more intimate than it is public—drawing us together as a community rather than displaying our righteousness before men.

May we experience the discomfort of what we lack, not as something to be avoided or minimized, but as a part of our identification with Christ and as a part of our being joined to him and to the body of Christ in unity.

Prayer: The Small Verse
Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your heart.

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 36 (Listen – 3:04)
2 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 2:31)

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