Archive for August, 2012

3 Reasons Why We Don’t Really Pray Every Day

A few years ago, LifeWay Christian Resources surveyed more than 1,300 evangelical leaders from around the world and asked what they perceived to be the “Top 10 Issues Facing Today’s Church.” What was #1?  Prayer: The need for more ongoing, passionate prayer in both personal and church life.

It seems odd, doesn’t it? Prayer is, after all, what Christians do.

Don’t they?

According to a 2005 survey by Brandeis University, 90% of Americans say they pray every day. Most of these are quick, on-the-move requests or thank-yous. Which is fine, of course.

They are not, however, what those church leaders were talking about.

Although there are many, many reasons for this deficiency, I’ve been thinking about three:

1. We don’t think about what it actually is.

“Yes, I do!” you protest vigorously. “I think about prayer! and praying!”

What is it, then?

Chatting with God?

Asking for things?

Trying to change God’s mind?

Prayer, stripped to a simple definition, is cooperating with God to release His power on earth. That cooperation occurs when we give Him our undivided attention. For a period of time. Every day.

 2.  We don’t have (take, make, set aside) time, daily.

“It’s impossible!” you protest vigorously. “I have a very, very busy life and a lot of responsibilities! (and, by the way, some of them are church responsibilities!)”

Well, okay. But we’ll have to tweak some Bible verses to accommodate this response. One that comes immediately to mind is Matthew 6:33: “Seek the kingdom of God. First.” You will notice there are no exceptions.

I remember the struggle when I had a 3-year-old and newborn twins, then a 5-year-old and 2-year-old twins, then. . . well, you get the idea. It was tempting to just do another load of laundry – or scrub something.

Fact is, when you pray is up to you.

  • Early in the day might work best
  • or lunchtime
  • or kids naptime
  • or later in the evening.

When her children were young, writer Anne Ortlund would set her alarm for 2 a.m.  It was her uninterrupted time with God.

Not suggesting, just sharing.

 How long is up to you, too. That you do it should be non-negotiable. Giving Him undivided attention. For a period of time. Every day.

3. We are distracted.

“I’m easily distracted!” you agree vigorously.

No wonder. In America, the average person spends 4 hours, 39 minutes watching television – daily. This is while we are using phone apps, checking social media, and/or texting.

And, the average U.S. internet user spends 32 hours each month online.

The universe of technologies is here to stay. Obviously. And everyone is reckoning with the time-spent factor.

A corollary to this contemporary dilemma is the effect on concentration. We can breeze, browse, skim, sample through our YouVersion Bible app, then pray on the move.

These things are not inherently bad. The trouble is that something else, something valuable and precious, is being sacrificed.

Real time. With God. Every day.

In her excellent study, Live a Praying Life, Jennifer Kennedy Dean says that God, “searches out an intercessor [or pray-er] upon whose heart He can place His own desires.”

That heart must have time with Him.

Beyond the know-I-shoulds and guilt-tripping is a supernatural realm of communion. God loves us and longs to take these short, ordinary lives we lead and do extraordinary and eternal things with them.

His method of choice is prayer. Real time. With Him. Every day.

If you are struggling with daily prayer, what changes could you make in your life today?

The Max Manifesto

My friend, Max Dunn, turned 90 in May.

Max Dunn*

He served in World War II, then embarked on a long business career in Southern California. Upon retiring (that word should be in quotes), he went back to school and obtained a graduate degree in World Missions. He then traveled extensively to Third World Countries.

“We saw miracles in some very dark places,” he says of those trips.

After he and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Healdsburg in 1991, he became involved in the building of a new medical center, serving as CEO for 15 years.

In 2006, Max was approached by the local Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center to counsel “beneficiaries.”

So, for the past 6 years he has driven over to the ARC in nearby Lytton Springs several times a week, teaching anger management classes and counseling many of the men in one-on-one sessions.

And he prays with each of them.

The impact of his investment in the lives of the men has been enormous.

Max recently shared with me an essay he had written titled “Old Age – New Stage”.  At the end of it, he has a list that sounds like a manifesto for life. I share it here:

How should I respond to the days remaining for me in this present life?

  • I will continue to look for newness, avoiding the same routine, attempting new skills, visiting new places, hopefully expanding my horizons.
  • I will refrain from complaining and criticizing. There are many imperfections in life, but I will not dwell on the darker side. I will continue to observe and act positively.
  •  I will not dwell on what others do, and develop a sense of inadequacy. I will continue to make progress in my own way.
  •  I will not live in the past, dwelling on what I might have done differently. I will focus on what I can do now to improve my life.
  •  I will continue to keep my mind active and, within my bodily constraints, continue to be active physically.
  •  I will enjoy every day.

 Max also included a big dose of humor at the end of his essay.

Someone once said, “I’ve sure gotten old. I’ve had 2 bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I’m half blind, can’t hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. Have bouts with dementia, have poor circulation. Can’t remember if I’m 89 or 98. But, thank God, I still have my drivers license!”                                                                                                                                            

My memory is not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory is not as sharp as it used to be.

And finally, Old age is important only when choosing wine or cheese.

Perhaps if we took this manifesto to heart – and let ourselves laugh a whole lot more – we might, just might, have a very short Regrets List in our own later years.

Sounds good, very good, to me.

What would your life manifesto include?

*Photo by Michael Lux

How to Not Have a Regrets List

Have you ever walked through an elderly care facility? Have you wondered about the lives of those men and women? Wondered what regrets they might have?

Aussie Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for many years and she did ask.

Five things kept surfacing in her interviews and she shares them in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Her findings are worth thinking about. I share them here, along with some brief thoughts.

#1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret. Unfulfilled dreams. And once age begins nibbling away at health, those dreams are forever out of reach.

Did Jesus live a life that conformed to the expectations of the people around him? No. Does He expect you to? No. What, oh what, to do? Be a contrarian. Give God your life. Then live it His way.  I mean, really live it His way. It will be the one truest to your real self.

#2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.  Men, as the likely breadwinners, expressed this most often. Hard work and long hours away from family provided well for their loved ones. But time spent with their young children was sacrificed – and could not be reclaimed.

We never strike that perfect balance between work and family. But it’s not perfection we’re after, is it? It’s a quality of peace with the choices we’re making. Prayer for help, prayer for wisdom, prayer without ceasing – and a willingness to make the hard choices – will help insure that there are, ultimately, more right decisions than regretful ones.

#3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  Keeping the peace can come at a high price. Many of these men and women blamed health problems on the bitterness that festered – sometimes for years – from not speaking up.

This is a tough one. Some of us have suffered from speaking up too much, some from too little. However, it seems that ultimately we err on the side of going-along-to-get-along. The key is this: Whatever is sowing, then nurturing, a seed of bitterness, must be confronted. Bitterness is psychic acid that bleeds into our health. Pray that God will help you not to procrastinate. And that He will give you words that are wise and clear.

#4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  Their memories revisit us in old age. There were deep regrets for not maintaining friendships.

Facebook is likely making this less of a regret as time goes on. But will we move from tapping on the keyboard to calling or visiting? Hmmm?

#5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This response was surprisingly common. They wished they had allowed themselves more fun and laughter as the years went by.

This, I think, is the saddest of the five regrets. Why do we spend so much of this short and precious life exchanging gladness for anxiety, delight for fear, laughter for sorrow? Why do we not allow the joy of the Lord to make us strong? And radiant? And full of fun? It is a choice. And each of us gets to choose. What a tragedy to reach the end of life and have this regret.

I have a friend who just turned 90 years old. He recently wrote a paper on aging that includes a manifesto: short, wise and funny. It will appear in my next blog post.

If we pay attention and make the effort, we just might reach the end of life without a list of regrets.

I, for one, would love to.

Which of the things on this list spoke most clearly to you?

 

A Word With Wordmistress

Alright, everyone, gather around. Wordmistress wants a word with you.

It is time to clean up our collective vocabulary and polish our verbal skills.

I am here to help.

Hopefully, some of you found my suggestions in a previous post, Help for the Conversationally Challenged, to be an indispensible aid in your verbal exchanges.

What We All Want

Let’s agree that everyone wants to communicate clearly and effectively.  I sense enthusiastic head-nodding. Good. (You’ll notice I simply said, “Good.”) Let’s also agree that while social media has made everyone an instant worldwide communicator, it doesn’t mean that the level of discourse has been elevated.

Sadly, the opposite is true.

Since we must start somewhere, we shall consider the virulent use of certain words that are yanked from their original meanings and chucked willy-nilly into conversation.

We begin with the word “awesome.”

The TMNT Effect                                                                                                                                        

Totally.

It invaded everyday conversation in the 1980s with that hardshell crimefighting quartet, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: “That was soooo awesome!” “Toootally, duude!”  It was cute, really, when it began. My young sons awesomed and duded and fought crime vigorously for several years.

“Totally, dude” shall be given a pass. But “awesome” must be dealt with. Immediately.

This word’s actual meaning is inspiring awe.

What is awe? A mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, sacred, etc.  (Please reread.)

So,

  • You find a perfect solution to a nagging household problem on Pinterest.
  • Your child eats peas without incident.
  • Your buddy wipes out on his motorcycle, resulting in massive road rash.

Are any of these things majestic, sublime, or sacred? Do any of them excite feelings of reverence, fear, or wonder? Are you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? The answer is no. NO. NO. NO. Yet every day, the mundane, the near-tragic, and the stupid all receive this same response.

Awesome.

Wordmistress says to reserve “awesome” for describing God, and to find other words in your handy Thesaurus to describe things like shoe sales and the weather.

But awesome is not alone in its irksome overuse.

It has, in recent years, been joined by “absolutely.”

Glad you agree, but. . .

The idea seems to be that the gentle, affirmative nodding of the head, or a simple, “Yes, that’s true”, does not suffice anymore in conversation. One must widen (or dramatically roll) ones eyes, swing ones head forward, and say repeatedly, “Absoluuutely! Absoluuutely!” Subsequent statements must be followed by this same response.

It is as though the person to whom you are speaking is oblivious that you are in complete, and I do mean complete, agreement.

Wordmistress insists that you wait until the person is finished speaking and then calmly say something like “I agree.” The person with whom you are agreeing will likely get the message. If not, find someone slightly more conscious with whom to converse.

Necessary Inoculation

New on the Verbal Irritations list is a surprising newcomer: clearly.

It has invaded the news media and infected every reporter, anchor, and guest. And it is creeping into everyday conversation at an alarming rate.

That is why I am inoculating you here.

Do not begin sentences with clearly. It sounds pretentious and, at times, patronizing.

Wordmistress suggests that you make your comments or state your position clearly. Then you won’t be tempted to use that annoying word.

This is the Short List

Wordmistress does not want to assign too much in one post. She simply urges you to:

  • refrain from scolding people who do not have the benefit of this instruction, but instead
  • gently direct them to this website
  • lead by example

And be forewarned, “you guys” is on the Naughty List.

The Exemption

Fabulous.

There is one exception to these particular instructions of Wordmistress. It is the Fab Five, that beautiful team of gymnasts who won gold for the U.S. a few years ago.

Clearly, they were absolutely awesome.

Do you agree with my list? What words would you add?

Invitation to Moodle

How are you going to know what you think if you never take time to think?

I am stating the obvious, obviously.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we can now communicate at warp speed. All the time. All over the planet.

On the other hand, thinking while communicating seems to (let me be careful here) challenge some folks.

There. I said it.

That sounds snobbish, you say, rightfully peeved. Truth can be tough, I respond, kindly. With a smile.

The Clatter of Life

Truthfully, like many of you, I listen to the radio (talk) (don’t start), watch television (news, Giants baseball, my favorite British dramas, THE OLYMPICS), frequently check for what’s trending online, keep up with Facebook and Twitter, maintain my blog, and follow others.

I also read. A lot.

You probably do some or all of these things. Maybe more.

Fact is, we may be neglecting something beneficial. It’s called moodling.

What it Is

In her wonderful little book, If You Want to Write, published in 1938, writer Barbara Ueland, suggested that our imaginations need periods of moodling: “inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”  Around the yard, in the hammock, lying in the grass, slow walking around the block, driving (leisurely, of course) to the coast or the mountains or through the vineyards.

It’s being willing to close the laptop, turn off the cell phone and the radio and the TV, disengage your mind, and let your subconscious wander.

Invitation

It’s letting your thoughts climb into a lone canoe and drift.

It is time with for mentally letting go.

Good Things Unleashed

New research is affirming the benefits of moodling, or mind wandering, or “task-unrelated thoughts.”  It seems to act like a release valve for all kinds of productive, creative things in our psyches, things suppressed in the verbal and electronic flood.

Children also benefit. Recent studies link “daydreaming” with creativity, healthy social adjustment, and good school performance.  Not surprisingly, these studies also find that children who don’t spend enough time daydreaming, and who fill their time with television, produce schoolwork that is “tedious and unimaginative.”

For kids, television acts like a mental vacuum cleaner on creative thought.

Solitaire

Moodling is generally a solitary exercise unless you can find someone willing to moodle properly with you.  Someone who could idle, dawdle, putter, ramble, drift, without filling every minute with, you know, chatter.

Very often, in that state of mental rest, the Word will bubble up with an insight, or revelation. Or perhaps a childhood pleasure will surface, a long-forgotten memory, a face, a name. A creative spark may ignite.

Here are some suggestions for moodling:

  • Make the conscious effort to moodle once a week. At a minimum.
  • Refuse to feel guilty about it. Think of it as mental battery recharging.
  • Share with someone (an appreciative someone) a few of the things that surfaced while you moodled. Assign value to these thoughts. Because they are valuable.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” writes Annie Dillard. And there are a finite number of hours in that life.

Some of them should be spent in the lone canoe, adrift.

Moodling.

Do you? If so, what prompts it in your life?

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