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The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

Saturday July 19 2014

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

As an adult, I have seldom prayed the Lord’s Prayer as a part of my personal prayer life, and I have not been in churches that use it regularly. Therefore, I simply haven’t thought of it very often. Earlier this year, a local minister asked me to preach as a part of his series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I please do a sermon on how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices, he asked. So I began pondering that question.

In my first post on this topic, I wrote about the invitation to intimacy conveyed by the prayer. In this post I want to ponder the intercessory portion of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 5:11-13, NRSV).

I’m struck, right off, by the simplicity of this prayer. In a consumer age, when we are assaulted by ceaseless advertisements designed to create desire, this prayer is lean and spare, focused on essential needs. These intercessions, recommended by Jesus, make me want to be sure my prayers are focused on what really matters – what I need – and not on what the consumer culture tells me I want.

Two spiritual practices that have helped me detach from the consumer culture the most are Sabbath keeping and fasting.* Keeping a Sabbath gives me a day off every week from striving, from pushing hard, from believing I am essential and necessary. That step back from my everyday life enables me to separate needs from wants more easily. Fasting – from food or from other things like entertainment media, electronic devices, or shopping – creates space for prayer and clear thinking and for understanding my need for God.

The Lord’s Prayer also indicates the high priority Jesus puts on forgiveness. In an age when many church worship services no longer include a confession of sin, we need to make time in our personal prayer life to acknowledge our sin to God. This can happen silently in prayer alone, in prayer times with family members or small groups, while journaling or walking or singing a song about forgiveness. Confessing sin with some regularity requires intentional effort in our self-focused world.

Jesus couples two things: asking God for forgiveness and forgiving others. The first is challenging, and the second is sometimes next to impossible, which reveals our need for God’s help. These requests in the Lord’s Prayer trigger in me an awareness of my deep need for God. I need God’s help to know how to pray and what to pray for, to grow in praying in ways consistent with God’s priorities and not centered only on my own desires. I need God’s help to face my sins and particularly to forgive others. I need God’s help to desire not to follow evil paths.

What are the spiritual practices in your life that help you acknowledge and express your need for God? Which spiritual practices help you take steps to forgive others? In what setting do you pray most readily for forgiveness? In what ways do your prayers reflect your own needs, and the needs of others, and in what ways do your prayers reflect your desires? Which spiritual practices help you resist the consumer culture? These are just a few of the questions I think about when I read or pray the intercessions in the Lord’s Prayer.

(*If you'd like to learn more about the Sabbath or Fasting, I've written a book on each of those topics: Sabbath Keeping and Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. I've also written numerous articles about those two spiritual practices, which you can find on the articles page of this website. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices

Wednesday July 16 2014

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices

A few months ago a local minister asked if I’d be willing to come and guest preach at his church. We chose a date, and he said he’d be in the middle of a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I perhaps talk about how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices?

His request set off several months of very rich pondering. First, I realized that we might think creatively about how to use the Lord’s Prayer itself as a part of our spiritual practices. A person can sing the Lord’s Prayer or pray it as a part of journaling. A person might pray it while walking or pray it as a breath prayer, one phrase on each breath.

Next I started thinking about how the content of the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices. The prayer opens with Jesus calling God “Our Father.” I have never been very comfortable calling God “Father” because I was not close to my own father. However, there’s no doubt that Jesus felt great intimacy with his Father. Spiritual practices are all about intimacy. Once, when I told someone I do a lot of writing about spiritual practices, he replied, “For most people, spiritual practices are just one more way to try to earn God’s approval.” I found the exact opposite to be true when I interviewed people about the Sabbath, fasting, hospitality, and many forms of contemplative prayer for my books. My interviewees talked about ways they experience intimacy with God through spiritual practices. Many talked about “making space for God” in the midst of busy lives.

A first and basic way the Lord’s Prayer should inform our spiritual practices is to remind us anything we do to draw near to God or make space for God is all about nurturing relationship with God, not about proving to God we are worthy or righteous.

As I thought more about the Lord’s prayer, I noticed something significant. About half of the words of the prayer relate to God: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Then come the four requests related to daily bread, forgiveness, temptation and evil. The closing words most Protestants use also focus on God: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.” In what ways can spiritual practices enable us to remember and rejoice in God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory?

Our spiritual practices – forms of prayer, reading the Bible, engaging in a Sabbath, etc. – can easily become all about us. “God, I need your help to excel on this exam . . . to cope with my difficult co-worker . . . to have patience with my teenager . . . to have more energy for the things that matter to me.” It is right and good to come to God with our requests, as is modeled by the requests in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. But our spiritual practices also need to focus on who God is and enable us rejoice in God’s character, as we offer ourselves to God in service, love and devotion.

Prayers and scriptures focused on thankfulness and praise can help us do that. Other practices like the Sabbath or fasting can be done in a spirit that rejoices in who God is. Spiritual practices that honor the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer will create space for us to draw near to God to receive the help we need, while also honoring God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory.

(This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

Welcome to my website

Saturday June 28 2014

Welcome to my website

Don’t you love the moody watercolor I chose for the banner? It’s Lake Harrison in British Columbia, and the artist is my talented husband, Dave Baab. If you’re my friend on Facebook, or if you’d like to friend me, you can see many more of his paintings in my Facebook photo albums. (The painting at the top of this blog post is another one of Lake Harrison that Dave painted the same day.)

One of the purposes of the website is to make it easy for people to get information about my books. Each of the book covers on the left is a link to a page with information about that book, including reviews.

I blog regularly at three blogs: Thoughtful Christian, Kiwimade Preaching, and Godspace. Some of my older posts from those blogs have been added to this blog, and most future posts will appear here as well as on those sites. In addition to putting those posts on this blog, I’ll be adding additional posts on a variety of topics including excerpts from my books. If you'd like to be notified when I post something here on the blog, you can sign up for email alerts over in the right hand column of this webpage.

Be sure to check out my “articles” page. Over the years I’ve written many articles on topics related to my books, and I want those articles to be available to anyone who wants to access them. You’re welcome to print them out and use them with small groups or with congregational leaders.

On the bio page, you may enjoy the interviews posted there. Over the years, several people have interviewed me for their blogs. On the “academic” page, my entire Ph.D. on church websites is accessible, along with an academic article that came out of my Ph.D.

Thank you for spending time on my website. Your interest is a blessing to me.

Life in a two-beat rhythm

Thursday June 26 2014

Life in a two-beat rhythm

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I’ve done it maybe a dozen times, and several of those times I have had a pressing issue that I wanted to pray about. My pattern in those times is to pray my desires on the way in, then stand restfully at the center for a few moments, enjoying God’s peace. On the way out I pray in a different way, sometimes expressing my willingness for God’s desires about the issues. I might ask God to open me to unexpected answers to my prayers or I might simply thank God for the fact that the issue is now firmly in God’s hands, no longer in my own. On one occasion , which I have been pondering recently, that movement in (focused on my own desires) and the movement out (expressing my willingness for God’s future) prepared me for a major life change.

That movement in/movement out pattern can be helpful in many everyday prayer situations. One way to engage in breath prayer is to breathe out our worries and struggles into God’s presence, one at a time with each breath out. Then with each breath in, to imagine ourselves breathing in God’s peace and love.

Another way involves praying while walking. As a young mom I used to hire a high school girl to come over after school a few days a week so I could get out for a walk. I had a two-mile route. I walked through our neighborhood to a lake, then took the path along the lake toward an aqua theater. At the aqua theater, I would turn around and walk home.

In the first half of the walk, I would think about the things I was worried and preoccupied about. When I reached the lake, I imagined Jesus in the boat on the lake, and I handed him each of those worries one by one as I walked on the path beside the lake.

At the aqua theater I turned around, and my prayers changed. At that point I might simply enjoy the birds and trees and water, thanking God for the beauty of the creation. Or I might pray thankfulness prayers, focusing particularly on the gift of God’s peace that comes when we hand over all our needs. I might pray intercessory prayers for needs in the world. Whatever I prayed on the way back came from the deep sense of rest and confidence that flows out of giving our concerns to God and knowing God is capable of dealing with them.

Any back-and-forth walk can be an opportunity to pray in this way. A short walk down the hall at work to photocopy a document can be an opportunity to hand our concerns over to God on the way there, then rest in God’s peace on the way back. A bike or car trip to run an errand can function the same way with prayers about needs and concerns on the way and prayers focused on thankfulness on the way back. The primordial rhythm of our breath teaches us life in a two-beat rhythm, and we can draw on those two beats in a variety of ways in our everyday prayers. The trick is to make it a pattern or a habit, so we get used to the idea that the first half of the journey is an invitation to hand over our worries to God, and the second half is a time to rest in God’s goodness to us.

(This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

A moment beside the Willamette River

Thursday June 26 2014

A moment beside the Willamette River

I’m sitting in front of a battered orange fire hydrant, incongruously placed in a bank of flowers and grasses. Riverplace Marina, on the Willamette River, lies beyond the flowers. High freeway bridges and the low, hundred year old Hawthorne Bridge span the river, while a traffic helicopter whines overhead.

We’re on vacation in Portland, Oregon, and my husband is browsing an art gallery here at the Marina. Usually when we head out to sightsee I bring along a paperback, so I can read while he takes his time in galleries. But today I forgot the novel.

So I sit here on a curved bench, wondering if this is an invitation to worship God in the real world, to draw near to God in this slice of everyday life. Perhaps I could engage with one of the everyday spiritual disciplines I habitually practice. For example, I could sit here and list the many gifts and blessings God has given me recently: successfully winding up teaching and grading for the semester; the recent release of my latest book, Friending; on-time flights to Oregon; the family members and friends we’ll be seeing on this trip. I could list them and thank God for them.

Here’s a second option. I learned a new version of the Jesus prayer a few weeks ago, and I’ve been experimenting with using it as a breath prayer, coordinating the words with my breath. “Jesus . . . Savior . . . help me know your love . . . and make it known.” As I repeat the words, sometimes I think about all the ways God has shown love to me, and I pray that this love would sink deep inside me, that I would “know” it in every sense of the world. Sometimes I pray about the ways I feel called to make God’s love known. That breath prayer would work well in these quiet moments in the light breeze.

I could also simply focus on the data coming to my brain through my senses and try to be present to everything around me. I could study and relish the white flowers with the yellow centers right beside the fire hydrant, the pale green grasses gently swaying, the silk tree giving me shade and the feathery cedar between me and the Hawthorne Bridge. God made them all. I could listen to the traffic on the freeway bridge, trying to tease out specific trucks and busses that I can see as well as hear. God gave me very acute hearing, sometimes a gift and sometimes a challenge, and I could try to be present to the distinct sounds around me in this restful moment.

I’m sure there are other ways to worship God in this real-world, real-life moment as I sit on a curved bench with a fire hydrant, white flowers, grasses, a marina and a cluster of bridges in view. But I’ve thought of enough options. The challenge for me in this moment is two-fold:

(1) to refrain from pulling out my day planner to see if there’s something “productive” I can do with this time, and

(2) to stop listing and analyzing the options.

Just do one of them, I tell myself.

(This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

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