Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab


Trust and obey for there's no other way

Lynne Baab • Saturday August 8 2015

Trust and obey for there's no other way

Ten years ago my spiritual director began talking to me about trust in God. “Trust is something you need to focus on,” she said to me more than once. Several times after I described difficult situations and my conflicting emotions about them, she said, “You either trust God with this or you don’t.”

Her words about trust were like some obscure foreign language to me, maybe Sanskrit or Sioux. Sure, I’d been a Christian for several decades at that point. I’d studied the Bible and prayed in many different ways. I’d kept a Sabbath for many years and fasted many times. I’d written books on Christian spiritual practices. And I hadn’t done those things by rote. I really did desire to drawn near to God and I knew Christ was transforming me (slowly!) into his image.

But the word “trust” really didn’t resonate with me.

At that point, I was a PhD student hoping for a teaching job in a seminary. My husband and I were praying fervently for a place for me to teach, and I was doing a pretty good job of resting in God’s peace about our future. I was, in fact, trusting God for our future without using that word. (Evidently my spiritual director saw other areas where I was not trusting God very well!)

Because my spiritual director’s words about trust truly didn’t help me, challenge me or encourage me, I tuned them out. They were just confusing babble.

I wonder now if part of why I tuned them out was that I had always disliked a schmaltzy old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” The tune was sappy, and the words, which I viewed as overly simplistic, went like this: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

If I were to pick a word for what God is teaching me in 2015, trust might be that word. I find it amusing that each day I feel called by Jesus to trust him for so many things, and then to do the tasks of the day laid out for me, whatever they are. And to do those tasks in a spirit of trust and joy, not in a spirit of drudgery or irritation. If my call this day is to trust and then do what I’m supposed to do, then the words “trust and obey” work pretty well to express the goal for each day. It’s pretty amusing to circle back to a word recommended to me ten years ago and to a hymn from my early adult life that I never liked.

I’m writing about this because I want to encourage you about two things:

1. Never underestimate the significance of words of encouragement or exhortation you say to friends and family members. Maybe it will take ten years for those words to make sense to the hearer. Our job is to speak the truth in love in all situations and to leave the results up to God. Sometimes we say something to someone that we think is really important, and they totally disregard our words, which is frustrating. Maybe to them it sounds like we are speaking Sanskrit or Sioux. But maybe later on the words will have a clear meaning to them.

2. Never underestimate the effect of things you learned or heard in the past. God brings ideas and thoughts back to mind. God is in the business of transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ, and God will use an astonishing variety of things to do that, including words from a spiritual director ten years ago and words from a schmaltzy hymn.

Now, back to my central calling and privilege of the day, to trust and obey God.

(I try to post weekly on this blog. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something, sign up in the right hand column under “subscribe.”)

Let’s get creative with ACTS prayer

Lynne Baab • Thursday July 30 2015

Let’s get creative with ACTS prayer

I’ve been writing about ACTS prayer. Pray this way, my mentors said when I was a young adult. Begin with (1) adoration, because you’re entering into the presence of a holy God. Then (2) confession will come naturally because God’s holiness will make you aware of your own sin. After you confess your sin, you’ll be aware of God’s great mercy in redeeming us in Jesus Christ, so you’ll want to spend some time (3) thanking God. Only after all of that should you engage in (4) supplication, asking God to meet your own needs and the needs of those you love and care about.

I found ACTS prayer to be very helpful for both group and individual prayer. I have also found that it’s a bit limited. When I compare ACTS prayer to the psalms, often called the prayer book of the Bible, I find numerous ways the psalms are different than the pattern of ACTS prayer. So, let’s get creative and use the ACTS model as a springboard.

1. Let’s try TATATATA. Psalm 136 models this pattern. One way to define thankfulness prayers is that they focus on what God has done, in contrast with praise prayers that focus on who God is. Praise and thankfulness are very closely related with lots of overlap, but it’s still helpful to try to do both. Here’s an example of TATA prayer:

Thank you, God, for the food on our table today. You have provided for us so generously. In fact, you are a generous God, whose bounty overflows into our lives, and we praise you for your abundant love and generosity. Also, I want to thank you, God, for the people in my life who love me. I’m thinking especially of Francis, who helped me with my project at work yesterday. You are a relational God, and I praise you for the love between Father, Son and Spirit, and that you call us to enter into your love.

2. Let’s try CATS. Psalm 51 models this pattern in part. The psalmist comes into God’s presence with deep sorrow for sin, begging for forgiveness. By verse 15, the mood shifts to praise: “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.”

3. Let’s try TSTSTSTS. I believe prayers where we spend most of our time asking God to meet our needs or the needs of others can merge into a kind of consumeristic approach to the Christian faith: give me what I need and want. This tendency can be moderated by generous applications of thankfulness. Being thankful requires that we pay attention to what God is already doing. I like to begin my prayers of request with some thankfulness for God’s work in the situation that I already see. An example of TSTS prayer:

Lord, thank you for helping us in the first leg of our long trip. You kept us safe, you helped us sleep on the plane, and you gave us an interesting person to talk to in the airport lounge. For the remainder of the trip, please help us not to be anxious, help us to trust you, help us to arrive safely. As we travel we’re thinking about our friend, Jane. Loving God, thank you for all you’ve done to make Jane’s surgery go well. Thanks for the surgeon and the recovery room care that was so gentle. Now we pray for the remainder of her time in the hospital. Help her to heal well.

4. Let’s try adding statements of commitment to our prayers. ACTS doesn’t provide a structure to do that, but statements of commitment are a big part of the prayers in the psalms. Psalm 130 provides an example. The psalm begins with words of pain: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” By verse 5 the psalmist is speaking out words of commitment: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning.”

Also missing in ACTS are silence and lament, which provide even more options for creativity with ACTS prayer. Maybe you’ll be able to think of other ways to get creative with ACTS. Whatever we do in prayer, God welcomes us warmly as we bring our praises, confessions, thanks and requests.

(Watercolor by Dave Baab - Paihia Beach, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive updates when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post appeared last week on the Godspace blog.)

Earlier posts on prayer:

Thinking analytically about ACTS prayer
ACTS prayer in the light of the psalms
Let's rediscover (or discover) lament
Celtic Christianity: Wholistic prayer
Two options for what to do when the news overwhelms you
Breath Prayer
The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices

The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2
Psalm for 2014

Let's rediscover (or discover) lament

Lynne Baab • Thursday July 23 2015

Let's rediscover (or discover) lament

I’ve been writing about ACTS prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). Last week I compared ACTS prayer to the Psalms, and noted that lament prayers are common in the psalms, but ACTS leaves no room for lament. In fact, lament is pretty rare in most kinds of prayer today.

A few weeks ago I was on our church’s roster to do the “prayer for others” in Sunday worship, and I decided to try a lament. I chose a psalm of lament, Psalm 10. That week I had read a powerful article about the record number of displaced people in our time. It seemed to me that displaced people feature in so many sad news items these days: the people dying in boats in the Mediterranean and in the seas in Southeast Asia, the victims of violence in so many countries, and those who suffer the most from income inequality. So I paired the psalm with the news article. Be sure to note that this lament, like most, makes a flip at the end, expressing trust in God despite the situation being described.

For the "prayer for others," here's what I read:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
   Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
   let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
   those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
   all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’

UNITED NATIONS — Nearly 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and persecution, an unprecedented global exodus that has burdened fragile countries with waves of newcomers and littered deserts and seas with the bodies of those who died trying to reach safety.

The new figures, released by the United Nations refugee agency, paint a staggering picture of a world where new conflicts are erupting and old ones are refusing to subside, driving up the total number of displaced people to a record 59.5 million by the end of 2014.

The wicked prosper at all times;
   your judgements are on high, out of their sight;
   as for their foes, they scoff at them.
They think in their heart, ‘We shall not be moved;
   throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.’
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
   under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
They sit in ambush in the villages;
   in hiding-places they murder the innocent.

Half of the displaced are children.

Nearly 14 million people were newly displaced in 2014, according to the annual report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In other words, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes every day and “seek protection elsewhere” last year, the report found.

That included 11 million people who are scattered within the borders of their own countries, the highest figure ever recorded in the agency’s 50-year history.

Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
   they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
   they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
They stoop, they crouch,
   and the helpless fall by their might.
They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten,
   he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’

Tens of millions of others fled in previous years and remain stuck, sometimes for decades, unable to go home or find a permanent new one, according to the refugee agency. They include the more than 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the 1.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan.

When refugees flee their own countries, most of them wind up in the world’s less-developed nations, with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan hosting the largest numbers.

One in four refugees now finds shelter in the world’s poorest countries, with Ethiopia and Kenya taking many more refugees than, say, Britain, France, the United States or New Zealand.

Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
   do not forget the oppressed.
Why do the wicked renounce God,
   and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account’?
But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
   that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
   you have been the helper of the orphan.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers;
   seek out their wickedness until you find none.
The Lord is king forever and ever;
   the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
   you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
   so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

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ACTS prayer analyzed in the light of the Psalms

Lynne Baab • Thursday July 16 2015

ACTS prayer analyzed in the light of the Psalms

Last week I wrote about ACTS prayer, the idea that prayer alone or with others works well if the components are these, in this order: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication (requests for ourselves or others). I’ve been thinking about the ways ACTS prayer compares with the psalms. The psalms are often called “the prayer book of the Bible,” so they are a very helpful guide to prayer. All four of those components appear over and over in the psalms, no doubt about it.

Here are some of my other observations:

1. Many psalms are weighted heavily toward only one of the ACTS components. My favorite pair of praise psalms, Psalms 103 and 104, are almost entirely adoration. Several psalms are mostly confession, such as Psalms 51.

2. The psalms definitely don’t move smoothly through ACTS in that order. I can’t think of a single psalm using that pattern. (If you can think of one, please let me know.) The vast majority of psalms do not even have all four components of ACTS prayer.

3. The psalms show the close connection between praise and thanks. As I said last week, it’s often hard to distinguish between praise and thankfulness. I was taught that praise focuses on who God is and thankfulness focuses on what God has done. Psalm 136 is a good example of a psalm that mixes praise and thankfulness constantly. I wonder if we should sometimes consider praying something like TATATATA since the two are so closely related.

4. The penitential psalms (that ask for forgiveness) generally do not begin with praise. Psalm 51 begins with a plea for mercy. Later in the psalm, the psalmist says, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (verse 15). I have heard some people recommend a pattern of prayer like this: CATS. The idea is that when we are heavily bowed down by our own sin, we can and should come into God’s presence confessing. Then we will naturally move to praise and thanks.

When I compare ACTS prayer to the psalms, it’s striking to me that the psalms have several components that are completely missing in ACTS prayer, including:

1. Lament, a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. Psalm 10, for example, begins, “Why, O lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Many psalms express anguish about the state of the world. ACTS leaves no room for that kind of sadness. In a time when the news is so overwhelmingly painful, I think we need to rediscover lament. (Next week I’ll post a model of lament prayer I recently used in a worship service.)

2. Statements of trust. Psalm 130 is one of the penitential psalms. It begins with a plea for mercy. After that plea, the psalmist expresses trust: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my trust: my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (verses 5 and 6). Expressing our trust in God, or our renewed trust in God after we have prayed, is vitally important and ACTS doesn’t encourage it.

3. Silence. Psalm 46 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” One of my concerns about ACTS prayer is the constant talking the model seems to advocate. Somewhere in the model needs to be an “L” for listening.

In whatever form of prayer we use, God wants us to draw near.

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work:
at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:1-4).


Earlier posts on prayer:

Celtic Christianity: Wholistic prayer
Two options for what to do when the news overwhelms you
Breath Prayer
The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices

The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2
Psalm for 2014

(If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe.")

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