Notes and Quotes on Prayer #27

“A contemplative is not one who takes his prayer seriously, but one who takes God seriously, who is famished for truth, who seeks to live in generous simplicity, in the spirit. An ardent and sincere humility is the best protection for his life of prayer.” Thomas Merton Spiritual Direction and Meditation

Wow! Merton really knows how to load a description. That’s just two sentences and so much to think about! So, let’s think together.

Is it possible to take God seriously and not take prayer seriously? I really don’t think so, if we’re talking about God as the Bible describes Him. God did not have to reveal Himself to us, but He did. He wants us to know Him as He is. And, He wants to communicate with us specifically. Prayer is the means by which we deepen our communion with God – it is divine communication. When we understand that about God, we should take prayer seriously!

It is very interesting that Merton linked prayer with being famished for truth? Most people who have a high view of Scripture believe it is truth, believe that they can know the truth by reading the Bible. But, is prayer a vital ingredient for getting to know the truth from the Bible? I believe so. And, one who is famished for truth should be seriously praying as he or she reads the Bible.

Generous simplicity? What on earth does that mean? I think it means that one is satisfied with what one has, and from that satisfaction is generous to others with what one has. And, Merton connects that view of life with serious prayer. How many times are our prayers lists of requests for things from God? How many times are our prayers requests for God to send us people to whom we can be generous with what He has given us? In an age when most people live beyond their means, this is a serious issue – one which can be detrimental to prayer.

Have you ever considered an ardent and sincere humility to be protection for your life of prayer? As an “American” living abroad I am acutely aware that most of the rest of the world do not consider “Americans” to be humble people. This knowledge actually helps me to guard myself so as not to appear prideful to those around me. Am I humble enough? No. But, I am working on it. When we know we are not humble enough it should drive us to our knees in prayer. I think this is what Merton was trying to say here.

Sometimes I wish I could sit and talk to people long since gone, to hear them expound in more detail the words they penned and left for us. How about you?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about this quote from Merton.

Roma (Gypsies) in Brazil

It is difficult to know the history of the Roma people in any given place. So, we do not yet know much about exactly when or how the Roma came to Brazil. We do know that they live in most, if not all, of the states in Brazil.

The population estimates range between 800,000 and 3,000,000, but the commonly cited figure is 1,000,000. The Roma in Brazil are an UPG.

Here’s a video clip of the “Nomad Tent” church in São Paulo. The makers of the video received permission from those in the video to put it online.

As we get more information on the Roma in Brazil we’ll add it to the Roma in Brazil page under People Groups tab.

Notes and Quotes on Prayer #26

“…mission without prayer is almost certainly a waste of time and effort!…prayer that never even leans towards the needs of the lost can be in danger of becoming self-indulgent and out of step completely with God’s plan for the world.” Debra Green City Changing Prayer

This quote pretty well catches the extreme edges of prayer habits.

Sometimes there is the risk of being so involved in activities that little time is invested in meaningful prayer. This is an extreme that we certainly must avoid. As we are doing we must be attentive to the voice of God as we commune with Him in prayer.

I think the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 shows us how we must always be attentive to hear the voice of God. In that story, God tells Abraham to take Isaac to a specific place and sacrifice him. Abraham takes Isaac to that place and is set to obey God fully. Isaac is bound on the altar and Abraham raises the knife to slay his son – the son of promise. When the knife is raised and poised to strike the death blow, God tells Abraham to stop – that he has passed the test.

Imagine if Abraham, at the beginning of the story, heard God’s instruction and set himself to carry out the task to the point that he was no longer listening for God’s voice. What if Abraham had resigned himself to the idea that it was God’s will for him to sacrifice Isaac and that God would not change the instruction?

I believe some people are like that. They find what they believe is God’s will for them and then they go to do it with no further prayer about it and no listening to hear the voice of God giving additional information. Have you ever known anyone like that?

The other extreme in this quote is prayer that is focused on oneself or on other believers – our brothers and sisters in Christ – but which pays little heed to the lost around us. This may include prayer for God to save lost people, but it neglects praying for God to meet their specific needs.

Do you think we might neglect praying for the specific needs of lost people because we don’t know them well enough to know what their needs are?

Mission must be filled with prayer. Prayer must be filled with specific details which come from knowing a person. It is about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships with our “neighbor”. It is prayer in the context of the two greatest commandments.

So, make sure you stay in touch with God’s plan for the world as you pray and as you do.

Ukrainian Easter in Brazil

Ukrainian Easter was recently celebrated by Ukrainian descendants in Brazil. We have a friend who is beginning to work among them. S sent us a report from the celebration and some pictures. We wanted to share this with you too.

Ukrainian Easter 8--baskets of breakfast food“When the Ukrainian Orthodox have their Easter celebration, they take their breakfast with them. It is a ceremonial breakfast with certain things that must be in it (horseradish, for example!). The church fills with these baskets all around the walls, and they stay there during the service (about four or five hours).”

“The service itself is surprisingly beautiful, dedicated completely to praising God for Jesus’ resurrection. It is sung from beginning to end, even the Scripture reading. At the beginning, the whole church walks outside and circles the building three times while a bell tolls. At the end, they circle the church again, then stop, and the choir and clergy continue to circle the building.”

Ukrainian Easter 20“By this time, everybody has his or her basket in hand. The clergy and choir march by, and the priest blesses the breakfast baskets. It is a joyous occasion, and everyone is smiling and calling out to one another, “христос воскрис!” (Christ is risen!), then others answer in Ukrainian, “He is risen, indeed!”. Then everybody goes to the family home and has breakfast. People who have no families are invited so that nobody is alone.”

“At the church I asked folks around me what certain parts of the service meant, including some of the things that the bishop wore, and nobody knew. That was when I began to realize the whole problem. Not one person in the building had a Bible (except for the big pulpit Bible), and even though everybody present spoke Ukrainian so that they could understand fully what was going on, none of them knew why they were there. It was all memorized routine that gave them comfort and community, but did not tell them really who the Savior is.  I also realized the reason it was all so beautiful to me—I know the One they were celebrating, and His resurrection is everything Ukrainian Easter 14--the bishopto me personally. This culture is rich, and I do mean rich, in tradition and beauty, but the meaning has long since been lost since nobody has a Bible in Ukrainian, nor do they know the contents of the Bible. They just know tradition. I have managed to find a total of 13 Ukrainian evangelical Bibles in all of Brasil, and I bought them all. My pastor has become committed to winning these beautiful people to the Lord, too, and he is currently conducting a Bible study in one of their homes (in Portuguese since he knows no Ukrainian). We were able to give one of the 13 Bibles to them.”

Continue to pray for S and her church as they find ways to reach the Ukrainians in the city where she lives.

Here are some more of S’s pictures from the Ukrainian Easter celebration.

Ukrainian Easter 9--the choir

Ukrainian Easter 18

Ukrainian Easter 16

Notes and Quotes on Prayer #25

“Praying scripture is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read. If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee that penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.” Seventeenth-century French mystic Madame Guyon

Here’s the quantity versus quality debate – it is nothing new. This quote comes from 1600’s. It is not necessarily how much of the Bible you read in a sitting, but the impact that what you read had upon you that is important.

I don’t think this is a question of either/or, but one of both. We should read enough Scripture in a day that we are making headway in reading all of the Bible. But, we should also be reading some small sections, meditating on them and praying through them deeply.

I am a huge advocate for praying Scripture. Many times people pray for things just because someone asks them to do so. They never go to the Bible to see what folks in the Bible prayed for and how they prayed for those things.

I’d like to encourage you to dig into the Bible, find a prayer that someone prayed and pray for that today. And, you can leave a comment and let us know what you found and how you prayed.

Notes and Quotes on Prayer #24

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together

I grew up in church. We went on Sunday morning and Sunday night and many times on Wednesday night too. Wednesday night was called “Prayer Meeting”. Interestingly enough, as far back as I can remember, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting was mostly Bible study with very little prayer.

Can a Christian fellowship collapse and continue to meet together in ignorance of the fact that it has spiritually collapsed?

Intercession is vital. But, it requires deep relationships of trust. In the Book of Acts, it is noteworthy that the followers of Christ met together to pray and were unified in prayer. In fact, in Acts 2:42, group prayer is one of the activities to which the followers of Jesus devoted themselves. I don’t know whether the absence of unified, group prayer in so many churches today is because there is a lack deep, trust-level relationships among the followers of Christ, or if the shallow relationships stem from a lack of praying together.

What do you think – Is intercession for one another necessary if we are to have true Christian fellowship? When is the last time you met together with brothers and sisters in Christ and spent the whole time in prayer?

Is the Problem a lack of Discipleship? Follow-up

“I think you are on to a very real issue as you yourself sum up in the words, ‘Many people in the church are there without having considered that when they belong to Christ they are no longer their own.‘ The question for me then becomes, what are we going to do about this? How do we go about correcting this in our own lives and ministries?”

One of my friends and colleagues, Guy Muse, left that comment on my post entitled “Is the Problem a lack of Discipleship?”. I want to respond here to Guy’s questions.

What are we going to do about this?

We must get back to the Bible. There is an overabundance of study Bibles, Bible studies and streaming media of popular preachers and teachers. I won’t say there isn’t a place for some of these tools and teachers, but we must get back to the Bible. It has been some years now that I have been buying very simple Bibles – the kind of Bible that has the text of the Bible and maps and maybe a concordance. That’s it – the Bible and no one else’s notes. I’ve learned to read it and ask a few simple questions and it is surprisingly clear on its own. I really believe this is the first step because it teaches us how to use the Bible to test the messages we hear – which is not merely our Scriptural right, but our God-given spiritual responsibility. I believe that this is one aspect of the priesthood of the believer. It isn’t that we each have a private interpretation of the text, but that we learn how to understand the text and use it to determine what is true and what is false. We must return to the Bible as our standard of faith and practice.

How do we go about correcting this in our own lives and ministries?

About 15 years ago God gave me a pretty important wake up call. I was re-reading the Book of Acts. It was amazing to see God’s manifest presence among the followers of Christ. It was amazing to see vast numbers of people coming to believe in Jesus. I just had to stop and ask myself, Does God still want to act in this way today? I believe that He does. This led to a second question, Why does God not do today what He did then? There are only three possible answers that I could think of for this question. First, God changed. Those of us who believe that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow must reject that answer. Second, sinners changed. While access to sin may have changed over the centuries, sinners have not changed. Lost is lost – it isn’t a complicated reality. This second idea just doesn’t answer the question either. Third, the church today is not what the church was in the Book of Acts. The followers of Jesus today are not like they were in the Book of Acts. I didn’t have to make many comparisons to know this is the heart of the problem. I had found my answer and it hurt.

This drove me to the New Testament to seek out the differences between us and them. How do we get back to being like they were? I’m not talking about clothes or technology. I am talking about activities and characteristics. I am talking about examining how we use descriptive terms – do we mean by those terms what the writers of the New Testament meant when they used those terms? It is in doing this that we will learn how to correct our own lives and ministries. What I have learned so far won’t fit in a blog post and probably not even in a single book. If anyone asks here specific questions I will give specific answers, if I have them.

Where evangelism is concerned, we have to go back and see how the early followers of Jesus proclaimed the Good News about Jesus. Is that what we call evangelism today? When Jesus told the crowd listening to him that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be his followers they all left (John 6:52-71). Jesus didn’t apologize. He didn’t soften the teaching to try to get the crowd back. He explained what it would cost them to follow him and they were not willing to pay the price. The twelve even complained about how hard the teaching was. Jesus asked, “Do you all want to leave me too?” He gave them the opportunity to turn away, rather than weaken the teaching to keep them. In much of what is called evangelism today the tendency is to make the gospel palatable so people will accept it. That isn’t what Jesus did.

The goal isn’t to slam truth in the face of lost people either. Rather, we must present the good news – all of it – in such a way that people can consider whether that is the path they will choose to walk. What I am trying to get at here is this – some “evangelism” methods today try to use 5 verses to explain why Jesus is good news. Mark, when writing the Gospel which carries his name, used about 675 verses. Why do we think we can do with five verses what the Holy Spirit inspired Mark to do with about 675 verses? We’ve got to get back to using the correct information about Jesus in the correct quantity – no short cuts. There’s a lot more to it than that, but this post is already way too long. If you want to know more, leave a comment and ask.

If you missed the original blog post, you can read it here: http://rockymeadow.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/is-the-problem-a-lack-of-discipleship/