Simple Prayer Podcast

Pray without ceasing. – Saint Paul

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.

How often do you pray?

What is the content of your prayers?

Do you feel like your prayer-life is causing your soul to flourish?

Would you like to tweak your prayer experience?

Jeremy Frye and I enjoyed a recent conversation about our sacred journey through prayer. Perhaps you would consider subscribing to the podcast. You can listen here: Potter’s Inn Soul Care Conversations

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What Lies Beneath

Thow shall not covet… Exodus 20:17

The Hebrew word for covet is “chamad.” It doesn’t simply mean to desire something in and of itself. It means to over desire something. A domineering desire, a feverish all-encompassing desire. Lust or obsession would be accurate.

Thomas Aquinas, who was a Christian thinker and church leader in the Middle Ages said our predicament is this: we turn perfectly good desires for significance and security—into ultimate desires. And ultimately our deep bottomless longings for security, love, and significance can only find a home in God.

Christianity doesn’t ask you to ignore or suppress your desires. Christianity tells you to listen more deeply to the pangs of hunger in your life. Because those desires, as distorted as they may be, are pointing you to the only place you and I will ever find soul-satisfaction.

What is it that you are looking for, really? What is underneath our desire to eat when we aren’t hungry? What is underneath our desire to sit and be mindlessly entertained by binge-watching reruns of Friends? What is underneath our desire to check how many “likes” we received on our latest social media posts?

In 1654 scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Why do we have to have the T.V. on as background noise when we are home alone? Why do we have to have the radio blaring to the latest angry radio host? Or even to classic rock stations?

Why do you ogle after your neighbor’s house? Or grind your teeth at your sister’s waistline? Or feverishly drool over your friend’s portfolio or their shoe closet or their Jeep or anything else for that matter.

What is the question behind the question?

What’s behind the sixty hour work week? What’s behind the relentless posting of political grenades on social media? What’s behind viewing websites that are inappropriate? What’s behind purchasing more and more stuff we don’t need?

G.K. Chesterton has famously said, “Every time a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he is really looking for God.”

Because the desire underneath all desires is the desire for Jesus. Ultimately the deep desires of your life are meant to drive you to the Living God. When we spend our lives hungry for things that God made but not God—our lives become misshapen. But God, thankfully, breaks into our distorted desires to show us that ultimately all of these desires are meant to lead us home—to him.

From time-to-time when I was growing up, my Dad would sing a solo in Church. It was always high anxiety the week we heard Dad practicing his solo as mom accompanied him on our piano. There was many a time we’d hear my mom say, “Let’s try that again. I’m not sure you are hitting the right note.” But Dad was persistent, and Mom was gracious; somehow they pulled it off and the church was blessed.

As I remember, Dad only sang three songs during his pastoring career. One that he loved to sing was Fill My Cup, Lord.

Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
And then I heard my Savior speaking:
“Draw from my well that never shall run dry”.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

We worship our way into distorted desires, and we worship our way out. So, when you realize that you have enough but are hungry for more remember that you have Jesus.

And…

Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

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When Bob Dylan and Jesus Agreed

The wind died down and it was completely calm. Mark 4:39

When I was in High School, I was struggling with my walk with Jesus. Most of that circled around whether or not I was really called to be a shepherd of his sheep. I felt a sense of call when I was a boy, but the older I got the less attractive that vocation became. This affected my walk with Jesus.

Pro Tip: You can’t run from your call and walk with Jesus.

There is nothing like the misery of wanting to walk a life of intimacy with Jesus and running from him at the same time. In fact, it makes other discomforts that are natural life-irritations almost unbearable. It’s like one magnifies the intensity of the other. Normal everyday pebbles in our shoes become infected and debilitating sores when you are running from God.

One summer I was working on a cattle ranch in northern New Mexico and the wind was fierce and relentless. It was a day after day after day occurrence.

My lips were chapped, cracked, and bleeding; my face was constantly red from the wind-blown particles chaffing my skin. You couldn’t speak in a normal voice when you were outside, you had to yell over the din of the forever wind. I had to use a cord to tie down my cowboy hat when I rode my horse to check the cattle; which looked goofy.

John Wayne never did that.

For over two weeks, daily angry winds blew me to a shriveled and nearly insane teenager.

That summer I was trying to reignite my walk with Jesus by reading my bible every day and journaling my prayers and walking in obedience, but that wind was testing my paper-thin resolve.

On day 16 of the tortuous wind, I was reading in the Old Testament book of Judges about Gideon where he asked God to confirm that he wanted him to take on the Philistine by setting out a fleece and asking him to not allow dew to touch the ground but saturate the fleece. God did it. Then Gideon tested God again and God came through again.

I loved that story. I thought to myself, “I have an idea of how to discern God’s will for my future.”

One night, I wrote in my journal these sentences.

“I give up, Lord. If you really want me to shepherd your sheep then, like Gideon, show me a sign. Would you please stop the wind? Please? If you stop this wind, I’ll shepherd your sheep.”

I woke up the next morning to a dead calm.

You would have thought I would have been thrilled with the calm morning. I was not. I was scared out of my mind. Why? Because I realized that tucked away in a two-room mountain cow camp cabin, Someone was listening to a pimple-faced, gangly teenager.

And now—I had to do something with this answered prayer.

It was calm on the outside in northern New Mexico, but the wind was still raging in the soul of a teenage boy. Then I remembered the flannelgraph story of Jesus sleeping through a storm and then silencing the wind with a word and found some solace.

Over the years I’ve learned that the only good place to be during a storm is in the arms of God. And while it’s a good place, it may not be a safe place.

Do you remember what Mr. Beaver said to little Lucy in describing the Christ figure Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia?

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Lucy. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I don’t know what storm is brewing in your life, but maybe the answer is not only blowing in the wind but in the behavior of the wind when Jesus said, “Quiet! Be still!”

That’s a good place to be.

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Restorative Love

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Saint Paul

Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors. – Eugene Peterson

I know of a church that parted ways with her pastor in ways that left both pastor and people wounded. The pastor remained in the small town and continued to raise his family there. The church members would see him or his wife in the only grocery store and the meeting was polite but awkward.

My favorite Church

Perhaps leadership mistakes were made by the pastor, but his doctrine and integrity were beyond reproach. Yet it seemed that the pastor and people were not a good fit.

A lot of divorces could be avoided if the marriage had never happened in the first place.

A group in the church decided it was time to make a change and through a series of meetings the die was cast. Before the young pastor was fired at a business meeting, he resigned. Technically, the church didn’t fire him, but the result was the same.

Five years passed.

A few weeks ago, the Church invited the former pastor back for a meal to celebrate his ministry at the Church. At first, both people and the pastor were a little reluctant about the encounter. However, the evening was a beautiful expression of what it means when Paul said, If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

What do you do when you want to bring a group of people and a former pastor together? Everyone gathered in a huge circle in the fellowship hall and held hands. A gentle prayer requesting grace to be our balm was whispered. Each person was invited to come to the pastor and his family and tell them how much they loved them.

There were tears.

There were hugs.

There was laughter.

There was love.

During the quiet moments of that night, you could almost hear the soft sound of sandaled feet walking among the pastor and people.

Later the pastor’s wife said this:

Thank you for tonight! When I walked into the fellowship hall, I felt the grace you prayed about. I felt love. I felt peace. I felt at home.

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Breakfast with Jesus

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A.W. Tozer

What is the emotion that comes to God’s heart when he looks at you? Most people don’t think about that question very often and if they do usually the silent and internal answer is something like, “God is disappointed in me. God is angry with me. God has forgotten about me. God is frustrated with me. God doesn’t care about me.”

Now, I would imagine you are already ahead of me in realizing that those assertions are more about how they feel about themselves or how they perceive significant others may feel about them, rather than how the God of the universe feels about them.

One of the hardest tasks I have as a pastor and a soul care provider is to convince people that God accepts them just as they are. He is madly in love with them and there is nothing they can do about it.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3

Jesus is attracted to hopeless cases. He loves the fragile. He loves to come close to people who are beaten and who are battered and who are bruised and maybe don’t show it on the outside, but inside, they’re dying. He knows what to do with them—even if it is a self-inflicted wound.

At the end of John’s gospel, one of Jesus’ good friends is despondent because he let Jesus down in ways that few of us can even fathom. When called upon to say a good word for Jesus in his darkest hour, this man spat out a curse and claimed that he was no friend of Jesus. Then the cock crowed, and he ran away and wept bitterly.

He doesn’t know what to do, so he goes back to his pre-Jesus profession and begins to fish. Wouldn’t you know it? He fails at what he has done his entire adult life. He is a failure as a follower of Jesus and now he is a failure as a professional.

Then a voice called from the shore just at the break of dawn. Eventually, he recognizes who it is, after some help from a friend, and he swam to shore. There he found Jesus, seated on the beach beside a fire. And Jesus did not roll his eyes at Peter. He did not scold Peter. He did not shame Peter. He did not tell Peter, “I told you so.” What did Jesus do for Peter?

He offered him breakfast he had cooked on a charcoal fire and mended his broken heart.

I’ll tell you about a time when Jesus came close to me when I had a deep soul-contusion.

Several years ago, I realized that the ministry I had devoted 8 years of my life to was coming to an end. Our church in the Northwest was merging with another church and there was a good chance that there would not be a position for me in this newly merged church.

Feeling like a failure, I was embarrassed and didn’t share this with anyone.

Deadman Lake

In order to care for my own soul, I came here to Colorado and went backpacking. I spent four nights up at a remote lake by myself. I fished. I prayed. I wrote. I sang. It was one of the most soul-nourishing times I’ve ever had in the wilderness.

I had my little backpacking Bible with me. It is The Message version of the New Testament. I read one passage that took my breath away and caused me to fall to my knees. I read it over and over again through tear-filled eyes.

Here is what I read from Matthew 5,

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

I must have read those words out loud twenty-five times. I reached for another cup of coffee. I could hear the waves lapping against the shores of the alpine lake as the sun-splashed a pink glow on the peaks surrounding me. My stomach growled, and I began to eat my breakfast.

Breakfast with Jesus beside a lake.

My favorite comfort food.

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Healing in the Fellowship Hall

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

In 2007, my sister-in-law died of complications from cancer. Her memorial service was held at Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area. By that time, it had been seven years since I had resigned my pastorate in Littleton begin to mend my marriage that I had nearly destroyed.

Suzanne was dearly loved by the folks at my former Church and her new church. The 800-seat auditorium was nearly full. As I looked out at the crowd, it seemed that half of them were former church members. I hadn’t seen them since I had left the church in 1999 in disgrace. In my mind, there would be many hard feelings in the hearts of those former church members. I didn’t want to talk to them. I was afraid of what some of them might say to me. I was ashamed of myself. It was not a good time. I didn’t want to be there, but I loved Suzanne and wanted to honor my sister-in-law.

We filed in with the family and sat towards the front of the church. I had written a tribute to her on my blog and my brother-in-law read it to the congregation. It was just one of the many tributes offered that day for this godly woman.

Like most funerals, there was a reception offered at the end of the service in the fellowship hall. I didn’t want to go. I knew there would be former church members there and I didn’t want to be in a position of re-opening a very painful wound in my heart and theirs. But Lynette was insistent that if I ever wanted to get a kiss from her again, that I would go to the reception.

So, I went. But I told her that she had to stay very close to me—joined at the hip. I believed that no one would say anything nasty to me if she were right beside me. Church folks always have loved my wife more than me. They imagine her a woman of great faith and grace to live with someone like me.

Still true.

We went to the fellowship hall and I tried to be as inconspicuous as someone 6’4” and NFL-lineman-weight could be, which is not very.

I saw Tom and Mary Jo Turner enter the room and they made a beeline for me. Then I saw Mike and Julie Moot, Mark and Cindy Maynard, Randy and DeAnna Gallop, Dale and Belinda Wiest, Virginia Hildebrand, and on and on and on they came up to me. A line began to form. One after another, I was scared out of my mind.

As they approached, I was on red alert. All my defenses were up. And then the strangest thing happened, they, everyone—every single one—came up to me and gave me a hug and told me that they loved me.

I wept. They wept. We all wept. We laughed and laughed with such deep affection.

The reception for my beloved sister-in-law became a sacred space of healing for a pastor who had hurt so many people.

I had wronged each of them and had not ever had an opportunity to ask for their forgiveness, and yet they had forgiven me long before they stood in line to give me and Lynette a hug in the basement of that church.

In my imagination, I envisioned Suzanne with a small committee of angels going up to Jesus and saying let’s turn the reception at my memorial service into a healing service for Joe, Lynette, and the folks at Lochwood Baptist Church.

Healing, restoration, and reconciliation began in the fellowship hall of a Church in Wheatridge, Colorado.

The reason that I have never given up on the Church is that the Church has never given up on me.

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The Freedom of Forgiveness

And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:4-5

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” -Lewis Smedes

When Jesus abides underneath the wound in your heart, His love flows over that wound bringing healing and wholeness so that you can give that heart-healing forgiveness away to others. And when that happens you will the good of the wrongdoer.

It’s the Jesus way. When Jesus hung on the cross just before his death, do you remember what he said?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

You’ll never be long-suffering until you see him going to the cross to suffer for you. You will never be able to forgive other people their little tiny debts toward you until you see him dying on the cross to pay your great debt. You’ll never stop being a judge, putting yourself in the judgment seat, till you see the real Judge of all the universe getting out of the judgment seat and coming down and going to court and being condemned and being tortured and killed for you.

Someone tells the story of Daniel. Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. A real-life “Incredible Hulk”.

Daniel worked in a weightlifting gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the paperwork and waited for approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny. Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again, he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his own brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young girl who led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Soon Daniel was involved in a local church and learning all he could about his Lord.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. He didn’t see his brother for 2 years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy street. Listen to how Daniel tells it:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. As I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “As I saw my Father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.”

Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face—the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy—and yourself —free.

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