Tag Archives: prayer

A Spirituality of Depth and Fruitfulness (Part Three)

In John 15 Jesus says,

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

There is a mysterious, but powerful relationship between reading the Bible and prayer.  Jesus draws attention to the fact that if his words remain in us, our prayers have a power that lead to God’s glory and our lives being fruitfulness for Him.

The Bible is spiritual food.  In Deuteronomy 8:3, God reminds his people that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  We need to feed on God’s word in order to avoid being spiritually malnourished.  In a similar way, prayer is oxygen to the Christian’s soul.  It is the process of learning to turn theology into experience, and develop a personal relationship with Christ himself.

But how do we do both in a way that is meaningful?  Many Christians want to read their Bible and pray, but many struggle.  I believe this is because we are often told what we should do, but are not instructed in how to do it.

If you are looking for a daily devotional structure that help you engage God through the Bible and prayer, try the following for the next few weeks:

  1. Pick one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Head over to www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have a Bible.
  2. Read one chapter a day. Read the chapter slowly at least twice, but ideally 3 times, each time taking notes of what stands out to you.
  3. But instead of trying to figure out what to say, let the Bible teach you to pray.  Turn each verse (the little numbers at the start of some sentences) into a prayer.  Example: 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples can used to pray, “God, help my life to bear fruit that brings you glory. Help me to live in such a way that it is clear to others that I am a genuine disciple of Jesus.”  By turning each verse into a prayer, you’ll combat the three biggest obstacles most people encounter when they pray: a wandering mind, repetitive prayers, and boredom.

Reading the Bible and praying is the central way in which we abide in Christ.  This ritual, when done with a surrendered, obedient heart, leads to untold riches in our Christian walk.


Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 19th edition of the Nelson Star News.


How To Pray For An Hour

“Lord, teach us to pray” Luke 11:1

Last week I spent an hour working my way through Jon Tyson’s  “How To Pray For An Hour” prayer wheel.

Prayer_How to pray for an hour

I do not believe there are short-cuts when it comes to expanding and deeping one’s prayer life.  However, tools like this are really helpful in learning how to pray.  As someone who struggles with prayer, I’ve discovered that I need resources like this to guide me along and keep me focused.

It’s been a long time since I prayed for an hour on my own.  I decided to walk and pray through downtown Nelson, and I was shocked at how quickly the time flew by.  In fact, I ended up expanding several of these sections far beyond 5 minutes, and ended up praying for about 1.5 hours!

Today I didn’t have a one-hour block through which I could move through the entire wheel in one session.  However, I made it my goal to move through the wheel over the course of the day.  Although a different experience, it was just as powerful to pray through this tool as my day unfolded.  I can see both practices becoming part of my weekly ritual.

You may or may not find a tool like this helpful, but one of its strengths is that it forces you into modes of prayer that, depending on your spiritual love language, you may avoid or simply neglect.  Case in point: I can’t remember the last time I prayed for “Holy Alertness.”  And yet as I made my way through the streets of Nelson I was instantly sensitized to how critical a prayer that is for me as both a pastor and Christian.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could pray for an hour without a tool like this to help me.  As I Mind type I’d rather talk about, think about, study, read, or teach on prayer than actually pray.  I’m therefore very thankful for leaders like Jon Tyson who share resources that I can use to practice prayer in an intentional and sustained way.


6 Ways to Pray

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5–6

A lot of people struggle with prayer.  I certainly do.  For me, cultivating a meaningful prayer life is something that has proven to take sustained effort. I’ve discovered there’s a reason why prayer falls under the category of spiritual discipline and not the category of spiritual “this-happens-automatically-and-effortlessly-in-one’s-life” thing.  Prayer is a lot like farming: lots of hard work up front before one receives a harvest.

I recently taught on Matthew 6:5-13, and noted that Jesus assumes prayer will be an integral part of being in relationship with him as a disciple.  Note that  Jesus says “when you pray…”, not “if you pray…”

But where do we start?  Especially for those of us who have no idea how to start praying or what a prayer life is supposed to look like?

I know a lot of people are intimidated and/or confused about prayer, so I thought it would be helpful to highlight six simple ways to pray that people can mix-n-match as they seek fit.  A life-changing prayer life begins as we embed prayer into each day (even in small ways!), and these six ways to pray are a good starting point that can help us build patterns of prayer into our lives.

One way to use these six ways of praying is to assign one to each day of the week, and then come back to one that really struck a chord with you on day 7.  Of course, you can mix these up in any ways that are helpful, but let’s assume you’ll do one type of prayer per day.  This is what a weekly prayer plan could look like:

Day 1: The Lord’s Prayer

What to do: Pray through the Lord’s prayer once (slowly).  Come back to a line or two from the prayer that stood out to you and pray around those themes for yourself and others.

Day 2: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength Prayer

What to do: Using the categories Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, set aside 16 minutes to pray…

  • Heart: Pray for relationships in your life
  • Soul: Pray through a time of confessing sin, followed by silence and stillness
  • Mind: Pray through a Scripture (e.g. Psalm) or a Scriptural theme (e.g. discipleship) that you have recently been challenged with
  • Strength: Pray for any tangible needs for yourself and others.

Day 3: Ignatian Prayer

What to do: Read over a story about Jesus encountering someone in one of the gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).  Attempt to vividly imagine the scene as one of the spectators or participants.  Take a few minutes to journal on your impressions coming out of imaginatively meditating on that scene.

Day 4: A.C.T.S. Prayer

What to do: Pray through the four categories of

  • Adoration.  Time time to praise and celebrate God’s goodness, power, and beauty.
  • Confession.  Honestly admit your known failings and sinful actions/inactions to God.
  • Thanksgiving.  Give thanks to God for how you see Him moving in your life as well as listing several things you are grateful for
  • Supplication.  Ask God for any relevant needs that you or someone you know is in need of.

Day 5: Lectio Divina Prayer

What to do: Take a passage of Scripture and read it slowly to yourself 3-4 times.  As you prayerfully read over it, make note of words/themes/images that stand out to you with each successive reading.  Jot these down and spend a few minutes praying about these things.

Day 6: Personal Popcorn Prayer

What to do: Set a timer and spend 10 minutes praying about anything or anyone that pops into your head, using a word to acknowledge the situation or person before God. For example: “Trust…finances…Wendy…school…Tony…disciple…passion…help…” (etc.).

Day 7: Your Choice

What to do: Repeat one of the ways to pray that was especially meaningful to you this week.

There you have it.  Six ways to pray.  Nothing crazy or complicated, but a starting point for learning to experience the power of prayer in a way that will stretch and challenge underdeveloped prayer muscles.


5 Ways to Experience God’s Love

“There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.” Jonathan Edwards

Talking about God’s love is easy.  Experiencing it is quite another.

Many Christians “know” that God loves them, but many of those same people do not know–deep in their bones–the love of God.

I preached a message last Sunday that centred on Galatians 4:1-7 and our adoption into “sonship” through Christ.  In my preparation for the message I was struck by Timothy Keller’s distinction between the status of sonship and the experience of sonship.  It’s one thing to understand that one’s legal status has changed; that one has been adopted into a new family and placed under the care of a new father.  It is quite another thing to experience that new “sonship” via the warmth and protection of a father’s embrace.  For example, my son Brayden knows that he’s my son.  But when I pick him up in my arms, laugh, and squeeze giggles out of him, Brayden experiences his sonship.

It’s easy for me to proclaim from the pulpit that both the status and experience of sonship are available through Christ.  “That’ll preach!” as the saying goes.  But how on earth can you and I access that experience?    I’ll offer some ideas in a moment, but two framing thoughts:

Firstly, it’s important to remind ourselves that there is no way to control, facilitate, manage, and/or sustain an “experience” of God, anymore than you can do this with any other relationship in your life.  Moments of genuine intimacy are a gift, and don’t operate according to a mechanical formula.  There is no “system” or “process” through which we can secure an experience of God “on demand.”

Secondly, we should also remind ourselves that striving for an experience of God should not be the central aim of our daily efforts as Christians.  Obedience to Jesus’ commands should be!  However, it is a good thing to desire a full and rich experience of God.  It is a good thing to want the truths of God sink into our hearts in ways that catch fire and warm us.

While I still have a long way to go in terms of “experiencing sonship,” here are five ways I’m learning to step into a deeper experience of God’s love.

1. Ask.  

The first way is easily overlooked: ask God to make His love known to you in increasingly personal and powerful ways.  This is not a selfish prayer!  In fact, it reveals a tremendous selflessness.  You are asking for more of God, not more of yourself! When we ask for more of God, we are telling God is that we are dissatisfied with our present spiritual experience, and we want more of Him.  We are proclaiming that we are hungry and thirsty for God Himself, not just abstracted truths about God.  And we can ask in confidence because Jesus taught that those who hunger and thirst for God “will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

2. Confess and Repent.

Romans 8:1 declares that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” meaning that there is nothing in all of creation–including my sin–that “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-29).  But my experience of God’s love is very much tied to whether I’m keeping short accounts with Him.  Like any relationship, intimacy is lost when layers of unconfessed sin and unrepentant actions pile up in my life.  Setting aside a few minutes a day to prayerfully confess my shortcomings before God helps keep my heart softened and attuned to His grace towards me.

3. Meditate on Scriptural Truths.

John Piper has some wise words as it relates to pursuing an experience of God’s love:

“One key is to realize that the experience is not like hypnosis or electric shock or drug-induced hallucinations or shivers at a good tune. Rather it is mediated through knowledge. It is not the same as knowledge. But it comes through knowledge.”

I believe it is spiritually dangerous to seek an experience of God that is untethered to His Word.  Some rare cases notwithstanding, Scriptural truths are the means through which God’s love, grace, and power pour into our lives.  When a sermon or Scripture passage resonates with me, I try to make it the anchor of my weekly meditations.  I come back to it again and again, asking God to make this Scriptural truth real to me on every level.

4. Ignatian Prayer

Ignatian prayer is imaginative, reflective, and personal. It places great emphasis on the power of the imagination to deepen our relationship with God. One of the principal forms is an imaginative reflection on scenes from the Gospels.  For example, I may spend time meditating on the truths revealed in Matthew 19:13-14 (see above).  An Ignatian prayer practice, however, would invite me to put myself in the role of one of children in the story.  Then I’d vividly imagine the scene in as much detail as possible as it unfolded.

How are you feeling as you are brought towards Jesus?  Nervous?  Excited?  Ambivalent?
What does it feel like to be rebuked by Jesus’ disciples?
How does it feel to hear Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples?
What are you experiencing as Jesus embraces you and places a hand of blessing on you?

Putting myself into different gospel encounters with Jesus has been a powerful way to experience God’s love.

5. Preach the Gospel to Yourself. 

“There is a difference between merely reminding ourselves of truth, and preaching to ourselves the truth of the gospel. The latter is self-consciously and intentionally reminding ourselves of the person and presence and provisions of our Redeemer. But while gospel self-preaching is not the same thing as Bible reading, the connections and interdependences are profound.” Paul Tripp


Prayer As Incubator of Mission

I think it’s telling that Jesus takes time to prayer with Peter, James, and John between a series of missional moments.

Earlier in Luke 9, Jesus has sent out the twelve disciples into kingdom mission.  Then Jesus helps them address a potential hunger crisis by miraculously providing food for five thousand people and having them distribute the food.  After Jesus’ mountaintop prayer retreat, the disciples are immediately confronted by a boy with a demon.

Prayer is inserted between two hugely important tasks: addressing tangible human needs and confronting evil and oppression.

Prayer is crucial if we are going to faithfully “live lives of mission”; that is, addressing enormous needs and confronting evil in Jesus’ name.  While we often see prayer as a secondary calling to the more “productive” missional activities of social justice (i.e. doing justice and confronting injustice), Jesus teaches through his actions that without prayer our best efforts will eventually sputter out and fail.  In Mark’s account of the confrontation with the demon-possessed boy, Jesus’ disciples can’t figure out why they can’t get rid of the demon, and Jesus tells them that “This kind can only come out through prayer” (Mark 9:29).  Far from being unproductive, the lesson we must learn is that there are some things that simply cannot and will not happen unless we stop to pray.

Prayer is an incubator for mission because as we prayer—especially for others and the situations they’re involved in—our hearts change.  God does something in the silence and the surrendered posture of prayer.  I’ve found that the more consistent my prayer life, the more I’m compelled to act to bring God’s love and grace into the lives of those I pray for.  Pray consistently, and you won’t be able to just “go through the motions” in your Christian life.  Prayer grows a passion for spreading the gospel of Jesus to others.  It’s an incubator that softens the heart and activates the imagination.  I think one of the surest signs you’ve settled into a compromised, watered-down, counterfeit expression of Christianity is you don’t bother inconveniencing yourself to pray for others, and you don’t inconvenience yourself by praying that God would open up ways for you to serve/bless/help others through your time/energy/money.

Prayer helps us process our experiences of mission and prepare us for what’s next through “dreams and visions” (Joel 2:28).  Prayer changes what we believe is possible through God’s power.  God often uses times of prayer to give us a renewed vision for our lives and the particular situations we are navigating.

One of the truths that God has graciously but firmly put in front of me over the last few weeks has been the conviction that I’ve slipped into a very reasonable, conservative, short-sighted vision for what’s possible for Grindstone.  Partly due to my personality, partly due to a lack of faith, and partly due to the fact I’m in a state of sleep deprivation and can’t count to 10 without great difficulty most of the time, my imagination is pretty stunted when it comes to what God may want to do through our church.  I don’t think expecting God to always show up in huge and overwhelming ways is healthy, but I’ve gone in the other direction.  As long as things are healthy and the main ministry markers are solid, I’m ok with letting the weeks roll over each other.

Prayer is the place that helps you arrest that kind of stagnation in your life and your heart.  It’s the place where you can say, “God, is there something specific you want from us?  From me?  How can we further your kingdom, not just keep our church running smoothly?  Who are the co-workers, neighbours, friends that you are wanting me to pour into?  What opportunities to love and serve my family have I missed because I’ve been too busy?”

Jesus is inviting us into the adventure of living lives of mission. Everyday I’m more excited to say “yes” to that offer.  But Jesus is teaching me that in order to have a deep and significant kingdom impact, I’ll need to go off with Jesus to lonely places regularly and let him change and prepare my heart through prayer.


Prayer As Incubator of Identity

Prayer is an incubator of Identity.  I realize that idea may strike you as kind of weird, so let me explain it.

During Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), verse 29  notes that Jesus’ appearance changes.  Jesus becomes glorious and bright.  After they wake up, Peter, James, and John see Jesus differently.   And just as Jesus revealed himself in new, glorious ways to these disciples during a time of prayer then, he offers to reveal himself more fully to us during times of prayer today.

All of us see Jesus through a very truncated and limited view.  Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly,” (1 Cor. 13:12).  Like the sleeping disciples, none of us are “awake” to how awesome and breathtaking Jesus is.  But through prayer Jesus’ glory and greatness becomes more real and vibrant to us.  Through prayer we come to see him differently as we spend time in his presence.  And coming to see Jesus more clearly has very specific personal ramifications, because as we see Jesus more clearly, two things become clearer as a result: our identity and our vocation.

It’s a very modern (or perhaps post-modern) idea that our identities are something we create and fashion through our own efforts and autonomy.  Over and against that assumption, however, the Bible presents us with the revelation that  “…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  That is, identity formation and vocational discernment are more a matter of discovery than creation.  If our truest and deepest selves are hidden with Christ, then prayer is one of the most important paths through which we uncover more of who Christ is, and at the same time who we are.  Prayer is an incubator for identity because through prayer Jesus’ glory becomes increasingly vivid to us, and as a result, our own identities come into view.  As our identities come into view, how God is inviting us to shape the world through that unique identity becomes increasingly clear as well.

“Who am I?” and “What on earth am I here for?” are two questions everyone is continually in dialogue with (whether they’re conscious of that fact or not).  Too many people, however, spend too much time looking at themselves in order to discern an answer to these questions.  But we are not the axes of our identities.  We are not the loci of our vocations.  Christ is.  We’d do better to look at Jesus; study him, spend time with him, meditate on his teachings, reflect on his encounters with people in the gospels.  If we did I believe we’d find our sense of self and our sense of vocation coming into view much faster than we would by doing lots of personality profiles, career match programs, etc.


Prayer as Incubator of Intimacy

I believe each of us wants and needs a meaningful connection on two levels: with God with others.  Prayer is an incubator for both.

Intimacy with Others

“28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28)

Notice Jesus takes a few close friends with him to pray.  Have you ever prayed with someone in a really meaningful way?  It’s a very powerful and humbling experience. It connects us to others in a way that nothing else can.  When prayer is sincere and vulnerable we can’t help but become closer to those we pray with; we can’t help but deepen our love for them.  In fact, prayer is so powerful in creating intimacy between people the campus ministry Young Life includes as part of its training program the mantra, “the couple that prays together lays together.” It’s their way of warning dating to be careful about spending too much time alone in prayer, because when your heart connects with someone on that level–if there’s an existing foundation of attraction–your body will want to follow suit.  Prayer is a powerful incubator for intimacy with others.

Intimacy with God

“32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’” (Luke 9:32-33).

During his time of prayer Peter has an experience of Jesus that is so awesome, he immediately tries to figure out  a way to hold onto the moment forever.  Peter’s experience of Jesus’ glory is so pervasie, so good, so restorative, so deep, that he’s willing to stay on the mountaintop forever.  Those kind of profound personal experiences of God’s immanence (i.e. closeness) don’t happen very often in the context of prayer (at least for me).  But sometimes God allows His presence to be experienced in a profoundly powerful and personal way.  Those encounters are a gift, and often only happen within the incubator of prayer.  They are beautiful and mysterious and build your faith and intimacy with God by leaps and bounds.

But if I want to experience that level of closeness with God, I need to follow Jesus’ way and consistently seek out places of voluntary under-stimulation (i.e. “wilderness”) where I can just be with God.  Unhurried.  At ease.  Open.

In that environment–in that incubator–intimacy with God is generated, sustained, and deepened.


Prayer As Incubator

Personally, I’ve always struggled with prayer.  It’s not my spiritual love language (in fact, it may be my weakest!), and that’s led to prayer being associated predominantly with dullness instead of vitality for me personally.  I know prayer is something I ought to do, but it’s not something I often find myself wanting to do.

Despite my own weak and shabby prayer life, I can’t help but notice how prayer seems to be on the rise within Grindstone over the last year or so.  I can’t remember a time when people have been more interested in coming together to pray.  It’s definitely exciting, because the more I learn about prayer the more excited I get for how God is going to use this new hunger within our church and the communities we’re a part of.

One of my favourite windows into Jesus’ prayer life is found in Luke 5:16, where we read that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  That one verse has really pushed me to rethink my own prayer rhythms and what they reveal about the state of my heart and my discipleship to Jesus.  If Jesus often withdrew to lonely (i.e. wilderness) places and prayed, in what sense can I call myself a follower of his Way when I seldom withdraw to lonely places and pray?

I recently taught on Jesus’ transfiguration found in Luke chapter 9.  I was specifically mining the passage for insights into the nature and purpose of prayer.  After several readings a metaphor jumped out at me that instantly helped me understand prayer in a way that was both new and exciting: Prayer is an incubator for spiritual growth, vibrancy, and power.

An incubator is an enclosed apparatus in which premature or unusually small babies are placed and which provides a controlled and protective environment for their growth and development.  It’s a place or situation that permits or encourages proper formation and maturation.

As I thought through the metaphor of prayer as incubator, holding it in my head alongside Jesus’ transfiguration, I began to see several ways in which this passage highlights how prayer acts as an incubator which God uses to do something in, through, and for us that would not be possible outside of the posture of prayer.

Over the next few days I’m going to post some thoughts about how the disciples’ encounter with Jesus in Luke 9 reveals how prayer is:

  1. An incubator for Intimacy
  2. An incubator for Identity
  3. An incubator for Mission
  4. An incubator for the Miraculous

A Spirit-Saturated, Gospel In-Breaking Day

Yesterday was a Spirit-saturated, gospel in-breaking day.  It was intense.  It was beautiful.  And it took everything out of me.

I woke up this morning feeling absolutely wrecked, but in a gospel, life-giving way.  I told Heather I felt like I was experiencing a worship hangover.

I think.  I’ve never been hung-over. I’m inferring from my friends’ experiences (who shall remain nameless).

Sunday morning at Grindstone we shared our intention to start a church in Hamilton and our plans to begin exploring what that may look like this fall.  Sunday afternoon was filled with great, relaxing family time (even a nap!) and then some errands that allowed me to process my emotions around the morning’s announcement.  In the evening, our family was blessed to have Sam Lycklama drop off a fantastic meal, and Sunday evening I attended 541 Eatery and Exchange’s worship and communion night, which was absolutely stunning.

During the worship session at 541, I was introduced to a song that will become my personal anthem for the next phase of the journey: Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail).

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

I shared on Sunday morning that Isaiah 43:1-19 makes it clear that at the same time God calls us out, He draws us in.  God always counters the push of greater mission with the pull of  greater intimacy and grace.  Yesterday felt very much like that to me personally.

Jesus is glorious.  His gospel is beautiful.  I want to know both in their fullness.

Wherever You would call me.