If we as followers of Christ are to be serious about the “follow” part, know that this is not for the ‘faint-hearted’. As Bonhoeffer said in “Cost of Discipleship” — ‘what cost God the life of His Son cannot be cheap for us.” Yet, isn’t that what we expect — a cheap, cost-free ride to the Kingdom?? If we are to be serious about following Christ there are some rules — biblical rules. Some of these rules find expression in Elizabeth O’Connor’s work, “Journey Inward, Journey Outward”. We cannot expect to spend all our Christian lives as Senior Citizens of Soup Kitchens! Or life-long members of the Men’s Club or the Women’s Fellowship. The Church learned this back in the 60′s when we joined all the ‘civil rights’ marches. We quickly ran out of spiritual gas! Our motivations were noble. However the civil rights movement was a battle for our national soul — this ‘nation under God’.
The journey always starts with self, with the inward journey of self. It starts with being literate with prayers to God. It starts with humbling ourselves to the One who gave us life. It starts with putting down our ‘smart phones’ & instead of texting, emailing, and all the high-tech instruments that separate us from each other — talking to God. Prayer is an intentional act. It is a humbling experience, for every time that we lift our hearts and voices to God, we are admitting that there really is someone higher than us, a“higher power” as my recovering friends say. Most churches in the mid-1940′s forward had some vestiges of spiritual formation. Then things gradually changed. Whatever happened to Church prayer meetings?? Whatever happened to group prayer before a committee meeting, a church board? Conversation with God is really simple, very easy, and yet so distracting!! It’s Ephesians 6: 10ff. “We wrestle not against flesh & blood — but against principalities in the heavenlies!”
Prayer is the most difficult when one thinks that there is nothing to pray about! Yes, we have all kinds of “prayer concerns” we voice in worship, we know of loved ones sick & dying, we know of national trauma, natural disasters, and life-taking violence. The prayer I’m suggesting goes to those concerns, but then is much deeper. It takes that stark, courageous look at my inner being, my wounds, my sins, my celebrations to find God in the midst of them. Prayer in all of its forms and approaches is the ultimate expression that we can offer to God, because in reality we must merge our humanity, our soul, our hearts, and our very being in order to comprehend Jesus. We understand Jesus in many ways. We’ve been taught for centuries of his deeds and acts. We’ve memorized his sayings and words. We know about him, but therein lies the problem. Communication with Jesus often seems a ‘one way’ dialog…..unless we can be still, unless we can listen.
How do we wrap our hearts, mind, and soul around a historical figure, half-God, half-human, who allowed Himself to be abandoned by God, then was tortured, beaten almost to death, then hung to die, and in his suffering willed himself in isolated humanness to die? For me?? For my wife, my children, my grandchildren and all who will came after me? How are we to believe this?? We cannot unless ‘we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God’ no how little we understand Him. Because in reality we can’t understand, until we get a handle on our heart & soul and know God is. Love is. Hope is. Jesus is. Finding Jesus is not so much understanding what He did for me. Finding Jesus is that kind of surrender that comes to an understanding that knows, “I can’t do this anymore.” I must be rescued. I am lost, and I need to be found. I am broken and I need to be healed. I am a failure, and I need to be loved. Is this not what life is?? Is this why God allowed Jesus, His Son, to come to us? Is not life the ultimate sacrifice?
Prayer is the only way I know wherein Christ can be known. I may see His face in the stranger who feeds me, in the child who loves me, in the colleague who respects me. But it is through prayer that there is connection with the one who gives me life, life in abundance.
Step One for Your Journey this week. Set aside a time wherein you will commit to a sweeping prayer for those you encounter. Some of my more honest prayers are “walking prayers”. I may be in conversation with someone and at the same time I am praying for them. Pray for the stranger that passes you on the street, a colleague at work, a friend, your spouse — but do so quietly, quickly if you can, and take mental and written notes so that a list builds. It would probably be best to try this for only about 15 minutes a day. Feel free to divide up the time if you must. Keep your prayers focused on those you meet. Next time we’ll expand a little the possibilities. Most of all listen. What happens when you do this? What do you hear? How did God reveal Himself to you in this exercise?
Dr. Bill Gerber