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Richard Foster: Simple Prayer

So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? Numbers 11:11-12

“God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture, so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer. So we are brought to the the most basic, the most primary form of prayer: Simple Prayer. Let me describe it for you.

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health.

In a very real sense we are the focus of Simple Prayer. Our needs, our wants, our concerns dominate our prayer experience. Our prayers are shot through with plenty of pride, conceit, vanity, pretentiousness, haughtiness, and general all-around egocentricity. No doubt there are also magnanimity, generosity, unselfishness, and universal goodwill.

We make mistakes — lost of them; we sin; we fall down, often — but each time we get up and begin again. We pray again. We seek to follow God again. And again our insolence and self-indulgence defeat us. Never mind. We confess and begin again … and again … and again. In fact sometimes Simple Prayer is called the “Prayer of Beginning Again.”

Simple Prayer is the most common form of prayer in the Bible. There is little that is lofty or magnanimous about the faith heroes who journey across the pages of Scripture. Think of Moses complaining to God about his stiff-necked and erstwhile followers…”

Richard Foster in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperCollins, 1992) 14-16.

Today begins the second week of Lent, so I have chosen to shift from fasting to prayer. I am teaching on the Council of Moses in Numbers 11 this next Monday in Johannesburg, South Africa, so this piece on Simple Prayer which features the prayer of Moses as one of many examples seemed fitting.

We serve a generous God who received Moses just as He was and who “receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are.” Whether or not you have any disciplines related to prayer, start praying this Lent. And perhaps begin with what Foster and others describe as “Simple Prayer” or the “Prayer of Beginning Again”.

Pick a time every day to pray, such as in the shower or on your morning walk. Share with God whatever comes to mind. Take solace in the fact that people of great faith like Moses prayed everything from ordinary to frustrated prayers. God heard them and hears you. Take whatever ails and overwhelms you to God this Lent. Lent is a time of beginning again.

If you want to become generous from the inside out, then talk daily (and even many times each day) with our generous God in prayer and see what happens.

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Malcolm Guite: The waking life

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Luke 4:5-7

“So here’s the deal and this is what you get:
The penthouse suite with world-commanding views,
The banker’s bonus and the private jet,
Control and ownership of all the news,
An ‘in’ to that exclusive one per cent,
Who know the score, who really run the show,
With interest on every penny lent
And sweeteners for cronies in the know.
A straight arrangement between me and you,
No hell below or heaven high above,
You just admit it, and give me my due,
And wake up from this foolish dream of love …
But Jesus laughed, ‘You are not what you seem.
Love is the waking life, you are the dream.'”

“This second temptation is the lure of worldliness: ‘success’, money and power are set up obsessively on the throne of our hearts as rivals to God. It is the supreme temptation of our own materially obsessed culture. And it is our failure at this point that has led to the gross imbalances between what has recently been termed the ‘1 per cent’ and the ’99 per cent’. ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority’ is the dreadfully conditional offer that the devil still makes…

The liberal West is allegedly the most inclusive culture that has ever existed: we deploy a great deal of rhetoric about including the marginalized, and take care that everyone should use politically correct and ‘inclusive’ language. But this is, of course, just a fig leaf. One look at the advertising in any magazine or on any website, one glimpse of the commercials that saturate our airwaves, tells a different story. Any estate agent advertising residential properties (or ‘homes’ as they like to call them — as though a home was something you could sell) reveals that their favourite word is ‘exclusive’.

Come and view these ‘exclusive’ flats. Or come with us on this luxurious and ‘exclusive’ holiday! And nobody asks, just who is being excluded? Nobody responds to these ads with a letter saying: ‘I am interested in your product but perhaps I am one of those unfortunate people whom you and your exclusive clientele would like to exclude!’ No one asks themselves, ‘What is it in me that is being roused and appealed to here?’ For it is not our generosity, our courtesy or our sense of community that is being worked on in this call to exclusivity. Rather it is the worst in us; our desire to be considered ‘special’ and ‘better’ and ‘superior’, at the expense of other people, is here being inflated and inflamed.”

Malcolm Guide in The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter (Norwich: Canterbury, 2014) 13-15.

I hope Lent is awakening you to resist the temptations Jesus resisted on his forty day journey that would launch His earthly ministry. I pray “the waking life” leads you to see truth from lies, to discern what the marketers are trying to rouse in you and, alternatively, what the Spirit wants to stir in you.

My wife, Jenni, and I were talking this weekend about how we used to be able to trust the news. Now we believe all we can trust is God’s Word. Try this. Watch the news less and read the Bible more this Lent in daily practice and see what happens. See if you also find that it really is the only thing you can trust.

You will feed “the waking life” of Jesus within you (as Guite puts it) and discover that life in God is not something ‘exclusive’ or just for the ‘1 percent’; it’s for everyone. Only in Christ do we find generosity and community; the former is a fruit of the Spirit and the latter is God’s design our lives and living.

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C.S. Lewis: Reduce the rebel will

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3

“Everyone knows that fasting is a different experience from missing your dinner by accident or through poverty. Fasting asserts the will against the appetite — the reward being self-mastery and the danger pride: involuntary hunger subjects appetite and will together to the Divine will, furnishing occasion for submission and exposing us to the danger of rebellion. But the redemptive effect of suffering lies chiefly in its tendency to reduce the rebel will. Ascetic practices, which in themselves strengthen the will, are only useful in so far as they enable the will to put its own house (the passions) in order, as a preparation for offering the whole man to God. They are necessary as a means; as an end, they would be abominable, or in substituting will for appetite and there stopping, they would merely exchange the animal self for the diabolical self.”

C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996) 112-113.

As you fast this Lent to create bandwidth for giving and sharing, shift your focus from earthly things to heavenly things. Set aside cravings associated with your “animal self” as Lewis describes it, but don’t become your “diabolical self” in the process. Avoid the trap of pride. Fasting is not about you.

An outcome of fasting is self-mastery or self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). Allow fasting to “reduce the rebel will” in you and help you put your own house in order. Set your hearts and minds on things above so the Spirit can shine generously through you.

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Walter Brueggemann: Nourishing plenty

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled. Mark 6:41-42

“We have this wondrous story of Jesus transforming the wilderness into a place of nourishing plenty. Jesus radically disrupts how the world was thought to be. The wilderness, the “deserted place” in the story, was where there was no viable life-support system. He thought He was going there to rest, but He was met by a big crowd of those who were drawn to Him. They believed He would indeed disrupt their failed world, though they knew not how.

Jesus did not disappoint them. He was moved with great compassion when He saw the hungry crowd. He had His stomach turned by their need. He engaged their hunger, because they lived in a false world without resources. His disciples accepted the barren wilderness without resources as a given; they wanted the crowd dispersed. They tried to protect Jesus from the need of the world. But Jesus scolded them and told them to feed the crowd.

But they were without resources. They said, “We do not have resources to do that,” only puny supplies of bread and fish. They accepted the scarcity and force of the wilderness. The crowd may have expected food, but His disciples have no such hope. They have no such hope even though they have traveled with Jesus and watched Him work.

The story we tell about scarcity is a fantasy. It is not a true story. It is a story invented by those who have too much to justify getting more. It is a story accepted by those who have nothing in order to explain why they have nothing. That story is not true, because the world belongs to God and God is the creator of abundant life. All of us are invited to be children and practitioners of this other story. We act it out in ways that disrupt our society, even as Jesus continues to disrupt our world of scarcity with His abundance.”

Walter Brueggemann in “Scarcity and Plenty” in A Way other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent: Devotions for Lent (Louisville: WJKP, 2017) 50-51.

I think Jesus went out in the the wilderness to be with the Father. Previously, Jesus had spent 40 days with Him there (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). When, however, the hungry horde followed Him there, He graciously supplied “nourishing plenty” to teach His disciples and the crowds that life in Him included abundance for everyone.

As we walk through Lent, which is 40 days long to mirror the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, we learn that the scarcity story is obsolete. We discover to a new story and resolve to live by it! It is cause for celebration today, the first of seven feast days of Lent! Brueggemann offers us a prayer to this end.

We are constricted by stories of scarcity. Break through those false tales with the surprising truth of abundance. May we bask in your shalom then perform your story of generosity over and over again. Amen.

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Lewis Hejna: Almsgiving and Abstinence

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Luke 12:33

Lewis defined Lent as, “a time of identifying more closely with the poor. That is where the almsgiving comes in. Almsgiving is not tithing… it does not hurt any of us to give up something. Whether it’s giving up our cigarettes — I don’t smoke so that wouldn’t be a hardship — I don’t drink beer except very, very occasionally so that wouldn’t be a hardship. But I love ice cream. Okay, so if I give up ice cream, I don’t keep that money but I kind of calculate: How much do I normally spend a week on ice cream? I give that as alms to the poor.” Personally I found this marriage of almsgiving and inspiring because it connects personal decrease with community by designating generosity as the intended outcome of fasting.

Lewis Hejna as quoted by Alicia Britt Chole in 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016) 138-139.

It is important to remember the aim of Lent. It teaches us to sacrifice in order to share. We abstain with the goal of giving alms. We choose not to enjoy something that is good so that someone else can experience the enjoyment. Generosity becomes the outcome of fasting. It’s beautiful!

Chole traces the roots of Lent back to AD 325 and the Council of Nicea. It’s been a practice of Jesus-followers for centuries, though many Protestants abandoned it with the split from the Catholic church in the days of the Reformation. It’s a baby that was thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

Think of something you can sacrifice in order to share with the poor. Either save money unspent or sell something on ebay, craigslist, or elsewhere. Then give the money to the poor. Drive to the rescue mission, or identify a charity online. If you are married, do this together. If you have a children, make it a family affair.

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Richard Rohr: The real fast God wants

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say, Here I am.” Isaiah 58:6-9a

“Isaiah says explicitly that God prefers another kind of fasting which changes our actual lifestyle and not just punishes our body (The poor body is always the available scapegoat to avoid touching our purse, our calendar, or our prejudices). Isaiah makes a very upfront demand for social justice, non-aggression, taking our feet off the necks of the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, letting go of our own sense of entitlement, malicious speech, and sheltering the homeless. He says very clearly this is the real fast God wants!”

Richard Rohr in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent (Cincinnati: SAMPBooks, 2011) 18-19.

Love that! “The real fast God wants” is not to punish our bodies but to change our lifestyles. Fasting trains us to desire different things, better things. It creates space for the Spirit to produce the fruit of generosity in us. It causes our light to shine. God cares about people and in our fallen state, we tend toward caring only for ourselves at the expense of others. Don’t fast this Lent to lose weight, do it to change your habits. Don’t abstain from forms of technology unless you plan to fill that bandwidth with the things God cares about. Fast with the purpose of pleasing God.

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A.W. Tozer: Sanctified desires

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8

“Right desires tend toward life and evil ones toward death… When our dominant desires are bad the whole life is bad as a consequence; when the desires are good the life comes up to the level of our desires, provided that we have within us the enabling Spirit. At the root of all true spiritual growth is a set of right and sanctified desires…

Unsanctified desire will stop the growth of any Christian life. Wrong desire perverts the moral judgment so that we are unable to appraise the desired object at its real value. However we try, still a thing looks morally better because we want it. For that reason our heart is often our worst counselor, for if it is filled with desire it may give us bad advice, pleading the purity of something that is in itself anything but pure.

As Christians our only safety lies in complete honesty. We must surrender our hearts to God so that we have no unholy desires, then let the Scriptures pronounce their judgment on a contemplated course. If the Scriptures condemn an object, we must accept that judgment and conform to it, no matter how we may for the moment feel about it.”

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional (Chicago: Moody, 2017) 104-105.

Have you ever “wanted” something at a store? You price it, think about it, and rationalize why you have to have it. You convince yourself it is a need, but then once you get it you realize that your desires overvalued the item. Many call this phenomenon “buyer’s remorse” which is common in our consumeristic culture. The marketers do everything they can to make you want things you don’t need.

Part of fasting during Lent is to create space to feast on that which is better. We exchange our desires for things we think we want and need for sanctified desires. The Spirit helps us discern the difference between death and life, scarcity and abundance, restlessness and peace, emptiness and enrichment. We will reap rewards from Jesus if we do this, and we will also grow in generosity from the inside out.

Pause and ask God if there is in your life that hinders your spiritual growth and fast from it this Lent to wean yourself off of it. Be honest with yourself. Simultaneously, set the focus of your mind to the things of God this season and see what happens as a result.

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Michael Bulson: Add spontaneity to generosity this Lent

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full…

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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full…

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full… Matthew 6:2, 5, 16

“Matthew records Jesus addressing the three traditional practices of Lent: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. He shows us the non spontaneous way of doing these things. In the first example, alms are given to the poor in order to win the praise of others; prayer is done ostentatiously in public, again, to win the praise of others; finally, fasting is done in a way that attracts attention and, presumably, the approval and praise of others.

What is wrong with each of these acts? They are all premeditated, they all lack spontaneity. The practices we begin on Ash Wednesday and continue throughout Lent are designed to increase our spontaneity… So, whatever you have chosen to do this Lent, whether it be fasting, almsgiving, or prayer, do it spontaneously. Do it without counting the cost or credit.”

Michael Bulson in Preach What You Believe: Timeless Homilies for Deacons (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2005) 61-62.

Today marks the beginning of Lent, a season of self-examination and repentance. Think of it as a time for training ourselves to give to the poor, pray, and fast following the instructions of Jesus, so these practices become a natural, spontaneous way of life for us after Lent.

Some, however, adopt Lenten disciplines out of peer pressure. While it may sound silly, it’s easy to perform these practices for the praise of people. Bulson charges us to rise above the expectations of others. We can anticipate greater rewards from God if we approach these disciplines rightly.

Take time to read Matthew 6:1-18 today, and think honestly about your giving to the poor, your prayer life, and what you may need to fast from in order to “feast on Jesus” as my wife, Jenni, likes to say. The ironic twist, for those who follow the instructions of Jesus, is that the rewards far outweigh any sacrifice on our part.

If you have never observed Lent, perhaps start this year. Here are two free resources to help you along the way. Click here to get a two-page Lent Calendar from my wife, Jenni, and click here to download the Lent Companion that I compiled a few years ago. Blessed travels on your Lenten journey, Godspeed.

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Robert Murray McCheyne: Give to the poor

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done. Proverbs 19:17

“You say, If I were a rich Christian, how happy would I be to give! But I am so poor what can I give? Now, I just ask you to look at the man sowing seed. When he has but little, does he keep back from sowing that little? No; he sows all the more anxiously the little he has in order to make more. Do you the same. How little you believe God! He says: “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord” [Proverbs 19:17]. Now, I believe there is not one in a hundred who would not rather lend to a rich man than lend to the Lord. You believe man — not God.

In fact, it is but the other day I heard of a child of God who was in very reduced circumstances, her husband being blind, yet who contrived not only to live, but to give to others also. She wrought with her own hands, that she might have to give. She gave largely to the poor largely also to missions abroad. This was sowing the seed, all the seed she had, for she had no hoard. And did the crop fail? No: it appeared in India, a distant relative died, leaving £20,000 to her alone.

God is able to do this every day. “God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” [2 Corinthians 9:8]. How easily God can give you, by the smallest turn of His providence, more than all you give away in a year! O trust the Lord! But the wicked cannot trust God. The world is an infidel at heart.

Some will say: I will begin tonight; I will put your word to the test; I will give double what I ever gave, and see if I will get a return. Answer. No such thing; keep your money, I advise you. If you give, hoping for something again, you will get nothing. You must give as a Christian gives — cheerfully, liberally, and freely, hoping for nothing again; and then God will give you back in good measure, pressed down: “Give, and it shall be given to you.” He that giveth to the poor shall have no lack.”

Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) in Sermon LXXXII: “More Blessed To Give Than To Receive” delivered in Dundee, February 4, 1838, in The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (New York: Robert Carter, 1847) 480-481.

All the money we possess belongs to God. Jesus tells us that where we put the money we possess shows where our hearts are. It reveals what whether we trust God or money to sustain us. If our money is in stock market then we expect a return from stock market. If our money is in the poor, then we trust God to provide the return. Where is the money you manage for God?

McCheyne rightly notes that we must not give in order to get, but we must give trusting in God. This appears as the posture of dependence in the Lord’s prayer. I love the miraculous story he mentioned to illustrate this. A person of modest means gives generously never seeking a return, and trusts in God, who supplies in an unimaginable and unpredictable way. It’s how God works.

Where are you in this illustration? Do you lend to the rich man or to the Lord? Are you an infidel at heart or do you trust in His providence? On the eve of the start of Lent, I urge you to consider your giving to the poor. Almsgiving is not supporting a friend’s charity; it’s giving to people who are in financial need. Ask God what you should give and to whom you should give and give as God leads you.

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Oswald Chambers: Supply comes from Him

Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, “All my springs of joy are in you.” Psalm 87:7

“Exhaustion means that our vital energies are completely worn out and spent. Spiritual exhaustion is never the result of sin, but of service. Whether or not you experience exhaustion will depend on where you get your supplies. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed My sheep,” but He gave him nothing with which to feed them (John 21:17). The process of being made broken bread and poured-out wine means that you have to be the nourishment for other people’s souls until they learn to feed on God. They must drain you completely — to the very last drop. But be careful to replenish your supply, or you will quickly be utterly exhausted. Until others learn to draw on the life of the Lord Jesus directly, they will have to draw on His life through you. You must literally be their source of supply, until they learn to take their nourishment from God. We owe it to God to be our best for His lambs and sheep, as well as for Him.

Have you delivered yourself over to exhaustion because of the way you have been serving God? If so, then renew and rekindle your desires and affections. Examine your reasons for service. Is your source based on your own understanding or is it grounded on the redemption of Jesus Christ? Continually look back to the foundation of your love and affection and remember where your Source of power lies. You have no right to complain, “O Lord, I am so exhausted.” He saved and sanctified you to exhaust you. Be exhausted for God, but remember that He is your supply. “All my springs are in you” (Psalm 87:7).”

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) in My Utmost for His Highest, reading for February 9 (Grand Rapids: Discovery House and RBC Ministries, 1992). Special thanks to Randy Kipp, the mobile monk, for sharing this reading with me, and I hope you enjoy the new header photo taken on our morning walk yesterday after our recent snowstorm.

Jesus came to earth, and His body and blood were broken and poured out for us. Likewise as living sacrifices we offer up ourselves so that others may find life in God. If we empty ourselves each week through our service, that includes our paid work, our volunteering, and other efforts — all for God — then following God’s design as long as we remember our supply comes from Him, we don’t stay empty; we end up enriched.

I’ve had people ask me recently about the source of my abundant energy and resources for service? My short answer is always the same: “God.” My longer answer would be today’s post. Such truths lead people to ask themselves this question: Am I willing to take the risk that God will supply my needs if I empty myself? The paradox of the Christian faith is that you never know until you try. It requires trust.

When we calculate our giving and service by thinking that we are the ones who will sustain ourselves and we are our source of supply, three realities follow: (1) We likely feel spiritually exhausted. (2) We don’t experience abundant life. (3) We have nothing to offer others. Be exhausted for God. Avoid emptiness by remembering where your supply comes from. No other source contains springs of living water that will sustain you and all those you serve.

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