The Prayer of Hope

“A person with hope does not get tangled up with concerns for how his wishes will be fulfilled. So, too, his prayer is not directed toward the gift, but toward the one who gives it. His prayer might still contain just as many desires, but ultimately it is not a question of having a wish come true but of expressing an unlimited faith is the giver of all good things….For the prayer of hope it is essential that there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, and no proofs demanded, only that you expect everything from the other without binding him. Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good. Hope includes an openness by which you wait for the other to make his loving promise come true, even though you never know when, where or how this might happen.” (Henri Nouwen)

 

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come…

Here are some wonderful lyrics from Isaac Watts (1674-1748), for days like today:

“Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her form, from everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guard while life shall last, And our eternal home.”

Finding my calling in a self-obsessed world

I’m so glad that I finally got round to reading ‘Serious Times‘ by James Emery White. His chapter on vocation is just brilliant! Here is a rather long extract, but it is worth reading all of it!

 

“As I approached forty, I knew I was entering a new season of life and ministry, so I committed myself anew to finding what I was to do with the rest of my life. Instead of discovery, there was a rude awakening. As I faced such questions as What do I do best? and Where could I make the most impact? the unmistakable voice of the Holy Spirit whispered, “These are the wrong questions.” I thought to myself, What do you mean these are the wrong questions? They are the ones everybody else gets to ask! I didn’t want them to be the wrong questions. They were the only questions I knew, and more than that, they were the ones I most wanted answered. But the troubling idea that I was misguided did not go away. I began to pray and reflect on what was wrong with my quest; I searched the Scriptures. All to no avail. Then my misgivings began to take shape.

It dawned on me that there was not a single case in all of Scripture where someone went on a journey of self-discovery in order to find and follow God’s vocational call. I could not find a single case in Scripture where people went on a hunt for their vocational niche in light of their personality, gifting or experience. I had bought into the self-absorbed thinking that begins and ends with “who I am in Christ” (translation: what is my personal makeup and what it would take to make me fulfilled), and that became a license for the wholesale pursuit of personal pleasure.

In my journey through the biblical materials, I found that people were invited to do something (as with Jeremiah or the disciples), selected to do something (along the lines of David or Samuel) or presented with the opportunity to do something (as were ESter or Deborah). I could not find a single case of someone going off in search of their innate identity, much less trying to order their steps to fulfil who they were “made” to be. Not once did a biblical character say, “This is what would satisfy me, or make me happy, or allow me to be healthy and whole,” and then map out a strategy to make it happen. They simply lived their life in faithfulness and responded to what God brought their way. They submitted their gifts and abilities, investments and labor, to him. And even if God never brought anything their way, they embraced their place in life with the belief that at the very least that had been brought their way.”

Pg. 122-123

The priority of thinking

I’m so enjoying reading ‘Serious Times’ by James Emery White. Oh how I had read it when I first bought the book! However, today I read his chapter on the role of the mind in the Christian life and felt especially stirred and challenged. Listen to what he has to say here:

 

“The life of the mind comes easier to some than others, but the “closing” of the American mind, as Allan Bloom pointedly described it, has become legendary. Yet it goes without question that our minds form a critical part of our life, particularly for Christ followers. Jesus made clear that our minds are integral to the life lived with God: when summarizing human devotion to God as involving heart, soul and strength, Jesus added mind. He wanted there to be no doubt that when contemplating the comprehensive nature of commitment our intellect would not be overlooked.

Yet as Harry Blamires reminds us, “There is no longer a Christian mind.” A Christian ethic, a Christian practice, a Christian spirituality, yes–but not a Christian mind. “As a thinking being,” Blamires writes, “the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization.” Or as Mark Noll has dryly noted, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.Worse, there is even a bias against the intellect. Richard Hofstadter, in his Pulitzer-prize-winning book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, identified “the evangelical spirit” as one of the prime sources of American anti-intellectualism. Hofstadter points out that many Christians humble ignorance is a far more noble human quality than a cultivated mind.

Yet it is precisely a cultivated mind that is needed for our day. John Stott writes, “We may talk of ‘conquering’ the world for Christ. But what sort of ‘conquest’ do we mean? Not a victory by force of arms… This is a battle of ideas.” This was the concerns of the apostle Paul, who reminded the Corinthian church that “we do not wage war as the world does … We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of  God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).

 

Prayer is Relationship in Action

A couple of days ago I started reading ‘Serious Times‘ by James Emergy White. I should have read this book years ago but it sat languishing on my shelf. I’m so glad I have finally got round to reading it as it is a really thought-provoking and challenging book.

 

The following quote, on the nature of prayer, was especially helpful:

 

Prayer is not meant to be an experience-driven event. If it were, I know that I would be extremely frustrated and greatly discouraged. I doubt I would pray as often as I do. Instead, prayer is relationship driven. I pray because I am in a relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and apart from prayer I would not have much of a relationship. I enter into communication, conversation and communion with God through prayer. It’s when I lay out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, and when he returns them to me knew (Ps 5:3).

Pg. 84

Diagnosing the trauma of our current culture

Today I’ve started reading ‘Serious Times‘ by James Emery White. This has been sat on my bookshelf for quite a number of years, and I never quite got round to reading it. I thought the following is such a helpful summary of the trauma of our current culture:

 

“The trauma of our world is that the processes of modernity have failed to deliver. Rather than enhancing personal satisfaction and fulfilment, we live in a barren wasteland. Moral relativism has led to a crisis in values; we find ourselves needing values but not having them, and we are divorced from any means of finding them. Autonomous individualism has led to a lack of vision; there is nothing calling us upward to be more than we naturally are. Narcissistic hedonism has fostered empty souls; anyone who has followed its ever-deadening trail knows how hollow its entreaties are. Reductive naturalism has proven inadequate for human experience; we intuitively know that there is more to reality than what we sense empirically.” (Pg49)

Praying like the Apostle Paul

I’m currently re-reading Tim Keller’s excellent book on prayer. When you end up underlining a whole page in a book, it is a pretty good indication that the author has nailed something! That happened to me on page 20. Listen to what Tim Keller had to say about the Apostle Paul’s Prayers:

It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. It is certain that they lived in the midst of many dangers and hardships. They faced persecution, death from disease, oppression by powerful forces, and separation from loved ones. Their existence was far less secure than ours is today. Yet in these prayers, you see not one petition for a better emperor, for protection from marauding armies, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul does not pray for the goods we would usually have near the top of our lists of requests.

Does that mean it would have been wrong to pray for such things? Not at all. As Paul knew, Jesus himself invites us to ask for our “daily bread” and that God would “deliver us from evil.” In 1 Timothy 2, Paul directs his readers to pray for peace, for good government, and for the needs of the world. In his own prayers, then, Paul is not giving us a universal model for prayer in the same way Jesus did. Rather, in them, he reveals what he asked most frequently for his friends–what he believed was the most important thing God could give them.

What is that? It is–to know him better.