Developing a Rule of Prayer

1535548_10152188331258169_2079382846_n

One of the most liberating things I have experienced in my personal prayer time is learning to pray structured prayers. Long seen as the enemy of true spirit-led prayer, structured prayers were neglected by my tradition in favor of spontaneous prayer. I have found though that praying structured prayers can be, in fact, better for spiritual growth than spontaneous prayers. One can only spontaneously pray “Lord God I just come before you today and thank you for x, y, and z” so many times before it feels a bit stale. I am not saying there is not a time or a place for personal petitions and spontaneous prayers, but lately I have been feeling that structured prayer may have gotten a bad rap in my tradition.

One thing I have been working on is a rule of prayer. For those of you who do not know what that means, a rule of prayer is simply an outline of prayer to be followed every day. The rule of prayer is planned out in advance and one then practices their prayer life according to the rule they adopted. So in light of this I ask anyone reading to comment on if you have a rule of prayer, and if so please share it.

Advertisements

Have Mercy Upon Me, a Sinner

I’m prone to self-righteousness and arrogance. If there are any sins that I always have to be wary of it is those two. I don’t know where it started exactly, but to lay out where I think it has its origins would make me sound self-righteous and arrogant so I will not address that here.

I’ve never quite seen eye to eye with my religious upbringing (at church not in the home). Don’t get me wrong I cannot remember a time where I did not love Christ or not want to follow him. Even when I turned my back, which was an inner turning away as I still had to attend church with my family, I still knew that God was calling. There’s a line in the Matrix where Morpheus, referencing the knowledge Neo feels, says, “You’ve felt it your entire life… You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” No matter how far from God I tried to run, there was that inescapable knowledge that he was still there. The funny thing is that this happened twice in my life. The first time was before I went to Bible college, and the second time was after I moved back to the US after finishing Bible college. I tried to run twice, and both times I never got very far.

My experiences overseas heightened and magnified my self-righteousness and my arrogance. It took a long time before I was ready to see and understand that. I thought that God would somehow take away my propensity to fall into these sins. My charismatic upbringing taught the way to not fall into these sins was by having experience after experience with the Holy Spirit or through a mystical transmission of some anointing that would fix things. Fortunately my growing understanding of Scripture corrected that notion. The problem was what I gravitated towards had just as much propensity for arrogance. What drew me was Reformed theology, but just as it drew me it slowly has been pushing me away.

Please do not mistake me, I still admire Reformed theology, and it helped center me during a very troubling time, but it may not be the theology I need. Out of all of the competing theologies in the Evangelical world I think it is the best out them, with the possible exception of confessional Lutheranism, but my embrace of that theology gave a steroid boost to the sins I was already susceptible to. Now that I have been interacting with the Eastern Church I am becoming more aware of these besetting sins and have been more mindful to, through God’s help, avoid falling into them.

There’s a prayer that I pray regularly now called the Jesus Prayer. It’s a very old prayer made up from two Scriptures. The prayer says, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of the living God have mercy upon me a sinner.” To my more Evangelical minded friends that may sound defeatist, but a prayer that continually asks for Christ’s mercy in a spirit of humility is just the thing I need and will always need.

Lord have mercy.

Church Shmurch

The other day a well-known Evangelical leader tweeted “The church often celebrates what happens in a building, yet, we read a Bible where Jesus did mostly everything outside it.” Not only is this assertion a reflection of the low value Evangelicals have placed on church it is also not scripturally accurate. This quote came from a person whose church and para-church organization does a very good work in inner cities and with people who often get overlooked or outrightly ignored. (Also this post is not aimed at him or his church but rather at the philosophical assumptions that lie beneath what he said). From that quote one is left with the idea that church isn’t really important because the really significant work is only done outside the walls of the church.

The question then arises: what is the purpose of the church? Are churches supposed to cater to the felt needs of people? Are churches supposed to be “evangelism centers” where loud music and high-def audio visual media tools are used to create an atmosphere that attract seekers? Is church just for people to gather together and be taught the word? Regardless of where one lands on these issues the doctrine of the church is deficient in many Evangelical circles. The underlying presumption with all of the afore-mentioned methodologies is that they make individual preference the measuring stick for church life and attendance. This sort of presumption can only lead to the church as something that is sort of important in the life of a Christian but not really. The church as social club, the church as a place where we go to for a spiritual fix has taken the place of what the church is supposed to be.

The idea that Jesus did most of his work outside a church building is anachronistic and fairly ignorant of the Biblical text. During the time Jesus ministered, there was no church because Jesus had not been crucified, resurrected, and ascended! Worship was primarily in the synagogues and Jesus, like any faithful Jew, attended synagogue faithfully. In Luke 4:14-16 it says,

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.”

Notice it says, “As was his custom”… Jesus regularly and faithfully attended what would be the equivalent to the church of his day. Lets look at one more. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus’ first miracle takes place where? Oh yeah, in the synagogue. Mark 16:21-24 says,

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

There are many more references of Jesus in the synagogues so I won’t overstate my case. What’s going on here then with that tweet? Essentially what is underlying the tweet is the idea that church does not really matter that much because we should all be out there doing Gods’ work. The thing is, the church exists for Christians. The church exists as the place where those who follow Jesus meet so they can partake of the nature of God through the Word and Sacraments. The church is the place where the people of God are equipped to go out and demonstrate the love of God through word and deed in their every day lives with the people they meet every day. That’s why we go to church, not for an emotional high or to be “anointed” by the Holy Spirit in yet another revival meeting. We don’t have church to attract those outside the church. The job of the church is to be the place where we come together to commune with God and each other. The church exists for the people of God, the body of Christ, to encounter the Divine and to worship in spirit and in truth.

St. Ignatius in his Epistle to the Ephesians wrote,

“Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye come frequently together in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his “fiery darts” urging to sin fall back ineffectual. For your concord and harmonious faith prove his destruction, and the torment of his assistants. Nothing is better than that peace, which is according to Christ, by which all war, both of aerial and terrestrial spirits, is brought to an end. “For we wrestle not against blood and flesh, but against principalities and powers, and against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.”

Quite a bit different from the assertion that “The church often celebrates what happens in a building, yet, we read a Bible where Jesus did mostly everything outside it.” The more I interact with Protestant ecclesiology the more I become convinced that maybe the liturgical churches, more specifically the Orthodox, are on to something. Maybe personal preference doesn’t matter, maybe what we need is not to manufacture an experience where people feel good because that sort of feel-goodism inspires the type of quote the sparked this blog in the first place.

Protestant Holy Tradition?

I was listening to a debate online the other day. One of the debaters was confronted by his opponent who said that he was not being faithful to the Biblical text, by relying on his tradition’s understanding of Scripture. The debater responded that he did not have a tradition and that he interprets the Bible according to what it plainly says. This is the standard response many Christians have when confronted by, or shown, contrary evidence to a position that they hold.

A friend of mine recently finished a distance online theological studies course. The course lasted two years and the scope of the study was focused on one particular book. I heartily approve of people who pursue deeper theological knowledge in order to deepen their own faith and to help others so I was glad when my friend finished the course. There is a slight danger though because when theology is shaped by one persons understanding of the Christian faith we should tread carefully. I encouraged this person to continue to study and to read books and material from outside her own tradition. Those who have gone before us provide the theological framework that we build upon, and this in turn shapes the traditions of our respective Christian groups. Now you may be thinking, “Not so fast! We’re Protestants and we only believe what the Bible says.” I’m glad you brought that up; let’s deal with it briefly.

If you are preparing a sermon do you use commentaries? As you prepare sermons or teaching lessons do you refer to extra material in order to understand the history and context of what you’re going to be teaching or preaching? Do you read Calvin, Luther, Owen, Henry, Hagin, Dake, Meyer, or Scofield to better understand the Scriptures? When you are doing that you are appealing to a specific tradition’s understanding of the text and underlying theology of the text. Congratulations! You are no longer just teaching what the Bible says you are appealing to an overarching tradition that you think best represents what you think Scripture actually says. Appealing to no tradition is just as much of a tradition as the tradition of a liturgical church and it has historical roots that can be traced to a specific point of origin. No one reads and interprets Scripture in a vacuum so to appeal to the plain literal reading of the Bible is to appeal to the tradition of the people who invented that framework.

This begs the question then is there a tradition that is better, or more accurate, then another? I would answer yes. For those of us who are Protestants we often do not realize our origins, nor do we always understand history, nor do we acknowledge the effect that history has had on the way we interpret the Bible (generally speaking). The longer I’m a Christian the more I think we should return to a tradition that is more informed by the church fathers then the narrow readings our modern traditions provide. For example, dispensationalism is only two hundred years old and it goes against a lot of what came before it. As such we can probably reject it as a system. I’m not saying there is no truth in dispensationalism, I’m saying that there may be a better tradition more grounded in history and the life of the church then a 19th century system that owes it origins to an English minister who saw things in the Bible and made connections that no one had ever made before. I’m not trying to trash dispensationalism nor am I saying they aren’t Christians but they do provide a clear example of my point: we all have traditions, we need to acknowledge them and be open to the realization that there just may be an ultimate one out there that shaped all of the others. Maybe we should seek it, and if we find it compare it with our own, the results may be surprising.

Why Sojourneyman?

Why is the title of my blog Sojourneyman? After all, the word doesn’t actually exist (I think).

The common denominator of my life is continual movement and change. I jokingly said to someone once that I get antsy if I live in one place for more than five years. My Dad was an itinerant minister for many years so we moved several times as I grew up. I was born in California, raised in Oklahoma, hit my teens in New Jersey, went to Bible college in Africa, lived in Florida, and now I’m in seminary in Pennsylvania.

I find it amusing, and slightly disconcerting, that my spiritual life has mirrored my wanderings. I was brought up in the Word of Faith movement, educated in a mixture of Pentecostal and Evangelical theology, and attend seminary in a school that focuses on Christianity and postmodern culture. I’ve flirted with Pentecostal theology and Reformed theology and am looking for a place to finally lay my head, a spot to build my house, a nice spot to camp. Quite frankly I’m tired of wandering through the desert and pray that God will grant me the stability I have been seeking.

This blog will contain my musings, such as they are, as I walk this road and interact with Christianity, and its various incarnations, as I search for a place to fit. Read my stuff and if you like it share your story and your journey too.