How to Develop a Prayer Habit

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Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Anglican priest and poet George Herbert said, “Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.” Martin Luther once remarked, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

But I’ve concluded that though people try to pray, want to pray, and desire to pray, they still wonder if they are doing it right, enough, or correctly. Countless times I have heard people say that they want something more. Friends have also shared they wish to be more disciplined. The longing, the hope itself, is a gift from God, a sign of God’s work, and a wonderful beginning.

If you want to develop a prayer habit, firstly take heart. The evidence of God’s activity and grace is found in the desire itself. God is drawing nigh to you. Draw near, then, to God.

Where Do I Begin?

In Luke 11:1-13, we are told Jesus was praying, and when he finished his disciples made a request, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus then offered his friend a set of words. In Luke’s account, it is a version of the Lord’s Prayer, the more familiar form of which is given in Matthew 6:9-13. Jesus tells his disciples to address God, to ask that God’s kingdom come, to provide for us, forgive us, to help us forgive, to free us from temptation, and deliver us from evil. If this was all we had to go on when it comes to prayer, this alone would be a mighty foundation.

But again in Luke, Jesus follows the words of a prayer with instruction on the character of God. Jesus tells stories to illustrate. Read the passage. Jesus says that when we pray, we should be persistent and audacious, and that God will honor the bonds of friendship. He is even more faithful than the neighbor we might disturb in the middle of the night. Jesus encourages us to ask, seek, and knock.

Finally, he illustrates God’s way of relating to us like a parent by making a comparison to earthly parents. People give good gifts to their children, even though they are inclined toward evil. God, being good, certainly exceeds us in the capacity to provide good things, in a good manner. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask, not only for things, but for the Holy Spirit, who indwells those who trust in Christ. God not only provides what we need when we ask, but gives us God’s very self, which is, in fact, our greatest need.

If you wish to begin a prayer habit, be like the disciples. First, ask Jesus to teach you to pray. Then, pay attention to his teachings. Memorize his words. They can help you tremendously. Truly think and meditate on the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray. And as you do so, consider the character of God. Is God someone that you really want to know?

Generally speaking, we enjoy being with those we long to know better. We soak up the moments. We cherish common experiences. We tell stories. We share. It can be likewise with God, if only you give thought to who God is, and how among all beings who have ever existed or ever will exist, God is unsurpassed. God is the fullness of beauty and truth, the wellspring of grace, the font of wisdom and the source of all knowledge. God is always out for our good, and is the source of all love. We do not have to spend time with God, but God extends us the privilege. And God, being all-good, all-powerful, all-wise, and all patient, joins us in our concerns, whether large or small.

When, Where, and What Do I Pray, and How Do I Grow?

Prayer is presence and conversation, being with and talking with. It is a posture, an inclination, a disposition. Prayer is a way of speaking and listening. It is also a habit of heart and mind.

When, where, and what do you pray?

The answer: you are invited to pray always, in all places, and concerning all things.

God is concerned with your life. Not only your manner of religious devotion or even simply in your wants. But with you. God wants you to know him, and God desires to become an intimate friend to you. This means you are invited to pray throughout your day, wherever you are, and in whatever you are doing.

It is as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually.” In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul adds, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? We’re invited to pray always, in all places, and concerning all things. But we find that we pray seldom, perhaps (hopefully!) in church, and concerning what we may consider small, self-focused matters–things we worry God might not care much about.

But God does care about those small things, and the things we ask in boldness–the “impossible” things. God cares, and is concerned, because we care and are concerned. God’s all surpassing goodness, power, mercy, and grace mean that it is well within God’s means to meet us exactly where we are and to provide for us in the exact manner that we most need.

In reading this you might feel guilty or overwhelmed. I understand. So let’s back up. The invitation to pray moves us toward an ongoing presence and conversation with God that concerns the totality of our lives. But in order to arrive there, we must start smaller, think incrementally, and, finally, act with consistency over time.

First, start small. If you want to develop a prayer habit, set aside one to five minutes a day to pray. Designate a place. I often pray at my desk with my morning cup of coffee. I keep a list of concerns, written in a notebook, that I have tabbed so that I can easily turn to the names and circumstances I want to remember before God. For many years, my prayer dwindled to, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Or, “Help.” Or, “I’m hurt.” Or, “Remember your promises!” Or, “Thanks.” God honored each prayer, I think, and my short prayers were a small enough act to keep me going, to keep me on the path.

Second, think incrementally. You may begin with a short prayer. You may begin with a short list of concerns. But that time you spend in prayer, and those concerns, may grow. You may want to begin memorizing Scripture, praying God’s words. You may want to routinely read one of these great prayers from the Bible:

Remember, you can make the words of Scripture your own. You do not have to pray “original” prayers. You can borrow words. There are other prayers in the Bible, and other passages. You may want to chose a verse that is meaningful to you and bring it to memory, like John 3:16 or Romans 8:37-39.

You may also want to buy a book of written prayers, those that either point you to daily Scripture readings or offer you other devotional material that can structure your time with God. I’ve used the following:

There are other helpful guides out there. Keep your eyes sharp, and your ears open. Another possibility is to download the Bible app from YouVersion and sign up for a reading plan.

Third and most critically, act with consistency over time. It has helped me to set daily reminders to review my prayer list, memorize Scripture, and to set a top priority. This is a list I consult at the beginning of each day. Doing each of these has become part of my morning routine, as has reading four chapters from Scripture and praying a selection from Psalms with my spouse.

Have I missed my appointment? Yes. Have I fallen behind? Yes. But then I start each day new. Don’t let guilt weigh you down. Remember God’s grace.

How Do I Remain Disciplined?

One of the greatest aids in remaining disciplined is to be extremely clear on the reason you began in the first place. One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an ax. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain.”

In Luke 14:28-33, Jesus put it this way:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

In Luke 14:27, Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To follow Jesus, you give up everything. But consider what you gain! You gain him, and the life that he has promised. Therefore, whatever it is you give, what you will receive from God will be immeasurably greater, and definitely worthwhile.

Why do you want to pray? To impress God? No. Hopefully not. But if you to become more like Jesus, grow in holiness, and walk the path of discipleship, if you want to open the possibility that you will transform and change and become more like the person God designed you to be, then you’re more likely to remain disciplined, to stick with it.

Moreover, if you want to know God, prayer will lead you into a space where this is possible. That relationship, above all, is a treasure beyond compare.

How Does Prayer Shape My Life?

Mother Teresa said, “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” She also said, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer,” and observed, “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Call on the Lord. Live as God’s friend. Serve others in the name of Jesus.

Prayer will shape you, will conform you to the image of Christ, Christ in you.

 

Letters Page: The Waco Trib

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Image via Wikipedia

I made a third appearance in the Letters section of the local paper today. You can read my thoughts here, composed in response to this opinion piece by Bruce Wells on the Ten Commandments, first appearing in the print edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald on February 1, 2019. I disagreed with Wells, believing he skirted the key issues, namely religious freedom and free exercise and expression, and misrepresented the Bible and the convictions of the religious communities who include the Ten Commandments in their sacred texts.

So I Walked into the D-Bar-D

Back in 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and included it on his Viva Terlingua album. It’s a classic. But I never knew the story behind it until recently.

 

What inspired the song? Here’s the story Hubbard told to Texas Monthly:

“I walked in and there were thirty or forty people drinking, including one old woman,” he recalls. “The jukebox stopped and they all turned and looked at me.” He nervously asked the bartender for a case, and while he waited, he found himself getting baited by the woman and her son. “How can you call yourself an American with hair like that?” she asked. Her son added, “You want me to beat him up?” Hubbard got his beer and fled, but not before eyeing a pickup truck in the parking lot with a gun rack and a redneck bumper sticker. Once he was safely back with his pals, he picked up his guitar, strummed a G, and made up a song on the spot, about a redneck mother whose son was “thirty-four and drinking in a honky-tonk, just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell.”

In the late 90s and early 2000s I was listening to a bunch of Outlaw and Red Dirt Country music. Singers gave call outs to other singers, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I kept collecting MP3 tracks and discovering music that I hadn’t heard on mainstream radio. That’s how I found Jerry Jeff. I went to see him play live at the Heart O’Texas Fairgrounds with my buddy Justin Newcom under a little tent with maybe five hundred people, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been a fan ever since. Here’s a picture I took back at the 2018 Texas Bash. Molly and I had a blast seeing him live.

I’m still keeping my eye out for a good “Goat Ropers Need Love, Too” sticker. If you see one, let me know.

Drawing

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Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

The past several years I’ve had the itch to draw and this year I took a step forward and enrolled in two art classes at McLennan Community College. I’m taking an art appreciation course online, and attending an entry level drawing class. I’m loving it.

As my kids have matured they have both expressed an interest in art, as we all tend to do, and from an early age my daughter impressed me with her ability to conceptualize ideas and put them on paper. She was very fortunate to meet a few of our young adult friends who were skilled in drawing and painting and making, and, when we invited them to babysit, they’d create alongside our kids, inspiring them to do their own work. When my son entered the picture he jumped right in and started expressing himself with pencils and markers. The past two years we’ve enjoyed doing stuff together at Art for Kids Hub.

It has been a blast to watch them make. I know everyone’s kids are virtuosos and geniuses, math whizzes and little artistic masters from the moment they crawl out of the womb. But mine are exceptionally exceptional. Mine are the best one’s I’ve ever had. So I’ve tried to encourage them. The biggest way I think I can do that is to do the work alongside them. As Austin Kleon writes, “If you spend more time in your life doing the things that you love and that you feel are worthwhile, the kids in your life will get hip to what that looks like.” That’s translatable to sports, faith…anything really.

In order to be the best teacher, I decided that I would become a student. The best teachers are usually those who never ceased to learn. I was asked by my friend Matthew yesterday why I’m taking a drawing class. Here are my reasons.

1. Pleasure. And I Have the Time.

When I think back to my growing up years, I can remember making stuff with my hands and being interested in drawing, even though I didn’t think I was very good. I would take comic book images, like Spider-Man and the Hulk, and I’d break out an old notebook and take a pencil and some colored pencils, and I’d do my very best to replicate what I saw. Then I’d step back, think it was horrible, and then quit, all because it wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t “right.” It wasn’t true to what I saw. And though my parents had enrolled me in a couple of art classes, and my great grandmother was a painter, and my mom and aunts and grandmother made stuff , I got to the point where I stopped drawing, stopped coloring, stopped painting.

Except I didn’t. I’d doodle in class, and when I had my own computer, I’d draw cartoons using the rectangles and circles. My friend Jason can probably remember me spending more time in seminary classes creating panels than I did taking notes. Most of my cartoons had something to do with the class.

So I have always enjoyed drawing, even when my work hasn’t been “good.” But the more I’ve practiced the better I’ve become. When stepping into the classroom, it helps to take pleasure in the work, it aids the learning process, and helps me to keep going even when it is tough.

In addition to enjoying it, I have the time to take the class, to learn. Both kids are now in school, and my writing schedule allows enough flexibility where I can complete my coursework, keep my volunteer commitments, and complete my writing projects. So far, I’ve found that drawing engages another part of my brain and helps me see things a little differently. I don’t know. It’s a nice complement to other things I’m doing.

2. For My Kids

As I mentioned before, I’m taking a drawing class for my kids. Now, I have work to show. This has led to my kids wanting to show their work, so in the future you may be seeing what they’ve created on this website. Art has basic concepts and principles that guide the work. By learning those ideas and principles, I can teach them to my kids and help them grow. Simple, really.

I also think I got kind of inspired when I made this tank for David last Halloween:

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3. Because of My Influences

Members of my family were creators, makers. There are several paintings by my Nanny, rural landscapes and farming scenes, that are still with us, hanging on the walls. So when I take photographs and share them, or when I make something, maybe I hope it’ll be around after I’m gone. Maybe I hope that the work of my hands will be established, at least for a little while.

But I also had a seminary professor named Howard Hendricks who encouraged us to be creative, to draw, to make, to find ways to express ourselves and to tell stories that pointed others toward the glory of God. He understood that God was a creative being, and that people, created in God’s image, were made to create, to reflect the glory of the Creator in the things that were made.

Hendricks did not limit this idea to crafting words, preaching sermons, or making presentations. He saw that the arts could powerfully convey truth and encouraged his students to use their gifts. Most of the things I made for his courses involved photography or poetry. But I drew stuff, mainly on my computer. I own Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (and the Workbook) because of Hendricks, and worked my way through some of the exercises. He inspired me to draw.

Lastly, I’ll loop back to comics. I used to enjoy trying to recreate the heroes I encountered in the Marvel and DC stories. I collected comics in middle school. I’m so thankful my parents hung on to my collection. As comic book stories have come alive as movies, I’ve gone back to them, checking out the bound collections from my public library, reading backstories, checking out the evolution of the artwork. And I’ve become a patron of Bankston’s, a local comic books store. Right now I’m reading Detective Comics (Batman), Miles Morales: Spider-Man, The Batman Who Laughs, and Wolverine. The art is incredible.

That’s why I draw.

A Rhythm of Practices

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Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Ken Shigematsu writes:

There is no such thing as a “magic pill” that can make you a great athlete or an accomplished musician, a master carpenter or a wise parent. We all know people who have an amazing talent or aptitude but have not realized their potential. The path to greatness, whether pursued consciously or unconsciously, is one that requires a rhythm of disciplined practice.

In the same way that no one becomes a great athlete or musician on the basis of a special talent alone, no one becomes like Jesus on the basis of a special gift from God alone. People grow–they become who they are–not because God zapped them while they walked across a field but because they make a conscious effort to respond to the grace of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cultivate the gift they have received. Those who flourish in their lives with God have a Spirit-initiated rule of life, a rhythm of practices that enables them to welcome and respond to Jesus.

God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God, 22

We grow via a Spirit-empowered and initiated response to the availability of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. For any positive change we experience, for any sign that we have become more like Jesus, praise be to God, for God is the initiator, the author, and the guide on the path of holiness. But to the degree that we are conscious of God’s work, we should also become consciously willing to take another step, to continue along the path, to grow in trust, to be sanctified in truth, and to answer the calling of Jesus, “Follow me.”

As Shigematsu says, flourishing in our life with God is fostered and supported by “a rhythm of practices,” or a way of life, a way that is flexible, life-giving, and grounded in God.

Does your spiritual life supported by a rhythm of practices? What are those practices?

The 10,000 Year Clock

Imagine a clock that was designed to keep time long after you were gone. Americans presently live an average of 78.69 years. Jeff Bezos helped fund the construction of a clock that will keep time 10,000 years. Assuming the next one hundred and twenty eight of your descendants live the average human life span, they may see Bezos’ clock tick its last tock.

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Jeff Bezos Shared this Image on Twitter

Here’s more from Wired:

This past winter, inside a mountain on Jeff Bezos’ sprawling West Texas ranch, Hillis and his colleagues began assembling the device. It is housed in a cylindrical 500-foot shaft cut into solid limestone. Visitors will enter through a jade-paneled door and climb a staircase that spirals around the clock’s gargantuan innards—5-ton ­counterweights, 8-foot stainless steel gears, a 6-foot titanium pendulum. If they choose to engage the clock’s winding mechanism, they’ll be rewarded with one of 3.65 million unique chimes composed by musician Brian Eno. But the effort is optional; at the top of the stairs is a cupola made of sapphire glass, which will keep the clock fed with thermal energy and sync it up with solar noon. Left unattended, it will mark the millennia on its own. Bezos, who helped pay for the project, told WIRED in 2011 that “whole civilizations will rise and fall” over the life of the clock. That leaves plenty of time to think about what’s beyond the four-zero barrier.

You can learn more about the clock project by spending time here.

Human beings are geared more toward dealing with and facing immediate threats, deciding matters based on what benefits them most in the moment. But by taking the long view, when considering those who will come long after us, our perspective shifts and perhaps the decisions we make today will be less about ourselves and more about those who are to come after us, our posterity.

We’re a mist, a passing shadow, like grass that is renewed in the morning and in the evening fades. 10,000 years is a long time. But I hope to use this short span for good, and to leave something behind for those who will come after; hopefully something better, something good.

Sara Groves – Jesus, See the Traveler

This is a beautiful song, telling a simple story, allowing much room for imagination. Who is the traveler? Where are they going? Who is the father, mother, and child?

Do we seek the welfare of the stranger? Asking for God’s mercy upon those we do not know, that we only perceive from far away, perhaps only knowing that they are road-weary and in need of rest?

You could apply the imagery in this song to many scenarios, maybe even this one. There are others, not as politically charged, but nonetheless suitable, for wherever we see the stranger traveling the road, we must always remember mercy and never forget that we also were once without a home, without rest, until God chose to grant an everlasting mercy, rest, and hospitality to us.

February Book Notes and Kindle Deals

If you know me, you know I love books. Last week, I finished Jeff Pearlman’s Football for a Buck, which tells the story of the United States Football League. Pearlman is a great writer, I’m a sports nut, Donald Trump is part of the USFL’s story, and that made this interesting book more timely that it otherwise would’ve been. I also finished Michael Connelly’s latest Bosch and Ballard novel, Dark Sacred Night. I read everything Connelly writes. He’s a master of crime fiction, and Harry Bosch is one of my favorite characters in literature.

Amazon’s released their February Kindle deals. Here are a few notable books:

These are all either two or three bucks. The Name of the Rose is a detective novel, set in a monastery. I read it about ten years ago and enjoyed it. We’re using the Shigematsu book in my covenant group at Truett Seminary, and I think it is excellent. If you’ve struggled to formulate an approach to the spiritual life that works (meaning, in the past you’ve tried, got frustrated, and felt like you failed), you might want to check it out. I’ve enjoyed reading Henry Cloud, and thought those topics might be relevant to a few of my friends. Sider, McKnight, and Merton are authors I appreciate.

Happy reading!

Save More.

The government is open and operating, for now, but during the shutdown we heard federal employees couldn’t miss a paycheck and that the gridlock in Washington was keeping workers from paying bills, buying groceries, and taking care of basic necessities.

Tyler Cowen wrote a column at Bloomberg that caught my eye (it was featured on the opinion page of my local paper, the Waco Tribune-Herald). Cowen claimed that one of the big lessons of the shutdown was “Americans should be saving more.” It can be done. He writes:

Indeed a higher savings rate is possible, and not just for the wealthy. Most Mormons in the U.S., for example, manage to tithe at least 10 percent of their incomes. This suggests it is possible to curtail one’s consumption without losing the best things in life. Mormons also tend to have especially large families, making tithing all the more difficult. If Mormons can tithe so much, is it so impossible for the rest of us, including government employees, to save more?

There is also a new “gospel of savings” in the U.S., being led by such renowned (but non-mainstream) figures as Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache. They reach millions of Americans, imploring them to strip down their consumption to essentials and to save a much higher percentage of their incomes, sometimes 20 percent or more. Ramsey wrote a column giving advice to unpaid federal workers, including “sell stuff” and to cancel Netflix.

Americans should be saving more, and spending less. Cowen’s column has several interesting numbers about the current savings rate of Americans as compared to past generations, as well as how Americans compare with other countries. The decision to save isn’t only determined by income level, but also by cultural values. Simplicity, thrift, frugality, industriousness, wisdom, and self-discipline all factor in our ability to save. We talk about these values in the Christian community. We do not always teach them diligently and carefully enough, thus helping congregants to actually form the kind of character that will assist them in being generous and wise with their money.

Do you save? Do you have an emergency fund, set aside for a rainy day?

It’s a wise idea.