When anyone intentionally decides to start building a life of prayer the first honest question is “How?.” Through my life, I have had moments where these decisions have to be made. Prayer, like any other part of the Christian life, means constantly pushing forward…going deeper and deeper. What counts is finding moments and different practices which continue to push this journey forward.
A few years back at the meeting of the Louisiana Annual Conference of the UMC, Rev. Adam Hamilton led several sessions and discussions on church vision and vitality. At several moments along the way he either pointed to or lead us through Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. Traditionally this prayer is used at the beginning of the year as congregations recommit towards holy relationships and mission. What Rev. Hamilton illustrated was this prayers place in the everyday life of individuals and congregations.
For anyone looking for a new way point in the life of prayer, either beginning or reinvigorating, the covenant prayer is an excellent addition.
- I am no longer my own, but thine.
- Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
- Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
- Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
- exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
- Let me be full, let me be empty.
- Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
- I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
- And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
- So be it.
- And the covenant which I have made on earth,
- let it be ratified in heaven.
I have found by making multiple copies and placing them in both intended and surprise location, I pray the prayer several times during the day. I have a copy in my bathroom and I pray it almost first thing in the morning. I pray it when I transition tasks during the day or when I start a time of devotion or study. It provides a wonderful embedded space in my life.
Yes, the language might be old fashioned, but I decided to not update it. It marks things as “special” for me.
I encourage you to practice this prayer. Make it part of your day at least once. Find the best place to put it into your devotional life. Trust me, it will be a blessing. So share this prayer. Make it part of your life. Above all, pursue a deep life of prayer.
Over the last few weeks I have spent more time around a fire than usual. I bought a few fire pits for the church in October and used them several times. I spent 4 days in freezing rain with the Boy Scouts. I have had a fire around the house several nights this last week as well. Even though I am an Eagle Scout, my fire skills aren’t as good as they could be. My friend Jay taught me some great tips when I was out with the Boy Scouts. My fires since then have been a lot better.
We build fires for many reasons. Environment, warmth, cooking, or just fun…fires are pretty awesome. Sometimes people think the only purpose of a fire is to get a flame and they just start piling on wood. But keeping a great fire is much more than burning sticks.
I was sitting around a fire a couple of nights ago and realized there are some serious life lessons from tending a fire. Poking a fire is pretty important.
Life Lessons Learned from Poking a Fire.
1. Poking the fire keeps it going.
When you arrange the fire frequently, you are able to consistently get good heat and better flame. Just letting a fire be is a quick way to a bad fire.
Many times in life we settle. We settle for what we think is success or we settle for what we think is the mundane. We settle for a sub-par life with God. We need to be constantly considering if we are really in the center of God’s will. We need to be making adjustments and intentionally doing the things that lead us to life.
2. Poking Your Fire is a Better Use of Resources.
Wood isn’t wasted when you poke your fire. If your purpose is cooking, you have to be poking the fire to make great coals. You are able to center your heat and energy in a certain zone.
When we are always carefully sharpening ourselves we are able to easier discern if we are making an impact. Are we being aimless in life, drifting without an purpose? I am a big fan of personal evaluation because evaluation enables us to best focus on the places we are able to do the most positive work.
3. You can restart your flame, from nothing to a full burn. In seconds.
Have you ever realized your fire has gone out? It is still hot, but you have no flames. A few careful and maneuvered pokes can get it roaring again in just a few seconds. I am sure someone smarter than I can give me the scientific answer why. I am pretty sure it has to do with oxygen, one of the three essential elements in fire. The fire was simply deprived of something it needed.
We all have those seasons of life where nothing gets done. We haven’t made any forward motion in life. We are just checking off items. When we are aware of this, we can usually jump in and in just a few moments get ourselves back on track. I have spent the last 2 days focused on a project at church which has taken up almost all of my time. I knew this and had to jump start myself back into the swing of things. Since I know my rhythms and habits, this takes just a few moments to get back on track. My fire is going again.
4. You leave no waste.
The other night I kept a really good fire going for around 2 hours. I went through a good bit of wood. At the end of the night, I had around a quart of waste. A few pieces the size of a pecan and tons of ash. Since I was constantly working on this fire as it was burning, I used my resources well. Nothing was wasted and what was left was almost all at it’s highest level of burn.
I don’t like to waste time and energy. This can be through procrastination or laziness. It can also be through misuse or bad allocation of energy. I find most of the time I do this (and others as well) by not being aware of what is going on around them. It isn’t intentional waste. It is a mind that isn’t really focused on what is at hand. In Ephesians 5:16 the Apostle Paul tells us we should be “making the most of every opportunity”. Life is a gift, given to us to give witness and life to the presence of Jesus Christ around us. I don’t want to waste that.
Fires provide awesome environments. People gather around them because they instantly perk up a cold night. In the end, being aware of how we live life isn’t done just for the sake of getting things done, but instead developing an environment around us people can find welcoming and life giving. Just like a great fire.
I am a person of rhythm. The beauty of being a person who prefers life lived in rhythm is the frequency of beginning and ending. Once you go through a pattern a few times you are able to anticipate what you will be doing in just a few more days/weeks or months. Inside the predictability, our minds are able to creatively drift into new moments. I like to think it is the calming affect of something done multiple times freeing us to venture into unknown places.
This weekend, just a few days ago, many of my rhythms collided.
1. It being the first of the month, it was time to start the psalm prayer cycle in the Book of Common Prayer over again.
2. My prayer journal became full and it was time to start a new one. This normally happens every 40 days or so.
3. I keep a daily food journal, part of my weight loss journey, and I had given myself a week to be “off the reservation”, but promised to start back when the holiday week was over. Since family was gone, the diet was back.
4. Advent began this Sunday, December 1st. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. I began worship with a “Happy New Year” to the congregation. Advent was not something I grew up with, but became something I deeply love when I was in my 20’s.
It is inside these many rhythms (and others not mentioned here) that I find a quiet source of life. As a person naturally disorganized, inside created orders I find happiness and a few places to be a little OCD. The beauty of rhythms (for me) is how they let us anticipate life. I never anticipated so many of my rhythms restarting themselves on the same day.
What rhythms do you build into your life?
Quite often I am in a situation where the idea of “failure to launch” is a problem someone is trying to overcome. At times I even think it is a generational hurdle, affecting many people in their 20’s and 30’s. Listlessness is part of the path many consider to be growing up. It is acceptable to be a non functioning adult, without any sort of clear direction. I don’t think life was supposed to ever be like this. It should be seen as a sin that steals life away from us.
I realize I am stepping on some toes here…but I ask you to hear me out. I completely agree our current society has set up an odd dichotomy of vocational exploration. Higher education no longer offers the best path towards adulthood and sustainability. For many, a non-traditional route must be taken to explore what calling looks like. I know people who spent years in college and are now entering into the workforce as apprentices and journeymen (and women) learning skills they deeply love. This isn’t the issue at hand.
What I am talking about is when people appear to be aimlessly drifting through important seasons of life. Some might call it an issue of personal drive. I think it is an example of a very serious and ancient form of sin called Acedia.
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us this.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)
The author of Hebrews talks about focus. Focusing on something instead of allowing oneself to be tangled up. Acedia is the very behavior that does the tangling.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of the 7 deadly sins. Laziness is listed as one of them and we can easily see what the particular issue of laziness looks like. It’s close cousin is acedia. The particular idea of acedia developed in the medieval monastery. Participants displayed a unique form of carelessness and disregard for the environment around them. Some have said it is connected with depression (which many people use to describe their modern listlessness). But acedia lives as the highway to a soul simply not caring about anything around them. Their environment doesn’t matter and their current state leads them deeper and deeper into deadly helplessness. The monks saw acedia contributing to suicide.
Acedia has the ability to slowly strangle the soul, rip it away from the love of God and literally kill. Put simply…
Acedia Steals Life.
So what does an obscure medieval idea of sin actually teach us about life?
1. There is more to productivity than getting things done. It is about being fully human.
Reinhard Hutter wrote a phenomenal article last year in First Things about the relationship between acedia and pornography. He essentially argued the basic stimulus people seek from a detached intimate relationship stems from spiritual boredom. Pornography is the willingness to live an unreal life in the most intimate space.
When we are willing to put ourselves to any sort of forward facing work, we are exercising the fullest human capacity. Work makes us who we are. We were made by God to be active and doing things. Acedia is a sin which traps us inside our own mind and makes us unable to fulfill even any sort of action that makes us human.
2. Acedia keeps us from seeing the relationship between work and worship.
Part of the monastic vocation from the beginning has been engaging in mundane vocational tasks for the sake of sustenance. Modern monasteries are known for making cheese, fruitcakes, fudge, candles, beer, bread, coffins and many other things. Besides the high quality, these monks are working to grow closer to God.
Part of the tradition of the Jesus Prayer is the repetition of the gospel message of God being done through the daily work. People train themselves to pray without ceasing while doing simple and complicated work.
Work (and it’s companion productivity) is a holy task. Faithfulness to all the rhythms of life is part of growing closer to God. Amy Freeman wrote a wonderful article on this in the latest issue of Christian Reflection and you can read it free in this link.
3. Christians aren’t born, but made.
Being born into church and baptized doesn’t make someone a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a constantly evolving process where one harness themselves daily to the demands of Christ. They are willing to put work into it. Think back to Hebrews. We have the example of those who have gone before us as well as the sacrifice of Christ which fuels us in the journey.
Recognizing the reality and negative power of acedia helps each of us internally understand how important it is to actively put ourselves in environments to be changed and fueled by the grace of God. When we understand the power listlessness and boredom have in our life it really helps us to think theologically about why we should keep ourselves busy. Don’t let your life get stolen away from you.
If you are bored in life…please hear this one thing.
God doesn’t intend your life to be like this!
Have you ever had one of those weeks when everything went crazy?
Have you ever looked at an area in your home and wondered how it got to it’s hectic and cluttered state?
I think both of those emotions and environments are related. I had a friend once tell me when her prayer life was off her house looked like a disaster area. Clutter is one of my own personal brown M&M’s. When I start to see clutter in certain areas…I know things are off. My desk at home is one of those places. The backseat of my truck is another.
This week has been wild. That is all I will say.
When I noticed the state of my home office I started taking a mental inventory. I have dropped the ball in several things this week. I haven’t blogged or followed my rhythm of a long read of scripture. I had several other projects that I usually work on in the evenings I have neglected. My motorcycle, the usual instant place of reflection, has stayed parked all week. I haven’t been satisfied with the amount of time I can devote to prayer.
I had let my priorities drop in the middle of things. I had lost my center.
Clutter took over.
Not literal reality TV hording clutter, but distractive clutter. It takes over silently and steals you away from what YOU MUST be doing. God did not make us to hustle non stop. We were made to orbit around the idea of sabbath. And I have fallen into the sin of Israel and ceased to create my own personal jubilee years amidst my weeks and days.
So this is a confession and a call to confess.
Realize the alarms around you that might be screaming “RELAX, BREATHE AND STOP!!!!”
I would encourage you to make a list of what you consider to be life giving. Prioritize that list and realize what you can do daily, weekly and monthly. Think of the things which draw you closer to God, give you more knowledge of the holy. When we truly understand the importance of them we begin to realize we simply are to busy to not be doing them. When we start slipping into the lie they aren’t necessary is when we should realize we haven’t been doing them enough.
Focus on what brings you closer to who God made you to be.
Clean up the clutter.
Keep priorities in line.
Have you ever had the fear of missing out? You wait to leave a party or event because you fear the fun bus is always just one block away? Have you woken up in the middle of the night and lost sleep because you fear you made a dreadful mistake? Sometimes this is just us always wanting more…but other times they are honest fears.
Everyday people are missing out on how life can be awesome.
Let me tell you the biggest reason I think people miss out.
People miss out on the future because people fail to plan for the future.
It’s that simple. For things to be the way you want them to be…the simplest answer is to plan for the life you are called too. The fancy language is “preferred future” and it is just that. A future that is what you want it to be. Now you can’t anticipate the curve balls but you can most certainly practice hitting them.
Over the last few weeks at St. Paul’s I have been elbow deep in a preaching series called “Future: Living into our preferred future”. You can imagine these ideas have been sitting in my head for longer than a couple of days.
I think it is important for us to realize there are two kinds of future.
The first is the unplanned future. This is what happens to us when we resign to simply go with the flow. When we don’t learn to anticipate we have to improvise. Whatever is thrown at us is the way things are supposed to go. Sometimes it ends up alright. Other times it might end up dreadful.
I don’t believe this is how we are supposed to go through life, both as individuals and organizations.
The second type of future is the planned (preferred) future. This happens when people honestly come to a goal (or a set of goals) because they honestly think it is a call. This doesn’t happen easily or instantly. It happens when you put your knees on the ground and your eyes in scripture. It happens by asking hard questions to yourself and the people who know you best. When all this is said and done, we can emerge with a picture of what we think God wants our life to look like. We can then just takes steps backward and evaluate how to get there.
It’s hard work. Hard work stops many people.
If you think there isn’t a spiritual example for a planned life, let me point out a few examples.
Nehimiah knew very well he had to do something. He wasn’t exactly sure what it would look like, but he was willing to jump headlong into it. He asked and he planned. Then he pulled it all off.
David knew God needed a home, a place where His name and presence could dwell. The Lord told him he wouldn’t be the one to do it, David’s son would. That didn’t stop David. He stored up supplies and made the necessary political arrangements for Solomon to build the temple.
Paul’s ministry was motivated by singular focus and his understanding of calling. He adapted constantly but never let his eyes drift from what he had to do. He knew his life needed to be directed in a certain way and there was eternal consequences.
I don’t want you to miss out on what life could be like…not a life you design for yourself, but a life God has created and molded you for. The biggest personal fulfillment any of us can have is when we know we are living in the middle of the call and will of God Almighty. When we just give ourselves over to coasting through things we are missing out on the life God wants and calls us for. He never intended on things to be dull, boring and lifeless.
So put it down on paper today. Name one thing you know you need to do and figure out how to get there.