Let us Pray

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Prayer and I have always had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Naturally, having been a Christ follower for many years, I have heard a LOT about the subject. I’ve always known one should pray. And I love Jesus so much. I really do. But I’ve always found prayer so boring. In my teen years I did everything a good Christian should do with regards to prayer. I had a wee book with a list of things to pray for everyday, complete with colour coding for each category. Or maybe it was a ranking of importance in case I ran out of steam halfway through. But either way, I found it to be a dry and life-sucking experience. I even timed my prayer times at one point. Because that’s how much I felt like I had to make myself stay in the prayer zone. And it was indicative of how much I didn’t really want to be there. I’m sure it even crossed my mind at some stage to make space amongst the shoes in my wardrobe to literally have a ‘prayer closet’.

As my journey continued, I experienced a freedom from the legalism that had previously marked my faith. I was no longer acting under the compulsion to do a list of things in order to feel like I was achieving status as a Christian. This was, of course, not an overnight thing, but a process over many years. The result of which meant that I no longer felt like I HAD to pray. I remember reading Anne of Green Gables for the 121st time, and one particular part of the story standing out vividly. Marilla has finally decided that Anne is going to be allowed to stay at Green Gables. In order to avoid the rest of the town knowing how much of a heathen she is, Marilla has handed her a card with the Lord’s Prayer on it, and sent her to her room to learn it. To which Anne responds, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone, or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” This was exactly how I felt.

So no-one is more suprised than I am to find myself following a daily liturgy of prayer. What!!? Yes!! I know!! My good friend Joseph recommended a book called ‘Water to Wine’ by Brian Zahnd. I started reading his journey from a hyper-Charismatic faith, to one that is much more eclectic and includes elements from many other expressions of the Christian faith. Much of what Brian speaks of resonates with much of the journey that I’ve already been walking for quite a while now, but not in regards to prayer. He speaks of prayer as soul formation. He points out that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and Jesus was like, “Here you go…” Jesus did not say, “Just feel a prayer.” He did not say, “Just let it out, tell God what’s on your heart.” That’s not to say of course that those things are wrong – they’re not. They’re awesome. And needed. But just probably not the fullness of prayer as it’s understood in a biblical context.

As I read this stuff I felt my defences rising. I was thinking, ‘I like what you’re saying Bri-guy, I even respect where you’re coming from, but liturgical prayer is not for me.’ But it nagged at me. Then I thought about it. Lots. I realised that I have been surreptitiously indoctrinated by the Pente theology that is always after the ‘new’ thing. When I was a Worship Pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I told people we didn’t sing hymns because the bible says to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. Good one Debs. As I pondered, I realised that there was so much flawed logic in this thinking. There are any number of amazing, invaluable, really old things. Like the bible. Or mountains. God Himself is extraordinarily old.

Another argument against liturgical prayer is that it’s a prayer that someone else has written, and that flies in the face of the thinking that prayer should flow from the heart. However, we sing worship songs every week that other people have written. I, for one, am very grateful that we do. Can you imagine the immense pressure every week if we lead worshippers had to get up and improvise new songs from the heart each week? Train wreck. Even though someone else writes the songs we sing, they are no less heartfelt when I sing them.

The first time I prayed through the liturgy, I was totally floored. I had never experienced the presence of God in prayer like that before. I was flooded with joy. And relief!! I don’t have to make up words anymore. There is a space in the liturgy to pray my own prayers, and to sit with Jesus; it’s just surrounded by Scripture and the prayers of people like St Francis of Assisi. And Jesus. No biggie. Brian Zahnd mentions that people often refer to liturgy as ‘dead’. Which he says is just bad English. Liturgy is either true or false, and the heart of the person praying is either dead or alive. So, he says, pray a true liturgy with an alive heart. So I am. And it’s amazing. I’m adding my voice to the countless other Christians gone before in petitioning God with rich and resoundingly true words.

You know what’s happened since I started praying this way? I look forward to it. Like I need it badly. And I’m not in a rush to leave. And my soul feels anchored in way that I’ve not experienced before. A restlessness within has been quieted. And for that, I’m immeasurably grateful.

Deb xx

Piggy in the Middle

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I’m a wee bit nervous to write this blog, truth be told. I hesitate to wade into the theological world for several reasons; whilst not a complete novice to the field, I am by no means the scholar that some of my dear friends are. Additionally, I don’t really wish to enter into robust debate about weighty issues. I am however aware that this will probably happen. And it will absolutely be of my own doing. So here goes…

My church background is pretty penty. Not the nth degree of cultish cray cray like substituting prayer for medicine, but definitely plenty of flag waving, tongue-speaking, dancing and lots of altar-calls. In my youth going days we had these events called ‘Holy Ghost Explosions’, which was obviously too much of a mouthful, because we ended up calling them ‘HG Explosions’. I’ve no doubt we thought it was pretty clever at the time, but in hindsight it sounds like a lab experiment gone wrong – mercury everywhere. Very dangerous.

Like many things, those days were a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime. There was a span of time when anyone who ended up getting slain in the spirit on an altar-call would be covered with a ‘modesty blanket’ – even if they were wearing jeans. The front of the church would sometimes resemble a makeshift wartime field hospital. And then there was the era of people hunting high and low for wonders such as fillings turned to gold, or sprinklings of gold dust on one’s body. Which is not to say that this didn’t happen sometimes, but the unsettling thing was the way some seemed to chase them with the fervour of winning a holy lotto draw. It just didn’t appear like a healthy kingdom-building way to live.

BUT. Those were the days when I got acquainted with the very real presence of Jesus. And it’s to this day my favourite thing in the whole wide world. I adore being able to experience the overwhelming love, joy, hope, dreamyness, light, comfort, truth and goodness that is God’s manifest presence. And the healing and freedom! I know for sure that so much of the joy and peace evidenced in my life today is a direct result of the beautiful restoration outworked by Jesus in those times.

Over time, like many of my friends, my theology began to shift in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I began to ask questions. I started reading some more weighty theological books. I had a lot of discussions with people attempting to navigate through similar mazes. I think a lot of us felt a bit disillusioned that the Christianity we were experiencing didn’t seem to have very plausible answers to some of the big questions we had. Stuff about healing, prosperity, suffering, brokenness, eternity.

As the years have passed, there seems to have been a parting of the ways. The more Pentecostal camp, and those that have veered in a more ‘intellectual’ direction, for lack of a better word. The separation is, I think, somewhat fuelled by hurt. I know when I started asking big questions, it felt like I was being subversive. I felt invalidated and shut down. I felt hurt. I wanted to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I still love Jesus. I’ve just got these questions. And I think they’re important.” However, I can only imagine how it would feel on the other side of the fence. Having one’s beliefs and ways of doing things seemingly cast in a light of doubt and suspicion. I could imagine one of my friends on the other side of the fence wanting to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I love Jesus too. I feel happy where I am and attacked by your questions.”

The question I’ve been mulling over lately is this; does it have to be either/or? The ‘Pentecostal’ camp is sometimes painted as a bit mindless and unrealistic. The ‘intellectual’ camp is periodically viewed as highbrow, exclusive and not very joyful. But I want to pitch my tent in both camps! I want to keep studying the historical context of the bible and it’s application to modern day living. And I want to throw my eyes, heart and hands in the air and experience the total wonder of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I want to be a well-read holy-roller. An intelligent hardcore penty. A lover of study and the manifest presence of God. I want to walk into church with my NT Wright tucked under one arm and my modesty blanket under the other. (That was a joke).

I know it can be done. You know how? We have a friend called Sam. He’s a very intelligent and very Spirity dude. He reads, studies and converses with the best of them, and while mercifully we’ve never seen him dancing for Jesus in a loincloth (although Jen may have), he’s about as free and passionate for God’s presence as anyone I’ve met. So shoutout to our friend Sam. Because I want to be like that. How about you?

Until next time,
Deb xx