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If Only I Didn’t Pray…

I pray quite a bit.

It’s not because I’m especially holy (as you’ll see in a few sentences). It’s not because I have some extraordinary hotline to God which sees all my prayers answered my way. And it’s not because I’m just looking to fill my life with religious activity.

I pray because I’ve made a commitment to pray, because I think this is part of what God is asking me to do in this season of life.

Some days it’s challenging, other days it’s easy. Some days it’s tiring, and on others it’s energizing. Some days it’s encouraging, and others it’s uncertain.

Throughout the varieties of my religious experience, I frequently encounter one thought. (Here’s where you’ll get to see that I’m not especially holy.)

“What could I get done if only I didn’t pray?”

Two or three hours a day, time and energy…what else could I accomplish if I wasn’t spending time sharing thoughts with God, asking for blessing in the lives of others, trying to discern what He thinks, hear what He’s saying?

Undoubtedly, there are other things I could do. Letters I could write, lessons I could prepare, books I could read, phone calls I could make, emails I could respond to.

My thought today, in response to my frequent question, was this: “Is that really what the world needs? Does the world need more of this kind of activity from me? Does it need more letters, emails, and phone calls from me?”

No, I don’t think so.

True enough, if I didn’t pray, I could do more of these things, but the world doesn’t need more of my efforts. What the world needs is more of the activity of God. Lives transformed, wounds healed, brokenness mended, lost things (and people) found, wrongs righted, mistakes forgiven, marginalized people loved.

When I stack up the two lists next to one another–my possible activities compared with the things I could be asking God for–it seems like a no-brainer as to which pursuit has an incredible inherent amount of eternal value.

The thing is, it doesn’t always feel so clear, so cut-and-dry about what’s a good use of my time and energy.

And it’s not to say that I don’t do worthwhile things, but are the two or three hours spent in conversation with God among the worthwhile tasks on my to-do list?

Compared with the other things I’m likely to fill my time with, I have to absolutely answer yes.

And so I continue to pray, sometimes only out of obedience and discipline. Many times, I’m not entirely sure of the outcomes of my words and thoughts.

But I suppose that’s not for me to worry about. God’s a Big Boy, He’s responsible for His own actions, and He knows how best to respond to the things I share with Him. I’m to do my part: I’m responsible for pleading on behalf of others, asking for mercy rather than judgment, seeking blessing.

Despite all the books and quotes that assure me that prayer is worthwhile, that it is work, valuable labor, I don’t expect that my question will ever entirely fade away.

That’s okay though. No harm in asking the question, thinking the thoughts, wondering. So long as the conversations between me and God continue on.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Prayer

 

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That’s So Totally (not at all) Random!

That’s So Totally (not at all) Random!

“Just the other day, I randomly bumped into…!”

“I had this totally random thought…!”

“I found that I had a totally random connection to…!”

We use the word ‘random’ often enough. As we observe conversation, relationships, connections we often apply the label ‘random.’

Even scientifically, we discuss the random motion of particles, the generation of random numbers, and the probability of the occurrence of random events.

piAs a mathematician, I’ve thought a bit about randomness.

My conclusion?

“We use that word a lot; I do not think it means what we think it means.”

It seems to me that when we run into a situation that is immeasurably intricate, overwhelming complicated, where the interconnections and relationships are just too complex, we attempt to simplify all of it by calling it random.

Coincidence. Happenstance. Surprise.

Unpredictable, perhaps, but not because things are so purely random: they’re just often too multifaceted, too deep for us to be able to appreciate and handle. Chaos theory, anyone?

I think back to my early days of computer programming. When you needed a random number, the computer asked you for a “random number seed,” a starting number that the computer would then perform some complicated mathematical operations on in order to generate another number, seemingly at random–but truly not so: the relationship of the result to the original random number seed was just too complex for us to grasp. But in the earliest days, if you used the same random number seed, you would get the same “random number” each time.

Who were we fooling?

Instead of being comfortable with complexity, we’ve tried to hide it under this idea. “Well, that was random!” We comment on someone’s remark, or on a sudden malfunction, or on some other surprise event.

Likely, it wasn’t random at all. But we don’t want to stop and consider all the relationships and factors that went into bringing about that occurrence. So we simplify our understanding.

Talking with a group of friends recently, we were discussing the idea of the mysteries of God. There are many things we can know about Him, much that we can say. But there are some things that are not fully explainable, things that we can’t completely describe (I love the word ‘ineffable’). There are some areas where we can take our knowledge and understanding to a certain point, but no further.

For some people, this is frustrating or even unacceptable. Intellectuals (like me) may not be easily satisfied with anything less than exhaustive understanding. We may not like the idea of having to eventually say, “I just don’t know.”

For us, eventually confronting this idea of mystery is a challenge, a spiritual discipline in and of itself.

Interesting: so willing to label the happenings of life as random (content with a lack of understanding), but so resistant to labeling the things of God as a mystery (demanding full understanding).

For the one who looks to science to explain all things, it surprises me to find such contentment with the notion of random.

And for the one who looks to God as the source of all things, it surprises me to find such reluctance to permit a significant degree of mystery.

We as people seem to have caught ourselves between two silly extremes.

We daily admit to ourselves that we cannot understand the depths of everything going on, and yet we make demands of God about why certain things do or don’t happen, how He can possibly be regarded as good, powerful, or just based upon all the evidence we observe.

We contentedly limit science (as we apply the label ‘random’), but we want to fully master God, as we demand full knowledge of Him…all the while disgruntled by the seeming incongruities between God and science.

If we took the fervor that we sometimes apply in trying to crack God’s code, getting into the secret realm behind the curtain to expose Him for who we think He really is–if we took that same fervor and invested ourselves in the conversations, relationships, interactions, and thoughts that we so readily refer to as random, I wonder if we couldn’t enjoy the best of it all: deep awareness of the world we live in and the people we live amongst, all the while acknowledging (which means knowing) a great, powerful, and mysterious God who is watching over us all.

Perhaps these thoughts above strike you as totally random.

I assure you, they’re not.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Life

 

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The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

Contemplating mankind’s errant ways and need for restoration can lead us into all kinds of metaphors, analogies, myths, and fairytales.

Amidst all the musing, the central issue can easily get lost, or even completely missed and never discovered.

From my foundation of Christian faith, I have regularly heard the terms “sin” and “salvation,” and often encountered all kinds of courtroom, debt, and slavery analogies.

Each may be helpful to a degree, shedding a ray of light onto a mystery that seems somewhat graspable, and yet not entirely explainable.

But I still think that there’s something missing in all of this, as we try to understand the circumstances of humankind and the nature of our brokenness.

It wasn’t until a friend shared an incredible insight with me that the pieces became more clear. And as another friend has done more writing on the subject of relationship recently, I think I’m getting a clearer picture than ever.

What is the main issue? What is the big mistake that Adam & Eve committed in the Garden of Eden when they listened to the snake and grabbed the fruit off of the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”?

Their problem was this: they were seeking to know apart from God, apart from relationship with Him.

Rather than continuing to walk with Him in the garden during the cool of the day, chatting it up about whatever they wanted to know and whatever He wanted to tell them, they tried to take the quick and dirty way, the non-relational way.

They were trying to erode the mystery (what will happen if we go against what God says, if we leave Him out of our thoughts and actions?), trying to just gather the information and cut to the chase rather than learn progressively, as a result of walking daily with the Sovereign of the Universe.

They tried to become self-defined: we are the ones who know, the ones who have eaten of the fruit.

The result was indeed self-definition…an isolation and separation from God and a shame and concern for self that they could hardly bear.

They got knowledge alright. They got awareness.  But they didn’t get the right kind, the right way.

I’ve heard that instead of calling it “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” it might be better understood as “the tree of good and bad knowing.”

Some philosophers may claim that all knowledge is good and virtuous. But clearly, there are some things that we are really better off not knowing–like how to make nuclear weapons. And there are other things that are not worth knowing in the way that we came to learn them–gruesome human experiments in Nazi Germany come to mind.

No, there is good knowing and bad knowing. Good knowing comes from walking in relationship with the One who forms, owns, and runs the Universe. Bad knowing comes from going our own way, pursuing the knowledge we want by the methods we choose, rather than learning the things we need to know from the one Good Teacher.

There was a tree in the middle of the garden that represented a choice: good knowing was available and enjoyed. Bad knowing was out there. Instant gratification. Delightful to the eyes. Food for the body and mind. But not for the soul.

Humanity’s main issue is that we tried to learn and grow apart from God. We tried to define for ourselves what we should know–and thus how we should live, and even who we should be. And these things run exactly contrary to the essence of good knowing, of walking the path that God has for us, of learning the lessons He teaches us, of becoming the people He has intended for us to be.

The sin of partaking of the tree of knowledge is not merely disobeying the commandment of God (as if that weren’t enough), but rather the plotting of a course of self-definition and self-determination that is not ours to plot. We don’t belong to ourselves. We were bought at a price. And we were created for relationship. To turn our back on these things, to turn our back on this God, is at the root of our ongoing need for restoration, for deliverance, for salvation.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Theology

 

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