Prayer From A Lack of Faith

A thought just hit me. A question really.

Do I ever pray because I lack faith?

Prayer always looks good. Always. Also It feels good. And Spiritual. But I wonder if sometimes I – and others –  ever pray because we do not trust God and are asking him to do something different. I wonder if sometimes our prayers are a reflection of our lack of trust in God and his ways of doing things.

Maybe I can explain it better like this.

What if something happens and we do not have any audio and video for a worship service? My tendency would be to pray the problem would be taken of. Which – all things being equal – is not bad. For I believe God is powerful and can fix this problem. But my tendency is to pray for God to wield this power of his to take care of what I think is the problem.  Why is it a problem? Because I do not think God can be worshipped well without A/V. I do not believe the means of grace – the word and sacrament – are powerful for him to be worshipped and to draw people into fellowship with him.

So in unbelief, I pray.

This is different than acknowledging my unbelief in prayer. This is not, “I believe…help my unbelief.” This is, “God, exert your power because I do not think what you have given us as the base minimum for corporate worship is powerful enough.”

No wonder pastors get burned out.

But we also do this as parents and spouses and doctors and lawyers and homemakers and accountants and artists and plumbers. We ask God to do something because we do not believe he is doing something. Either because we look at the mundane and expect the extraordinary as proof of his power or we simply have no vision for a God working where we do not see him working.

This of course does not preclude prayer. The opposite is true. Now we are able to say to God, “I believe you are powerful, so I come to you in prayer. And I believe you are working powerfully for my good (and the good of your people?) even though I can’t see you.”

In other words it’s kinda like saying, “I believe, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Ten Thousand Steps of Ordinary

Everyday is one of ten thousand steps taken without a thought. Unless you have gout or something like it. Once, I was afraid I might be getting gout. This was probably because my oldest brother had already had it. And he carries a gun. For some reason this made the possibility of me getting gout more possible. Because I don’t even know anything about guns. Looking back I know they are not related but fear does weird things. So I thought, “Wait, If my brother who carries a gun can get gout, I can get gout, even though I am much younger and I have no idea what gout feels like.” I didn’t have gout. But for a few days just putting one foot in front of the other was not so ordinary.

We live as if the only steps that matter are the ones, which take us across the threshold of our destinations or the false ones, resulting in twisted and swollen ankles. All the others are ordinary, forgotten because they are numbered among the many steps never noticed. Now don’t get me wrong, we take sharp objects away from those who we find taking notice of every step; careful that each one is taken properly. Or we videotape them and then change their diaper and give them a bottle.

You know the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” Your Sunday School teacher is wrong, some questions are dumb. And that is one of them. We tend to think that if we do not see something, hear it and so not notice it, then it either did not happen or if it did, it was inconsequential. So the tree does not make a sound.

But what if all these small things we do, like taking a step and blinking and buying bread were no less exceptional simply because we have called them ordinary? Simply because we have not noticed them. Simply because they are numbered among that which we must do daily.

And yet these are our days. For most of us our days are full of this stuff. Each twenty-four hour period is a mass of the ordinary. Even the most exceptional people must be involved in the ordinary.

My wife went to lunch with a lady at our church today. So I was at home with my 2 sons. My daughter was at school. My wife was enjoying soup and sandwich at Panera. It was just us guys. So we got loud.

One of my kid’s favorite toys was also one of my favorite toys: measuring tape. You know the kind with a button. My fascination as a young boy was in the form of light sabers. I am not sure what it is for my kids. But they love these things. We buy them crazy nice toys and they want to play with measuring tape. Go figure.

So, Knox (4) and Dylan (18 months) and I are playing with measuring tape. We have it stretched out with one boy holding each end and one holding it in the middle. And we just shake it so that it is so loud, you cannot even hear our collective. I look over at Dylan and he is so happy, his smile is taking over his face and drool is pouring over his naked gums. He stands there so beautiful in his jumper with a dump truck on it. And while I am thinking about this, I start thinking about it. I’ve done this sort of thing many times and not noticed the wonder of it all: the wonder of a father and son, the wonder of a child smiling at such a small thing, the wonder of his wanting to do this with me.

What if I had not noticed it and just done it?

Would it be any less wondrous?

Are these moments ordinary only because we do not notice them and then forget them in the chaos and conflagration of all that is being a parent?

The irony is we need the perspective of God while realizing we do not have it. (Hang on. I promise this will make sense.) If we acknowledge there is a God and he knows and notices everything, then even the little moments of ordinary matter. We need to realize this. But we also need to realize that we are not God. We do not see everything. Heck, I have trouble seeing beyond my own nose most of the time. And I do not have an unusually large nose. At least I don’t think I do. I…we cannot see the ends of all things and cannot the glory in the ordinary. Why? We are not God. We are limited created beings. So we may not be able hear the tree falling in the forest but this is no reason for us to think it did not thunder.

Taking Long Looks

“People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything…” – Flannery O’Connor

Having read this quote for the first time about 12 years ago, I am surprised it is just now getting under my skin. But the very fact it has is perhaps proof of it’s truthfulness. Though I read novels, I am prone to not take long looks at most things. Like most Christians, I am quick to judge. Well, I am just quick period. I am quick to decide on the goodness or badness of something. I make rash judgments on people and books and everything. I want everything done quick. Food. Stories. Conversations. Trips. Blog posts. Downloads. Uploads. Health. Answered prayer.

So, I’m part of that elite evangelical group known as “Everyone.” We don’t take long looks at anything because it requires a reigning in of ego. The long look asks us to submit ourselves to the fact we have limited knowledge. We can guess and speculate but really we are just ignoramuses.

The BP oil spill is a good example. We were right to be concerned. But we were wrong to talk and act as if we knew the ending. We spoke about the spill as if we knew for certain what all the effects would be. And we knew, of course, they would be catastrophic. And so we handed out judgment diffused with anger like those without hope. In other words we freaked out and acted as if the Gulf Coast would be irreparably harmed. And we did all of this at the beginning of the story. But now? The oil cannot even be found. The beaches are pristine. And little microbes are “eating” up the oil that is below the surface. We should not have been so quick to think we knew the end of the story before we finished the first chapter.

Novels, of course are stories. And they should teach us something here. All the stories we love seem to have a crisis moment where we are forced to either have hope or dispense with it. And then as the story moves along, the characters change and the drama takes on a redemptive form. Hope emerges from the ashes of crisis. Our heart soars. Thankfully, we have looked long into the reaches of the final pages.

Our stories are similar. Not only have we as believers emerged from the slavery of sin and death and crossed the river on dry land into life and love with God, our Redeemer. But we continue on into a story that never ends. We move “further up and further in” as Lewis showed us in one of his novels. The story has not yet ended. We not only want others to take the long look into our lives, we naturally fall in this direction when thinking about ourselves. The cliché rings true. God isn’t finished yet. The story is not over. That is, unless you are without hope and cannot look long into the stories about and around you.

The God of the Mundane

(This post in it’s original form is here . It has grown a little.)

Perhaps I am missing something. It is possible.

Most of life seems to be pretty ordinary, mundane even. Mundane tasks liter our days and swallow our hours. We open our eyes, close them again, rub our faces and look in the mirror. Shower. We then shave our faces or legs. We all dress every morning, undress every evening. And throughout the day, regardless of sun shining or rain drenching, we must do mundane things over and over. Usually without thought we take on these tasks.

And I have not even mentioned the decisions, moral and practical coming our way in every lane we drive in and cubicle in which we answer the phone. None are earth shattering. Telling the truth here, a kind word there and on any given day not losing your patience with spouse, children, boss, teacher, and neighbor gets no press. No one will notice the steadiness – the victory over the rebellion we all know lies within. More than likely after not losing your temper, you will look out the window of your kitchen/cubicle/office/drive-through teller window and long for something beyond the mundane.

It is hard to imagine you are being spiritual in the midst of all this mundane stuff life throws your way. How do you feel spiritual when you are scrubbing grape juice out of your 6 year-old son’s white shirt? My guess is you prayed God would give you super-human mom strength so you would not have to return to target to replace the only unstained shirt he has.

Brewing coffee and writing legal briefs and making change are what you get paid for but it feels terribly unspectacular and never spiritual. In fact, it feels small, mundane and far afield from the radical lives of the missionary biographies you started to read.

The church may not be helping.

It appears the current religious climate is one of faithfulness and spirituality measured by the eventful and the big – the bombastic. If the waves are not huge and the shifts are not seismic then we assume a kind of carnality. We have redefined radical to the point where the only radical people in the church are those who have sold everything and gone…well, anywhere. But for everyone who does not sell everything, you know, those who shop at Target, go to the beach for vacation and grab some sushi (or Cracker Barrel) weekly – is there a spirituality for them that can be called “radical?” What of homemakers and tellers, clerks and customer service representatives, doctors and lawyers – is there a spirituality for them in the midst of just living a mundane life? Is there a God for them?

We know there is a God for those who are missionaries, pastors and ministry leader; they are living lives of obvious spiritual and eternal consequence. But what about everybody else? What about those who are not pastors and do not want to be?

Am I alone in worrying there is no God for the mundane? You know for those who, in the name of Jesus, are simply faithful spouses, honest in business, love their children well and enjoy the world they live in while waiting for the next – is there a God for them?

I think we have gone awry somewhere along the way. It is no longer not enough for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, he must now agonize over whether to sell everything to go overseas as a missionary. We think someone who does not want to do ministry is unspiritual. Sure, not everyone can be a vocational missionary. But according to the popular wisdom we should all want to. The only acceptable excuse is ability. Lets face it, this sounds really good and spiritual. But it’s not. It is the very opposite.

It is the very opposite because it says to those are not missionaries and pastors, “If you had the ability, you would be doing something really spiritual, like be a pastor or missionary.” The implication is of course, you are not spiritual and not doing something spiritual…unless you are supporting those people and listening to those people.

In fact, in many ways it is really hard to stay where you are. It is hard because no one celebrates the day-in and day-out faithfulness that goes unseen by the wider world by those who toil in obscurity. No one puts pictures of a mom in Tacoma on their refrigerator so they can pray for her – unless she is in ministry. It is hard because life is not easy anywhere, there is no idyllic paradise in America where sin is not pervasive and the devil is not crouching outside of custom-made doors. And it is probably hard for a few because of the guilt heaped up on them who stay and are made to think they are unspiritual/carnal/unfaithful for doing so.

Right now, someone is questioning whether I care about missions/ministry/etc. at all. You see, that is the problem. We have elevated what is seen as being spiritual and what is radical to the point where all other activity (or seeming lack of activity) leads people to think one may not care. That may be damnable. We must assume there are untold numbers of men and women spreading the gospel of grace quietly throughout their community and making it possible financially for others to go without making a big deal about it and telling everyone on facebook they are doing it.

Part of the problem may be we have made Paul our only hero and not the nameless recipients of his letters. Who would want to be like one of the unknowns when you can be like Paul? What pastor would want to be simply one of Timothy’s appointed elders, never known and never mentioned? What man would want to be simply a day laborer, who has believed the gospel and against the trends of the day treats his wife and children with dignity and affection, dealing honestly with his neighbors? What woman would want to be a nameless mother who at the risk of ridicule and inconvenience, huddles with other brothers and sisters in The Way and listens to a nameless teacher about Jesus? It is all so mundane.

It is almost like a new legalism is emerging. “Quit your job. Do something crazy. Pick up and move. If you do not or are not thinking about doing it then you are suspiciously lacking in the necessary requirements of what we deem ‘spiritual.’

The rock-star preacher thing isn’t helping either. Life seems so mundane after watching them, reading about them and then listening to them. Changing diapers and paying bills on time and being generous and holding the hand of your spouse and caring about your aging parents and having deep friendships and being committed to the church and crying with those who hurt – well, its just not crazy enough. It is so absolutely mundane. And I fear that for most, they do not worship a God who can be glorified in the mundane.

They worship a God who acknowledges only those lives described as crazy, radical, extreme and extraordinary. So not only is there no God for the mundane parts of their lives but there is no God for ninety-percent of their life. He works in the great deeds of great lives alone.  No wonder we try to buy his affection with our acts of sacrifice and the forfeiture of our dreams. Or just give up on him altogether.

Is there a God of the mundane? Is there a God who can give meaning to the mundane duties of moms, the mundane tasks of those who clock in and clock out? Is there a God in heaven giving meaning to the mundane lives most everyone leads?

I think there is.