Tag Archives: Little Rock

The Rhythm of Prayer

King Saul is a fascinating figure. He reigned as king over Israel for 42 years even though A) he was horrible at it, B) was corrupt, C) was full of pride, and D) was more than a little paranoid. He never asked to be king, or even considered the possibility. One day he went out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and when he came back he’d been anointed king of Israel. (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 9). His only credentials seem to be that he was a head taller than everybody and, apparently, easy on the eyes. But from the start it was clear his reign would not go well:

▪When he was inaugurated before the people, he hid from everyone “among the supplies.” (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 10:20-22).

▪He repeatedly disobeyed direct commands from God and the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 11-15).

▪After David killed Goliath, Saul did everything he could to kill David, a threat to his throne. (1 Samuel 18-31)

▪After driving out all the witches and fortune tellers from Israel, Saul went to a fortune teller at night so nobody would see him. (1 Samuel 28)

Eventually, when Saul’s sons were dead and all his men abandoned him in battle, he fell on his own sword and died so as not to be taken captive by an enemy army.

A shameful end to a shameful reign.

RED FLAGS

We see red flags from the beginning of the story of Saul. He was never going to be a successful king because his eyes, his heart, his mind, his spirit had no capacity for the spiritual realm. Saul lived in the physical world and governed like a person with no expectation that God might break through and do something miraculous. He trusted himself and what he could see, rather than God and the realm that is unseen.

You and I aren’t that different, are we? We lose sight of the unseen. We forget that we have limits while God is limitless.

Perhaps our biggest red flag that we’ve lost sight of God is the absence of prayer.

RHYTHM OF PRAYER

I’ve heard it said that the church’s dirty little secret is that we don’t pray. We do lots of good things, but we are mostly capable of doing them whether God is present or not. So our lives develop a rhythm of self-sufficiency. Church happens with or without God. Work happens with or without God. Families are raised with or without God. All this by we who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Eventually, without reminding ourselves of God’s ability and desire to break into the present realm, our world begins to look a certain way.

Prayer is an invitation into the realm where God lives and moves and has his being. Even the simplest prayer before a meal is an act of humility, acknowledging that God has, in fact, seen you, cared for you, and loved you. A lot of us give up praying because it feels like one more command us normal folks cannot keep. So most of us feel guilty for not praying and, in some cases, even fear God’s punishment.

But prayer is an invitation into “the ineffable,” the indescribable place where God’s supernatural power is the norm. Praying because we’re “commanded” to is fine, but eventually it becomes one more thing we’re capable of doing with or without God.

We also give up on prayer because we don’t always get what we ask for. But getting our requests is not the function of prayer. If it were, Jesus would have avoided the cross, Paul would have had his thorn taken from him, and psalmist after psalmist would have avoided the phrase, “How long, Lord!” Seriously, from what we read in scripture, you’re far more likely to not get what you want than you are to actually get it.

But that’s not what prayer is for.

Prayer is a rhythm. It’s a rhythm that keeps our minds, hearts, spirits, and souls centered in the unseen realm. Prayer reminds us that what we see is not all there is. When we create a rhythm of prayer for ourselves, we begin to see that ineffable realm more clearly. We’re not surprised when God shows up and does what God does. When we create a rhythm of prayer, the line between the natural and the supernatural fades. Prayer is the key to God’s world.

A SMALL RHYTHM

If you’ve lost (or never created) your rhythm for prayer, will you start this week? Make it simple; you don’t need to carve out five hours a day or get up at 3:00 in the morning or buy a prayer shawl or even keep a journal. Start small. Make a decision now to speak briefly to God once each day – at a meal, in the car, tucking in the kids. It’s like the bass line of a good song: subtle, simple, the foundation to something beautiful. As you feel your connection with the Other Realm intensify, expand your rhythm a little at a time, all the while opening your eyes to the realm of God.

Don’t do it because the Bible says to; do it because God invites you to see the world as he sees it. Don’t do it because you feel guilty; do it because you want to feel the presence of God. Don’t do it because you want to be a better Christian; do it because you want to experience a life that can only happen because God made it so.

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The Night I Went to Prison

Thursday night I joined a couple guys from CrossWalk on their weekly visit to Wrightsville prison where they teach classes in the prison’s Pathway to Freedom program. I wasn’t terribly nervous and I didn’t see anything alarming. The inmates were very friendly, outgoing, shared a lot about their lives and the struggles they face, and, more than anything else, were surprisingly grateful. I met guys with regular names like Darnell and Gregg and James and Calvin. No Mad Dog’s or Spike’s or Killer’s. No fights. No riots. No drug deals.

I know – boring, right?

Actually it was anything but.

When we walked in I was a little unsettled at the sight of the first inmate wearing all white. Something about that uniform – the anonymity, the conformity, the loss of self – made me pause. But after meeting the first few guys, that quickly evaporated. As the men filed in the room, Euel Dove, one of our CW shepherds, began introducing me to the men. One by one I shook their hands and gave some of them hugs. Each one smiled and shook my hand firmly. Some said they had been anxious to meet me (apparently Euel was quite generous in describing his new teaching minister).

Euel and I left the room and walked down the hall to the barracks – a larger room filled with bunk beds, showers, toilets, and sinks. No walls. No barriers. No stalls for the showers or toilets. One big room.

About 30 inmates sat in chairs circled near the front of the room and Euel went around the circle shaking hands and calling each of them by name. He asked some about their upcoming parole hearings, some about their families, some about past disciplinary action. If you live in Little Rock and want to see a man doing what he was made to do, go watch Euel with the inmates at Wrightsville.

We began with the serenity prayer and one man offered a story of how that prayer helped him last week. We talked briefly about the importance of changing ourselves before we worry about others. Then we moved into the night’s lesson on hope. Each man had a book with about a page and a half of information followed by six reflective questions. They are to come to class each week ready to discuss the questions.

After some pretty lengthy discussion – probably an hour or so – Euel asked the men to tell me why they value volunteers coming out to Wrightsville. A couple guys said that the volunteers – Euel, Curtis, and others from CW – have impacted their lives more than any guard or therapist or attorney ever has. One young man – probably in his early 20’s – who had been pretty quiet – raised his hand. He said before coming to prison he hated everybody. He believed everybody was selfish and inherently bad. But since coming to Wrightsville he’s learned there are good people in the world, people he can trust, people who will really look out for his interests. And he learned that from the volunteers.

We stood, joined hands, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then I got to chat with a few guys who asked me to pray for them. For me, that was the climax – men asking me to pray for reconciliation with their kids, for upcoming parole hearings, for their families. Each one had tears welling up as they exposed their innermost worries and fears.

We found the rest of our group and a guard escorted us through a series of doors and gates. We got in the car and drove home.

I’m still processing everything I experienced that night. And I cannot wait to go again. One of the thoughts I keep returning to is that Jesus said one reason he came was to set the prisoner free. I always thought it was a little strange because a prisoner broke the law, so they’re serving their punishment for wrongdoing. Why would Jesus come to throw open the bars and yell, “Everybody run!” But the “prison” those guys are in – the one that holds them hostage – has no walls and no bars. The prison they’re in has no guards or parole boards or work time or good behavior. The prison they’re in is inside. The prison they’re in is in their minds and their hearts. It’s a prison that tells them there is no other way. It’s a prison that tells them they are evil. It’s a prison that tells them nobody cares. It’s a prison that tells them they’ll never be better. It’s a prison they can leave as soon as they realize that they are holding the key.

This is the prison Jesus came to blow open.

At the end of October CW is leading the Wednesday night worship time at Wrightsville and I get to share a word with the inmates. I’m a little nervous about it – okay, I’m kinda freaking out. I haven’t nailed down what my message will be that night, but I know it must be full of love. It must be full of hope. And it must be full of Jesus.

Love.

Hope.

Jesus.

What else do we need?