The Prayer of Authority

November 23, 2015 — Leave A Comment


“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” ~ Acts 3:6-7

(This is part 4 of a series on essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

There’s a kind of prayer we all know how to pray. Particularly when we’re in dire straits, it rises up within us unbidden, like an automatic response to our great need. We might call it the “prayer of supplication” or the “cry of the heart,” but although it may sound different on each person’s lips, it’s always some form of riff on this singular sentiment: “God, help!”

It’s a beautiful prayer. The Psalms are full of prayers like this. I’m guessing maybe your life is too. Mine sure is.

The problem is that very often in our lives, it’s not the prayer we need to be praying.

Imagine there’s a governor serving under a great king. The king has given this governor a specific territory to oversee, and though it’s a beautiful country, it’s also plagued with violent rebels who’ve entrenched themselves in the land. Part of the governor’s mandate from the king is to root out these rebels and remove them, and to restore the villages and communities that they have overrun. The king has given the governor access to all the resources at his disposal. He’s given the governor his full authority to enact his will within the territory he’s been assigned.

Now what would you think of this governor if every time he encountered a rebel or saw a village in distress, instead of acting under the king’s authority, he ran back to the king and begged him to come and take care of the problem? At worst, you might think the governor is a coward. At the very least, you would think he doesn’t understand what it means to be a governor, or how to wield the authority of the king.

Yet, way too often, I think we act like that governor. We don’t understand the authority we’ve been given by God or how to apply it to the challenges we face. We feel powerless, helpless, impotent, when in fact we are anything but.

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The Prayer of Listening

November 16, 2015 — Leave A Comment


“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

(This is part 3 of a series on four essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

There was this one training session Jesus had with Peter that was so important Jesus took him through it twice. On two separate occasions in the Gospel record, Jesus caught Peter out fishing, and used the situation to teach the disciple what it means to listen to God, and follow His lead (Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-11). I describe the scenario in my ebook Leading Wide Awake:

Peter is a skilled fisherman ~ skilled enough, anyway, to make it his livelihood. He has at least two boats in his fleet, and a small cadre of men working for him. I think it’s safe to say he’s a professional fisherman.

On two separate occasions, though, we find Peter out on the water with his nets and his men, applying all of his considerable skill to catching some fish, but despite all his efforts he can’t catch a thing. On both occasions, Jesus comes onto the scene, and suggests to Peter a new strategy. “Try casting your nets out now,” (strategic timing) or “Try casting your nets out in the deeper water” (strategic targeting).

Now keep in mind that Peter is a professional fisherman. He knows how to fish. He knows what he’s doing. Nevertheless, he follows the strategy Jesus suggests instead of relying on his own experience and know-how, and on both occasions lands such a catch he can barely pull it to shore.

What’s the lesson Jesus is trying to get across to Peter, and through him to us? I think it’s simply this: Following Christ begins with listening. We need to learn to hear His voice, and follow His lead, even when it seems counter-intuitive or doesn’t make sense to us. Jesus himself modeled this way of following when he described His own relationship with the Father:

So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. ~ John 5:19

Of course, it’s hard to follow God if you don’t hear Him, and you probably won’t hear Him if you haven’t taken time to listen. That’s what the Prayer of Listening is about: Taking time with God to really listen.

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“I have a point of view. You have a point of view. God has view.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

(This is part 2 of a series on four essential prayers for faith leaders. You can find part 1 here.)

In her outstanding book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Ruth Haley Barton writes that one of the key prayers a leader must pursue in order to effectively follow God’s will is the prayer of indifference. She writes:

“In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that ‘I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.’ This is ‘interior freedom’ or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome…We ask God to bring us to a place where we want ‘God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.’” (p. 63)

This is the essence of the Prayer of Surrender. As you can tell, it’s not an easy prayer to learn.

God created each of us with the capacity for desire. We want, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of the central qualities by which we reflect the Imago Dei. Some say that Buddhism stands on the idea that all desire & attachment lead to suffering, so the way to fulfillment is by killing your desire and thereby relinquishing all attachment to any outcome. That is not what the prayer of surrender is about.

The Prayer of Surrender is not about killing desire; but rather, surrendering it to God. It includes these four parts:

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“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

Imagine you’re a General, or perhaps a Governor, called and commissioned to oversee a vast territory under the authority of a Great and Noble King. The King loves you as much as his own son and cares more for you than his own life. He has fully committed himself to your success under his rule, and has offered not only all of his vast resources, but even his own time to help you become in every way the leader he knows you could be. He’s willing to meet with you any time you need, for as long as you need. Effectively, he’s offered to partner with you in leading the people he has given into your care.

That’s pretty much the situation faith-based leaders are actually in. All of God, everything he is and all he has to offer, is available to them. All of heaven is bent to their success. It’s a beautiful offer, a stunning grace. Toss in a vast and complex spiritual war happening on their turf, and the invitation to partner with the King becomes even more vital to the success of their leadership. Even imperative.

It’s so curious, then, why so many faith leaders I come across don’t really pray.

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“Love does not give money, it gives itself. If it gives itself first and a lot of money too, that is all the better. But first it must sacrifice itself.” ~ Thomas Merton

A little over a week ago, I took a road trip to California. I was going to help lead a training retreat for advanced coaches. I was going by car because I absolutely love road trips. For me there’s nothing quite so satisfying as driving a long stretch of uncharted road under a grand and open sky with the beauty of the natural world floating past you. I call it the Epiphinator, ‘cause of all the insights and clarity that typically come to me when I get immersed in landscapes like that.

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“Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.” Jean Cocteau

Our two closest companions throughout our lives, said John O’Donohue, are Death and the Unknown. Yet we spend enormous amounts of energy every day doing everything we can to convince ourselves that they aren’t really there.

We strive to control our circumstances and our surroundings in an attempt to minimize all perceived risk of danger. We plot out the trajectory of our lives as if we had absolute control over what will happen to us. We drive down a narrow winding road nearly oblivious to the fact that death accompanies us along either edge of the path. All it would take is a slight turn of the wheel in either direction and we would encounter him. A brush with Death, we might say, as if it were a highly unusual and rare occurrence. But death is present with us all the time, walking right there beside us from the moment we are born into the world until the moment we cross with him to the other side.

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“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

Six months ago, a man came to me looking for help. While his life looked blessed and rich from the outside, inside his soul has grown hollow and numb. He had no joy. Nothing moved him. Though he knew many things were still important to him, like his work and his family, it had all become abstract and academic. Nothing he did seemed to mean anything, or make any difference in his soul.

I know his story is not uncommon among men, and women too. We think we want a life that looks a certain way: to have a certain level of income, to live in a certain kind of home, to have this many kids or that many toys.

But what we really want is a life that feels a certain way: to feel our souls alive and truly free, to feel connected in deeply meaningful ways to others in love, to feel our lives matter and that what we do makes a difference for good in the world.

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