Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Gimme" (give me) Part of Prayer

"Give us this day our daily bread," Matt. 6:11

Finally! We get to the "gimme" part of the prayer. It's our favorite part, right? Isn't this the aspect of prayer we spend the most time on?

"Oh, God, please give me what I want!"

"Oohh Lord, please make this happen for me!"

And sometimes we are not totally selfish. We pray a good "gimme" prayer for those we care about:

"Lord, my friend has this problem and this is what you should do about it."

"Father, make this and that happen for my family."

I can only speak for myself, but I must admit that for most of my prayer life, my communications with the Father have resembled these templates and as I look at the Lord's prayer, I realize I have badly missed the mark. Even here, the section of the prayer reserved for request, my perspective has been all wrong.

The line starts with "Give us ..." Why does it not say, "Give me ..." Even in these few words, I have to make a bit of paradigm shift. There is a fundamental realization in the use of "us" over "me" that I am not the center of the universe. True, God loves me intimately and individually, but that does not mean he revolves his universe around "me". I need to pray with the "us" in mind. I need to pray with an understanding that other people have needs too and are affected by the events that occur on this earth -- both in the physical and the spiritual realm. I need to have a heart for them.

This is not to say that I should never pray for myself specifically. After all God is all about relationship. Relationship is at the core of His very nature, as the existence of the Trinity testifies. God is in relationship with Himself; that is His essence. And through Christ, He has invited us into relationship with Him.

Relationship is rooted in communication. So talking to God about "me" is a healthy part of that relationship. The point is not to loose sight of the "us" as we talk about the "me."

The next couple of words "this day" also give me pause. Why are we praying simply about "this day"? Why don't we just cover the whole week or the whole year? Why not our entire lifetime?

Maybe it's because we are talking about prayer and not an insurance policy.

Prayer, again, is about relationship. It's not a Harry Potter-styled incantation designed to bring about positive results if I assemble the right combination of words. It's not an insurance contract where we have to make sure everything is covered.

The Lord's prayer seems to assume that this conversation with God will happen at least daily.

This week I put in a wood laminate floor. As I put in the planks one after another, I would at times stop when I was a few rows away from a difficult area. I would just stand there and think about how I was going to cut a plank to fit perfectly at that difficult angle/corner. I was still several rows away from having to deal with it, but I wasted so much time just standing there thinking -- when it wasn't my problem, yet.

I tend to approach life the same way. I have to figure out the solutions to problems BEFORE they happen. And I waste a lot of time trying to sort out problems that are never as bad I think they will be.

God urges us in this prayer to "take one day at a time" to use an old cliche. Further on in this chapter Christ summed up the concept when he said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt 6:34)

Finally, the last words in this phrase, "our daily bread":

What is daily bread? Is it just our basic food? I would argue that it is all our basic needs. But how often do I really pray about my needs? I pray a lot about my wants and maybe a little about my needs, but only when I feel those needs are in jeopardy.

I don't pray so much about my basic needs because I think I've got them covered. I have food to eat and a nice place to live. I have heat, running water, and even a nice kitchen to cook in. It really never occurs to me to pray about these things. I don't even really pray about my basic spiritual needs. I take all this for granted.

But Christ is directing us through this prayer to pray for our daily needs. What's the point?

Perhaps, it's because by praying for these things we acknowledge that our Lord is giver of all good things. It is He, and not we ourselves, who provides for us. And in the face of managing our personal budgets, we tend to forget that. By praying for our needs, we recognize our dependence upon Him.

So there is good reason to pray for our daily needs.

Does that mean we should never bother God with our simple wants and desires? After all, He is God, isn't He too busy to bother with such frivolities?

Again, God is all about relationship. Just as I want my children to communicate with me about everything going on in their lives, so does God. When we open up the desires of our hearts to Him, we deepen our relationship with Him. Moreover, we open ourselves up to allowing him to refine those desires and sometimes He will even change them to the deeper desires we never knew we had.

There is a call to Christians woven into "Give us this day our daily bread."  Through these few words, we are challenged to realize we are not center of God's universe. But rather, we are called to allow Him to be the center of ours.

Proverbs captures the paradigm with this prayer:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
And so dishonor the name of my God. Prov. 30:8-9

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kingdom Moments ... even in loss

“Thy Kingdom Come ... Thy will be done” --Matt 6:10

“One of the orphanage kids committed suicide,” my husband told me after breakfast this morning.

“Succeeded? Or attempted?” I responded, taken aback by the news.

“He's dead,” my husband responded soberly.

There's an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I didn't know the kid, an older teen embarking upon adulthood. When I looked at his photo, there was only a very vague sense of familiarity. And yet the cold emptiness hangs in my innermost being. He lived there – in those rooms where the hope of the Gospel was shared over and over again. He must've lingered just beyond the fringes of all those outreaches and events where love and hope was shown in tangible ways.

Indeed the Kingdom of God was oh so “near” to him(Matt 10:7), practically “in his midst.”(Luke 17:21). And yet, in his tragically short life, God's Kingdom of Love and Hope did not come. Clearly God's will was not done.

So what do we do with that?

We could sit around and beat ourselves up with all the questions of “Why?”
Why did I not notice him?
Why did I not do more?

Followed quickly by all the “If onlys.”
If only I had known his suffering …
If only I had reached out further …

But there's a fundamental problem with this approach.  Notice all the "I"s?  It's all incredibly ME centered, suggesting that I am the center of God's universe and His workings somehow are limited to my frail abilities. It's really rather egotistical.  And it serves only the purposes of the Evil One.

Instead we must turn our hearts and minds toward God and God alone, throw ourselves to our knees and pour out our heart praying “Thy Kingdom Come!” For there are many more lives that still hang in the balance at the Miskolc orphanage and all around us every moment everyday.

“Thy Kingdom Come” What does it really mean? Are we fantasizing about pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by when we die?

No, I would argue that when we pray this we are praying for something living and dynamic in the here and now. For indeed, as Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 17 “the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”

But this kingdom is not found in manipulative schemes designed to get weak minds to pray “the sinners prayer.”

Neither is it found in the spiritual bullying tactics employed by some evangelistic campaigns.

It is rooted in Christ and Christ alone. And if we really want His Kingdom to come, we must start by rooting ourselves in Him. After all He is the King, right? And if He is our King, we need to start treating him like our Sovereign, placing all our faith and confidence in Him, not in our abilities to make things happen for Him. His kingdom comes in and through us not when we do things for Him, but rather when we are rooted in Him and keep Him on the throne of our lives. When we maintain that relationship, His kingdom flows from our lives to others.  It is always humbling to learn one's most significant moments of ministry were when we were not even trying to minister at all. We were just being who we were created to be and abiding in Him.

So where is the Kingdom? Indeed, it is in our midst, when we fully surrender to Him. It is in the fellowship of the saints.  And when true worship occurs within that fellowship, we experience Kingdom moments, glimpses into the Kingdom of God. In these places, we find strength and comfort even at a time like this when the loss is so fresh, tragic and unnecessary.

So what does this mean for an orphan boy who had lost all hope?

My heart grieves when I think of it. But I like to believe that maybe somewhere in those desperate last breaths, when the series of tragedies that made up his life may have flashed before his eyes, Christ may have somehow made himself known to this young man, this hurting child. I like to believe that might be possible because I know it is consistent with Christ's nature to love "the least of these" and through that love expand His Kingdom.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"What's in a name?"

"Hallowed be Thy Name" -- Matthew 6:9

"What's in name?" Shakespeare penned in Romeo and Juliet.

To be truthful in our culture today, there's not that much in a name.  You can name your kid pretty much anything and few people would raise an eyebrow to it. In our culture, names are but labels which help us distinguish one person from another. That's it.

But in Biblical times, a name meant much more.  A name reflected something of the very essence of a person, a reflection of their character, and miniature snapshot of who they were.  So when we come to this second line in the Lord's prayer, we need to keep this perspective in mind.

The first line brought us close to God as our father, a loving father, a good father who welcomes us with open arms and continually cradles us in the fullness of His fatherhood.  The second line rounds out the image or gives us the other side of the same coin when it says, "hallowed by Thy name."

God is our intimate loving father, but he is also God (Jehova, YWHW, El Shaddai ...). Here we are called to take a step back and recognize how holy and sacred His name is -- to meditate a moment on our Lord's very character.

It is a moment of sheer and complete reverence where we gain perspective on who He is and who we are. And we should be a bit blown backward in awe.

Lord's Prayer in Greek from wikipedia
Have you ever been in awe -- really, genuinely in awe about anything? For me it was when I first came to Europe and could walk the streets where so much history took place, knowing the only thing that separated me for those climatic moments was time. As I spied bullet holes in Budapest buildings dating back to WWII and the 1956 revolution, it was both thrilling and terrifying.  I felt so close to it.  And it awed me. Yet that is a pale comparison to what my awe should be when I come into the presence of God.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, described the purpose of this line well when he said, "Understand what you're taking about when you're talking about God. This is serious. This is the most wonderful and frightening reality  that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening than we can imagine."

To be honest, when I recite "The Lord's Prayer," I tend to skim over the "hallowed be Thy name" part with all the excitement of a dull yawn.  I've missed the message of it, the fundamental lesson Christ was teaching through it when the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray.

Lord, awaken me the the proper awe due Your Name, as Your name is truly Your Essence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cradled in the Fullness of His Fatherhood

"Our Father who art in Heaven ..." --Matt 6:9

I never thought a whole lot about the "father heart of God."  I mean, it's a nice notion for me as I had a great Dad. It gives me warm and fuzzy feelings, but beyond that superficial sentiment, I really hadn't given it a lot of thought until recently.

While stranded on the east coast of the United States waiting for a flight back to Germany, we stayed with some dear friends who have and are weathering more than their share of difficulties. A couple months earlier they had celebrated the big news. They were becoming grandparents for the first time.  But the days of joyous celebration were soon tempered by bigger news. Not long after their daughter announced she was expecting, her husband discovered he had cancer.

It was a severe blow to the young couple with so many hopes, dreams and plans laid out before them.  Those images of nine exciting months of anticipation culminating in the emergence of precious life now took a back seat to the realities of surgery and regular chemo treatments.  Her morning sickness and pregnancy weakness would be compounded by his chemo nausea and treatment recovery.  And what would the final outcome be?

While we stayed in the house with our friends, a call came in one afternoon.  Their daughter's husband had developed an infection at the surgery site and he was being rushed into surgery.  A heaviness hung over the household.  And it was there I saw the father heart of God manifested so clearly in human flesh.

Knowing his daughter's fear and anguish, this loving father could not eat nor socialize. His heart was too wrapped up in her hurts.  He excused himself and took the dog for a walk. He needed to be alone with His Heavenly Father.  Because his daughter hurt so deeply, he hurt too.  Maybe not exactly in the same way. Maybe in a deeper, different way.  But he cradled her hurts in the fullness of his fatherhood.

When he returned the phone rang with news we'd all prayed for.  Everything was alright. They got the infection taken care of and the young husband was back on track in his healing process.

A wave of relief flowed over the household.  And the loving father's whole demeanor changed. He joined us for dinner and could laugh and enjoy life again.

By witnessing this event, I was awakened to what the father heart of God is all about.  A father does not simply cradle his child as an infant.  He cradles his child every day of his/her life.  He takes in to his deepest being every ache, every pain, every joy, accomplishment and celebration.  He cradles that child's spirit in the crux of his own existence, because somehow those existences are inextricably linked.

That's what our Heavenly Father does for us.  That's what "Our Father who art in Heaven ..." is all about.

So the next time you are reciting the Lord's Prayer and you open up with those words "Our Father," take a moment to remember my friend and know that your Heavenly father aches with you and celebrates with you  -- only more so, much, much more so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Habit of Inappropriate Prayer

"Lord, teach us to pray," Luke 11:1

Over the past several months, I've been considering the Lord's prayer like never before. Those of us who grew up in Church have had those words memorized since childhood and the prayer has become so familiar to us that when recited in service, we tend to mouth it without really considering its meaning.

At least that's how it was for me, until recently when I become awakened to a whole new perspective on the prayer. And as a result I became convicted of how inappropriately I pray.

The disciples asked Christ to teach them how to pray.  He responded by giving them what we call today "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father."

Just an overview of the prayer's structure is eyeopening.

Consider the parts:

1. Recognizing who God is and His holiness
2. Longing for and desiring the accomplishment of God's purposes -- Recognizing the primary importance of God's purposes
3. Requests for my needs
4. Recognizing my need for forgiveness and my need to be transformed so that I can forgive others
5. Acknowledging my weakness, frailty and proclivity to return to sin and requesting deliverance.
6. Proclaiming God's sovereignty and eternal nature.

From this general breakdown, I noticed

50 percent of the prayer focuses on God, who He is and His purposes
One-third of the prayer is dedicated to acknowledging my frailty and requesting that God continue His transformation of me.
And only one-sixth (16.67 percent) is allotted  to my personal request for my needs. Note: needs not frivolous desires.

If I took an honest look at my own standard prayers.  The statistics would not stack up the same.  It would look something like this:

Maybe 10-15 percent acknowledging, celebrating who God is.
40 percent telling God how to handle my family and friends problems (Give them this! Make this happen!)
40 percent telling God how to handle my problems (Give me that! Make that happen!)
And about 5-10 percent on seeking the furtherance of God's purposes.

Those are some sad statistics -- especially for someone who is supposed to be a missionary, right?

So maybe its time for me to give my prayer life an overhall, starting by taking a hard look at how Christ himself taught us to pray.   I intend to do this over a series of blog entries beginning with this one. And maybe through this process the old liturgy of "Our Father" will breath new life into a prayer life that has fallen all too flat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Imperfect Homecoming

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;" -- 2 Corinthians 4:8

"Be careful what you pray for," the old adage goes, "you just might get it."

For the last month we have desperately prayed that we could just get home. With heavy hearts, we were deferred flight after flight to the point we wondered if we would ever make it back home to Hungary. We literally wandered from Airbase to Airbase up and down the east coast desperately seeking a flight. Finally, a week ago today, the girls and I boarded American Airlines flight 70 and made it to Germany where Russ and Levi (who had flown in earlier that week) picked us up and after a little rest we embarked on the 13 hour drive home.

Ahhh, we breathed a sigh of relief to be back in our village. But the sigh was short lived. Not only did we return to a dead dog (which, thankfully, a neighbor had buried), within the first few days we were barraged with all the irritations we had forgotten about life in Hungary.

1. Our car's registration had expired so we cannot drive it and are waiting to go pay the fine (an undisclosed amount). Keep in mind they send no notification to car owners about this. Each car owner must remember to re-register his car every two years or so. We await our day in court.

2. The gas company tried to turn off our gas two days AFTER we had paid all the late bills. It took a special trip with a translator to the gas company's main office (payment receipts in hand) to defer the looming shut down.

3. After buying curricula and preparing to homeschool Niki, we arrived at school to learn they had set up a new special ed program in the Mikepercsi school. Niki was expected to go to her new special, smaller class and stay all day at school. Upon visiting the class, I discovered that the school does not differentiate between learning problems and behavior problems, so now Niki is stuck in a class, the only girl, with the 10 biggest trouble makers in the 1st-4th grade. There will be more to come as I work out these issues with the school.

All this while fighting jetlag and trying to remember Hungarian.

So this is what we prayed so hard to come to?

Even though our hearts sink when the dogs run to greet us and Blacky is all to obviously absent... And even though the station wagon sits undriveable until we navigate the bureaucracy, reregister the car and pay the fine ... and even though we have many agonizing meetings ahead as we sort out how Niki should be schooled, we can still somehow be thankful because after two and a half months away, the Chuns are home. Indeed "we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

It's not the "welcome home" that I'd hoped for. I thought we had already done the "overcoming" of great obstacles, and now we were poised for our "happily ever after." But real life does not work out as neatly as Disney movies. In real life, it seems overcoming one set of obstacles only prepares us for the next.

But there is a joy in the journey.

And so when I look out our back window and see crimson sunset blaze the sky, silhouetting the quaint village rooftops, it reminds me of the opening of Fiddler on the Roof, and I can genuinely say, "It's good to be home."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lessons Learned in Stasis

Miracle of Miracles the Chun family is finally home -- after a full month of failed attempts.

But there were many lessons to learn while we waited -- lessons taught to us gently by our Heavenly Father through the lives of those who shared our lives during this season.

Here's an overview of my lessons learned.

From Mom: The self-sacrifice of caregiving, the evidence of true love.

From Dad: Tenacity and determination (laced with orneriness and humor) to overcome the odds in recovery.

From my brother Jay: An amazing ability to overcome what others would write off as "impossible" or "not worth it" with practical know-how and ingenuity.

From Carole: An insatiable spirit of hospitality and servanthood, even when the guests unexpectedly stay a whole month!

From Dave: a clear reflection of the father heart of God.

From Nancy: delight in sacrificial giving.

From Susil, Lidia, and Kara and all those who helped with the dogs and house: the willingness to endure inconvenience in order to help a friend in need.

There were hundreds of lessons rooted in these headlines, but this is the overview. Now it's back to the grindstone in Hungary. We are blessed to be here.