Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Book Review

Book Review – Flee, Be Silent, Pray

When I read these words in the Introduction to Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I knew I had to read the rest of the book: “Evangelical Christianity in America is an anxiety factory.  As a life-long evangelical, I’ve absorbed the notion that I can never do enough for Jesus. Words like discipleship and obedience carry connotations of trying harder, doing more, and always bumping up the commitment another notch. Evangelicals affirm grace and ‘faith alone’ in theory, but we also worry that we can never pray enough, serve enough, evangelize enough, read the Bible enough, or ‘grow’ enough to satisfy God. Too many sermons revolve around an obligation to do more things or to try harder.”

Author and freelance writer Ed Cyzewski, who grew up Catholic and is now an Evangelical, draws on the Catholic and early Church traditions of contemplative prayer to write this informative and challenging primer on prayer and spiritual formation. He uses Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart as a guide. He points out that while most of us understand the importance of prayer, studying Scripture, and meditating on Scripture, we often miss the vital fact that it is God’s love that is the foundation of all Christian spirituality. Making space for daily contemplative prayer, he writes, helps us learn to rest in God’s Presence.

This is a switch for many of us – we’ve been programmed to do, do, do…serve, serve, serve…but this book calls us back to abide, abide, abide.

At nine chapters long, Flee, Be Silent, Pray is not a long read, but it is one that you will want to take your time working through. Cyzewski leads us through these important topics:

• Chapter 1- Praying with Scripture – learning to abide in Christ, using Scripture to focus ourselves.

• Chapter 2 – Cheating at Prayer – avoiding repetition while learning to treasure recited prayers.

• Chapter 3 – Mindfulness for Anxious Evangelicals – how to use Ignatius’ Examen to help yourself be mindful of God’s Presence throughout your day

• Chapter 4 – Fleeing to the Freedom of Solitude – why solitude matters, and why it is so hard for us as evangelicals

• Chapter 5 – Be Silent – finding freedom from distraction and learning that silence isn’t an accident.

• Chapter 6 – Repeating Silence – learning how to do “centering prayer.”

• Chapter 7 – Expectations for Prayer – learning to pray without condemning yourself or becoming discouraged and quitting.

• Chapter 8 – Evangelicals Don’t Have Dark Nights of the Soul – yes, we do. This chapter talks about what they look like and how they help us grow.

• Chapter 9 – Do Evangelicals Actually Have Hope? – yes, we do. But our hope is in Jesus, not in correct doctrine.

In Chapter 9, Cyzewski writes these words, which stunned and challenged me: “There is no escape from the darkness, doubts, and uncertainty of life. We cannot live in perpetual victory, forever advancing toward spiritual dominance where we’ll emerge as the sole guardians of truth and biblical knowledge. That quest is a fool’s errand that generations have failed at. I have seen one evangelical friend after another run empty as they realized that their faith largely rested on affirming doctrinal statements without a structure of spiritual practices that could keep them grounded before God. One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him.”

Wow!

If you aren’t afraid to have your thinking about prayer and about your relationship with Jesus challenged and stretched, then I highly recommend this book. I’m still mulling over some of the things I read in this book a month ago, and I will be re-reading it because I know there’s more still for me to mine from it.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here. At $2.99, it’s well worth it!

Questions, Problems, Feeling Forgotten, and God’s Absence

How’s that for a title???

I began blogging for the New Year on January 2.  I wrote these words:  Last year, before Advent, we were working through some questions that several of you had submitted to me – questions about following Jesus in our daily lives and dealing with some of the struggles that we can face on that journey.  Several questions dealt with feeling like God was absent, not listening or answering, or had simply moved on to something or someone else and had left someone feeling alone and forgotten.

I wrote one blog on that subject, about the fact that God loves us, and God is always good, even when He seems distant.  I intended to move from there to writing about the power of brokenness and some other important concepts about dealing with pain and disappointment and feeling distant from God.

Then I lost a close friend, my family ran the gauntlet of flu, I had a medical procedure, annual reports came due, appointments stacked up, and a ton of other stuff felt like it hit at once, and I got sidetracked from blogging.

So I planned to begin this week with an “I need to get back on track with blogging day.”

I want to get back to these important issues of feeling that God is absent, and subsequently feeling either that God is not hearing or that you are alone and forgotten.  These issues can arise for a number of reasons, like unanswered prayer, suffering, trauma, disappointments with God or with people, uncertainty, a lack of clarity when you feel like you’ve done everything you can to hear God’s voice and discern His will, tragedies, and the list can go on and on.

I was starting to plan out what I was going to write about all of these.

Then, on Friday afternoon, Jewel and I were in DuBois picking up a few things at Staples when I got a phone call from my doctor – “get to the ER right away.”  It turns out that I had a major problem with some blood work results from that morning.

Not too many phrases get your attention as immediately and as completely as “get to the ER immediately.”

At first, I kept this very private.  I’m not always as willing to be as vulnerable as I should be.  My ministry experiences and my experiences growing up as PK mean that I am used to life in the “fish bowl” – and so, as a result, I have tended to protect my privacy fairly fiercely.  But I’m learning that while a certain level of privacy is important and appropriate, I also need community, and as a leader, I need to be willing to vulnerable if I want to be able to minister deeply to others.

So, full disclosure – as I am beginning to write about struggling through some of these questions and issues, I am not just writing about things I’ve worked through or dealt with in my past.  I am also writing about my present state of mind and about processing some of these same questions myself. 

I am living in the midst of uncertainty.  I’ve got at least three medical procedures looming over me, with the potential for more.  My family is very worried about me.  I’m dealing with symptoms and issues and limitations that I am not used to dealing with, and that I don’t want.  I didn’t ask for this.

But I can also say this:  it is well with my soul.

God is good.  He’s got me, He’s got this, and He’s got my family.

We’ll continue the conversation tomorrow.

In the meantime, I pray this for you:  I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 15:13 (NLT)

This WILL Work!

One way that we can always hear God’s voice is through His Word, the Bible.  66 books written by 40 different authors over the space of about 1500 years, yet with one central story – God’s unconditional love for all people everywhere, resulting in His unrelenting pursuit of relationship with every one of us.  God’s written Word is the standard by which we can judge anything that we hear to determine if it truly is God’s voice or not, because God will not tell us to do anything that contradicts His Word.  God cannot lie – to do so would be against His very nature.  (By the way, if you’re reading this and have questions about the authenticity of the Bible, email me – a short blog post isn’t the place to get into a long discourse or discussion on this, but there is an amazing amount of historical and archaeological evidence that supports the Bible.  I’d be happy to either share it with you or point you in the direction of some great resources on this subject.)

2_timothy_3_16

When I began attending the University of Pittsburgh ( a very long time ago, if you’re wondering), I was hungry to learn about some specific things – computer science, statistics, and applying those disciplines to sports, for example – but I was also hungry, on a personal level, to know more about God and to have a better understanding of the Bible.  I found a reading plan that took me through 10 chapters of the Bible a day – basically, the equivalent of reading through the Bible almost 4 times in a year.  It was an amazing, life-changing time for me – I learned things and saw things in the Bible that I had never seen before.  But I also found that as I learned to know God better through His Word, I learned to hear His voice more clearly.  I found that He spoke through what I was reading and made it personal.  And I’ve learned that He does the same for anyone who spends time reading His Word.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to ask you to read 10 chapters of the Bible today!  But I am going to introduce you (or re-introduce, for some of you) to an ancient and simple practice that is designed to get you into God’s Word and to help you hear Him speak to you through His Word:  Lectio Divine.

Lectio Divina is Latin for “Divine Reading.”  The practice is very simple:

  • Select a short passage of Scripture – just a couple of verses.  Then follow these 4 simple steps:
    • Lectio – Read the passage until a word or phrase stands out that speaks to you.  (Passages from the Psalms or the gospels are great places to begin!)
    • Meditatio – Meditate on the word or phrase that God has pointed out to you.  Now ask Him what He wants to say about it to you.  Listen quietly for a few moments, and write down what you sense God saying.
    • Oratio – Pray the word or phrase back to God, according to what seems appropriate for your situation.  For example, thank Him for what He has shown you; or, ask Him for the gift you’ve discovered to be multiplied in your life; or, claim the promise over yourself and your family; or, ask Him to show you more about what you’ve read.
    • Contemplatio – Contemplate – remain with the word/phrase you’ve found, sitting and listening more to anything else God may want to say to you.

And that’s it!  Simple, isn’t it?  But it’s a great way for anyone, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar they are with God’s Word, to spend 10 minutes a day with God and His Word, practicing hearing Him.

Hear are a few brief passages for you to use if you’d like to try this for the rest of the week:

  • Today:  Psalm 16:7-8
  • Thursday:  Psalm 46:1-3
  • Friday:  Psalm 62:5-7
  • Saturday:  John 10:9-11

Give it a try!  And let me know – what is God saying to you this week?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Identity and Authority

You are the light of the world.

I know, I know.  That’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around.  Even knowing it to be true, it still sometimes sounds at the very least egotistical, at the very worst blasphemous.

But it’s true.  It’s what Jesus said about us.

Understanding that you are the light of the world and that I am the light of the world – not just knowing the concept in our heads, but understanding that it is true, and believing that with all of our hearts – will dramatically change the way we pray.

Why?

It raises the issue of our authority.

Let me add one more piece to the puzzle – one more aspect of our identity – and then I’ll come back to that issue of authority.

You are the light of the world.  But more than that, you are united with Jesus.  You are one with Him.  He is in you, and you are in Him.

Jesus said this in John 14:20:  “On that day you (according to the context, “that day” is after Jesus’ resurrection, when the Holy Spirit has been given – Pentecost) will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

So here’s what Jesus is saying:  “I am in my Father.”  Jesus is one with the Father.  They are two, separate, distinct persons; but they are also one – one God existing as Father and Son (and of course, as Holy Spirit also).  So Jesus and our Father are one.

Then Jesus says, “…you are in me, and I am in you.”  In other words, just as the Father and Son are one, so too (hold onto your hats!) you and Jesus are one.

What does that even mean?

It means that you and Jesus are two separate, distinct persons, just as Jesus and the Father are two separate, distinct persons.  But it also means that you and Jesus are also one, in complete union, just as the Father and Son are one, in complete union.

I know, it SOUNDS wrong.  It sounds prideful, arrogant, New-Age-y; it sounds like false teaching.

But it’s all through the New Testament.  Here are a few other examples:

  • You are united with Christ, one with him in spirit – 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • You are complete in Jesus – Colossians 2:10
  • Your old life is now spiritually dead; you are now hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:3
  • Your position is that you are actually seated with Jesus in the heavenly places – Ephesians 2:6
  • You are the actual temple of God on this earth – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Now, none of those incredible statements are platforms to claim we are gods, or to walk in arrogance.  All of these things are true of you and of me because of Jesus, and only because of Jesus.  They are completely dependent upon His grace and His work on the cross.  But they are absolutely true of every one of us who have repented of our sins, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and chosen to follow Him.

These truths are a gateway to absolute humility (because they are only true of us because of what Jesus did for us) as well as to incredible authority (because we are one with Jesus, and so our words, actions, and prayers carry behind them the incredible weight of the power of Jesus)!

When you understand that you are one with Jesus, your concept and practice of prayer becomes transformed.  It shifts from a practice of begging God for help, for intervention, for action, for provision, for healing, for whatever, to instead being a platform for authoritative declaration.

Jesus-Calms-Storm

Calming the Storm

Jesus prayed with authority because He knew He was one with the Father.  He prayed powerful prayers like:  “Lazarus, come out”; “Pick up your bed and walk”; “Peace, be still”; and “Be opened.”  He heard the Father’s voice, understood the Father’s will, and then spoke that will through declarative prayer.

You, a person who is in union with Jesus, have the ability, capacity, and authority to learn to pray the same way, with the same effectiveness.  You have the authority to speak healing, to command mountains to move, to speak peace into turbulent situations, to declare forgiveness, to rebuke and stop the work of the enemy.

We’ll dive deeper into this in our next devotional, and in our service on Sunday.

In the meantime, let me close with this quote from author Ted Dekker.  Think on this throughout the day:

“Remember:  it’s never what you believe about yourself that defines you; it’s your Father’s opinion of you that defines you.  Your opinion of yourself only defines the experience you have in this life.  Indeed, to believe in Yeshua (Jesus) is to believe like Yeshua.  To believe like Yeshua is to believe…you were raised with and in Him.”

You are the Light of the World

You are the light of the world.

Until you believe that, I can’t really teach you much that will help you in your prayer life.

At least, not that will help you pray like Jesus prayed.

Yesterday in our service, we looked at the simple truth from James 5 that Elijah was a man just like us, and that God did powerful things because Elijah prayed.

Although most of us have no problem believing that God can do powerful things in response to prayer (even though our prayers don’t always seem to be answered), it’s a more difficult thing to believe that Elijah was a man just like us, and that our prayers can have the same kind of results that his had.  But God’s Word says that YOUR prayers can be powerful and effective.

Well, it’s time to step beyond even that.

You are the light of the world.

I know, I know.

That sounds blasphemous.  New Age-y.  Egotistical.  The power of positive thinking gone overboard.

After all, we’re sinners saved by grace.  We’re totally depraved.  We were born in sin and we have a sin nature.  It’s all true.

But there is a deeper truth.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  And then later, he looked at his disciples and said, “you are the light of the world.”

You’re a sinner saved by graced.  You were born with a sinful nature that was totally depraved.  But, you see, there’s this thing called the gospel – the good news.  And the good news is that if you place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, not only are your sins forgiven, not only are you promised heaven, but you are also transformed.  You become a new creation.  (See 2 Corinthians 5:17, for example.)  You who were born in darkness are no longer darkness – you are light, the light of the world, because the Spirit of Jesus (we call Him the Holy Spirit) is now in you.  You are no longer the person you used to be.

identity

I cannot over-stress, over-emphasize, or over-teach the importance of understanding who you now are in understanding how to pray.  Knowing God – His loving nature as Father, His kind heart, His grace and mercy – that’s the most important thing you need to know about prayer.  But I think the next most important thing you need to know is who you are – what your identity is.  Because it influences your approach to God, and in so doing, influences how you actually pray.

So let’s begin today with this – your identity in Christ.  Here are a few things that God says about who you are, once you are a follower of Jesus:

  • You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
  • You are a saint (Ephesians 1:1).  (Yes, I know.  There are no statues of you anywhere.  But that’s not what makes a saint.  God says you are a saint, even if you don’t feel like one or always act like one.  What makes you a saint is what Jesus did for you, not what you do for God.)
  • You are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
  • You are the son/daughter of God (John 1:12).
  • You are complete in Jesus (Colossians 2:10).

That’s a lot.  But that’s enough for today.  In my next post, I’ll start to explore what all of that means, and why it matters as far as our attitude in prayer.

In the meantime, here’s your homework for each day.  Stand in front of the mirror each morning and read the five statements above.  Declare them over yourself.  Do this every day until you truly believe it.

Why?  Because that’s what God says is true about you.  And He is smarter than you and me.  He knows things that we don’t know.  And the One who created us in His image knows more about us than we know about ourselves, including who we are.

Remember – the prodigal son was ALWAYS the father’s son, even when he was living in a pig-sty and felt like becoming his father’s slave would be a step up.

Your feelings don’t determine your identity.  What God says is true about you determines your identity.

And you are the light of the world.

Breakfast for 107

As the sun began to peek over the horizon, George’s stomach growled.  He frowned at the distraction and looked up for a moment from his Bible.  Ignoring the obvious would not cause the problem to disappear.

The cupboards were bare.  There was nothing left.  Dinner last night had been meager, but at least there was a little for each plate.  But he and his family could no more feed on the memories of last night’s meal than they could on the empty plates that would soon be set out for breakfast.  And on top of that, there was no money left – no way to purchase food.

Sighing, he looked down at his Bible one more time and re-read the familiar words:  “In everything give thanks:  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  In everything – that felt like an overwhelming challenge at the moment, considering the lack of food and the great need that faced him.

George wasn’t just facing his own hunger.  It wasn’t only his plate that needed to be filled.  He and his wife Mary, who had been married for almost ten years now, had over one hundred children to feed everyday.  Over the past several years, convinced that they were doing what God wanted them to do by caring for the poor and the destitute, they had simply started bringing home orphans as they encountered them, providing a loving home for them.  George and Mary’s growing reputation for loving provision for orphans resulted in them occasionally finding abandoned newborns on their front porch.  While some neighbors were angry and protested over what they saw as an affront to their quiet Bristol, England neighborhood, others responded with donations of food, toys, and even money.  Two more houses had been added to accommodate all the children.

Through all of this, God had always provided.  But today was a new day, and with it came new challenges.  The challenge today, of course, was breakfast.  How to feed over one hundred hungry children before sending them all off to school, when there was no food to be found, and no money in George’s pocket?

George was concerned – but at the same time, he wasn’t worried.  He had learned over the past few years that somehow, God always provided.  George and Mary had made a decision to never ask for help – and up to this morning, they never had.  George had simply prayed every time there was a need – and in one way or another, God had provided every time.  From friends, neighbors, family members, even complete strangers – somehow, as George trusted and prayed, God provided.  Every time.

Today should be no different, thought George.  He bowed his head and spent some time in prayer, laying out before his Father what He already knew – that His children needed their daily bread.  Finally, after sensing the Father’s peace, George raised his head, stood up, and headed off to help Mary with the Herculean task of getting over one hundred children ready for school.

About an hour and a half later, the moment of truth had arrived.  George and Mary and all one-hundred-plus children were seated at several long tables.  On the tables in front of them were empty pitchers, glasses, serving dishes, and plates.

What would George do?

He breathed deeply, recalling the words he had read earlier that morning:  “In everything give thanks…”  Putting a smile on his face that more confident than his heart felt, he spoke to the children.  “Children, you know we must be in time for school.  Let us pray.”  Taking the hands of those next to time, he bowed his head and prayed, “Dear Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat.  In Jesus’ name I pray…”  His “Amen” was drowned out by a loud knocking at the door.

Jumping to his feet, he rushed to open the door, Mary right behind him. Who could be at the door at such an early hour?

It was Jonathan, the town baker.  With a huge grin on his face, he said, “Mr Müller, I couldn’t sleep last night.  Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, and the Lord wanted me to send you some.  So I got up at 2 a.m. and baked some fresh bread, and I have brought it to you!”

Gratefully, George and several of the boys helped Johann carry in the bread and distribute it to everyone.  George thanked Johann and sat down with his large family to share the gift of daily bread that God had provided.

George Muller Orphanage

A Group of the Müller’s Children

The children began talking among themselves as the meal began.  But only a moment had passed before a loud knock again sounded at the door.  Who could it be this time?  George jumped up again and raced to the door, flung it open, and found William, the neighborhood milkman, standing there with a scowl on his face.  Perplexed, George asked William, “What is wrong?”

“My milk cart has broken down right out here in front of your orphanage, George.  I cannot take my milk to market, and it will spoil and go to waste if I leave it.  I have to empty my cart to lighten the load so I can take it to be repaired.  I have to do something with all this milk – and since it’s right out front, well, I thought I might as well donate it to you for breakfast.  Could you possibly use it this morning?”

George responded with a smile, grateful for God’s creative provision.  “Can we ever!”

*                              *                             *

The above is just one of hundreds of instances of God’s provision in the life of George Müller, as recorded in his personal journals.  George and Mary Müller established 117 schools and cared for over 10,000 orphans in their lifetime – all through the power of prayer.

Each week during our series on prayer, I will include one true-life story as part of our devotionals as a way of illustrating a simple truth about prayer.  I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful.