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Value in Liturgical Prayer? February 7, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Books, Change, Identity, Prayer, Sectarianism, Worship.
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I grew up a non-denominational Evangelical Christian, and have attended many churches for over the course of my 26 years. This means I have not been subject to many (or any) consisten religious traditions in my life. Evangelical churches tend to set themselves up in direct opposition to Catholics, Episcopalians, and other “mainline” denominations, and as such have almost a pathological avoidance of standardized ritual, rite, or prayer. Even the things that are fairly standard such as baptisms, the taking of communion, the lighting of the advent wreath have taken on wildly different forms depending on the church I was attending.

This is something that I both love about the Evangelical church and that frustrates me. I adore the fact that we don’t tie being a Christian to certain objects or ceremonies. I understand that it’s very easy when you have a ritual to replace God with it, to have it lose all meaning, and to lose God in the ritual entirely. At the same time, I often find myself longing for a bit more structure to help guide me along when I’m foundering.

In hopes of this, and for other reasons (gay rights, women’s rights, and views on evolution), I briefly attended an Episcopalian church. I liked the prayers, loved the reverend, and enjoyed her homily. But I was baffled by all the robes and ceremony, standing and kneeling. The music bored me and all the people were much older than I was. I didn’t feel at home at all, and I didn’t feel like the church was alive in the Spirit or growing.

So when I read Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s article in Relevant Magazine about liturgical prayer I was intrigued. They’ve compiled an updated prayer book, based on the Book of Common prayer used by the Episcopal church for many decades. They make a compelling case for the value of prayers prayed in common by the body of Christ, prayed regularly, and prayed often. It’s an argument I’ve heard before, and have been interested in, but whenever I get my hands on a prayer book I am completely confused about how to use it and what to pray when, and I usually give up almost immediately.

I do realize there is a danger in rote prayer, in that it is easy to just end up repeating the words without meaning. It is easy to put the act of repetition itself on the altar instead of Christ and have our Christian lives become dry and soulless. And I certainly don’t think pre-written prayer should be the only way we talk to God.

However, I’m starting to agree that there is also a value to set, daily prayer (or the “daily office”, as it is called, which includes also songs and Scripture readings). First, it doesn’t allow us to pick and choose just what is on our minds at the time. It is a well balanced program of praise, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. The readings take us through the Bible in a coherent and rational way, and don’t let us skip the parts we don’t like, as we all tend to do when reading on our own. And having a set appointment with God helps keep us regularly in touch with him.

Written prayers take us out of ourselves and remind us to reaffirm what we believe on a daily basis. How often on my own do I remind myself of Jesus’ identity or sacrifice, or pray the Lord’s prayer in earnest. Almost never. And lastly, a pre-written prayer will sometimes allow me to express what is in my heart better than I could have on my own. Sometimes I avoid my quiet time when I feel frustrated and aren’t sure what I want to say, but if I have a set prayer waiting for me it takes the pressure off and allows me to get in God’s presence and reach the point where I can speak what’s on my heart, in my own words.

Again, I don’t think that a liturgy should be our only, or even primary, means of talking to God. There is such value in being able to approach him as friend and Father with our personal concerns and fears. But there is also value in approaching him with a sense of awe and wonder and formality that I feel I have lost along the way. And for someone like myself, who is so easily distracted and so terrible at maintaining a regular prayer time, having a written text to follow can focus my thoughts on God and allow me to commune with him more effectively than I could if I was struggling to find words and keep my mind on track.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to give daily, written prayer a try. I’ve found a website that each day lays out the daily office for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime prayer, without requiring me to fumble through a prayer book I never learned how to use. The prayers are good, scripturally based, and change with the day and season. I’m actually going to try to pray seven times through out the day for the rest of February.

I’m going to try praying as soon as I wake (which I already typically do, even if it’s just “Father, help me get through today!”), when I get to work, mid-morning, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and right before bed, using the written services for guidance at the main times, and in between just talking to God on my own. I’m not going to limit myself to the written services and prayers – if I want to keep praying afterwards then of course I will. But I am going to try to follow them and see if this kind of liturgical prayer as a discipline will help me tame my spiritual ADD and be more consistent about my time with God.

I started this morning. It was hard to sit down and go through the praise, reading, and prayer first thing – before I even checked my email or clocked in, but I felt so much better going into the day. It reminded me to glorify God first thing, instead of just thinking of my own desires and presenting them to him in a laundry list. It reminded me what the focus of my day was. I read Psalms and scripture passages I often skip over, but they were short enough for me to contemplate them instead of just skimming to be done.

Saying the Apostle’s Creed (which I did NOT grow up with in any capacity) helped me remember what the core beliefs of Christianity are, and that even though I often feel like an outsider, my liberal views and politics actually have nothing to do with what really makes me part of the body of Christ. And finally, I took great pleasure in the fact that other people around the world were praying the same prayers at the same time as me. It felt like my prayers were powerful and that I was truly part of a community, which is a good feeling for someone who feels so out of place even in her own church. In short, it was an amazing experience for me. I felt really, truly fed by God.

One of the prayers particularly really summed up what I want to start the day with, far more eloquently than I could have on my own: “Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

It will be an interesting experiment. Will I continue to grow and find the liturgy uplifting and revelatory? Or will the novelty wear off, leaving me just mouthing the words and feeling suffocated by the repetition? I don’t know, but I’ll report back in March and talk about what my experience has been like, and whether I’m going to continue fully or in part.

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Lies I Believe, Part 2: “You’re Too Much” August 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Flaws, Holy Spirit, Identity, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Trust, Worry.
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Part of two of my series exploring the lies in my life that Satan uses to keep me from being the person God wants me to be, and my attempt to disentangle them from my heart before they do any more damage.

The lie: You’re too much to handle; you always push things too far.

I always feel like I am just always a little bit too something. Too loud. Too aggressive. Too emotional. Too needy. Too intense. I often feel like my friends and others often just tolerate me to be nice but really wish that I would dial it back a little.

After interactions, phone conversations, emails, particularly serious ones, I usually feel uncertain of myself, wondering about what I’ve said and if I went too far.  Did I insult that person by accident? Was that joke too barbed? Was that the wrong thing to say? I know I talked too long, said too much. I could feel them withdrawing from me. I came on too strong, I knew it. I shouldn’t have been so honest, now they aren’t going to want to be around me anymore.

I’m most susceptible to these feelings with people I don’t know very well yet, but am just starting to form a relationship with. But I still experience it even in my closest friendships. And when I start to feel like that, it’s very hard to convince me otherwise, even I know I rationally they probably haven’t given it a second thought. Even if they have given me tangible proof that our relationship is still as good as ever, I still maintain this little doubt in my mind that they see me differently or don’t trust me as much or love me as much.

The result: I withdraw and hide.

I pull back on nascent friendships before they even get started because of imagined coolness on the other person’s part. I bite my tongue and avoid emotional honesty with all but my closest friends. I am circumspect about my true thoughts and beliefs, and end up agreeing with people just so they will like me. With my closest friends I often don’t challenge them like I should when I feel something is wrong, because I’d rather be supportive than risk their anger.

And when I am honest and really open up about what I think or feel, I then waste time and energy worrying over their reactions. I question everything I said and did, I doubt myself. Even when I get positive feedback from the person, I still feel shyer than before about taking that emotional risk and putting my true feelings out there. And when I get no feedback, I am sure that I have offended them.

So I make fewer friends than I want to, and I put up walls with the ones I have. I am not as bold with my thoughts and ideas as I should be, and when I am I usually regret it. I fear that even my truest friends merely put up with me. I avoid leadership because there’s just too many ways to mess that one up. And I waste time and energy on worry and fear, instead of putting my efforts towards more fruitful things, such as strengthening my friendships and loving others. I become self-obsessed and self-involved, and do not live out the freedom Christ has given me. I become a people pleaser and try to just be nice, instead of being a Christ-pleaser and striving for authenticity.

The truth: I am not too much for God, and he made me how I am for a reason.

The trouble with this lie, the reason it works so well, is that like most effective lies it’s partly true. I can be loud and aggressive. I’ve hurt or lost friendships from taking things too far or being really honest. Sometimes I am thoughtless with my words, or get overly passionate about something and push too hard. I sometimes have bad timing with what I say, or say things the wrong way. Sometimes I just plain open my mouth when I shouldn’t

Another reason it works so well is that my mother is very pushy and needy and loud and intrusive and just too much sometimes. I know I am like her in a lot of ways. And while I love my mother very much, there are a lot times when she is acting a certain ways that my feelings towards her are less affectionate than barely tolerant. I don’t want people to think of me that way.

But the real truth is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me. It only matters what God thinks of me. He made me and the truth is, no matter what I do, I can never be too much for him to handle.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Nothing in this earth or heaven or hell can separate me from his love. Certainly nothing I can say or do, however stupid or thoughtless. And he gave me these traits that I so often dislike. He made me exactly the way I am, and has a reason for doing so.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

That doesn’t mean I only do good things and never cross the line, or that I shouldn’t try to be a better listener, or less reactive, or to think before I speak. But it means that there is way that my natural outspokenness and enthusiasm and honesty and passion and humor is meant to be used for his kingdom. And when I try to totally suppress them because I think they just end up causing trouble, I am only cutting myself off from the ways he may want me to use them.

Not everyone will like me. I need to be okay with that. And I will sometimes say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I may even ruin friendships by it. But despite that, I still have true, wonderful friends who love me, who God has placed in my life for a purpose and who are incredibly understanding and forgiving. And I don’t need to be afraid of being myself around them.

Most importantly God loves me no matter what. He has saved me and redeemed me and wants me to live that out for everyone to see. He doesn’t want me to live in fear, or to cut myself off from good relationships or ministry because I am afraid of screwing up. He wants me to bold in my life and in my speech, but bold for him and for the pursuit of the hearts of others and not bold out of my own desires or need for recognition.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13

I do not need to be afraid of what God has given me. I will still screw up, because people screw up. But even if I screw up every single of my relationships to the point where literally no one else wants to be around me, I will still have God and he will still love me. That is the most important relationship, and his plan for me is more important than my self-centered fears and insecurities. And I can always go to him, no matter how badly I mess things up.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

How to fight it: Know my identity in Christ; trust God and trust the people he’s put in my life.

Reading God’s Word and keeping a close relationship with him is the only way to fight this one. It accomplishes two things. When I am living in his love there is no room for fear or doubt; he tells me who I am, not Satan, or my mother, or anyone else.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

And when I am filled with the Spirit I will have more wisdom and discernment about what I say, I will be less needy and attention-seeking and not always looking for validation, and I will bear the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

That doesn’t mean if I live in the Spirit and walk with God that I will never make a mistake in my relationships, but when I stop focusing on myself and my own insecurities and focus on God and on truly loving others for their sakes, not my own, I become less and less likely to act out of selfishness. Traits that seems like curses when applied by my own judgement become gifts when I use them the way God wants me to.

I have to trust him to put me on the right path in my relationships. If I stick close to him and am really living how he wants me to, I won’t be afraid to speak when I feel led because I will know that it’s really him speaking and not just myself. If there is fallout from it, I have to trust that he is in that, too.

And I have to trust the godly people he’s put in my life to love me ; trust that they will not turn away from me because of a misstep or stupid comment, but that they will love me and forgive me because they are living out of God’s love too.

But in the end, I have to accept the fact that only one thing matters: following Christ. Not my fears. Not what others think of me. Not where it might lead me. Because following Christ will at times bring pain, and loss, and even humiliation for his sake. I may speak the truth out of the most righteous of motives and have stones thrown at me. I could be exactly the person God made me to be and still lose friends or status or anything else; in fact he pretty much promises that will happen. If I truly want live like Christ, that is something that I have to embrace.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:3-8

Because in the end, its not about me. The more I worry about myself, the more I make it about me and the less I make it about Christ. But when I give up my own fears and desires, he can do great things with my life and in my relationships.

Ideal or Idol? July 21, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Identity, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Struggles.
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As I’ve mentioned before I have a difficult time being still in my heart and praying honestly to God. One of the few times I am really able to do this well is while swimming (if only because I don’t own one of these and am forced to be alone in my own head for half an hour). The rhythm of the strokes, going under the water and coming back up again and again is like a form of meditation and my mind gets a little cleared of all the clutter that’s in it and I can focus on God.

I was asking him to show me how to be the person he made me to be, and I started mentally listing all the attributes I thought this person had that I currently didn’t have. And then it hit me. Who God wants me to be may not be the same as who I want to be.

Here’s the thing. I have a very clear idea of who I think I should be. This mythical person is organized, efficient, and always has a clean house. She never wastes time or sulks, and never worries about the future because she trusts God completely. She’s in good shape and sticks to a firm schedule of exercise and a tight frugal budget. She doesn’t stress eat or self-medicate through shopping or TV watching. She reads the Bible and prays every morning, and always finishes the projects she starts. She’s outgoing, not afraid of social situations, and a natural leader. She doesn’t talk too much or too loudly and is a great listener. She manages her time well and juggles work, family, home, church, and friends effortlessly. She’s always gracious and diplomatic, and never temperamental or impatient. She also makes all her own cleaning products and cosmetics and never eats anything that isn’t both organic and locally grown. Oh, and she speaks several languages and can play a musical instrument.

I am not that person. Not remotely. And she may not be at all the person God wants me to be. I am beginning to think that by striving so hard to be like that, I might be preventing myself from learning who God wants me to be. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those qualities (although taken as a whole she sounds a little insufferable, actually), or that I shouldn’t want to be more organized or disciplined or to get in shape or to learn French. But when I focus on trying to transform into that person, without consulting God on the matter, I am turning this ideal into an idol. Not to mention that this sort goal-oriented self improvement never works for me.

I have this idea in my head that if I can be all the good qualities in the world at once, I will be happy and perfect and who I’m supposed to be. But other than that being impossible, if that was what God really wanted he would have made us all the same. And he didn’t. Even the heroes of the Bible that are spoken of in the most glowing terms not only had weaknesses, but they also often had wildly different personalities; some bold, some timid, some patient, some impetuous. God made us different ways so he can use us in different ways, both in our unique strengths and our individual weaknesses. God shows himself at least as much, if not more, through our weaknesses.

Of course we should all desire to be more like him, but no one finite person can ever encompass the infinite. And instead of my choosing which qualities I think I should have to best reflect him, perhaps I should let him take care of that. Despite all the things I don’t particularly like about myself or wish were different, he made me like this for a reason. Some of my qualities he may use directly, some he may transform or change so that he can be glorified, and some I may just need to struggle with to learn a greater dependence on him. And I need to remember that he knew who I was supposed before I even existed:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

-Psalm 139:13-16

Nothing about me is incidental or accidental. The is a purpose to even my deepest flaw and I have something to learn from everything about myself. Whether it is how to use a gift I have been ignoring or how to overcome an obstacle I have been dealing with my whole life, I am not meant just to toss aside my whole personality and attempt to remake myself in some image that I think is what would please God. That is me trying to control things again. There is nothing I can do to be more pleasing to God; he made me in the way that pleases him the most. Attempting to dictate that is the worst kind of arrogance. It is not for me to decide what God is to make of my life and my faith.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:6