Thursday, January 15, 2009

Can Joy co-exist with Suffering?

Take a look at this picture.
What kind of feelings does initially it evoke? It is not a very beautiful picture. The trees are bare. It looks cold. You are looking up a steep hill and can’t tell what is on the other side. Maybe you get a feeling of being lost in the woods on a cold winter day? If you are not wearing winter cloths and have been out there for a long time you may well be suffering from exposure, hunger, thirst and getting pretty anxious to find your way out of there.

Now look at this scene another way. Since the trees are bare you can see through them. You can see that the top of the hill is not very far away. From the top of the hill you may be able to see how to get out of the woods. The sky is clear and bright so you know there is no storm threatening and you have plenty of daylight left to get back home. You might even feel a little joy that you can see your way to the top even while your tootsie’s are freezing off.

In the summer the trees and thicket would be covered with so many leaves you would only be able to see a few yards ahead of you and the sky would be blocked. Even though the woods may look more pretty and inviting in the summer you would have no idea how much farther up the hill you must trudge to get to the top. You may be warm, but you are still hungry, thirsty and most of all lost. The situation may look better but you are still suffering (especially if the mosquitoes are attacking you from the poison ivy you just walked through).

We normally think that we will either experience joy or suffering, not both at the same time. An enlightened way of seeing this winter scene is an analogy of what Paul is talking about when he wrote from prison that he could feel spiritual joy even while physically suffering. Joy can co-exist with suffering if you perceive it in a new way, by a new light, by His light. The trees may be bare and not very attractive, but it is their bareness that lets you find your way out of the woods. Paul experienced joy while suffering the bareness of his imprisonment by living in and sharing Christ’s light to his guards, letters to fellow Jesus followers and, by virtue of those letters to the rest of the world as a major part of the New Testament.

Another related analogy. We too should be willing to bare ourselves to others. When we strip away our self protective leaves and let them fall away we are willing to show others our bare limbs, our faults, our sufferings... and our joy of being able to see clearly through the trees and avoid the obstacles in our path to the top of the hill by light of Christ. We help ourselves and help others because we are allowing the light to shine through us onto them.

Most people would rather spend time looking at a forest of beautiful trees, green in the summer and colorful in the fall. But, since it is winter and there is nothing but bare trees to photograph, I decided to find the beauty of my circumstances by looking at the bare woods through a Jesus camera. Instead of waiting for spring to photograph the new buds, blooms and foliage I found some beauty in the bareness. I also almost froze my ears and fingers off while tromping about in the frozen woods, so I hope you found some joy through my suffering to take the photo and write this story. If all I did was make you suffer through this story, I take no joy in it (grin)

a Robservation

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Fog of Prayer

As I was returning home from the hour of prayer this morning at Church of the Highland’s 21 days of prayer I crossed over Lake Purdy. The sun was just rising and a heavy fog hung on the lake. For some reason it reminded me of the saying “The fog of War”. When I got home I looked up the term on Wikipedia:

From Wikipedia
The fog of war is a term used to describe the level of ambiguity in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations.
The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding own capability, adversary capability and adversary intent during an engagement, operation or campaign.
The practical experience of the fog of war is most easily demonstrated in the tactical battlespace. It may include military commanders' incomplete or inaccurate
intelligence regarding their enemy's numbers, disposition, capabilities, and intent, regarding features of the battlefield, and even including incomplete knowledge of the state of their own forces. Fog of war is caused by the limits of reconnaissance, by the enemy's feints and disinformation, by delays in receiving intelligence and difficulties passing orders, and by the difficult task of forming a cogent picture from a very large (or very small) amount of diverse data. When a force engages in battle and the urgency for good intelligence increases, so does the fog of war and chaos of the battlefield, while military units become preoccupied with fighting or are lost (either destroyed by enemy fire or literally lose their way), reconnaissance and liaison elements become unavailable, and sometimes while real fog and smoke obscure vision.

I was taken with how closely the description matched similar problems I have experienced while in prayer. At times it feels like the more earnest I am in prayer, the more the enemy tries to distract me.
I am sure you are like me. I may be praying for patience, or healing or selflessness and all I can think of is what all I have to get done today, doubt that He will make me (or others) well, or how much I want those shoes that are on sale. (Yes, I am a guy who has a closet full of shoes, but they are all brown or black, so don’t think I am light in the loafers.)

What I have discovered to counteract the enemy’s attempts to disorient me is to utter the powerful name of Jesus. I simply order in His name for enemy to leave me alone. “Get thee behind me Satan” I also pull out my illustrated, laminated bookmark that Susie gave me of Ephesians 6:10-18 and pray the armor of God, especially the sword of the spirit and the shield of faith. Poof, my focus is restored and the fog lifts. Satan is now lost in the fog and cannot find me. It is like when God provided the sand storm to protect the Hebrews as they fled Egypt. He turns the fog from a barrier to God to a barrier from Satan.

The next time I get caught in the Fog of prayer I will think back to this morning as I watched the mist rise on the lake. Instead of getting lost in the fog, I will use it in Jesus’ name to hide Satan from me.

A Robservation

21 Days of Prayer - Time For a Long Soak

How much time do you spend each morning in the shower or bath?

I’m a guy so I can be in and out of the shower in less than 10 minutes. Sometimes, especially if it is cold or after a good workout I will simply stand under the steaming hot water for a few minutes and enjoy the sensation of the water warming me up or soothing my achy muscles. But, usually I just stand under the water long enough to get wet then begin the ritual of soaping up and washing off.

This morning was no exception except that I had to get up much earlier than usual in order to get to church by 6:00am to begin 21 days of prayer our church holds in January and August. This is an hour from 6:00-7:00am where we have a mini sermon, sing a couple of songs and spend an extended time in prayer. Since I hit the snooze alarm too many times I was rushed more than usual to get showered shaved and dressed to make it in time.

During the hour of prayer and worship we are to spend 30 minutes in personal prayer. After about 10 minutes I ran out of things to pray about and found myself looking at my watch to see how much longer I had to be in communion with God. It was then that it occurred to me that my prayer habits were much like my showering habits I spend about the same amount of time in the shower as I do in prayer; about 10 minutes a day. I rush to get in and out of the shower and I rush to get my prayers and petitions heard by God.

I began to think about how good it feels when I take the luxury in my shower of just standing under the warm spray of water without doing anything else. I thought about the last time I took a long soak in the hot tub at the gym. There, I allow myself to drift off and just enjoy the experience. If I was a women I might think of my last Calgon moment in a bubbly bath.

Spending time in extended prayer is like a long soak. I don’t have to be soaping, scrubbing and rinsing the whole time. I can just sit back and soak it all in. Once I realized this I just let my mind float. I quit talking to God and just listened. God took that time to wrap me in His warm embrace. The music that was playing in the room surrounded me and lifted me up. I could feel all the other people praying around me as soapy bubbles that soothed me. My mind slowed down. My heart became soft. My pride went limp. My thick skin became supple.

Before I knew it the 30 minutes was up but I wanted to stay in my spiritual bath a little longer. When I left the church I felt renewed and refreshed, ready to take on the day.

In our daily lives we take the time to get our outer bodies ready for the day ahead. Usually we are forced by our schedule to take as little time as necessary to make us feel clean and look good for the day. During this 21 days of prayer I am learning how to spend the necessary time needed to make my heart and soul clean and looking good for the day ahead. 10 minutes is not enough. I need to take a long soak in God’s presence to allow Him to seep deep into my pores and clean off all the crudge I accumulated yesterday.

Tomorrow I will try harder to not hit the snooze button but take that time instead to just stand under the shower for awhile. It makes no sense to rush to get ready to go to church and try to quickly slow down for an hour of prayer. If I am already kinda soft and wrinkly when I get to church it will take less time to sink into a long, warm, bubbly time with God.

If I am clean and fresh on both the inside and the out I am better prepared to take on the dirt of the day.

Grace & Peace, Rob