Time to Refuel: The Part of Prayer We Don’t See

Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy.  Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.   -William Butler Yeats

I haven’t posted an image I’ve created in a while.  Here is the image for this week’s message.  Most of the credit for  this image should go to hidesy, a contributor on istockphoto.  The muted colors of the photograph speak to the emptiness and need to refuel through prayer I was trying to portray.  She entitled it “Desperate Hope” which is another good name.  The addition of the fuel gauge and the text were easy after that.

As I was thinking about prayer and what happens when we pray, I ran across some good insights from Robert Schnase.  In speaking about worship he writes,

“Perhaps only one third of the knowledge and wisdom to live meaningfully is reducible to and reachable by conscious, linear, rational thought…”   from Forty Days of Fruitful Living

Only one third is reachable by conscious thought.  So we can’t really see or analyze the affect of the other two-thirds.  Interesting.  I certainly think that is true for prayer, which is after all a part of worship.  Sure, when we pray, we usually pray for something.  We are about to make some big decisions for our church.  So I have asked the church members to pray every day over the next forty days.  And every day I try to give them something to pray for specifically.  But in some ways that “something” is beside the point.

In prayer, we are connecting with the source of power and wisdom and love that will enable us to persevere whether the prayer is “answered” or not.  In that way, every prayer is an answered prayer.  And that is an encouraging thought.

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A Lesson from Michelle: Radical Hospitality

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Practicing Radical Hospitality means we offer the absolute utmost of ourselves, our creativity, and our abilities to offer the gracious invitation and welcome of Christ to others.  We pray, plan, and work to invite others to help them feel welcome and to support them in their spiritual journey.[1]

Since I arrived in Laramie almost 4 years ago, I have attended a breakfast with a small group of men at the local Village Inn.  We come to discuss a spiritual book we are reading together (during Lent, the Forty Days of Fruitful Living by Robert Schnase), talk about Laramie events and our lives, and generally encourage one another in our daily faith walk.

We arrive around 7 am (I’m usually late).  Gary orders two poached eggs and cottage cheese.  Dean and I are a little more extravagant; French toast for us.  Harold and Larry just have coffee.  Only we never really have to order.  It’s already taken care of.  For the last year or more, we have had one waitress, Michelle, who always goes beyond the normal expectations.  She has memorized our orders (we are very predictable), knows our names, even knows what cars we drive and watches for us every Wednesday morning so that by the time I get my coat off and sit down, my small orange juice and hot tea with extra honey are practically waiting for me.   She greets us as friends, attends to our needs with diligence and care, and gives us space when it is needed.  Every week, Michelle makes an ordinary breakfast meeting just a little more special.

In his many works on the five practices of fruitful congregations, Robert Schnase describes radical hospitality as one of the essential practices of congregations who want to grow and bear fruit for Christ’s kingdom.  Such hospitality goes beyond shallow greetings and cursory gestures toward the guest.  It is a deep, abiding, focus on the needs of the guest as we welcome them into our church and nurture their growth in faith.

Following Jesus’ example of gathering people into the Body of Christ, inviting them to the banquet of God’s gracious love requires intentional focus on those outside the community of faith.  Jesus’ example of hospitality demands an unceasingly invitational posture that we carry with us into our world of work and leisure and into our practice of neighborliness and community service.[2]

When I think of what radical hospitality should be like within our church walls, my mind returns to that weekly breakfast meeting at the local Village Inn and Michelle’s service to us.  She does her job welcoming us and attending to our needs.  But it is more.  Her radical hospitality is shown in the small but important extra details… being ready before we ask, knowing who we are by name, taking the time to stop and say a few words.  Her attitude is authentic; she is not doing this to get a bigger tip.  She honestly wants to welcome us and serve us to the best of her ability.  She makes the extra effort because she wants our experience each Wednesday morning to be a good one.

It is Michelle’s spirit of hospitality that I want in my church.  And I hope her attitude is one we can take outside of our church walls as well.  I pray that I can have such a spirit in every relationship, but especially with those whom Christ is inviting through me to a new relationship with Him.  I want us to offer Christ with the same generous, authentic, hospitality that Michelle offers me breakfast every Wednesday morning.  Her example reminds me that radical hospitality doesn’t have to be radically hard.  It is often the simple gestures that make a difference when offered genuinely.  It is attentiveness to the other that makes hospitality truly radical.

Yesterday, like every Wednesday, we arrived for our breakfast.  Only something was different.  There was a small card on the table waiting for us alongside my hot tea with extra honey.  After we had arrived, Michelle told us she was leaving her position at Village Inn.  In the envelope was a thank you card.  She was actually thanking us for allowing her to serve us these many Wednesdays. Thank you, Michelle, for your service to us.  And thank you for the example of true, authentic, hospitality.

Thank you, God, for servant-friends like Michelle who give us glimpses of the hospitality You offer us as You invite us into Your life and kingdom through Christ our Lord.  May we extend that same hospitality to others in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


[1] Schnase, Robert C., Cultivating fruitfulness: five weeks of prayer and practice for congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008) 6

[2] Schnase, Robert C., Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007) Location 199 of 2863 Kindle

Crying for the World to Change

I was thinking about repentance today.  After all, it is Lent, the season of repentance.  Lent is the 40 day season of preparation before the great celebration of Easter.  Yet when we give up something for Lent, I suspect most of us look at that particular practice more of as a faith challenge (“Can I do this?”) than as a means of showing penance and contrition (“I’m sorry, God”).  In short, repentance seems in short supply even during Lent.  Yet it was not a reflection on Lent that led me to think about repentance.  It was a post on CNN’s Belief Blog by Stephen Prothero:

My Take: Rush Limbaugh’s ‘apology’ fails test for public confession

It’s a good article and worth your time to read.  Prothero not only calls into question Rush Limbaugh’s apology but also gives a good summary of what confession is (or at least should be).  First, admit wrongdoing; second, say you are sorry; third, humble yourself; fourth, change your ways.  What struck me in particular was his mention of tears in his second point.

“Second, show that you are truly sorry. Saying “I’m sorry” (which Limbaugh did not do) is a good start, but it isn’t enough. You have to make yourself believable. Here tears are not necessary, but they help. Others need to believe that you are confessing for the sake of your soul, and not merely for the sake of your career. Hint: the best way to make that happen is to actually be sorry.”(bold emphasis mine)

First, I cannot imagine Rush Limbaugh, the radio persona, actually ever being moved to tears by his own poor choice of words.  And then I began to wonder, might Prothero actually be wrong?  Maybe tears are necessary, if not for true confession, then for true repentance.  From the collective wisdom of the Desert Fathers, found in the Philokalia, there are many references to the shedding of tears.

 When you fall from a higher state, do not become panic-stricken, but through remorse, grief, rigorous self-reproach, and, above all, through copious tears shed in a contrite spirit, correct yourself and return quickly to your former condition. (St. Theognostos, II, On the Practice of the Virtues, sec. 48)

before we have experienced inward grief and tears there is no true repentance or change of mind in us… for without tears our hardened hearts cannot be mollified, our souls cannot acquire spiritual humility, and we cannot be humble. (St. Symeon the New Theologian, IV, Practical and Theological Texts, sec. 69)

The Desert Fathers saw tears at least as a sign of true repentance and perhaps even a means for achieving true repentance.  I cannot imagine Rush Limbaugh, the radio persona, ever being moved to tears over his mistakes.  But when was the last time I cried over mine?  Too long I am afraid.  When was the last time I cried at all?

If I cannot be moved to tears by guilt, then can I by compassion?  This week was a heart-wrenching week in the news.  So many killed by the terrible storms moving across the Midwest and South.  So many continue to be killed in Syria by the hand of their own government.  So many children die in Africa by a disease that is preventable (every 60 seconds malaria claims the life of a child in Africa; want to know more? http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/).  I was almost moved to tears.  Why only almost?

I believe God cries tears over such tragedies of the world.  Jesus wept.  So why don’t I?  My four year old daughter cries tears over the slightest hint of disappointment from her father.  So why don’t I?  How have I become so callous over the disappointment of my heavenly Father who loves me?  How have I become so callous over the pain I see in the world?  In his beautifully haunting song, “Tears of the World,” Michael Card imagines the collective grief of the world filling the oceans.  And he, too, wonders, “So how could it be that my own eyes are dry?”

I remember a favorite line from one of my favorite books, The Lord of the Rings.  Gandalf, saying goodbye to Sam, Merry and Pippin for the last time, declares, “Go in peace!  I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”  Some tears are not an evil.  Some tears are heaven-sent and blessing… tears of guilt, even, and tears of compassion.  Our tears, when joined with God’s tears, can lead to true repentance and wash away the stains upon this world.  In the chorus of “Tears for the World,” Michael Card prays a prayer… for tears.  This Lent, it is my prayer for me and for you.

so open my eyes

and open my heart

and grant me the gift

of your grieving

and awaken in me

the compassion to weep

just one of the tears of the world.

-Michael Card, “Tears of the World”