Category: Books I Like

Lord, How Come THAT Happened?

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

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I read a good book Paul Miller wrote about the book of Ruth called “A Loving Life.” Miller shows that a study of the book of Ruth can shed light on what Christian love really means.

Throughout the book, Miller exposes and deflates the obstacles that stand in the way of Christian love. Today, I’ll delve into just one obstacle he mentions: when we disagree with what God is doing in our lives. Today’s Miller quote is “We have to hang in there with the story that God has permitted in our lives.”

Basically, he’s saying that love won’t grow if we avoid dealing with what we don’t like about our lives. The two chief ways we avoid are to become embittered about our lives or to use escapism to get away from our lives.

Presently, I don’t have any major complaints about my life, yet I still can disagree with God’s story for the day. I often prefer a path that’s easier to walk on than the one that God gives to me. I admit, I have grumpiness with God when things do not go my way ……this can even be over something that is pretty minor—-say a computer issue arises that keeps me from doing my work on my timetable.

Then I become just embittered enough that I am not growing in my ability to show love. That kind of grumpiness can be subtle. I mean I’m not fighting with people or anything…. And sometimes I am not even consciously aware of complaining, and, instead, watch an extra hour of TV…. Some TV is fine, but what happens when I start to binge and add an extra hour of it….or two…or three???

Miller shows how Ruth’s life is a kind of sneak preview of what true Christian love is like. She makes quite a sacrifice, deviating from the path that would have been easier for her, to simply remain in her homeland. Instead, she leaves her own land to go with Naomi to a foreign place. Yet there is such liberty in what she does—-Ruth’s declaration of “where you go I will go” to Naomi surely does not have the grudging quality of “oh all right; guess I have to be a martyr; I will do it”.  Ruth was a Gentile, yet she had an amazing inpouring of grace from God and even became part of Christ’s geneaology.

Her story is a wonderful picture of what we are called do in our lives in grace in Christ.

Miller argues, and I agree, that often it’s Ruth’s kind of deviation from the easy path that we would prefer to take that can mold us, shape us, and change us more into the image of Christ.

I may like to think that I am the author of my own story, but that is wrong. Because God is the real author. When God says that my own story needs a rewrite, do I resist its author?

Prayer: Lord, when things don’t go my way, may I grow in quickly giving up escapism and bitterness, and grow in accepting what you are permitting in my life.

A praying life: connecting with God in a distracting world / Paul E. Miller

This book has had the biggest influence on me of any book on prayer I have ever read. It’s actually an easier read than Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God but by no means is it simple-minded! One of the key ideas in the book is that prayer is not something we do as a separate “compartment” of our life but rather it happens as we seek God and his Story.

 In this book Miller uses much that happened in his family, including the difficulties of raising an autistic child, to explain what God showed him about prayer. The highlights here are much too short to get into the details of how God worked in his family, and that is one of the many reasons why it’s worthwhile to read  the whole book.

Following are some great quotes from the book. Anything in italics is my own clarifcation or annotation.

  • Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center.
  • So don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.
  • A praying life isn’t something you accomplish in a year. It is a journey of a lifetime. The same is true of learning how to love your spouse or a good friend. You never stop learning this side of heaven. There is far too much depth in people to be able to capture love easily. Likewise, there is far too much depth in God to capture prayer easily.
  • If God is sovereign, then he is in control of all the details of my life. If he is loving, then he is going to be shaping the details of my life for my good. If he is all-wise, then he’s not going to do everything I want because I don’t know what I need. If he is patient, then he is going to take time to do all this. When we put all these things together — God’s sovereignty, love, wisdom, and patience — we have a divine story.
  • People often talk about prayer as if it is disconnected from what God is doing in their lives. But we are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright.
  • Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance. We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges. But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world. Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and he will listen and act. Since I am his child, change is possible — and hope is born.
  • Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love.
  • As you develop your relationship with your heavenly Father, you’ll change. You’ll discover nests of cynicism, pride, and self-will in your heart. You will be unmasked. None of us likes being exposed. We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for a praying life. A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer.
  • Ironically, many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. You’re taught to “do it right.” Instead of the real, messy you meeting God, you try to re-create yourself by becoming spiritual.
  • The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer are Our Father. You are the center of your heavenly Father’s affection. That is where you find rest for your soul. If you remove prayer from the welcoming heart of God (as much teaching on the Lord’s Prayer does), prayer becomes a legalistic chore. We do the duty but miss touching the heart of God. By coming to God “weary and heavy-laden,” we discover his heart; heaven touches earth and his will is done.
  • When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Paul certainly wasn’t! Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.
  • If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray.
  • I am starting to see there is a difference between “saying prayers” and honest praying. Both can sound the same on the outside, but the former is too often motivated by a sense of obligation and guilt; whereas the latter is motivated by a conviction that I am completely helpless to “do life” on my own. Or in the case of praying for others, that I am completely helpless to help others without the grace and power of God.
  • Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they’ve done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kids’ hearts. That’s why strong Christians pray more.
  • A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.
  • Instead of naïve optimism, Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. So the feel of a praying life is cautious optimism — caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption.
  • Jesus brings hope before he heals. He is not a healing machine — he touches people’s hearts, healing their souls before he heals their bodies.Hope begins with the heart of God. As you grasp what the Father’s heart is like, how he loves to give, then prayer will begin to feel completely natural to you.
  • All sin involves a splitting of the personality — what James calls being “double-minded” (4:8). If we become proud, we have an inflated sense of self that has lost touch with who we really are. If a husband watches porn online and then warmly greets his wife, he has created two people — one public and one hidden. If you talk about friends disparagingly behind their backs, you’ve created two personalities — the loving friend and the gossiping friend. You try to keep the personalities separate by telling those to whom you gossip, “Please keep this in confidence.”
  • Repentance brings the split personality together and thus restores integrity to the life. The real self is made public. When the proud person is humbled, the elevated self is united with the true self.
  • The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God.
  • All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask. His greatest concern is that our failure or reluctance to ask keeps us distant from God. But that is not the only reason he tells us to ask anything. God wants to give us good gifts. He loves to give.
  • I find that the closer my prayers are to the heart of God, the more powerfully and quickly they are answered.
  • Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” These are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.
  • When someone’s prayers aren’t answered, I want to know the backstory. How long did that individual pray? What did God do in that person’s heart when he or she prayed? What was God doing in the situation? Most of us isolate prayer from the rest of what God is doing in our lives, but God doesn’t work that way. Prayer doesn’t exist in some rarified spiritual world; it is part of the warp and woof of our lives. Praying itself becomes a story.
  • We forget that God is not a genie but a person who wants to shape us in the image of his Son as much as he wants to answer our prayers.
  • The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me — “he leads me beside still waters” (verse 2); at the end he is behind me — “goodness and love will pursue me” (verse 6, NIV)1; but in the middle, as I go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” he is next to me — “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey.
  • When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story — to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God. In fact, that is how intimacy grows in all close relationships.
  • Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.
  • When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself.

One of Miller’s great insights is to connect our prayer thoroughly with God’s story. I have found this way of thinking to be very helpful for intercessory prayer for people. Intercessory prayer requests are often for a circumstance to change but even more important is how that prayer connects to the story of what God is doing in their life.

To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:

  1. Don’t demand that the story go your way. (In other words, surrender completely.)
  2. Look for the Storyteller. Look for his hand, and then pray in light of what you are seeing. (In other words, develop an eye for Jesus.)
  3. Stay in the story. Don’t shut down when it goes the wrong way.

Sometimes when we say “God is silent,” what’s really going on is that he hasn’t told the story the way we wanted it told. He will be silent when we want him to fill in the blanks of the story we are creating. But with his own stories, the ones we live in, he is seldom silent.

  • BE CAREFUL OF SYSTEMS

One prayer system many people have found helpful is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But systems can become rote, desensitizing us to God as a person. We can become wooden or mindless as we pray. When I come home, I don’t first adore Jill [Miller’s wife] for a couple of minutes, confess my failure to take out the trash, thank her for making dinner, and then give her my list. Jill is a Philadelphian. Philadelphians boo their own sports teams. I could probably have an ACTS-conversation entrance once, and then Jill would roll her eyes and ask me if I had a touch of autism. And rightly so. When you are autistic, you have trouble picking up social clues from the other person. You are so lost in your own world that you miss people. None of us wants to be treated like robots … including God. He is, after all, a person.

Miller describes at length how carefully written prayer cards can be helpful in praying for others.

Read the book to get details on how he does this!

PRAYER CARDS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS
A PRAYER CARD FOR PEOPLE IN SUFFERING

A PRAYER CARD FOR NON-CHRISTIANS

A PRAYER CARD FOR FRIENDS

BUILDING A SAMPLE DECK

  • USING A JOURNAL DURING A MORNING PRAYER TIME

The act of writing out your worries, joys, and prayers helps you focus and keeps your mind from wandering. But the best part is that over time you will begin to see patterns of what God is doing, to pick up the threads of a story. If we see our lives as a pilgrimage, then it becomes an integrated whole. It makes sense.

  • As I pray, I’m dealing not with surface stuff, but with the state of my heart and of the people for whom I am praying. My prayer time is anything but boring. I am thanking, repenting, protecting, and caring. My prayer time is alive with God.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that things are happening because I pray.
  • We don’t need a praying life because that is our duty. That would wear thin quickly. We need time to be with our Father every day because every day our hearts and the hearts of those around us are overgrown with weeds. We need to reflect on our lives and engage God with the condition of our souls and the souls he has entrusted to our care or put in our paths. In a fallen world, these things do not come automatically.