Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year's Resolution

The ads on TV are offering better tasting nicotine gum, tastier diet food, bargains on exercise equipment. More joggers are on “the ol’ loggin’ road” and the parking lot at the swim center is fuller.

‘Tis the season after the season.

Brenda asked me if I am making any new year’s resolutions. I told her I didn’t want to say. Puzzled and bemused, she let me keep my little secret (though she bought us some diet pills).

But here, in this semiprivate/sort of anonymous yet ultra public forum of my blog, I don’t mind sharing.

There is the usual stuff. I think I should lose some weight (about 10%). That means better diet, more exercise. I should probably lay off the ice cream at bedtime.

But there are more important things than my physical health. I’m concerned about my spiritual health.

For the past year or so I've a growing concern about the prayer life of our church. It seems we could be doing a lot better.

A few of us have been getting together every Friday morn to discuss and pray about making prayer a central part of what we do as a church.

One of us sent out this interesting comment:

...I have something for you to prayerfully consider. As we prayed last Friday morning I was stuck by this thought/growing conviction – that as we come together to pray on Friday mornings we should pray for “our” repentance, our renewal, the continuing work of God’s Spirit in our lives as opposed for praying for this & that to happen to “our church” or “people in our church.” Our prayers need to be transparent & personal. I recently read Rick McKinley’s book Beautiful Mess, founding pastor of Imago Dei in Portland. He shares about how the beginning core group of the church met on Wednesday nights to pray for their repentance for 6 months. Out of this, slowly but surely, God began to change “them” & from them came the ministry of Image Dei in Portland. Up to now I think our prayers have been too “safe.” It’s easier to pray for others than for ourselves, easier to confess the sins of others rather than our own. It’s so easy to fall into a subtle form of spiritual pride as if the changes needed need to come in others instead of in us...

Now there’s some thoughts about resolutions!

It is pretty easy to look at one’s church and wonder why folks don’t do this or don’t do that.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what I think others should do. I can leverage folks to sign up for prayer slots, whip up enthusiasm for this or that prayer event. But all of that is a little like resolving not to eat ice cream at bedtime. Good idea, but it really doesn’t solve the bigger problem.

A friend of mine has been considering James 4:1-10:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Now there is some good advice for new year resolutions.

The problems which face churches stem from the same source as the problems which face all of our ills. Our sin. Our selfishness, our self-centeredness.

How do we address such issues?

We stop putting so much value in the things which are designed for simply pleasing ourselves. We stop with the pride and me-first mindset which is the source for so many problems, so much grief.

We start with... scratch that... Let me restart this last part.

We don’t start with that at all. I start with that. Enough of planning what others should be doing! What do I need to do? What can I do to grow, to change, to become something just a little more obedient, a little more grateful for the gifts which He has given me?

I start with admitting what my sins are. As Polonius (ironically) said, “To thine own self be true.”

I am a sinful person who seeks honors and praise and comforts and all sorts of things which are really about putting myself first. So, let me start with that.

I start by admitting where I am weak, where I need to grow. I start with being faithful to consistent daily prayer times, daily scripture reading. As James wrote, I must turn my laughter into grieving... grieving that I put myself first, that I find things other than my obedience to Him as more important. I need to grieve over what has made me laugh.

I start with keeping in mind that I am by nature going to seek my own way and that I need to refocus my attention on Him. If I am serious about my faith, I will remind myself that I’m not “all that.”

So... my resolutions... I resolve to be obedient.

Pretty simple (to say).

I know I am going to fail. But at each time I fail, I resolve to honestly look at what I have done and take it to Him. This is the sort of resolution which will cause me to take better care of my spiritual health as well as my physical.

I guess that means I’ll probably have to give up the ice cream at bedtime as well.


Anonymous said...

Looking out is often easier than looking in...our prayer group at our church often tries to refocus in that way too but it is hard - hard to not pray the safe prayer for others. It is hard to say I am filthy and need to be cleaned.

Jim said...

First off, maybe you don't have to give up ice cream at bedtime. Mrs. Jim, Adi, and I generally have ice cream at bedtime.
Eat low fat and you might even lose some weight.

In our former church we had a seminar on prayer. It lasted almost a week (or was it several weekend days?).
When we were about through, towards the end, the prayer life of our church was discussed.
We prayed about it and came up with the idea of having a 24 hour prayer chappel. Complete with a prayer phone-in line.
The prayer requests were put on a Roll-a-dex and as each person prayed his or her scheduled hour, the prayer requests were picked up off the Roll-a-dex where the last person left off.
Of course there could also be the person's own prayer concerns as long as those depending on us for prayer were being attention also.
One of my sons was saved, I believe because of all the prayer for him. Another reaffirmed his salvation at a young age and had a recommitment to the Lord.
The third son knows his need and how to ask for salvation but hasn't done this yet. Many are still praying for him.

Eventually not all times were being covered but the prayer chappel is still in existence with many of the newer members coming now.

So eat ice cream at bedtime and read James 4 often. Doing that will help you a lot.
I need to resolve to be obedient too. I'll resolve to try to be obedient.

Ame said...

yummm ... ice cream at bedtime ;) perhaps, you simply need to change the kind of ice cream?! some are healthier than others :)

"What do I need to do? What can I do to grow, to change, to become something just a little more obedient, a little more grateful for the gifts which He has given me?"

you know what i think? i think that God is just showing you what you've been doing all along, or at least what you've portrayed here on your blog. what do you need to do will become a continuation of what God has been doing through you all along - just now, perhaps, it will be more evident that that is what He is doing.

what a humble post - wow.

curious servant said...

Thank you.

I'm never sure what to say to such a compliment...

"You're such a humble guy! You should be proud of that!"

"Yeah, you're right, I'm pretty humble. It's my best feature. I work hard at being humble, and I think I've got it down! Tell your friends!"

All joking aside, we are called upon to recognize who we truly are. I've been granted a lot of wonderful gifts. I should recognize them,, use them, but not glory in them because they are not of my making. I'm reminded of a passage in Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" when the horse tells Gulliver that he isn't proud of being intelligent. That one is not proud of having an arm... it is simply a part of the tools we have been given.

Whatr we should be aware of is the power, might, glory, grace, and love that is reflected through what has been given to us which points to a reality that is beyond our comprehension.

The reality of who I am is that I am like Gollum in Lord of the Rings. There are flashes of goodness, of wanting to trust him, of pity and empathy... but there is another nature to Gollum which flashes out and we see his schizophrenia. We all carry around these two natures, this battle of good and evil within us.

My resolution is to be aware of that battle and own up to the portions of myself which do not glorify.

And at the moments, I simply want to toss my ugly nature on the pyre, the sacrificial flames which can burn them clean.

Lucy Stern said...

I like the idea of praying for repentence, we all need to repent. I also believe that we need to be in this world, just not of this world.

There are spots all over the scriptures where he tells man to have "joy". I don't think the Lord wants us to be unhappy and mourn all the time. He wants us to know when to laugh and when the right time to mourn is....

Last year I became involved in an evening prayer conference call. A preacher that I worked with started it and on Thursday nights at 7:00pm. people called in to the conference line and we prayed together. We would email Shelly our thoughts during the day and on the call we would pray for different things. I also know a group that did their prayer call every morning at 6:00am. They got their day started off with prayer. There is a place that offers a free conference line to anyone who wants one. It will hold about 30 to 50 participants. If you are interested, I will find out the information on it.

Thanks for the post....

curious servant said...

I would be glad to share that...

We have many prayer opportunities in our church as well.

On Sunday morn, before the service, several of us come together to pray for the service.

On Wednesday Evenings we have a corporate prayer time.

On Thursday morns I get together with my moon howlin' buddies and we pray.

On Friday morns a small group of us have started praying together, seeking the Lord's face in regard to the climate of prayer in our church.

On Saturday morns I get up early and go to the prayer room to pray alone, an opportunity available to all.

Just as I finish on Saturdays there is another corporate prayer group.

Once a month (first Fridays) we have the 24 hour prayers where folks sign up for specific times.

And there are lots of smaller groups as well.

So this disucssion isn't about opportunity as much as it is about our desires.

The part of this post about grieving and mourning is from scripture (James 4) and the idea is that we take joy in our sin and that we should turn THAT joy into sorrow.

Thanks for the comment Lucy!

Joe said...

The key: "Submit yourselves, then, to God."

Submission is tough, 'cause I want what I want, when I want it, where I want it, how I want it and I want God to understand.

Then I have to learn all over to submit.

eija said...

Thank you for this post. I linked to it from a post of my own.

squirrel said...

Wonderful post, Will. Thank you for coming by my blog and praying for me and my family it means a lot to me. I have spent a lot of time in prayer these past few days focusing on others. This post is a great reminder to pray for myself, thank you!

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