Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sully Notes 8 | A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Part 1 of 3

Emmaus City Church Sully Notes 8 A Praying Life Worcester MA Soma Acts 29

Sully Notes 8: Books in 25 minutes or less

Sully Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous Sully Notes books:

Emmaus City Church A Praying Life Sully Notes 8 Part 1 Worcester MA Soma Acts 29
This week's Notes begin with Part 1 of Paul Miller's A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. I was introduced to this book when one of my former pastors said it was the best book on prayer he had ever read. So I picked it up, read it, and now I agree with him. Miller's book is biblical, thoughtful, powerful, and rooted in how God has declared us to be His adopted children because of what Jesus did for us. So there isn't a formulaic or "right way" to pray. Prayer is a dialogue between us and our Father as Jesus taught us to pray to Him. It is a Spirit-inspired relationship and connection with the One we need and who is ready to hear our prayers and meet our deepest needs.

A Praying Life | Sully Notes 8: Part 1 of 3


"It's hard to pray. It's hard enough for many of us to make an honest request to a friend we trust for something we truly need. But when the request gets labeled 'praying' and the friend is termed 'God,' things get very tangled up.” – pg. 9


"When we have a praying life, we become aware of and enter into the story God is weaving in our lives." – pg. 12

Introduction | Chapter 1: What Good Does It Do?
"Our natural desire to pray comes from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall. Evil has marred the image. We want to talk to God but can't. The friction of our desire to pray, combined with our badly damaged prayer antennae, leads to constant frustration. It's as if we've had a stroke. ... Praying exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts. It was easier on our faith not to pray.” – pgs. 14-15
Introduction | Chapter 2: Where We Are Headed

"When Jesus describes the intimacy he wants with us, he talks about joining us for dinner. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20). A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayers is all about relationship. It's intimate and hints at eternity. We don't think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God." – pg. 20

"Since a praying life is interconnected with every part of our lives, learning to pray is almost identical to maturing over a lifetime. What does it feel like to grow up? It is a thousand feelings on a thousand different days. That is what learning to pray feels like. 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." – pg. 21
"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." – pg. 22
"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 ... and thus to be busy, which in turn drives us even more into a life of prayer. By spending time with our Father in prayer, we integrate our live with his, with what he is doing in us." – pg. 23 

" ... my prayer was inseparable from my repentance, from encountering God. As Anthony Bloom, a Greek Orthodox writer said, 'Abandon all, you will receive heaven.' When you give God your life, he gives you the gift of himself." – pg. 25

Part 1: Learning to Pray Like a Little Child | Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

"When we slow down to pray, we are immediately confronted with how unspiritual we are, with how difficult it is to concentrate on God. We don't know how bad we are until we try to be good. Nothing exposes our selfishness and spiritual powerlessness like prayer. ... (But) God cheers when we come to him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers. This is the gospel, the welcoming heart of God. ... Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, 'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28, NASB). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.– pgs. 31-32

"Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That's okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn't come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of – our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness – are what get us in the front door! That's how the gospel works. That's how prayer works. ... The kingdom comes when Jesus becomes king of your life. But it has to be your life. You can't create a kingdom that doesn't exist, where you try to be better than you really are. Jesus calls that hypocrisy – putting on a mask to cover the real you." – pg. 33 

"Become like the little children Jesus surrounded himself with. When Nathaniel first hears about Jesus, he says the first thing that comes to his mind: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' (John 1:46). It is the pure, uncensored Nathanael. When Jesus greets Nathanael, you can almost see Jesus smiling when he says, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!' (1:47). Jesus ignores the fact that Nathanael has judged Jesus' entire family and friends in Nazareth. He simply enjoys that Nathanael is real, without guile, a man who doesn't pretend. Jesus seems to miss the sin and see a person. It is classic Jesus. He loves real people. God would much rather deal with the real thing. Jesus said that he came for sinners, for messed-up people who keep messing up (see Luke 15:1-2). Come dirty. The point of the gospel is that we are incapable of beginning with God and his kingdom. Many Christians pray mechanically for God's kingdom (for missionaries, the church, and so on), but all the while their lives are wrapped up in their own kingdoms. You can't add God's kingdom as an overlay to your own." – pg. 34  

Chapter 4 | Learn to Talk with Your Father

"On the rare occasion when Jesus encounters an adult who believes like a child, he stands on a soapbox and practically yells, 'Pay attention to this person. Look how he or she believes!' He only does that twice; both times the person was a Gentile, from outside of the community of faith. The first is a Roman officer, a centurion, who is so confident of Jesus' ability to heal his paralyzed servant that he asks Jesus to heal without even visiting his home. He tells Jesus, 'But say the word, and let my servant be healed' (Luke 7:7). Jesus is stunned. He turns to the crowd following him and says, 'I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith' (7:9). The second is a Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. Even though Jesus rebuffs her, she keeps coming back. Jesus marvels at her faith, giving her his second Great Faith Oscar: 'Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as your desire' (Matthew 15:28)." – pg. 39

"Become like a little child – ask, believe, and, yes, even play. When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has done something remarkable. He's given you a new voice. It is his own. God has replaced your badly damaged prayer antenna with a new one – the Spirit. He is in you praying. Paul told us that the Spirit puts the praying heart of Jesus in you. 'God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!' (Galatians 4:6). You'll discover your heart meshing with God's. You'll discover that prayer is a feast." – pgs. 41-42   

Chapter 5 | Spending Time with Your Father

"Whenever Jesus starts talking about his relationship with his heavenly Father, Jesus becomes childlike, very dependent. 'The Son can do nothing of his own accord' (John 5:19). 'I can do nothing on my own' (John 5:30). 'I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me' (John 8:28). 'The Father who sent me has himself given me ... what to say and what to speak' (John 12:49). Only a child will say, 'I only do what I see my Father is doing.' When Jesus tells us to become like little children, he isn't telling us to do anything he isn't already doing. ... When Jesus tells us that 'apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5), he is inviting us into his life of a living dependence on his heavenly Father. When Jesus tells us to believe, he isn't asking us to work up some spiritual energy. He is telling us to realize that, like him, we don't have the resources to do life. When you know that you (like Jesus) can't do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense." – pgs. 44-45

"When Jesus is with someone, that person is the only person in the room. Jesus slows down and concentrates on one person at a time. The way he loves people is identical to the way he prays to his Father. This one-person focus is how love works. Love incarnates by slowing down and focusing on just the beloved. We don't love in general; we love one person at a time. ... When the bleeding woman interrupts him on the way to Jairus's house, Jesus could have healed her without stopping to connect with her as a person (see Luke 8:40-48). But he doesn't. When he rejects Satan's temptation to turn the stone into bread, he rejects efficiency and chooses love (see Matthew 4:1-4). So, as a fully human being, he needs to get away to pray." – pg. 46

"Praying out loud can be helpful because it keeps you from getting lost in your head. It makes your thoughts concrete. But it is more than technique; it is also a statement of faith. You are audibly declaring your belief in a God who is alive." – pg. 48

"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. Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don't have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something 'productive.' So the act of praying means that you have to rely more on God." – pg. 49

Chapter 6 | Learning to Be Helpless

"We received Jesus because we were weak, and that's how we follow him. Paul told the Colossians, 'Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him' (2:6). We forget that helplessness is how the Christian life works. ... The gospel, God's free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don't have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to – our helplessness – is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can't do life on our own." – pg. 55

"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. John of Landsburg, a sixteenth-century Catholic monk, summarized his well in his classic A Letter from Jesus Christ. He imagined Jesus speaking personally to us: '...What you think was a state of absolute security from which you've fallen was really trusting too much in your own strength and ability ... what really ails you is that things simply haven't happened as you expected and wanted. In fact I don't want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and to distrust yourself, and to trust me and no one and nothing else. As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me. You may hope and trust in me absolutely. My mercy is infinite.'" – pg. 58
"If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else – a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is important to us, we make room for it. Prayer is simply not important to many Christians because Jesus is already an add-on. That is why, as we'll see later, suffering is so important to the process of learning how to pray. It is God's gift to us to show us what life is really like." – pg. 59 

Chapter 7 | Crying "Abba" – Continuously

"Interrupting, selling, and boasting are just a few of the things that draw me into continuous prayer, into continued childlike dependence on my Father. Each of us has our own list. We can let it drive us into a praying life." – pg. 64

"We know the word abba because it burned itself on the disciples' minds. They were so stunned – no one had ever spoken to God so intimately before – that when they told the Greek Christians about Jesus, they carried over the Aramaic abba into the Greek translations of the Bible. This so shocked Paul that he used abba in both Romans and Galatians. Translators have continued the pattern set by the early disciples, and no matter what language Scripture is in, they still use abba. This one-word prayer, Father, is uniquely Jesus' prayer. His first recorded sentence at age twelve is about his father: 'Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?' (Luke 2:49). Abba is the first word the prodigal son utters when he returned home. It is the first word of the Lord's Prayer, and it is the first word Jesus prays in Gethsemane. It is his first word on the cross – 'Father, forgive them' (Luke 23:34) – and one of his last 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' (Luke 23:46)." – pg. 65

"Often we are too weary to figure out what the problem is. We just know that life – including ours  – doesn't work. So we pray, Father, Father, Father. This is the exact opposite of Eastern mysticism, which is a psycho-spiritual technique that disengages from relationship and escapes pain by dulling self. Eastern mystics are trying to empty their minds and become one with the nonpersonal 'all.' But as Christians we realize we can't cure ourselves, so we cry out to our Father, our primary relationship." – pg. 66

"We don't need self-discipline to pray continuously; we just need to be poor in spirit. Poverty of spirit makes room for his Spirit. It creates a God-shaped hole in our hearts and offers us a new way to relate to others." – pg. 66

"The Greek Orthodox Church still uses a simple fifth-century prayer sometimes called the Prayer of Jesus: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The Orthodox tradition calls short prayers like this 'breath prayers' because they can be spoken in a single breath." – pg. 68
Chapter 8 | Bending Your Heart to Your Father

"Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God's wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self on its own, it tries to get control. It is unable to relax in the face of chaos. Once one problem is solved, the next in line steps up. The new one looms so large, we forgot the last deliverance. ... it took God to show us how not to be godlike. Jesus was the first person who didn't seek independence. He wanted to be in continuous contact with his heavenly Father. In fact, he humbled himself to death on the cross, becoming anxious so we could be free from anxiety. Now the Spirit brings the humility of Jesus into our hearts. No longer do we have to be little gods, controlling everything. Instead, we cling to our Father in the face of chaos by continuously praying. Because we know we don't have control, we cry out for grace." – pg. 70

"David captured the connection between a humble heart and a quiet heart in Psalm 131. 'O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child on its mother; like a weaned child is my soul on me' (verses 1-2). ... One of the unique things about continuous praying is that it is its own answer to prayer. As you pray Psalm 131, your heart becomes quiet. You rest, not because there is magic in the words but because your eyes are no longer raised too high." – pg. 71 

"When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God's drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again." – pg. 73 

Next post: Sully Notes 8 | A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Part 2 of 3

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