Wednesday, May 7, 2014

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

Emmaus City Church Sully Notes 8 A Praying Life 2 of 3 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:

And here is the previous post in the Sully Notes 8 | A Praying Life series:

A Praying Life | Sully Notes 8: Part 2 of 3

Part 2: Learning to Trust Again | Chapter 9: Understanding Cynicism

"A praying life ... engages evil. It doesn't take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God's face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty. Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques. It is passive, cocooning itself from the passions of the great cosmic battle we are engaged in. It is without hope. ... We go from seeing the bright side of everything to seeing the dark side of everything. We feel betrayed by life. ... 'I make the jump from optimism to darkness so quickly because I am not grounded in a deep, abiding faith that God is in the matter, no matter what the matter is. I am looking for pleasant results, not deeper realities.'" – pgs. 79, 81

Chapter 10 | Following Jesus out of Cynicism

"Jesus keeps in tension wariness about evil with a robust confidence in the goodness of his Father. He continues, 'Beware of men' (Matthew 10:17); then in the next breath he warms our hearts to our Father's love, saying, 'Fear not, therefore; you are more value than many sparrows' (10:31). ... Instead of naive 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. The feel of a praying life is cautious optimism – caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption. Cautious optimism allows Jesus to boldly send his disciples into an evil world." – pgs. 83-84
"Jesus meditates on Psalm 22 to prepare for his death. On the cross, overwhelmed by evil, he recites Psalm 22:1: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' In the darkness, Jesus doesn't analyze what he doesn't know. He clings to what he knows." – pg. 89
"Nothing undercuts cynicism more than a spirit of thankfulness. You begin to realize that your whole life is a gift. Thankfulness isn't a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is. Not surprisingly, thanklessness is the first sin to emerge from our ancient rebellion against God. Paul writes, 'For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him' (Romans 1:21)." – pg. 89

"To become thankful is to be drawn into the fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, into their enjoyment of one another, of life, and of people. Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God's care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one. In the face of Adam and Eve's evil, God takes up needle and thread and patiently sews fine leather clothing for them (see Genesis 3:21). He covers their divided, hiding selves with love. The same God permits his Son to be stripped naked so we could be clothed. God is not cynical in the face of evil. He loves." – pg. 91
"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. ... 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. In contrast, cynicism focuses on the other person's split personality and need to repent. It lacks the humility that comes from first taking the beam out of its own eye." – pg. 92

Chapter 11 | Developing an Eye for Jesus

"Cynicism looks in the wrong direction. It looks for the cracks in Christianity instead of looking for the presence of Jesus. It is an orientation of the heart. ... Jesus never used his power to show off. He used his power for love. So he wasn't immediately noticeable. Humility makes you disappear, which is why we avoid it." – pgs. 96-97

"Instead of focusing on other people's lack of integrity, on their split personalities, we need to focus on how Jesus is reshaping the church to be more like himself. We need to view the body of Christ with grace. Paul delights in the influence of Jesus on people's lives. It is at the heart of his praying. He doesn't have a generalized spirit of thanksgiving: he is thankful for 'you.' Even with the messed-up Corinthian church, Paul is thankful: 'I give thanks to my God always for you' (1 Corinthians 1:4). Then he addresses their permitting of incest, suing one another in court, and getting drunk at the Lord's Supper! Because he keeps his eye on the present work of Jesus, Paul is not overcome by evil but overcomes evil with good. Even as God has extended grace to Paul, so Paul extends grace to the Corinthians. He looks at the church through rose-colored glasses, tinted with the blood of his Savior." – pg. 99  

Part 3: Learning to Ask Your Father | Chapter 12: Why Asking Is So Hard

"Charles Malik, a Greek Orthodox philosopher, theologian, and diplomat, perceptively described the spirit of the Enlightenment: 'Nothing can be farther from and more foreign to the whole temper of modern man than the anguished cry of David: 'From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.' Modern man recognizes no such rock, and that is the source of all estrangement and all tragedy. ... We could see God beyond all His creation only if we become 'babes.' Just as the children, not the chief priests and the scribes, when they saw him in human form in the temple cried, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' so we, if we are born again and become like them, children ourselves – intuitive, pure, simple, direct, receptive, open – could pass from His creation to Himself.'" – pgs. 107-108, 110

Chapter 13 | Why We Can Ask

" ... some people are more powerful with God. Any Asian will tell you that is true. Africans would agree, as would Latin Americans. The only people out of touch are Westerners. We know that is true in other realms. For instance, we know that some financial advisers and doctors are better than others. In our egalitarian world, it doesn't occur to us that this would also be true in the spiritual world. But unlike these other kinds of experts, power in prayer comes from being in touch with your weakness. To teach us how to pray, Jesus told stories of weak people who knew they couldn't do life on their own. The persistent widow and the friend at midnight get access, not because they are strong but because they are desperate. Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life." – pg. 114 

" ... we can feel Solomon's wonder in his prayer of dedication for the temple as he contemplates the infinite God dwelling personally with us. 'Will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built?' (2 Chronicles 6:18). Because God is both infinite and personal, he will '(listen) to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays' (6:19." – pg. 115

Chapter 14 | How Personal Is God?

"Prayer is a moment of incarnation – God with us. ... (But) God makes us nervous when he gets too close. We don't want a physical dependence on him. It feels hokey, like we are controlling God. Deep down we just don't like grace. We don't want to risk our prayer not being answered. We prefer the safety of isolation to engaging the living God. To embrace the Father and thus prayer is to accept what one pastor called 'the sting of particularity.' ... Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading post-World War II theologian, put his finger on the problem: 'The human ego assumes its self-sufficiency and self-mastery and imagines itself secure ... It does not recognize the contingent and dependent character of its life and believes itself to be the author of its own existence.'" – pg. 125
"God is a person, and his universe reflects his personhood. The closer something is to the character of God, the more it reflects him and the less it can be measured. Things such as integrity, beauty, hope, and love are all in the same category as prayer. You can tell their presence and even describe them, but you can't define them, simply because they are too close to God's image. ... 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." – pg. 127-128

Chapter 15 | What Do We Do with Jesus' Extravagant Promises About Prayer

"As humans, we reflect the complexity of God. Part of divine beauty is that we were made for community, so when we leap to our death, we hold hands with a friend. When Jesus asks his father to 'remove this cup from me,' he knows that the divine community he shares with his Father is going to be broken at the cross. In asking and surrendering, just for a moment, he is holding hands with his Father." – pg. 133

"The name of Jesus gives my prayers royal access. They get through, Jesus isn't just the Savior of my soul. He's also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus. 'Asking in Jesus' name' isn't another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect. ... The Father delights in taking his children into the life of his Son – his life, death, and resurrection. He wants us to abide in the vine. It is his way. ... Abiding is anything but disconnected from life. It is the way life should be done, in partnership with God." – pgs. 135, 137-138

Chapter 16 | What We Don't Ask For: "Our Daily Bread"

" ... Jesus' prayer for daily bread was an invitation to bring all our needs to him. In the Greek, 'Give us this day our daily bread' (Matthew 6:11) is an obscure expression that literally means 'give us tomorrow's bread today.' It hints at the abundance God wants to bring into our lives. ... This is what it means to abide – to include him in every aspect of our lives. 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. We can do the same thing with a promotion. It feels selfish to pray for one, so instead we'll work for one! We end up separating a big part of our lives from God because we are trying to feel good about ourselves. As we have seen, we create two selves – a spiritual self and a material self. We also shy away from prayers like these because they invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. ... Scholars have pointed out that Jesus' references to the kingdom are a subtle way of introducing himself as king. When we pray the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, 'Your kingdom come,' we are saying, 'King Jesus, rule my life.' The heart is one of God's biggest mission fields." – pgs. 141, 143
"Oddly enough, we can also use prayer to keep God distant. We do that by only talking to God and not to mature believers. I can demonstrate that easily. Which is easier, confessing impure thoughts to a mature friend or to God? The friend is tougher. That feels real. We need to ask the body of Christ, Jesus' physical presence on earth, the same questions we ask God." – pg. 143

Chapter 17 | What We Don't Ask For: "Your Kingdom Come"

"The adventure begins with asking God, Do I have a critical spirit too? Do I respond to a critical spirit with my own critical spirit? Usually, what bugs us the most about other people is true of us as well. By first taking the beam out of our own eye (see Matthew 7:1-5), we release in others' lives the unseen energy of the Spirit. The kingdom is beginning to come. We can let God use others' criticisms to make us more like Jesus. Instead of fighting what they say, if at all possible we can do it. We can't do battle with evil without letting God destroy the evil in us as well. The world is far too intertwined. Deep down, we instinctively know that God works this way, and we pull back from prayer. Like Jonah outside the city of Nineveh complaining about God's mercy, we say, 'God I knew you would do that. As soon as I started praying for her, you started working on me.' ... We can't believe the gospel unless we are also becoming the gospel. In other words, once you've learned that God loves you, you need to extend his love to others. Otherwise, the love of God sours. By extending grace to others, we are being drawn into the life of the Son. We will become Christlike." – pgs. 151-152
"A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on his own Son the criticism I deserve. Now he invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace. Take a journey into the heart of God." – pg. 152

Chapter 18 | Surrender Completely: "Your Will Be Done"

"Until we see how strong our own will is, we can't understand the second petition of the Lord's Prayer – 'your will be done' (Matthew 6:10). ... If I had been in touch with my self-will, then it would have opened up the door to prayer, to abiding. The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God's will; it is trying to discern and then disown my own. Once I see that, then prayer flows. I have to be praying because I'm no longer in charge. Either I see all of life as a gift, or I demand that life have a certain look to it." – pgs. 156-157
"Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is a blueprint for getting in touch with your self-will and letting God take control. ... To understand the sermon, think of your life as a room filled with open doors called money, sex, power, and fame. Jesus begins the sermon by telling you he is going to go through your life and close all the doors to human power and glory.
In chapter 5, Jesus closes one door after another:
  • Matthew 5:5 – Give up power in relationships, and I will show you an entirely different way to do life. ... I will take care of you.
  • Matthew 5:43-47 – Empower your enemies, those who abuse you, to think of their needs.
  • Matthew 5:23-24 – Go to the person who is irritated with you even if it isn't your fault.
  • Matthew 5:38-42 – Close the door to revenge, even emotional revenge.
  • Matthew 5:33-37 – Don't try to get power over people by using oaths or by promising more than you can deliver.
  • Matthew 5:27-30 – Close the door to a secret life of sexual pleasure by removing your eye if it is looking at women to use them.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus closes the door to getting your identity from your own righteousness:
  • Matthew 6:5-8 – Keep your prayer life hidden so you don't use it to make yourself look good; if you pray, do it in private.
  • Matthew 6:16-18 – If you fast, pretend you don't.
  • Matthew 6:1-4 – If you give, don't tell anyone.  
Then later in chapter 6, Jesus closes the door to getting your security from money:
  • Matthew 6:19-24 – Give your money away.
  • Matthew 6:25-34 – Give up worrying about money.

As you begin chapter 7, you have a new view of the world. You've learned how to put God at the center. ... Having closed all your doors, Jesus opens the door to prayer and tells you how he gets things done (7:7). He asks for help from his Father. He talks to his Father and tells him what he wants. Prayer is the positive side of the surrendered will. As you stop doing your own will and wait for God, you enter into his mind. You begin to remain in him to abide. This is the praying life." – pgs. 158-160
"Self-will and prayer are both ways of getting things done. At the center of self-will is me, carving a world in my image, but at the center of prayer is God, carving me in his Son's image. ... During a particularly hard time in my life, I remembering realizing God is my fortress doesn't mean that God is giving me a fortress. It means he is the fortress (see Psalm 62:2). Except for God, I am completely alone. I wasn't sure I liked that. ... We can't pray effectively until we get in touch with our inner brat. When we see our own self-will, it opens the door to doing things through God. Instead of singing Frank Sinatra's song 'My Way,' we enter into God's story and watch him do it his way. No one works like him." – pgs. 160-161
Next post: Sully Notes 8 | A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Part 3 of 3

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