Monday, January 18, 2016

Talking with God, not talking to God

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was satisfied with their prayer life. It’s one of those things we know we’re supposed to do, but we find it difficult to set apart the time to do it. Then, when we make time to pray, we find it kind of boring. I’ve never been able to pray for more than a few minutes before I start to run out of things to say.

Donald Whitney, author of the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, has a new book out called Praying the Bible. I asked the publisher for a review copy because I know that I’ve struggled with prayer, and I was hopeful Whitney would point me in a direction I hadn’t considered before. I’m happy I did.

Whitney recognizes prayer is a challenge for most people. He also recognizes that the problem cannot be solved simply by encouraging people to do better. We get a lot of encouragement to do better, but for most of us, it doesn’t have any long-term effect.  Whitney proposes the problem lies in our method. Prayer becomes boring because we keep saying the same old things about the same old things.

The solution, Whitney proposes, is to pray the Bible. The method is simple: pick a passage of Scripture (preferably the Psalms or a New Testament epistle), read a verse, and let that verse serve as inspiration for your prayer. The point is not to interpret the verse (although prolonged exposure to Scripture helps our interpretation). The point is to hear God’s word and respond to it. In this way prayer becomes a two-way conversation, with God speaking to you through his word, and you responding to him. When the Bible says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” you might praise him, ask him to bring your unsaved friends and family members into fellowship with him so they can praise him too, confess that you’ve been praising yourself out of pride, etcetera. Once your mind starts to wander or you run out of things to say, you continue on to the next verse and pray about that.

At one point in the book Whitney challenges readers to set a timer and pray for seven minutes. I did it. When the timer buzzed, I was amazed that the time had gone by so quickly. My wife tried it without even reading the book and commented that her mind didn’t wander.

Other methods may similarly work well, but this one has a lot to commend it. For one, the whole experience is centered on Scripture, and Scripture tells us who God is and what he is like. By praying Scripture, we are immersed in God’s thoughts, which shapes the way we pray and the things we pray for. It also makes the experience feel more like talking with God rather than talking to God.

You could probably pick up the method just from my description of it here, but the book will give you a more thorough treatment and actually walk you through the method. I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Hannah's thoughts on our move to Buffalo

In our first week of marriage, Andrew and I packed up our secondhand furniture and clothes into a small U-Haul and pickup truck. We left our families and the small town we had lived in our entire lives to move to Indianapolis. I was excited to start a new life, although our first night we huddled together on our mattress on the floor, listening to the noises of a city. Seven years later, it’s amazing how our Michigan hometown feels like a distant memory. Indianapolis is home. In a few weeks, we will leave and again move to another state.

God blessed us in Indy with Andrew’s great job opportunity. At first it was exciting for him to learn and excel in his area of human resources. After five or six years, Andrew began feeling frustrated and stuck in that same position. There were few opportunities to advance. He began applying for jobs all over the country.

Meanwhile, we’d established ourselves here. I worked part-time at my children’s preschool, which gave me a chance to teach children (my background and passion) while still dedicating time at home to my own preschoolers. I loved the community of Christian co-workers who became friends to my children and myself.

Most importantly, Andrew and I got to be part of a Hispanic church’s beginning. It grew from a Bible study in the American church to its own church averaging 60-70 people weekly. We became accustomed to eating guacamole, arroz con grandules, and spicy salsa. Many of these people became like family to us as we intertwined our daily lives. I didn’t want to leave.

At first, I resisted all Andrew’s attempts to apply for jobs elsewhere. I cheered when he received ‘no’ for an answer. When was offered a job in Virginia, I advocated with all my might (and sometimes spite) for staying. He agonized over it before declining the offer. That offer changed the way Andrew looked for jobs.

We established criteria:
  • It had to be in an area with Hispanic ministry opportunity
  • It couldn’t be more than a day’s drive from our families in Michigan
  • It had to be a Mid-Western or Great Lakes state
  • I had to approve the city

Andrew applied for a few jobs here and there. A year passed. Then Andrew received a job offer from Buffalo, NY. A little Internet research showed a city with a significant Hispanic population but no Hispanic evangelical church. It fit every other criteria and I couldn’t find a legitimate reason to say no. I knew I couldn’t keep Andrew here forever, locked into the same secular job. I also knew God might have a bigger ministry opportunity than was available in Indy. My children are young enough to adapt easily to a new home. Enfoque is in a stable place. With tears, I said yes.

It’s not easy to leave behind people we love here, or to give up the familiarity we have with the city. Starting over hurts. But deep inside, I know God has been preparing us to leave for the past couple years. I know it’s time. As I look over my 2015 calendar, it’s filled with birthday parties, preschool events,  and church activities. We have become comfortable in Indianapolis, maybe too comfortable. God placed us here for seven years undoubtedly to grow us and let us invest in the lives of those around us. Now it’s time pack our belongings into a giant moving truck and take our family to Buffalo.