Tag Archives | prayer

Well, that’s some consolation!

Ever hear someone say, “I need to pray about that”?  The implication is that the person needs some time to consider or discern God’s will.

But what does that look like?

Recently I came upon some old spiritual tools for decision making and spiritual discernment.  The key words are “consolation” and “desolation.”  In simplest terms, consolation refers to the felt presence of God in the soul, while desolation refers to the opposite – God’s absence.

I think it’s fair to say that these words – especially “consolation” – have taken on all new meanings, but I think it would be good for our spiritual lives to recover something of the ancient meanings.  The words mean more than “I feel good” and “I feel bad.”

In case you’re interested it was St. Ignatius of Loyola who first explored this approach to knowing God’s will for our lives.

Consolation is not the prize you receive if you fail to win the grand prize. Consolation is a spiritual condition in which we find our hearts lifted.  The word refers to a kind of inner peace and joy.  I once heard an older person say, “Grandchildren are the consolation of old age.”  I like that. I’m looking forward to a little of that consolation myself.

Desolation is very different.  Ignatius called it a “darkness of the soul, a torment of the spirit.”

When we are asked to make a decision of some sort, the idea is that we quiet ourselves enough to notice what’s happening within.  Do we feel a serenity of spirit about whatever it is?

Or does the decision take us in another direction entirely, draining us of energy, crowding out what’s most important to us?

I know that someone is bound to say in response to all of this that “prayer and Bible reading” would be the best way to make good, God-honoring decisions.  And you won’t be surprised to know that I agree with that.  But what I am offering here, I hope, is a way to go deeper, to be more attentive, to open ourselves to the presence of God in our lives.

In the last year or so I have had to face some of the biggest, most distressing decisions of my life.  Each time, I’m happy to report, I have come to a place of peace and acceptance about one direction or another, and though I didn’t have the language of “consolation” and “desolation” at the time, that’s exactly what I was doing.  I had used an ancient spiritual tool.

I hope this is useful to you.

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Prayer at lunchtime

It’s interesting to listen to others pray.  I was at a lunch meeting yesterday, and our speaker opened with prayer by saying, “Daddy.”

I hadn’t heard that word used in public prayer before – and I’ve heard a lot of public prayer over the years – but I remember feeling fine with it.

After lunch, on the elevator ride down from the 28th floor, I listened as two men, who were also at the lunch, debated the use of the word “daddy” in prayer.  One of them said, disapprovingly, “I come from a Southern Baptist background, and that word would never have been used in prayer.”  The other man seemed to think it was just fine.  He listed a half dozen churches he attends in the community and mentioned that all of them would be fine with it.  (My church was not on his list.)

I listened for a while to their conversation – okay, I eavesdropped – and then I introduced myself just before the elevator car doors opened.  “Hi, I’m the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church here in Fort Lauderdale.”

Their reactions were priceless.  But I kept thinking about the prayer and am still thinking about it more than 24 hours later.

Prayer language is an interesting subject. How do you address the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Maker of all things, seen and unseen?  Is “Daddy” okay?  Is “Lord” or “Lord God” better?  How do you decide?  Maybe some language is better for personal prayer and other language for public prayer, but how does one decide?

I’m interested in prayer language mainly because I think it reveals a great deal about the person who’s praying and the nature of the relationship that person has with the Almighty, if any.  I remember a person from a church I served previously who used to address God as though he was sitting at a boardroom table with him.  I loved those prayers.  God always seemed so sensible and matter-of-fact. God made decisions on the basis of good data.

I’ve listened to other people pray who become uncomfortably (to me) child-like when they pray.  Their voices take on a little girl or little boy sound.  I wonder what that sound says about their relationship with God.  I’m a child of God, true, but I would like to think that God prefers me to be a grown up in my relationship with him.

When my grandmother prayed many years ago, I enjoyed listening to her King James English.  She was Dutch and spoke Dutch, but she peppered her English prayers with a lot of thee, thou, and thine.  When she prayed, we were always approaching “Thy throne of grace.” I liked that.  For her God was on a throne that had to be reverently approached, but it was always, thankfully, a throne of grace.

Since moving to south Florida I have adjusted some of my own prayer language to fit a new culture.  I hear lots of “Father Gods” around here, a phrase that suggests some intimacy but also some majesty and holiness.  In other settings where I’ve served, though, that phrase would have sounded a tad too masculine.  I haven’t adopted that combination, but I’ve tried others.  I won’t be trying “daddy.”

Here’s what I think: Our word choices in prayer should be thoughtful.  We should use words because we’ve thought about what they mean and because they’re appropriate for our relationship with God.  I believe that God values sincerity and honesty and genuineness in our prayers, but I’m also convinced that God values a well-chosen word.

If God is going to take the time to  listen, we should choose our words with care.

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A pastor’s response

Our country has once again had one of those weeks. It was bloody and terrible and senseless, and it’s all of those things every time it happens.

We wake up and turn on the news, and there it is.  We see people running away in fear.  We see people being loaded into ambulances.  We see family members, huddled together and waiting for news, hoping against hope that their son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother, is not among the victims.

It happens at Army bases, in schools and universities, in post offices, in shopping malls, and now in theaters.  No place, it seems, is safe.

Over the last few months, several church members have been engaged in a conversation about security measures we should probably take here … in this church, in a place of worship. That’s a conversation I never wanted to have.

Look, I have no political axe to grind here.  I don’t think these are occasions to score points on one side or another.

But I’m sad.  And I’m terrified.  And I happen to believe that there’s a spiritual side to all of this.  I hope you won’t be surprised to know that.

When politicians rush out to microphones to make their statements in the aftermath of one of these tragedies, they typically use the language of faith.  They mention prayer.  They call us to reflect on the things that really matter.

And even though those words sometimes seem a little too calculated, I have to agree. This is a time to use the language of faith. This is a time to pray.  This is a time to reflect on the things that really matter.

When we reach within and try to find those spiritual resources – and this is a pastor’s worry for his congregation – my worry is that we won’t find much, or that we won’t find enough.

So, my promise to you is to work harder – harder than ever – to focus on those things…to cultivate the spiritual resources we will need to face times like these.

There will be more, sorry to say.  This latest one is just that – only the most recent. There will be others.

And so, all of us – this is my challenge to you – need to find ways to think about what happened.  We need to make sure our spiritual resources are up to the job.  I’m talking about not giving in to anger or cynicism or despair.

I’m talking about finding ways to have hope, to live with hope, to live with confidence about the future.

That’s a tall order!  I know that. But I think that’s what it means to be people of faith. If we don’t believe that we are in the hands of a loving God, then we will eventually give in to the cynicism of our culture.

I don’t want to do that.  And I suspect you don’t either.  So, let’s find another way. The way of hope, the way of life, the way of Jesus, who once said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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