Don't Excise The Good Shepherd From Your Life

I’m continuing my pursuit of prayer as “the conversation where your life and your God meet” (David Powlison). 

Part of this pursuit is simply remembering that God is omnipresent. He inhabits every second of every day, every heartbeat, and every breath. He is never separated from me, or any of us. And yet it is remarkable how easy it is for me to forget that every moment of my living happens with God there.  This is a dangerous thing. For even though that doesn’t change the reality of his omnipresence, it does change my experience of it, with all its attendant benefits. Many times, without even realizing it, in such forgetting I have excised the Good Shepherd from my life. And this functionally threatens my hope of prayer as the conversation where my life and my God meet, because I have forgotten the truth that God is omnipresently meeting me.

This is not the praying life I’m hoping for. 

Maybe you can relate.

Just what would it look like to excise the Good Shepherd from the praying life we were designed for? Paul Miller imagines it,

(A Praying Life, page 88)

That is a scary picture of life filled with nothing but you.

Instead, our objective in prayer as conversation is a child-like spirit of trust that interprets life through the non-redacted lens of Psalm 23, actively placing the Good Shepherd back into the prayer of David, and using it as a way to bring our lives into the presence of our Father.

Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, 
he refreshes my soul. 
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; 
my cup overflows. 
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of Yahweh

This kind of praying, modeled by David, infuses our living with the presence of God. Paul Miller bears testimony,

“Years ago I went through a time when my life became so difficult I was unable to pray. I couldn’t concentrate. So I stopped trying to have a coherent prayer time, and for weeks on end…I did nothing but pray through Psalm 23. I was fighting for my life…By praying slowly through a portion of Scripture, I was allowing Scripture to shape my prayers.
As I prayed through Psalm 23, I began to reflect on the previous day and to look for the Shepherd’s presence, for his touches of love. Even on especially hard days, I began to notice him everywhere, setting a table before me in the presence of my enemies, pursuing me with his love. Both the child and the cynic walk through the valley of the shadows of death. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd.” (A Praying Life, page 87)

Which one are you? Cynic, or child?

Let’s do this together. Let’s practice the presence of God moment by moment. Let’s remind ourselves, and each other, that the Good Shepherd is always present, even in the dark valley. Let’s be encouraged by Paul Miller’s testimony, that “as you cling to the Shepherd, the fog of cynicism lifts” and we realize we are not alone living in a world of evil.

A Sunday Morning Prayer For The Gathering

Almost every Sunday morning I offer up prayer for myself and eleven other pastors who are my very dear friends, and, for our congregations, as we gather to worship Father, Son, and Spirit. I frequently try to turn Scripture into encouragement and prayer.

The following is my prayer for tomorrow's gatherings, written by borrowing and slightly adjusting the words from Asaph's 77th song, while adding a few of my own.

In the spirit of Asaph, we pray… 
Father, this morning, we cry out to you for help; 
we cry out to you, please hear us. 
This makes sense, for when we are in distress, we seek you; 
we stretch out untiring hands, 
we remember you, and groan, 
we meditate on you, though our spirits grow faint; 
our hearts meditate, and our spirits ask as we prepare to minister this morning: 
‘Has your unfailing love vanished forever? 
Has your promise failed for all time? 
Have you, our GOD, forgotten to be merciful? 
Have you, in anger, withheld your compassion?’ 
But then, it dawns on us, ‘To this we will appeal: 
all the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. 
O yes! we will remember the deeds of Yahweh; 
we will remember your miracles of long ago. 
we will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’ 
What god is as great as our God!? 
You are the God who performs miracles; 
you display your power among the peoples. 
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, 
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. 
The waters of the Red Sea saw you, GOD, 
and they writhed; 
the very depths suffered convulsions. 
Your path led through the sea, 
your way through the mighty waters, 
though your footprints were not seen. 
You led your people like a flock, 
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. 
By grace, your redemption plan was not finished with them. 
You raised up a greater prophet from among them, 
a prophet who would be your own Son. 
The darkness saw him, and it writhed; 
all wickedness suffered convulsions. 
His path led through death, 
his way through the darkness of separation from you, 
and his footprints were not seen. 
He has risen from the dead, and become our Great Shepherd, 
leading your people like a flock, 
Jesus, leading us by his hand. 
He is the fulfillment of your unfailing love, 
he is the guarantee of all your unfailing promises, 
he is the bringer of your mercy, 
and in him your compassion flows on us like a mighty river. 
And in his name we now ask, O God, 
stretch out your right hand for the sake of your people, 
in the midst of our gatherings this morning. 
Open our eyes to the beauty, majesty, and rescue, found in our Redeemer.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name. 

In Everything

"Prayer is meant to be the conversation where your life and your God meet."

I’m continuing to meditate on this simple and profound definition of prayer from David Powlison. It is creating in me the desire for (and increasing practice of) continual conversation with God in all the nooks and crannies of my daily living. And for me, such desires are fanned into flame through reading the encouragements of thoughtful disciples of Jesus toward pursuing this more. 

Charles Hodge, a nineteenth-century Princeton theologian and disciple, gave us this tender example of conversations where your life and your God meet:

In my childhood I came nearer to “Pray without ceasing” than in any other period of my life. As far back as I can remember, I had the habit of thanking God for everything I received, and asking him for everything I wanted. If I lost a book, or any of my playthings, I prayed that I might find it. I prayed walking along the streets, in school and out of school, whether playing or studying. I did not do this in obedience to any prescribed rule. 
It seemed natural.
I thought of God as an everywhere-present Being, full of kindness and love, who would not be offended if children talked to him. I knew he cared for sparrows. I was as cheerful and happy as the birds and acted as they did.

Take this one step further back in time, and you will discover that the young Charles was practicing the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who also advised using prayer as the conversation where your life and your God meet:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, in everything, tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (New Living Translation; Php 4:6–7)

I think I’ve always understood Paul to mean, when he says “in everything,” that in all the items I have on my list of concerns, I need to pray. For all those things I may be worried about, I need to pray. But now I see what I think he really means; namely, emphasize the “in”. 

IN everything, tell God what you need.
IN everything, thank him for what he has done.

IN the morning when you rise, IN the kitchen as you eat breakfast, IN the car as you drive to work, IN the study as you begin to prepare the sermon, IN the conference room for the staff meeting, IN the coffeeshop as you meet with a member of the church and carry their burden with them, IN the car on the way home, IN the dining room as you eat with the family and share in family worship, IN the family room as you watch Fixer Upper together, IN the Littles' bedroom as you tuck them in and pray a blessing over them and kiss them on the forehead, IN the bedroom as you read with your wife, IN the bed as you read a Psalm together and close your eyes and begin the night’s rest, and IN the morning when you rise and start all over again.

IN everything, tell God what you need.
IN everything, thank him for what he has done.

And do you know what? 

If you would do that -- create conversations where in the everything of your life you cause those things to come into contact with God -- then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything you can understand. For he will guard your minds, because in this way, living this way, in constant conversation with God as you live, you are thus living IN Messiah, Jesus.

May it be so (which is what we mean when we say, ‘amen’), in Jesus’ name.