image by sarah mccoy photo

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: A Praying Life

A lot of books on prayer convince me that I should pray.  They exalt in the author’s joyful prayer-cravings.  But if you don’t share those cravings already, they can leave you feeling that you just aren’t ever going to be as holy as that happy writer.

This is not one of those prayer books.  Paul E. Miller’s book is the kind that gently points out the problem: “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.”  The kind that nudges towards the solution: prayer is “audibly declaring your belief in a God who is alive.”  And that knocks down the little lies we skate by on: “Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly.”

So we’re convinced we need prayer.  But then he shows how it works.  Miller guides us through an intimate history of prayer working in the life of his family to demonstrate how prayer is a center court ticket to what God is doing in the world.  He’s doing it anyway, but prayer gets us off the bench.  The more you do it, the more real it gets.

Ok, that’s great for you, Paul Miller.  But what about……. And here’s the best part of A Praying Life.  Miller knows how hard prayer is.  He addresses every excuse or obstacle that’s defeated you before.  And he even offers a final section on super-practical ways to get off the ground.  It won’t feel insurmountable.
I first read this book a couple of years ago, and it’s been vying hard for favorite-book-ever.  I recommend a read every year or so for, oh, the rest of your life.  You’ll take in a bit more each time and by the time you die, you too will be as awesome as Paul Miller and as amped up about the great stuff God is doing: stuff you’re a part of.

You can find this book on the scrolling booklist in the sidebar.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Talking About Faith

My pastor in San Diego gets quite animated about this topic, so I’ve been thinking about story-sharing more than usual.  I like lists, so enumerated below are my answers to the question: why should you talk more about your faith? 

1.       To define it.  A lot of people think of faith the way I once heard it defined in a movie, as believing when common sense tells us not to.  Sometimes faith does defy common sense; expecting miracles, for instance.  Miracles are earthly impossibilities, so they defy physical laws and yes, reason based on those.  Faith isn’t senseless, though.  Even to expect miracles is its own kind of reason if expectation is based on like experience, as I’ll get into in point two, or on knowledge of a power that transcends physical law.  Faith, the good kind at least, isn’t blind, either.  At the very least, it has a perfectly dependable guide dog.  The kind of faith that says, “I will be healed of cancer because I believe in God” sometimes strikes me as blind not because God can’t heal cancer, but because there’s no definitive promise of indiscriminate healing on which to base such assurance.  Saints die, too.  Faith, the kind you can offer that people might want, can’t just be sentimental and optimistic.  It has to be rational.  To this end, talking about your faith in terms of its reasonable basis is helpful. 

2.       To testify to its effectiveness.  You might try Oxy Clean if its commercials sound promising.  If your mother tells you it took out wine and chocolate from her white cashmere just last week, though, you’re going to go out and buy it.  Personal experience as a basis for believing something (Great Aunt Rose’s agita was relieved after eating watermelon, so watermelon must cure agita) is a bad system of reasoning.  But people crave it as corroborating evidence to what already makes sense on paper.  Sometimes they just want to know, seriously, did this work for you?  If you’d tell them about Oxy Clean, why not the way God brought you through unemployment or loss?

3.       To decompartmentalize it.  (Microsoft doesn’t recognize this word, but military families will.)  There’s a false dichotomy, even among Christians, of secular and sacred.  If there’s a Biblical God, there’s no realm of life into which he doesn’t enter.  That recurring tree model of truthàbeliefàemotionàaction?  Let’s bring it in again.  If your roots, your underlying truths and assumptions, are Biblical, there’s no branch of thought or actions that is separate.  Unless you have multiple personalities, you don’t get two root systems, churchy and worldly, among which to compartmentalize the stuff of life.  Talking about faith in the varied contexts of your life and happenings helps to bridge this artificial gap.

4.       To sort it out for yourself!  If this all sounds a little intense, and you don’t picture all your thoughts and opinions hung neatly from branches, talking about your faith can help you start to fit it into a bigger picture. 

Not talking about faith doesn’t make sense for a person who really has it.  Talking about it may just help you spot its workings and reinforce its effectiveness for you.  Faith is not a salve or a placebo.  Not in my experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Serious Comeback from a Leisurely Holiday

With promises to post something substantive tomorrow (all words used loosely), here's the kind of important stuff that has kept me from writing for an extended holiday.  Gale Force choked on sliced ham midway through this video and I hesitated before pausing it to help her.  It's that funny. 

Merry New Year from the Wife of Leisure