Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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Prayer – Part Tres/Trois/Drei/Tre/San/Three

Let’s reflect a bit more about prayer. A helpful device for remembering some of the essential aspects of prayer is the acronym ACTS (like The Book of Acts in the New Testament).
1. “Adoration” This means to praise God for just who he is: good, loving, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, beautiful, majestic, faithful, source of life, creating, saving, redeeming, etc. (I’m getting excited. Let me stop here and praise the One Who deserves all glory! OK, I’m back.) You can think of many more attributes or find names, titles and attributes for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Bible. To adore and praise the living God is to do what is deeply congruent with our created nature. We come alive and enjoy the pleasure of admiration and appreciation. My early instruction on prayer, contemplation, meditation and other spiritual practices came from immersing myself in the book, “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth” (Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978) by Richard J Foster. I read almost every other book mentioned by Foster in that book. He has also more recently written, “Prayer: Finding the Hearts’ True Home” (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), but I have not read it. For a L’Abri approach, you might try, “The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us” (P&R Publishing, 2008) by Jerram Barrs. Also review again my post, “What We Are”.

2. “Confession” This means that entering the Presence of the holy God, we acknowledge that we are sinful. We agree with God about our sins, what we have done and what we have left undone, sinful acts and words but also sinful attitudes in our hearts. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, ESV) (Yikes! I have something to confess. OK, I’m back.) Now we are ready to hear once again the good news: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV) If we are disciples of Jesus, that is if we have thrown ourselves into his arms and he is everything to us, God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross with his blood, we are now justified before God, just-as-if-I’d never sinned.

3. “Thanksgiving” It is right that we should thank God for all the good he has done for us and others. In older language: “Forget not all his benefits”. Gratitude is so important for what we can see (epistemology). Gratitude is central to the question of whether each of us will bend our knees and acknowledge God as God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21, ESV) Our primary role in life should not be that of the critic, squinting-eyed, suspicious. We should be wide-eyed with wonder and thankfulness. You can see so much more and it is much more fun! Thank God for everything: salvation, life, healing, protection, guidance, answered prayers, family, friends, the Church, creation, the fruit of the Spirit, the Word of the Lord, the pleasures of music, your mind, the grace of bodies in motion, the amazing sight of Jack catching a ball and so much more. Read anything in Psalms 103 -107 to get started.`

4.”Supplication” I have already discussed this in “Prayer – Part Uno, etc.”. I will add this though: everyone prays. If one does not pray to the true and living God, one will pray to an idol or just to the “principles” of reality (I’m thinking of so many laughable projects like that guy on Oprah who suggests that just thinking about what you want will cause it to come to you, for instance, money; yeah, – sarcasm alert – try this where there are immediate dangers, like Nigeria, Sudan, etc.), or maybe one will just whistle in the dark or cross one’s fingers. Intercession is supplication for other people, taking hold of God in behalf of others. My Mother has written about this kind of prayer in her book, “A Passion for Prayer” (Regal/Gospel Light, 2012) by Vonette Bright.

Some day I will probably write about the “Jesus Prayer”, from Eastern Orthodoxy, and the “Lord’s Prayer” (really the “Disciples’ Prayer”) and Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6-7. But the next few posts are to be about other themes I have been preparing.

This post has been powered by “Kathryn Scott – Live At Focusfest” (2009) by Kathryn Scott and “Brother,Sister” (2006) and “It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright” (2009) both by mewithoutYou.


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Prayer – Part Dos/Deux/Zwei/Due/Two

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When Jack the Bible Study Dog (BSD) is not studying the Bible, he is often studying me. In the post, “Prayer – Part Uno, etc.”, I reflected, with Jack’s help, on prayer as supplication or asking. But now I want to reflect on prayer as focus on God himself and prayer as hearing from God.

As I said, the BSD often seems to be studying me. To be sure Jack has culinary interests and is alert for the opportunity to eat. And he also is a social/pack animal and likes to be near the pack and to sleep and play with the pack leader (C’est moi.). But he seems to study me for long periods of time, even when food is not offered. He drags his bed into my office to be near me. Jack often stretches his long body on the floor and watches me for a half hour or more. Part of a relationship with God is seeking to know him, to study him, to watch him, if you will. We must not be too proud to ask, to beg for what we need and for the needs of others. And yet, we should seek not only God’s hand, what he gives and does, but also God’s face, to soak in who he is, to enjoy him. I am reminded of the posture of the Psalmist before God:
“Behold as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:2, ESV)
I remember my Dad saying in a speech that he was touched when I came in to read where he was working and I said, I just wanted to be with him. I imagine that God, who has loved us since before creation, also desires us to want just to be with him and receive the blessings of his Presence. Our eyes could be focused on our Lord, alert to his every desire, like a good servant. Think of an attentive waitress or waiter in a restaurant. See also my earlier post, “Thick Skin and Tender Hearts”.

How does one see, watch, study and attend and wait upon God? We can listen to his Word to us in the Bible. We can spend time quietly before him enjoying his Presence and love. Since God is everywhere, we might catch a glimpse of him in the people we encounter, in nature, in the story of our lives, the patterns we see in our lives, in dreams and in worship. The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads something like this: Q. What is the chief end of man? A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. John Piper has famously changed that: To glorify God by enjoying him forever. And Piper often says: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” We are made for joy and delight in the Presence of God. C.S. Lewis said: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

I wrote in an earlier post about living with an unoffended heart. We can ask why the bad things happen and think that we need to have an explanation before we can open ourselves to God and spend time before his face. But it is only now that we can meet God. The past is gone. The future is not here. Rather than let regret for the past or anxiety about the future bleed into today and distract us from being alert to God, let us spend time before God now and live in day-tight compartments.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV) Many people think the voice of the Lord is rare. How can people who are disciples, “sheep” of Jesus not hear his voice? What if Jesus is speaking to us continually, but through disobedience or sloth we have come to have a habit of not hearing Jesus? Maybe his voice has become background noise, like the air conditioner whoosh that we don’t notice. But if we respond to what might be the voice of Jesus, we begin to learn to recognize his voice more clearly and quickly. What if we make a mistake? So what? We learn only by responding to God and taking a risk. Some of the content of this paragraph was suggested to me over 35 years ago by my friend Chuck Shoemake.

Well the BSD has delayed this post by seducing me into playing ball with him. It is really cool to see Jack catch the ball in the air. We used to have an amazing rat terrier that could catch a frisbee very well. But I am told that Jack is a better catcher than Chesterton was at Jack’s age. Jack has interrupted his studies and gone to sleep. I will join him soon, but I expect Jesus to speak to me in my sleep.

Let me tell you an old joke. A dog looks at her master and thinks “Wow, he feeds me, gives me shelter and cares for me! He must be God!” A cat looks at his master and thinks “Wow, he feeds me, gives me shelter and cares for me! I must be God!” Which one models the attitude we should have before God? You can see that I am not a big cat fan, LOLSTC!

This post was powered by “Invisible Empires” (2011) by Sara Groves, “Before the Mountains” (2012) by Sarah Brendel and “Crimson Cord” (2014) by Propaganda.

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Prayer – Part Uno/Uns/Eins/One

Coffee an alternative

Jack, the Bible Study Dog, has recovered quite well from his difficulties noted in an earlier post. Tonight, Jack and I have been involved in prayer, more specifically in supplication, which means simply asking, and more specifically still, supplication to Terry that she go to Starbucks and use my free birthday drink to buy me a quad venti skinny caramel macchiatto, and then to the store to buy double shot coffee plus energy drinks, one of which I require each morning. Jack knows that I am more responsive to his interests if I am not comatose. When first supplicated, Terry said she would go tomorrow morning. That’s O.K. But, out of the blue, she said, “Maybe I’ll put some clothes on and go out tonight.” Immediately our ears perked up (though it’s hard to tell with Jack because his ears are almost always erect) and our eyes brightened. Our hope is leaking away now.

Coffee is very important to some generations of Presbyterians, like mine. It has been called the third Presbyterian sacrament. Presbyterian and Reformed theology can be placed under the categories of Guilt, Grace and Gratitude, in that order (see especially the first two questions of the Heidelberg Catechism). Part of what this means is that instead of serving God to gain his favor and acceptance, we serve God out of Gratitude for what he has done for us in creation and redemption (in Grace). Well, I used to joke with my congregation that truly Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. It should be so strong that after a swallow, as the constricted throat begins to open up and we gasp for air, great praise and gratitude begins to rise to God because we are alive (or we survived)! Don’t get me started on how coffee may help in avoiding and treating dementia. The life of the mind is so valued by Presbyterians (ha, ha)!

People at the Thursday Night Bible Study often remark that Jack seems to be praying. And he is, though perhaps not to God (yet I remember the Scripture text, “the young lions seek their prey from God”). Jack will look intently at me while I am teaching or praying, hoping I will give him a table scrap. He is a firm believer in the Scripture, “you have not because you ask not”. He has also been experimenting with different postures of supplication, noting the relative results of his prayers. Of course, since dogs are opportunistic predators, Jack might take closed eyes as an invitation to steal food off a table.

These experiences point to common patterns in our supplications to God. Sometimes I pray for something (wisdom, answer for an issue, healing of body or soul, to find the keys, etc.) and the answer comes immediately, tonight or in the morning. Other times I think I know when in the future an answer will come, and it comes then or doesn’t and maybe comes at a later time. And some prayers do not seem to have been answered yet (though the answer could, of course, be “no”). See my post, “We Shape One Another”, to see how we take on God’s character and desires, and so praying God’s desires back to him, we participate in shaping our world along with God. But we are not talking about that now.

We are talking about continuing to pray with mixed results. Jack sometimes judges that his persistence is likely to go unrewarded at this time, and so, he retires from the field of battle to take a nap and gather his energy for another assault. But persistence will result in greater alertness to ‘answers’ or opportunities, what Jack calls “ops”. Also over time we find that our desires and prayers are being sorted out so that we learn what kinds of prayers God desires or what kinds might be successful.

But then there is this, embodied in a parable/story by Jesus. Jack could tell this kind of story in his sleep. Watching his rapid eye movements, I suspect he is. The story:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”‘ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV)

Of course God is not “unrighteous” and I hope that Jack does not think that I am. Also, “justice” is a more profound, and in a sense, ‘bigger’ prayer than prayer for finding a parking place. But Jesus himself said that the story was simply told that we might always pray and never lose heart. As a child I sang the song: “Seek and ye shall find; Knock and the door will be opened; Ask and the love will come a-tumbling down.”

May we all not lose heart but live with courage and hope!

This post was powered by “Forever and a Day” (2003) by Anthony Skinner and “Dig” (1992) and “Homeboys” (1990) both by Adam Again.

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We Shape One Another

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If you really, really like one of my posts, chances are that another one will not be your ‘cup of tea’. I told you that I have many and diverse interests (see the post, “The Wonder of It All – 2”). In recent years, I have done more public speaking than writing. When I preach or teach or just have a conversation, I receive ques from others about their response to my words. If someone seems engaged, I might double-down on that thought or say more about it. If someone’s eyes are glazing over, I might change directions or try a different angle to make a theme interesting. What I say is also shaped by what I know of someone’s experiences, interests, personality, knowledge, character and so much more. We all do this to some extent if we are basically mentally and emotionally healthy. In conversation, we shape one another as we all are “reading” each other.

When I have an up-coming appointment with one of my counselors, I find myself, during the next week, rehearsing what I will say to him based on what I know about him and how I think he will respond to me. Sometimes, by the time the meeting happens, I have already counseled myself to some answers, just from my knowledge of what my counselor is likely to say based on what I know of his character.

In my earlier post, “What We Are”, we saw that we become like who or what we worship. Now I want to suggest that, over time, we are shaped, for good or ill, by our conversation partners. Among the many ways that we influence one another, we also shape one another to reality, including the present and future reality of the Kingdom of God, or we tempt one another to beleive lies.

God’s people have long known how important our conversations are, living as we do, in this strangely beautiful and dangerous world. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV) The literal Hebrew is “sharpens the face of another”. I like that. I think of an artist making a statue, chiseling rock to bring out her vision as the extraneous is discarded. Or, if you wiill permit, we help bring out God’s vision, our destiny, in each other. Christian faith and life is not meant to be simply a private affair, me alone in my room. Certainly there is also a place for solitude before God and our personal worship of God each day. But as Eugene Petersen has it, our daily worship and service of God is to grow out of our Lord’s Day worship together. Our worship is also joined to the multitudes worshiping God and the Lamb right now in heaven. The phrase or idea of “one another” appears 323 times in the New Testament (if I remember correctly). We need one another to fulfill all the ‘one anothers’ like: “love one another”, “forgive one another”, “encourage one another”, “carry one another’s burdens”, “sing to one another”, “rejoice with those who rejoice”, “weep with those who weep”, etc.

This dynamic is also in our relationship with God. Sometimes I say that prayer is bringing all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of God (I don’t remember who I got that from many years ago). This statement has two parts. First, I am to pray who I am, not who I am not. God knows all about me anyway. I might as well speak the candid truth. There is nothing I can say that God cannot take. The Psalms, the prayer book of Israel, is two thirds laments, complaints. There are also revenge passages and apparent self-righteous passages. You might think of the Psalms as a record of prayers successfully launched at the Almighty without the launcher getting hit by a bolt of lightning. Really, there cannot be an ultimate disaster for you as long as you continue to candidly talk with God.

The second part is that I am to pray to the One I am coming to know through his story in the Bible, especially the story of Jesus, and my continuing walk before God in God’s world. As I am in conversation with God over time, my character increasingly becomes like his character: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, sel-conntrol” (Gal. 5:22b-23a). And of course his desires become my desires. His vision for me, my destiny, is increasingly realized. The Psalmist counseled, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4, ESV) Sounds like a promise to me. And yet we have all seen prayers that are selfish or naive or unworthy of who we are created to be, and therefore, are unlikely to be answered. As Janis Joplin sang, “O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends”. How can God trust us with this promise? Well, if we delight ouselves in the LORD, his desires will become our desires, and therefore, desires that God delights to give us! We are being shaped profoundly by our day by day delighful conversation with God.

Until we can get together face to face over a cup of java and have a nuanced conversation that supports our destinies, this inadequate blog will have to do.