2nd Day of Fasting and Prayer for Hannah, Sept 30th

Hannah is saying, “”Join me!!!!! Let’s dance with God together!” ūüôā

We would like to invite those who are able to join us, like last Friday, in a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Hannah tomorrow, September 30th.  It will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (roughly dawn to dusk).  Some will choose to spend the day fasting, others will take a meal, and others will find a chunk of time during the day to devote to prayer.

We seem to have emerged from the worst of the crisis with Hannah over the last week, but as many of us have learned from experience and growth, our capacity for prayer, for deep communication with God, is handicapped when only practiced in times of deep crisis. Or, said differently and more bluntly, if we primarily pray in deep crisis, our relationship with God will constantly be at the level of a baby crying in distress to a parent. The baby doesn‚Äôt know how to communicate well and is frustrated, the baby lacks the ability to listen because they only know what they want, and the parent is frustrated and frazzled by the constant noise. It’s important that the baby is communicating, and the parent hears, but neither wants to stay there.¬† When we move out of immediate crisis and into less traumatic times, the child can either take things for granted or choose to settle into the strong arms of their parent.¬† And there’s just as much communication in that eye contact and soft embrace as the fearful cry.

I suspect, personally, last Friday God may have been a bit frazzled by me. My experience on Friday involved needing to learn the lesson of easing off the throttle, quieting my voice, and allowing myself and Hannah to be held by God. After all, God did make a promise to us. Would I learn to rest in it, to trust His power? For others, on Friday, you may have needed to learn the lesson of stepping up. One friend mentioned the phrase, “praying back the darkness.” As was said earlier, “Our prayer in this crisis will sometimes be more offensive, other times actively trusting God’s unrivaled power, but NEVER will be passive.” For each of us, the following words of Richard Foster in his classic work Celebration of Discipline are timely:

“Although the physical aspects of fasting intrigue us, we must never forget that the major work of scriptural fasting is in the realm of the spirit. What goes on spiritually is much more important than what is happening bodily. You will be engaging in spiritual warfare that will necessitate using all the weapons of Ephesians 6. One of the most critical periods spiritually is at the end of the fast when we have the natural tendency to relax. But I do not want to leave the impression that all fasting is a heavy spiritual struggle- I have not found it so. It is also “…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way. It is a means of God’s grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer. Wesley declares, “…it was not merely by the light of reason…that the people of God have been, in all ages, directed to use fasting as a means…but they have been…taught it of God Himself, by clear and open revelations of his Will…Now, whatever reasons there were to quicken those of old, in the zealous and constant discharge of this duty, they are of equal force still to quicken us.”

Now is the time for all those who hear the voice of Christ to obey it.”

Thank you for joining us however you may, and may the experience be a part of the transformation God desires to bring about in you, and in our world!


Nurturing compassion as an intimate part of prayer

This post emerges from the precarious situation we are in.  Bethany is almost 19 weeks pregnant.  Her water broke nearly a week ago, and day by day we have prayed, cried, held one another, and prayed even more; we have pled with God for the life of our daughter Hannah.

As I’ve read about (all focused on one chapter in one book, Celebration of Discipline)¬†and practiced prayer this week in a deeper and more intense way than I ever have in my life, I have been absolutely struck by the below quote from Richard Foster. ¬†It has stuck with me through thick and thin; prayer for Bethany and Hannah when beside them and prayer for them when apart; prayer in the more steady moments, and prayer in the crushing crisis moments.

“We do not pray for people as “things,” but as “persons” whom we love. ¬†If we have God-given compassion and concern for others, our faith will grow and strengthen as we pray. ¬†In fact, if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give, and that will cause us to pray.”

More than anything else (especially when I’ve had long stretches of sitting beside Bethany and Hannah), I’ve quieted my heart and nurtured the compassion that comes from seeing them as “persons whom I love.” ¬†Without saying anything for awhile, I focus on that compassion, allowing it to grow and grow until my heart feels like it’s going to explode with love for them. ¬†And from that place, I begin to pray in a more specific, “God, have mercy on us!” kind of way.

I have stayed and drilled down deep with the words of Richard Foster because he exemplifies the very best of theology; the kind of thinking that is in intimate relationship with practice. ¬†He does not write about prayer from an ivory tower, or an academic institution somewhere where it’s his job to write and think about prayer (as important as that can be). ¬†He is a deep practitioner of prayer. ¬†He chooses to engage in the bold kind of prayer we are called to in the Scriptures, and he wrestles with prayer from that place. ¬†He is committed to ” learn to pray so that my experience conform(s) to the words of Jesus rather than try to make his words conform to my impoverished experience.”

What is Foster’s method to pray? “We should never make prayer too complicated,” he says. “We are prone to do so once we understand that prayer is something we must learn…but Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. ¬†Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father. ¬†The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.”

I have been working with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength to pray in this way. ¬†Nurturing compassion in silence until my heart bursts with care for my wife and daughter, then moving to pray with strong desire and conviction that God deserves to hear from my very heart with boldness, not pious words of “if it be your will” that we use as protection to keep us from the dangerous edge of prayer.

I have come to believe in a deeper way this week what I’ve been moving toward for a while now. ¬†God not only welcomes the direct communication that comes from us; he has created the world in such a way that certain things in creation will not be done if we don’t participate in the work of prayer. ¬†That certain things are not done is not because God is not sovereign; somehow unable to correct a creation in chaos and rebellion. ¬†No, certain things are not done because God limits his own absolute authority out of a desire for his creation to step up to the plate and be counted in the work of prayer. ¬†We are called “co-laborers with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9) because we have an essential role to play.

This is not magic; there are no incantations that make God subject to our desires. ¬†No. ¬†But our Creator so expects our participation that he waits, he tarries, for us to care enough about the world that we work to make prayer as habitual as breathing. ¬†As Foster said above, “if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give, and that will cause us to pray.” ¬†Prayer is born out of a love for God and for people, and is made powerful by the growth of that love.

I have said to others in this crisis, “God is not on trial ¬†in this situation.” ¬†This is true in one sense. ¬†The existence of a God out there somewhere does not hinge on whether our baby girl Hannah survives. ¬†I have met that God in Jesus and will never turn back again. ¬†I have never encountered any way of life so beautiful, so worthy of all of my life, so purposeful. ¬†But that statement “God is not on trial” is not true in another sense. ¬†God has revealed himself to be good, to hear us and to see us, to identify with us in our anguish and move in response to our cries. ¬†If this is how God has been revealed, then I expect that God will hear us in this crisis, will see us in this crisis, will identify with us in this crisis; and will act, will not hang back waiting when his creation rises up and screams “MERCY God! ¬†MERCY! ¬†HEAL and ACT!”

If our daughter dies, this will not destroy my faith, but it will inflict a wound on my heart, it will tempt me to take a step toward the belief that all things are inevitable and prayer is only psychological adjustment to accept the inevitability of life and/of God’s will. ¬†There are a million steps back to that place, but I can only be honest and know God hears how much this matters to me.

And I know God’s response would be, “Nathan, learn from what you are feeling in this crisis. ¬†Take your commitment to bold, humble prayer, and practice it until it becomes as natural as breathing. ¬†Take what you have learned about the essential role of a powerful love for people empowering prayer and love people deeper; battle against a belief system that crushes or dehumanizes people; never let it rule you.”

So I will practice this bold, humble prayer.  Life has brought wounds on my heart and will continue to.  God will not be my magic puppet as I would like him to, and this will hurt.  And yet God has made his human creation to co-labor with him in prayer; limiting his own authority as he awaits their faithful response.

And so we pray, “Lord, save Hannah! ¬†Hear our cry, and move in power!”

We are stumbling in the dark…we are capable of running in the light

There’s a group of men gathering twice a month here in Norwood. ¬†Our gathering is built around the opportunity and responsibility of deeper relationship with one another, and we are reading small digestable chunks of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline¬†out loud to one another and spending time reflecting on what we hear. ¬†It is a simple series of acts; conversation, listening, reflection, consistent commitment to gather. But that kind of simplicity carries significant power. ¬†A men’s group I was a part of for five years before we moved to Cincinnati was one of the most transformative influences in my life. ¬†We grew in how to be more committed followers of Jesus and we grew in how to be better men. ¬†Different young men passed in and out of the group, but the group consistently got together; week by week, month by month, year by year. ¬†For that I say thank you to Jason Suter, Abe Halterman, Pete Acker, Matt Schwartz, Jamie Hewitt, Ben Dinkle, Mike Gilbert, Andy Hostetler, Jered Simmons, and several others. ¬†I clearly set up the order of names to reflect the sheer masculinity and crushing truthiness of said Jason Suter. ¬†No accident there. ¬†Beyond jokes though, I would not be the man I am today nor the follower of Jesus I am today without this group.

So I know how powerful  the simple acts of conversation, listening, reflection, and a consistent commitment to gather are.

Last night in gathering with my brothers Kenny Havens and Matthew Wheelock (a smaller group than usual, but no less important), I felt some of the same power and potential for change in our time together. ¬†A common thread between the Virginia group and the Cincinnati group thus far has been Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. ¬†His writing and wise guidance has opened up my world of understanding. ¬†In Virginia, we read through the book; then a workbook entitled Celebrating the Disciplines that led us beyond intellectual understanding and into practice, which is very consistent with Foster’s guidance and, I should say, with the responsibility of the Christian life beyond intellectual belief and into bodily practice. ¬†We read slowly. ¬†Carefully.

One passage from last night struck me again in a powerful way. ¬†I have abandoned now the evangelical belief that human beings are incapable of transformation and unable to do anything other than to cry, “God, save me!” ¬†I have embraced what I believe to be a message much more worthy of evangelizing about, which is that human beings are deeply depraved and desperately in need of God, and upon kneeling before our Creator we first hear, then practice the fact that we are very capable of faithful, joyful, consistent life!¬†¬†Instead of leading me away from the Scriptures, embracing this message has led me ever deeper into the Scriptures, and I have found this expressed clearly, obviously, beautifully, convictingly, over and over and over again.

I want to quote the passage from Celebration of Discipline in its fullness so you can see how important it is too.

“There is a saying in moral theology that ‘virtue is easy.’ But the maxim is true only to the extent that God’s gracious work has taken over our inner spirit and transformed the ingrained habit patterns of our lives. Until that is accomplished, virtue is hard, very hard indeed. We struggle to exhibit a loving and compassionate spirit, yet it is as if we are bringing something in from the outside. Then bubbling up from the inner depths is the one thing we did not want, a biting and bitter spirit. However, once we live and walk on the path of disciplined grace for a season, we will discover internal changes.

We do no more than receive a gift, yet we know the changes are real. We know they are real because we discover that the spirit of compassion we once found so hard to exhibit is now easy. In fact, to be full of bitterness would be the hard thing. Divine Love has slipped into our inner spirit and taken over our habit patterns. In the unguarded moments there is a spontaneous flow from the inner sanctuary of our lives of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Gal 5:22,23). There is no longer the tiring need to hide our inner selves from others. We do not have to work hard at being good and kind; we ARE good and kind. To refrain from being good and kind would be the hard work because goodness and kindness are part of our nature. Just as the natural motions of our lives once produced mire and dirt, now they produce ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17).”

Foster, Celebration of Discipline pgs 8-9

Thank you, God, for the influence of all of these men guiding me from a stunted, mostly empty gospel without transformative power to a gospel that proclaims the reconciliation of all creation and the capability of humanity to leave darkness and live joyfully in the light!