Trinity Sunday— Athanasian Creed

Trinity Sunday and Athanasian Creed

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. For most Christians who follow such a calendar, it means that we speak together the Athanasian Creed. For some that might conjure images of drudgery, reciting words, upon words, upon words. Some would like to sit down, and snooze while the rest drone on.

But it need not be that way. In our congregation, we use the responsive reading form that CPH put out a few years ago. It breaks the creed into sections that become antiphonal (you can look up that word), and the responsive sections break into male and female responses. Excellent resource, CPH Athanasian Creed

Not again!?!

Over the past six decades I have heard sermons preached on Trinity Sunday that try to “explain” the Trinity, without much success. The apple (core, meat, skin), the three-leaf clover, and especially H2O (water, steam, ice), and the list goes on. Long ago I gave up on this approach. Each one might offer a glimpse into one small aspect of the Trinity. But most people walk away with a modalist view of the Trinity (one God taking three forms) rather than the Biblical view of the Trinity.

So a sermon on the Trinity? Obviously any of the texts chosen for the day can be used. If we preach one of those texts, let’s be honest and preach the text, not trying to force it into a doctrinal presentation of the Trinity. Likewise if we preach on the Trinity, let’s be honest and do so as a doctrinal confessing point, rather than trying to maneuver a Biblical text to fit what we want to preach. I think as we keep these two approaches in mind, we can avoid the “not again” problems of Trinity Sunday. Rather we can faithfully peach the Trinity without trying to explain the unexplainable.

Breath of Fresh Air

What makes the Athanasian Creed refreshing? It is not meant as a common sense explanation or science explanation of the Trinity. Rather the creed is conprehensive, but is confessed, not explained. Sometimes the speaking of the creed is far better than trying to explain something that is unexplainable. In the Church today I think we need more confessing of the faith in the creeds than explanations or dissections and arguing over the creeds. Note: there is a place to hold such doctrinal discussion. But worship is not the place for such discussions.

I think in the grander scheme of history of the Christian Church symbols of the Trinity have served the Church well rather than explanations. Thus, the designs used on the paraments, stoles, etc. function as visual reminders of the truth of the Trinity and what is confessed, not explanations.

Let’s believe, teach, and confess this wonderful creed, not only on Trinity Sunday but whenever necessary and helpful.

You can find the three ecumenical creeds here: Ecumenical Creeds

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Pastoral Formation 2

Last week I had the privilege of updating the convention attendees at TAALC East Region about our seminary, American Lutheran Theological Seminary (ALTS). My report included an updated status of the seminary, and especially the online program, Master of Theological Studies (MTS), as well as an update on the new database system that will support our continued growth. The other half of my report included some thoughts on Pastoral Formation, specifically related to online seminary. This is just a sketch of the topic; I am writing a more complete version for our theological journal.

When someone raises the issue of pastoral formation and seminary education, the focus always leans to the theological education. And rightly so, because a solid theological education is important for pastoral formation. In traditional terms we speak about four areas of theological education: exegetical, systematics, historical, and practical. Each area assists in providing the necessary tools, experience, and knowledge to effectively carry out pastoral duties in the congregation.

But other aspects influence Pastoral Formation. Here are four critical components in that formation: spiritual formation, character formation, catechetical formation, and Churchmanship formation.

1. Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation involves three realms: worship, Bible reading/study, and prayer. Luther wrote about spiritual formation for all Christians as: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (read/study), and Tentatio (affliction). This is vital for spiritual formation and growth. I leave tentatio out of this discussion at this point, only because it affects all areas of pastoral formation.

Worship: What kind of worship experiences has a seminary student had? Does he live in a congregation that has only one form of Divine Service? Where and how does the student learn about the great traditions of divine service? What can be done to help him learn not only history but also to practice that? As part of our seminary training, we examine how to best form the pastor regarding worship and leading worship. For online seminary this is a particularly challenging area.

Bible Reading/Study: In Peter’s second letter he writes about end times and the Christian in the midst of waiting for Christ’s return. His last words express this point of spiritual formation:

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18 NAS)

It might be a surprise to some, but pastors struggle with daily Bible reading and study. They study for preparing to preach a sermon or teach a Bible study. For some that is the extent of reading/studying. But the issue of spiritual formation is “How can someone grow spiritually without regular, consistent Bible reading and study?”

When I visit with seminarians and pastors I will ask what they are reading. Some respond with the latest theological books (which can be good). My concern, however, is what are they reading in the Bible. I then say, “If I ask you what you are reading in the Bible, you should ask me what I am reading.” So, for the record, my wife and I are reading through 1 Samuel, last night it was chapter 24. In my private reading I am reading through Genesis; last night I read chapters 28-30.

Bible reading and study are the means to grow in this knowledge. Yes, many theological books can help. But they can never replace Bible reading. To do so is to stunt the seminarian’s spiritual growth. When a student learns Greek and/or Hebrew then the desire is to also read the Bible in those languages. If we are not reading God’s Word daily, regularly, then we are short circuiting God’s desire for spiritual growth. Ultimately the seminarian/pastor will have little to nothing to offer his people in sermons and teachings.

Prayer: Prayer is speaking to God. It is the human response to God speaking to us in His Word. Prayer is individual and corporate. It is often easy to get used to leading prayer in the corporate worship setting. But it can also become mechanical. The right entry phrases, the right endings, the appropriate statements of petitions.

When prayer is individual and privately with one or two other people, then the words may not come so easily. Instead prayer is the outpouring of a heart devastated by sin. Prayer reflects the struggle that we face in a sinful world. Prayer reveals our broken hearts, our desire for answers, our pleas for mercy. And many times it is joyful, but quiet contentment to praise God with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs. Prayer isn’t necessarily learned by a book, but by imitating a praying person. I have grown much in this area in the past four years because of a group of people who pray, pray, and pray. Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 5:18-20; 6:18-20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; and many other Scripture texts can be used to encourage and grow in prayer.

2. Character Formation

Most people are surprised to learn that there is only one talent/gift for a pastor: “he is apt to teach.” Everything else about the formation of a pastor has to do with character. And so little is written/spoken about this. We have a seminary class, Pastoral Theology and Life, in which we explore this whole concept of character formation.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and cthe snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NAS)

This is a challenge, but also an encouragement to those whose who serve as pastors. It does not mean that pastors are perfect in all of these areas. But unless he wrestles through each of these, he is only examining his life to satisfy “what can I get by with?”

Character formation affects all relationships: with God, with spouse, with children, with members, with neighbors, with outsiders. Notice how especially negatives in vv. 3-5 highlights the need for self-examination. For me, the one about “keeping his children under control with all dignity” became a four decade battle and challenge. I almost left the pastoral office three times because of that. I have known some who struggle with drugs or alcohol. In reality, every pastor fails in these areas whether in deeds or in the thoughts. As always, when we fail, we confess and seek forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9), but we also recognize that there may be further consequences.

One particular issue that affects the current state of the church is that the pastor is not to be “pugnacious, but gentle” or as one translation has it, “not a bully but gentle.” Unfortunately the internet provides a platform for bullies in the church. But even worse is a pastor who is a bully, whether on the internet or especially in his congregation in his dealings with people.

Paul provides the proper perspective on character formation, for everyone.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS)

3. Catechetical Formation

Catechetical formation is not “how to teach the catechism.” It is much more comprehensive than that. Catechetical formation refers to the entire approach of the congregation in “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, it includes catechism instruction, family devotions, family and church gatherings that reflect the life of grace and mercy, shaped by proper distinction and application of Law and Gospel.

How easy it is for the pastor to be distracted from this essential task. Meetings are important, but they do not direct the congregational life. Activities are important, but they can divert energy and interest away from learning the essential truths of the Christian faith.

Catechetical formation also involves a consistency throughout congregational life. Hymns, prayers, and readings done in worship form the basis for shut-in visits, hospital visits, family crises ministry. That is the faith confessed, and expressed, in worship is not about a la-la land, but of real life, lived in the trenches as well as on the mountains. Thus, catechetical formation provides the threads that unite and emphasizes the Christian life and growth. In our seminarian curriculum we have a course, Catechesis, in which we explore the dimensions of catechetical formation.

4. Churchmanship Formation

Of all the areas mentioned, Churchmanship formation is the least mentioned or even acknowledged as important. Yet, when Churchmanship is missing, everyone suffers. So what is Churchmanship?

In church life, life can be messy for the church and for pastors. Churchmanship calls pastors and lay leaders to stand up to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. Paul gives some guidelines here:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. (1 Timothy 5:17-22 NAS)

Note, then, that Churchmanship is not taking charge as if you are the only one who knows what to do. It means that sometimes when the system is broken, the pastor identifies areas that need fixing, but not going on a vendetta against someone. In cases of difficult discipline, the pastor is a churchman who takes the avenue that is appropriate and consistent with the sin involved.

Churchmanship may also involve leading the congregation, the area group, or the entire church body in a way that will be difficult, challenging, frustrating but ultimately good for the body. This means that a churchman will listen to advice, seek consensus if possible, and move with deliberate yet responsible steps to achieve the goal.

Sadly, over the past four decades in church service, I have seen many examples of poor Churchmanship. When I quoted Peter above, it was a continuation of a previous thought. Now look at it in context:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18 NAS)

But sometimes, silently I have observed Churchmanship demonstrated that was outstanding, but was seldom, if ever, recognized as Churchmanship. I have had the pleasure of knowing churchmen who upheld the highest integrity and concern for the church at large. One of my professors (now deceased) in seminary was not the flashiest, but I refer to him with the accolade: “a gentleman scholar.” My hope is that in the seminary, the other professors and I can follow that path.

Dr. Curtis Leins,  Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman
Dr. Curtis Leins, Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman

filter out all distractions

Guest post today:

I grew up in the era of secretaries and I was blessed with many good ones. Early in my career there was Ann Marie who would take my meager dictations and with skill and polish turn them into a thing of beauty. At the end of my career it was Wendy, the master of the computer, who created an elaborate data base that quickly identified new trends in an ever changing environment, while I struggled to get a dial-up connection.

Somewhere in between those years came Judy. She was neither cutting edge nor even the fastest, but she had an incredible talent. Judy was able to filter out all distractions from employees’ angst to corporate demands; she would only hear and react to my voice.

Now, many years later, in retirement as I remember these talented and generous women, who dedicated their work to make me look better; it is Judy’s skill that I find most amazing. It is her skill set that I wish to emulate. 

Can I close my eyes and ears to the distractions of the world and focus only on my Creator and Redeemer? As I approach Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, can I see only His finished plan, hear only His Word of Truth and walk only on His path? When the evil one throws obstacles in my way can my focus for my Lord be so strong that I only have Him and nothing else?

Holy Lord, great Trinity, let me hear and react only to Your Voice. Because You have finished everything, I have only to follow You.  Grant to me that focus, Lord; that my eyes, ears and actions are all for You. Because You are my everything.  Amen.

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Written by a friend who has shared a couple posts with me in recent months. This was her timely reflection about distractions today… Thank you.

Christians in Relationships 1

This is a two part blog on Christians and Relationships. We will end up considering marriage as a special subset. In this blog our focus is the background to relationships among Christians. The second blog will focus on marriage and the relationship within marriage.

Marriage: What comes to mind? The beauty of a wedding ceremony? The attacks on marriage in recent news? The factors within marriage that threaten marriage? Or something else?

Are our views on marriage influenced by the culture in which we live? Is marriage even viable in our culture? Listening to many, we might get the impression that marriage needs to be “expanded.” For some, “other arrangements” are equally viable.

Marriage can be a hot topic, even a painful topic for many. Even if your own marriage is solid, you are probably related to someone of friends of someone who is divorced on moving in that direction.

What is the Christian response to all this?

Many times Christians will point to Ephesians 5:22-33 or 1 Peter 3:1-7, as if such texts solve the problem. In Ephesians 5 Paul wrote about the relationship between husbands and wives, which reflects the relationship Jesus has with the Church. What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus? With your spouse? With family members who are married, divorced, separated?

Ephesians 4:17-32

As pastor I use a different starting point, namely Ephesians 4:17-32. Why? Because there Paul lays the foundation of all relationships (among Christians). The text in Ephesians 5 is one premier example of that but not the entirety of relationships.

Ephesians 4:17-24 (NAS)

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Notice that Paul identified that the new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5) has implications for the person. On the negative side many things are left behind.

“no longer living in futility,
darkened understanding,
excluded from the life of God,
hardness of heart
callous
given to sensuality
greed”

On the positive side, something new comes in place of all that:

“heard Jesus
taught in Him
lay aside old self
renewed in the spirit of your mind
put on new self
created in righteousness
and holiness of the truth.”

Thus, the change from the old person to this new person is not just a temporary fix of a situation. It is not a solution to “make it work” with this person. The change Paul described elsewhere is more dramatic: the old person being put to death, a new person brought to life.

Romans 6:4-6 (NAS)

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.… knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 4:25-32 (NAS)

Paul continues in Ephesians 4 to describe that change from death to life.

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and yet do not sin”; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Paul covers four items: speaking (25, 29), anger (26, 27), work (28), and forgiving (32). Each of these receives special mention because it is in the abuse or neglect of these that we run into problems.

Speaking the truth: Sadly, even in churches we fail to do so. We hedge our words, we want to criticize but not seem like we are. We want to “share the latest” but really want an excuse to gossip. If we can put someone down (just a little) then that seems to raise our estimate of our own worth. Rather as a new person in Christ, we speak the truth, and we do so in love, genuine God-implanted love. Speaking in such a way shows that this person is indeed a sister or brother in Christ.

Our speaking is not flavored with “spicy/racy” words, a practice all too common among some Christians and even pastors. Rather our words are meant for building up one another. Whoever listens to you will receive grace. In other words, if someone hears you speaking about a fellow Christian, what is the response that will be triggered? Rudeness, vulgarity, anger, sarcasm, bitterness, slander? If you address another Christian about a sin, i.e. Matthew 18:15-20, then that speaking is done in private, not where someone else may overhear.

Do we show love when we speak? Do we show respect? What will your children hear when you speak about your spouse? What about the person you’ve been witnessing to? How will he or she respond to what is heard? As Christians we speak words that encourage, uplift, support, and strengthen others.

Anger seems a way of life for people; some seem to claim that it is “just my nature.” No, that is part of the old nature, the anger that drives and festers and causes wounds. Rather, righteous anger, anger that reflects God’s kingdom is different. This is not a “offense-against-me” kind of anger that is selfish. Rather this righteous anger sees the world falling further into separation from God, the uplifting of sin and what happens to people and the devastation of sin. Thus, Paul can write that “be angry… but do not sin.” Yes, righteous anger, but never an excuse for sin in either unrighteous anger or righteous anger.

Work also shows the change from living dead to living alive. The repentant one will not only desire forgiveness but also what can be done to change the behavior. Thus, the one who had been stealing changes so that instead she or he can work and give to others, i.e. the reverse of stealing.

Forgiving—

Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a Christian is forgive. When someone sins against us, the effects are often greater than the sin. The wounds can be very deep and forgiveness may seem impossible.

Paul wrote this radical solution to sin: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Read previous posts on forgiveness:

Forgiveness in the church

Liturgy — Response to Forgiveness

Liturgy — Brokenness, Forgiveness

God Has Amnesia

Liturgy—Confession and Absolution

Forgiveness for the Fallen

Sermon March 15, 2015

The Gospel reading and sermon text for today (Narrative Lectionary):

Sermon: Matthew 25:1-30

Text: HCSB

[Jesus said:] 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 
10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. 
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Lest We Forget

Is our memory as long as the last media clip on the internet? Is our attention drawn to the urgent—always? Nearly 50 years ago a book was published with the title Tyranny of the Urgent. The problem? The urgent often clouds our ability to see the important. Has that changed in the last 50 years? Not really. What about headlines that capture us today, but are forgotten within hours or days?

The Need

I have written about abuse in its various forms. How devastating it can be within families, communities, churches. The affects of abuse are much longer lasting than we want to admit. Therefore, when we know someone who is coming out of an abusive situation, what kind of timeline do we set for “getting back to normal”? Unless we are intimately involved in the care, we might be tempted to set a timeline for them. Rather, as Christians let’s refrain from that and take a different approach.

It has been eight days and yet how many have already forgotten?

Gina DeJesus

Michelle Knight

Amanda Berry and Jocelyn Berry

What kind of news coverage is happening now? Thankfully, they have asked that the media step away from them and their families. Good for them! They need time, space, safety, love, and help. They have at least 10 years of days they want to forget. But let’s not forget these women.

We don’t need to rush to Cleveland to listen to them. We can speak to God who listens to each of our prayers. These people need continued prayers and support.

We take time now, to remember each of them, and their new lives. They have much to learn and unlearn. There may be times of painful memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and sadness, and perhaps depression. Most importantly we ask God to bring them peace, safety, and wholeness in Jesus Christ.

Our Prayer

Lord God, we as a nation were shocked by the details of the kidnapping, rape, and abuse that these women endured. Sin is horrible in any manifestation, any kind of outer dress that it is enclosed in. We lift up to Your throne of grace Gina, Michelle, Amanda, and Jocelyn. As deep as their physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds are, You are the God who understands, who cares, who loves especially in the worst of times. According to Your great mercy, work all that is necessary in their lives. Surround them with people of love and patience. Grant them nights of rest, free from fear, uncertainty, and confusion. Sustain them each step of the way as You grant healing of body, mind, and soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

And for others…

Perhaps you know someone in an abusive relationship. You can adjust this prayer, or say it in your own words. Regardless, prayers for those who are or have been abused are an important part of our plea as Christians before our God.

Lest we forget

Prayer at the deep end

Prayer

What is your prayer life like? I mean at the worst of times? Is it leisurely talking with God or gasping for air?

Over the years I had read about other peoples’ prayer lives. I marveled because they are startling in their depth, power, life, scaling the heights of heaven itself or so it seemed. While I admired them for their prayer life and prayers, inwardly I cringed. My prayers and prayer life did not match up well with others.

Long retreats, quiet and serene sights, away from the tired routines, away from distractions, gentle nudging by the Holy Spirit…

Never happened for me! Not. one. time.

Gasping for air

During the past 34 years, my prayer life has been more like gasping for air as I am pulled under water, much like when I nearly drowned twice in my youth. So why did I think I could make it in the Navy Flight program (1973)??? But I applied and was accepted.

For me, prayer is closer to the imagery of survival, grasping, gasping, struggling. Like my attempt at passing all the swim/water/survival tests in Navy Flight School in Pensacola (which I did accomplish, BTW!). You know, when they had you jump off the tower in a flight suit and swim the full length of the pool underwater. Tread water without hands for 5 minutes, and then 30 additional minutes while in a flight suit. Swim a mile in a flight suit, which I didn’t complete the first time because I had severe leg cramps, but a few days later I passed with 2 minutes to spare!

The parachute drag where your harness is clipped to a drag line, and you release and swim to the edge of the pool—easy. Except my release was broken, and instead of being released, I was dragged the full length of the pool, then dragged back the other way—well, except the line is now wrapped around my neck and I can’t breathe! I am drowning again! They had to pull me from the pool. I should have known that the next day would not go well!

The Dilbert Dunker, a cage mockup of the cockpit of a plane situated on the (very) deep end of the pool. Getting strapped into the Dilbert Dunker, the person is plunged to the bottom of the pool, rotated upside down. Then the person has to reorient himself, unbuckle, and swim to the top. Most guys went through it easily. Except, when I unbuckled, and swam to the top, my harness got hooked on the dunker! And there I stayed, my mouth two inches below the water line. I was drowning —again!

Now what?? I knew what I needed—that air! I was panicked enough without this little additional problem. So I swam harder! And harder! But there were two divers in the pool coming directly to me to help. But they had to pull me back down further into the water. You have got to be kidding me!!?? I fought against them with all my strength. I knew where the air was. What were they doing??

Actually they were saving my life. It didn’t feel like it. My mind rebelled, my body rebelled. And yet, they eventually pulled me down so that that hook was released and they brought me to the surface. Saved! And gasping for air!!

Gasping in Prayer

Prayer is much like that for me. I pray, thinking I have things figured out. But then I get thrown into the deep end of the pool of life without warning, without any familiar guideposts, without a sense of the “quiet prayer life” that I kept hearing about and reading about. I don’t want to be here! This is too dangerous, too unsettling, too HARD! As I struggle to spit out one word, the Holy Spirit is there, pulling me in directions I can’t see, feel, understand, or utter on my own! What is happening? I feel like I am drowning!

In my agony, I cannot even get my hands folded…

Somehow, my prayer life at that point may be similar to the apostle Paul. He wrote:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NAS95)

Like those two divers, they had the better perspective. My feeble attempts at gasping for air gave way to those who could bring me to the air. So the Holy Spirit has the perfect perspective. When my heart is overwhelmed to the point of not even being able to form words to express the depths of my heart ache, my hurt, my inabilities, there the Spirit is.

The Spirit intercedes for me, when words fail me. My hurt is given perfect expression by the Holy Spirit. My short-sightedness in prayer gives way to the will of God, perfectly. Not because of me, but the Holy Spirit intercedes according to the will of God.

My gasping gives way to breathing and to life. At the end of my ability to breath or pray, I give up. And there the promise of God at work is made evident. It is hard, every time I am thrown into the deep end of the pool of life. But God is faithfully with me, no matter what happens. No matter how frightening, no matter how lonely, no matter how discouraging it might be.

And I gasp for one more breathe of air. And I pray!