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Friday, August 30, 2013

A Heart Poured Out

I have been in the process of trying to rediscover a truly deep and rich prayer life.  I have practiced the method of Lectio Divina.  First, a passage is read, preferably out loud, several times.  Then you identify a word or phrase and work it over in your mind.  Why did that phrase stand out in your reading?  You think of all the meanings of the phrase and the ways it is used. After reading and pondering with a focus on a phrase, a third step is to pray through your own speech to God.  With the word/phrase and the scripture as a guide, you talk to God.  The fourth and final stage is to be silent for God so God can talk to you.  God should, after all, have the last word.

My rough summary here my seem insufficient and maybe even an offense to those well-practiced in lectio divina.  But right, now this approach is drawing me into a place where the scripture and my prayer life are coming together.  I am grateful.  

I have chosen what might sound to some like an odd starting point - the book of Lamentations.  Today is Friday, the day I typically take with my daughter.  My boys are back in school, and if i take several hours with her, it frees my wife up to do whatever she needs or wants to do.  And, it deepens my relationship with my little girl.  Before my time with Merone today,  I went for a walk and did my reading in Lamentations.

It was Lamentations chapter 2, a sorrow-filled word of acknowledgement.  Zion has suffered terribly and the misery is from God and is deserved for Zion has sinned and God hates sin.  "How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger."  That is the opening line of chapter 2 (as rendered in the New American Standard Version).  It goes downhill from there.  How can this chapter be an inspiration to me as I try to revitalize my prayer life?  I'll tell you how.

Following lectio divina, I narrowed my focus to one line in one verse, verse 19.  "Arise, cry out in the night at the beginning of the night watches; pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord."  I zoomed in on the phrase "pour out your heart like water."  When do I do that?  When am I so emotionally exposed that I pour out my heart like water?  I did last year watching my beloved Detroit Tigers get swept in the World Series.  I have done it many times thinking about my kids or talking about them.  I felt "poured out" on my wedding day.  Sometimes when I preach about God's call to the wealthy on behalf of the poor, I feel poured out.

I went through these times and then thought about how I want my prayer life to be more emotionally charged more often.  I should be as emotional as Jesus was when he groaned and sighed and prayed until he sweat drops of blood.  God should get more of my hear than the Michigan Wolverines.  The verse served as a jolting call to me to give more in my prayer life.

Then, I realized this verse comes in the midst of a string of miserable laments.  The singer/poet is defeated, an exiled Israelite for whom the halcyon days of Solomon's glory are but a fading memory.  At the point of despair, when it has already been acknowledged that the pain is from God and is deserved, the singer tells Israel to turn to the very God who punishes.  The defeated one stubbornly turns to faith in the face of the seeming failure of faith.  When all is lost, pour our your heart.  

Does this make any sense?  Don't we (and here by "we" I mean Christians who have the privilege of education and financial means) have the responsibility to use all at our disposal to solve the world's problems?  Did not God privilege America and its Western allies to be the vicarious saviors of the world?  Shouldn't I give as much as I can, and thinking creatively, achieve the solution to the problems of war and poverty and spiritual depravity that afflict so many in the world?  

Clearly my questions in the last paragraph are soaked in arrogance that is the unique purview of the privileged.  Western, white, male, educated, wealthy (by the standards of 99% of the world), I lose site of how desperately weak I am.  Nothing about my life in smallest way resembles the pain that inspired the prayer of Lamentations.  But that prayer, born in pain, was also inspired by the Spirit of God.  Thus it has force beyond its original context.  I may not be afflicted as the singer was, but I am just as weak, and at times, just as lost.  I fail.  Oh, I fail in so many ways, great and small.

And I tackle challenges that have little chance of success.  Who has the audacity to think that my week of volunteering in Atlanta will make a difference in the lives of kids who are beat up every day?  How can I think that the project my wife and I with our friends the Davids and the Laughners and all our Hope Chest sponsors can really make a difference for 180 Ethiopian kids?  How can we believe that these kids will actually grow in Christ and be empowered to make significant positive changes in their country and in their town?  Do Candy and I really think we can be agents of the Gospel in our neighborhood in Chapel Hill, where so many people are uncertain about God or indifferent as if that were an option?  And the hardest of all - changing my own sinful heart; why even try?

The truth is I can do none of it.  I am powerless.  But I can pour out my heart, in all its sinfulness.  The singer in Lamentations stopped in the midst of the desperate woes and implored any person of faith who suffers to do just that. Deep beneath the guilt and pain and shame is the unshakable sense that God still listens and still loves us.  That is not stated in Lamentations 2.  God is not called a God of love.  Such a direct declaration does not come until 1st John.  But, the hope that God hears is this sad singer's song.  Also in Job, with all Job has endured, there is the hope that God hears and will respond.  

The worst we can do is ignore God, act as if God does not see and is uninterested in us.  The best we can do is turn to him when we are at our very worst.  I don't think this season is among the worst of seasons in my life.  I think it is among the best.  I have an awesome wife, great kids, and a fantastic job.  However, I have good days and bad.  Sometimes staring at my own sin is hard because I realize I cannot do better.  I repeat mistakes.  But in the dirtiest parts, I know I must pour out my heart like water before the Lord.  I don't know what God will do when I do that.  But I can trust God.  

However, I am not in the act of trusting and the condition of trusting until I pour out my heart - all the time.  I don't mean I am an emotional basket case 24/7.  I just mean God gets all of me, even when it feels exposing.  I pour out myself like water before God because there is no better way to live.

AMEN

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