Good news people!
The essay is pretty much complete. I’m within my word limit (a small miracle in itself…), and just have a bit of minor tweeking to do over the next couple of days. I am THANKFUL for your prayers! Personally, it’s probably been one of the most timely pieces of work I’ve ever had to produce… I mean, writing an essay on prayer in a season where God is calling you out into new places in your prayer life is cool/scary/challenging/leaves-me-without-excuse-and-in-stunned-wonder in equal measure. And that means that more important than an academic mark, the heart-journey has been wholly worth every moment of hard work.
Actually, that’s neither the only nor the main reason that I am thankful this evening.
Because I am full-to-literal-brimming with thankfulness.
Those of you who get my more specific prayer updates will know that God has been doing AWESOME-calling-salvation-forth things this week and I am simply so, SO excited and so completely blessed to be on this journey with Him! I don’t really have words! For those moments where you see salvation become really real for people, those moments where you see Jesus become real for people, those moments where the Spirit of God brings new freedom for people, those moments where you are humbled to even be present because His Presence is so strong.
It’s been a stunning kind of humbling week.
Actually, it’s been one of those weeks that puts some of the painful season of the last few years into perspective for me. Because as much as I have really wrestled with the very real pain and the very real healing healing and the reality of what that all looks like, I can’t deny that that season has led directly to this place. And for that, well, it would have been worth it. How can you measure temporary trial in relation to eternally lasting fruit? You literally can’t.
And the thing about answered prayer, is that it raises your faith to pray still more. It increases your hunger. It makes the struggle and the battle and the wrestling worth it.
So, alongside teaching English and studying Japanese and writing an essay, this week has involved early morning prayer, and talking about Jesus, and pancake-and-church nights, and late night cinema trips. It has involved plentiful cups of coffee, more cake than I can really remember, and laughter that means I still ache. It has involved realness, and friendship, and happy-tears, and sushi lunches. It has been punctuated with praise. I have sung with Obaa-chan and eaten with Kayoko and loved my friends and my students. I have been so very, very blessed.
And because whatever I try and write just now keeps coming back to prayer, I’m just going to share a slightly expanded section from my latest essay. Let’s keep praying, keeping trusting and keep believing. Because Jesus saves. He really does.
Many of us have grown up thinking of prayer as a checklist of requests to God, like giving a grocery list to someone headed to the supermarket. As one kid said, ‘I’m heading off to pray – does anyone need anything?’ (Claiborne 2010:424)
Establishing a healthy prayer life is a phrase that leaves me with questions. Primarily because I’m not convinced that establishing a prayer life is healthy in the way that we commonly understand the word. I remember being in a prayer room as a teenager when I first read Mike Yaconelli’s quote scrawled across the walls, ‘I’m ready for a Christianity that ruins my life. That captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable…’ (2003:23).
Yet so often we equate health with feelings of human comfort.
I don’t really want a prayer life that costs me. I want a prayer life that painlessly adds to my life. I don’t really want a prayer life that ruins me. I want a prayer life that takes care of my heart and makes me feel cosy.
Except, that’s not the kind of prayer Jesus invites us into. His teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-14 directly follows the outline of his upside-down Kingdom where ‘blessed are the poor in spirit…’ (Matt.5:3-10).
We leave everything to follow him. We are invited to forsake anything less. ‘Overwhelming love invites a response. Loving is the syntax of prayer. To be effective pray-ers, we need to be effective lovers’ (Foster 1992:3).
In some ways, I would rather encourage an unhealthy prayer life.
A prayer life that doesn’t happily balance within the constraints of our other activities and cost us nothing, a prayer life that isn’t something we tack onto the side-lines of everything else. Rather, a prayer life that takes over, because through it, Holy Spirit is taking over and changing us.
‘To pray is to change’ (Foster 1992:5). On one level, because intimacy with God is the ‘whole purpose of the Christian life… and prayer is the means by which a person enters into this process (Avila 2007:31).
We become holy by spending time with the one who is.
We become like he who our hearts desire. ‘Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts’ (Hallesby 1994).
On another level, this change and this increased intimacy, overflows. ‘The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion’ (Tozer 1993:13).
It means that we begin to pray as if our prayers can and will make a difference. Like Paul, we declare that we are ‘God’s fellow-labourers’ (1Cor.3:9). Prayer becomes so much more than a checklist we take to God.
It instead becomes the mechanism of love and grace that transforms us and changes the world.
Prayer can never become a substitute for engaging with the broken because ‘it seems that much of the time when we ask God to do something about pain and suffering, we hear God say back to us, ‘I already did do something. I made you’’ (Claiborne 2010:23).
Prayer may provide God’s ‘comfort’ (2Cor.1:5) but it is not comfortable.
Some would say it’s not healthy.
It’s not balanced.
It doesn’t fit in, it takes over.
‘Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps’ (Manning 2002:69).
And I’ll leave you with those thoughts. And some photos… Obviously 😉
Pancake and church night. (I.e. Eat great pancakes. Go to great church…)
Baby dutch pancakes with orange custard and vanilla ice cream. Perhaps the best food I have ever eaten. Like, ever.
A super great caramel latte.
The katakana menu that it took us 15 minutes to read. I still hold to the fact that kanji is easier than katakana!
My wonderful friend has a legendary Bible cover. ‘Gentle words: I spend time together’ 😉
Japanese popcorn beats English popcorn into the dust.
The world’s greatest selfie 🙂
Some great sushi moments. It still shocks me sometimes that I genuinely enjoy raw fish now. And these sweet girls, taking photos of food, bless me so much!