Tag Archives: prayer

everyone knows that pt 2 – intelligent questions

I’ll admit it. I was a bit snarky when I wrote about adapting what we teach for different learning styles and intelligences. But sometimes snarky in the service of thinking is helpful.

It is easier, however, to tell people what they ought to do than to show them how they could do. So, at the risk of being religious-sounding, I’d like to offer an example of adapting instruction to differences in thinking and learning.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be talking with a group of people about what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Many of you have heard of it, have heard it, or have even said it.

Here are some questions that use and challenge multiple intelligences (to use Howard Gardner’s term) to stimulate different kinds of thinking about this familiar text.

  • When was the first time you heard it? When was the last?
  • When you think of these words, what color comes to mind?
  • If you watched the Ken Burns special on National Parks recently, which park could you see this prayer being repeated? (When Jesus was teaching it, everyone was on a hillside, sitting on rocks, on the ground).
  • Is this a speech or a conversation? What difference would that make?
  • As you listen to the words, is there a sequence of requests (I ask A. You do A. I then ask B. You do B).
  • In the text, there is an us (“Give us this day our daily bread”). That suggests that there may be several people involved in this prayer. When Jesus is saying it for the first time, where are they sitting? Are they looking at each other? Are they all repeating it together or taking turns? And is he suggesting that it be an individual or a group conversation?
  • Is Jesus writing a formula, an equation of some sort?
  • Do you think that Jesus is describing how he talks to his Dad? Does that change how you think of the tone of voice of this prayer?
  • Think of all the musical versions of this text. Now, think of doing your own. Does it make more sense as a Bach anthem or as improvisational jazz? What instrumentation would you use to arrange it for your life?
  • Read it out loud. If you were talking to someone across the room, how loud would you say it? Try that. If you were talking to someone right next to you, how would you change your voice? Try it. If you weren’t talking to anyone but yourself, how would that sound?

As you read through the questions, it was likely that you read some and thought “Who would think that” and read others and thought “Oh, that’s easy.” That’s the point. We are different. Now, imagine that all the questions were of the kind that you don’t understand. That’s what we do to parts of our audience/group/congregation/whatever when we don’t take the time to think about how people learn or we ask questions that are comfortable to us.

And if you are interested in helping people understand how to talk to God, for example, or whatever you are teaching, doesn’t that time investment make sense?


For more on this particular text, see my posts at 300wordsaday.com starting with Our Father in heaven


National day of prayer

I am not a good joiner. That’s why I’m not part of any of the National Day of Prayer activities in our area. I shy away from events that talk about the spiritual but get close to being political. And this day is one of those kinds of events.

There are big rallies planned, prayer events on courthouse steps and congressional offices. Churches are having special services and vigils and all day prayer events.

It’s fine. It’s good. The Bible tells us to pray for our countries, whichever they are. The Bible tells us to pray for leaders, to seek the good of our community. The Bible tells us to seek peace, to pursue justice, to speak on behalf of the widows and the ophans and the poor.

Here’s my concern.

It’s too easy to build up to one day and then say, “Yep, we had our day. Time to start planning for next year.” The problem, of course, is that prayer is conversation with God, not proclamations to people.

Sometimes these days feel like a family reunion where everyone comes together to visit the patriarch and spends most of their time talking to each other. They hope that the neighbors will be impressed with the size of the turnout. They  hope that he will be impressed with the size of the turnout when what he really wants is daily visits and quiet conversation with individuals and small groups.

Here’s my other concern.

It’s too easy to criticize this event without doing anything. I could have spent the time it took to write this post praying for our leaders and that would have equaled the time I have spent in the last 3 months in that kind of prayer. I could have spent the time it took to write this post asking God to show me how to speak on behalf of widows who are ignored and orphans who are being abused and that would have equaled the time I have spent in the last 6 months in that kind of prayer.

I could go on in confession. But I won’t. Not to you.

That’s enough time on writing. Forget the national day of prayer. I need to think about a personal life of prayer.

My silver seminary – WILF 1

Michael Sampson decided I needed an ipod. I’m not sure why, but he did. He knew he couldn’t afford it. He was buying a new computer for work. He put his name in a drawing for a new ipod. He won it. He sent it to me.

I knew none of the above, however, when I got a package from New Zealand one day in late December 2006. I just knew that Michael was sending me something.

I had started using our son’s old shuffle for listening to seminary lectures. It was a pretty frustrating process, but it was much cheaper than tuition would be.

I opened the package.

I was dumbfounded, caught between tears and exhilaration. It was a gift that was beyond expectation, beyond anything I could have imagined. And yet I immediately knew how it would benefit me.  Since then I have listened to lectures. I have listened to sermons. I have listened to a handful of songs over and over and over. I call this my silver seminary.

I was working on a painting project on Saturday. I was feeling pretty apathetic. I put in the ear buds and started a song about legacy. And immediately I realized where I needed to start my posts for December in response to Robert Hruzek’s writing project, “what I learned from the generosity of others.”

Michael’s gift was over-the-top, perfectly-timed, and in response to a thought that both he and I had had. “Jon needs/I could use an ipod.” Neither of us prayed. We just thought.

But it counted as prayer.

And I am grateful.


Advent calendars start today, December 1 and so does my ebook. It is available as a FREE downloadable pdf, advent2008 (Right click on the link to the left and save the file to your computer).

kyrie eleison – still

(This is a reprint of a post from November 21, 2007 to help prepare for Thanksgiving.)

Lord have mercy.

That’s what kyrie eleison means. It’s Latin. I heard it about 30 times last Sunday afternoon. Not because someone was upset (“Lor’ have mercy”) but because I was listening to a children’s choir sing.

That’s the choir in this really bad picture taken with my cell phone. What you should be able to see in this picture are the following: 50 kids, 6th-9th grade; a conductor; a piano; a jembe drum; 3 steel drums; a drum set; a cow bell; a shaker (not the religion, the percussion instrument).

This kyrie, taken from a mass attributed to Saint Francis, was set in Caribbean style by Glenn McClure. It starts with the steel drums, and then involves the whole group you see.

As I was helping set up for the concert, I carried in the stands for the steel drums. They are made of ordinary, hardware-store-variety galvanized pipe. And then I thought about the steel drums themselves, made in Jamaica, shaped by hand with more skill than expense. The same is true of the hand drum. And the cowbell. And the voices. And the words said by many, attributed here to a follower of Christ who abandoned pretty much everything, including dignity.

And as I listened to the voices and percussion blend, I realized (or remembered), that calling out to God for mercy doesn’t have to cost much. It doesn’t take expensive instruments (like the 8 foot Steinway grand piano) as much as it takes willingness. We don’t have to build ornate places to cry out for mercy.

In fact, the cry for mercy comes not when we understand everything but when we can’t; not when we are on top of the world, but when there isn’t anywhere else to go; not when our lives are together, but when they are falling apart.

Thanksgiving is a melancholy time for many people. We know we are supposed to be thankful, but we look in the mirror and can’t imagine the people around us being very thankful for…us. And we know we are supposed to be thankful, but we aren’t sure who to thank. And we know we are supposed to be thankful, but…

And so, may I offer a suggestion for what to say right before you put on the smile and make the list?

“Kyrie eleison.”

related posts

8 ways to be thanked.

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the next prayer

img00093So my friend Rob sends me a text today.

“Keep your guests on other blogs…my .02.”

He’s talking about the conversation that has been happening on my earlier post about guest writers, a conversation that I have enjoyed.

Less than two hours later, he’s sending me a picture, saying “One more post for you today.”

Some people, you know? I mean, after three posts already, what could possible be worth another one. You will be sick of hearing from me. And after saying to keep people off, he’s wanting his own picture up.

But then I looked at the picture, from a church in Maine. And I knew that Rob was right.

As I write this, the polling place 50 feet from where I am sitting is still open. It will close at 6:00pm, 15 minutes from now. And then the results that have been held in abeyance through the day will begin to come out. And people will cheer and cry and laugh and mope. People will start planning for the next election, the next struggle, the next….

But for people who have a conversational relationship with God, there is one thing to do first. No matter which name was next to the button you pushed, pray.

For the person who will, before the night is over, be president. For the senators and representatives. For the judges. For the county assessors. For the coroner (yes, I voted for coroner today). For the state representatives. For the county commissioners and school board members.

For protection. For wisdom. For strength. For chocolate milk.

(But please not for “seeing things my way.”)

I agree with the sign: “Now…pray for them.”

Looking Back – walking and waiting

looking back

(this post first published August 4, 2007)

7:00 am “Dear God. Please help me find a job. Not just any job, but the perfect job. Amen.”

noon “Dear God. I don’t want to seem pushy, but I really would like a job. And you said to ask, so I’m asking. Amen.”

3:00 pm “Dear God. I haven’t heard anything yet. But that’s okay, I know you are busy. But where I am now is really annoying and I don’t think I can handle this much longer, so I’ll just wait here in line. Amen.”

9:00 pm “Dear God. I tried it your way. But I haven’t heard anything, so now I lay me down to try to sleep. But waiting is really hard, so if you care, I’d like an email with a job when I wake up. Yes, that’s it. Just make someone send me an email with a job. Great. That will work. Amen”

4:00 am “Dear God. You’ve got 3 hours. Amen.”

Because of a number of conversations with a number of people, I am increasingly aware that I may not be the only person in the world who has a push-button view of prayer.


Here’s what I mean. When we are walking in the city, we see the direction that we want to go or need to go or think we need to go. We stand at the corner, but the traffic is heavy. We push the button and wait for the light to change and the traffic in our path to stop. When it does, we know we can walk safely across. Because pedestrians are important, the wait is seldom more than a minute.

We apply this same thinking to our lives. We decide which direction to go, we know that what we need is a new job or a new relationship or a new situation or a healing. We stand at the corner and pray, which means that we say words which we believe with push the God button. And when the traffic doesn’t stop, we push it a few more times. We may try cutting through the traffic. We may give up and walk away.

But what if God isn’t a traffic signal? What if prayer, rather than being a button, is part of a conversation with a person? What if the silence which we see as a broken button is actually Someone waiting for us to stop deciding which way we are going and start just talking about the path and the corner and the traffic.

I don’t like it when people look at me merely as a traffic signal, giving approval to what they have already decided, do you? I mean, you want to offer counsel and direction and conversation and relationship when people talk to you, don’t you?

Maybe God does, too.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – pass it on

(First published May 31, 2007)

Today Chris was talking about the importance of teaching, of taking what we know and passing it on. His point is affirming and challenging and frustrating to me. At times I hear my response to that point: “I don’t know much. No one needs what I know. I don’t have the time.” In fact, as Nancy and I were walking last night (keeping a purpose set in December), we were talking about our neighbor who has done quite well as an academic author and I said, “I don’t know anything that well.”

However, the more I thought, the more I realized that I better pass on the advice I gave someone recently. This person, who has children and loves them and is loved by them, is having a difficult time praying. Somehow the words aren’t tracking right. Somehow it feels like the intention isn’t quite right or that God must be questioning how the praying is happening or maybe God is saying, “I gave you everything you need, what are you waiting for?” This is a person near the edge.

So I said “Spend the next few days listening to how your children talk to you and your spouse. Listen to what is requested. Listen to the talking for talking sake. Listen to inflection and urgency and desire to be with you and hear you and love you. And then talk to God the same way.”

We get so stuck in formality, in pleasing, in rituals that we forget completely that we are talking to Dad. At least that’s what I read.

I’m praying that it helps this person. And maybe you.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.