Talking to God about what we are doing together

I thrive when I have someone with whom I can process ideas. This has been true all my life – be it my wife, Barb, my kids, fellow co-ministers or co-workers. I have always been at my best when I have been able to process my thoughts and ideas with others. It’s when creativity comes to life for me.

I remember many times meeting various people for coffee to brainstorm solutions to an opportunity, talking over my ideas, and suddenly the solution presents itself in an obvious manner. After our time together, I would thank the person for their assistance in the matter, to which they often responded, “I’m not sure what I did to help. You seemed to figure it out by yourself.” I don’t think I’m the only one to have such experiences. It points to the brilliance and simplicity of Dallas Willard’s description of prayer from his book, The Divine Conspiracy

I have mentioned Willard’s description of prayer a couple times previous (Pondertude and Practical “Right Things”). I think it is so powerful and revolutionary that it deserves additional consideration. I started reading The Divine Conspiracy about 20 years ago, shortly after publication. It is a dense read, thus I would read a section, pondering for a time before continuing. After reading his treatment of prayer, however, I stopped reading the book altogether, not wanting to miss the significance. As a reminder, Willard described prayer as simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together” (p. 243). In the book, he went on to say:

That immediately focuses the activity where we are [in our walk with God] but at the same time drives the egotism out of it. Requests will naturally be made in the course of this conversational walk. Prayer is a matter of explicitly sharing with God my concerns about what he too is concerned about in my life. And of course he is concerned about my concerns and, in particular, that my concerns should coincide with his. This is our walk together. Out of it I pray.

I think this is exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I don’t think Paul made this up – it was certainly modeled by Moses, the writers of the Psalms, the prophets, AND Jesus (see Pondertude).

I suspect prayer is another area in our journey with Jesus that we have made far too difficult and awkward. Talking to God about what we are doing together seems so natural, so simple, and so straight-forward. And revolutionary. It revolutionized my prayer life. May it do so for you as well.

Pondertude, Round 2

Continuing the conversation about Pondertude – my term describing times of solitude with God, pondering life together with Him. Time alone with God is not something that seems to come natural for us, which is a bit odd given that we were created to be in relationship with Him. I wonder if maybe we work too hard at this, making times with God far too difficult. I wonder if we should learn to relax a bit more in this endeavor.

As I have mentioned previously, I periodically use the devotional guide A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. One of the strengths of the guide is the myriad of Readings for Reflection by authors we might not typically stumble onto. A couple weeks ago, one of the readings was written by early 20th century educator, Glenn Clark. I thought it worth sharing in the context of not striving so much, of relaxing as we learn to spend time with God…

It has been my observation that all the great praying people are simple, relaxed people. Mrs. Thomas A. Edison once said to me, “Mr. Edison’s methods are just like yours. He is always perfectly natural and perfectly relaxed. He feels that all his discoveries have come ‘though him,’ that he is but a channel for forces greater than himself.”

Always natural and always relaxed! I do not like to see people work too hard at their prayers. When one strains and labors over their dream they are too often carving ivory and not polishing horn. Don’t cut too deeply, don’t carve too hard, don’t paint the picture too much yourself. Get still awhile and let God paint it through you. Wrote [Mount Rushmore sculptor] Gutzon Borglum, “When I carve a statue, it is very simple. I merely cut away the pieces that don’t belong there and the statue itself presently comes into view. It was there all the time.” (From I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, Glenn Clark.)

Each week the Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants directs the reader to focus on a single Psalm. This week it has been Psalm 90 written by Moses, containing the relatively familiar statement, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” Pondering this passage, I wondered how this statement might translate to my life. Geek that I am, I fired up the HP15C calculator app on my phone and discovered something pretty interesting:

If a thousand years are like a day to God and one lives to be 80, then they will end up living 1.92 God hours! A couple hours! What’s more, if one works for 45 years at 50 hours/week, the sum total of all their work (striving?) would be (are you ready for this?) approximately 19 God minutes.

Then why, oh why, do we strive so hard, “carving ivory instead of polishing horn,” turning a natural relationship with God into hard work? Relax and enjoy Him. After all, you only get a couple hours with Him as you walk this earth!

Pondertude

About 20 years ago, I was introduced to the Franciscan retreat center, Pacem in Terris. It was founded and developed to provide Christ-followers a place to retreat in silence and solitude. Located near the community which I served as a Young Life Area Director, I couldn’t wait to “try it out.” After my first experience, scheduling a couple 2-day retreats per year at Pacem in Terris became a staple of the last 20 years of my ministry.

I am a fan and a proponent of the concept of blocking out regular times for silence and solitude, times for pondering scripture and encountering God, times for discovering what he is up to in my life, ministry, and the world at large. Though not a guided silent retreat, we were directed by Pacem in Terris staff to arrive with only our Bible and journal, allowing God to speak directly into our life by encountering him in scripture.


A Typical Hermitage at Pacem in Terris

Something Jesus modeled (and I assume wanted his followers to emulate) was the practice of solitude. A couple well-known examples are found in the Gospel of Luke: Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God (Luke 6:12-13) and Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). When we read passages like this, we tend to agree with the concept, agree that we should do likewise, and THEN DON’T! Guilt sets in so we steer clear of similar passages.

Several years ago, while mentoring a Young Life staff trainee, he and I discovered that an expectation of a staff person was to schedule one day a month for solitude – a withdrawal from normal stuff to be with God. I gave the trainee the assignment of interviewing a couple senior staff persons to discover how they took advantage of their monthly day of solitude. He couldn’t find anyone who regularly scheduled times of solitude with God. Why was that? Jesus modeled it, then strongly suggested we follow suit (“In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you”John 20:21). Why do we not do it? Over the years, I have discovered a variety of reasons we give for not emulating Jesus’ example:

  • We think we are too busy to take chunks of time for solitude and reflection. People in ministry are as bad at this as anyone, if not worse. I often wonder how much of this is connected to an exaggerated view of one’s importance.
  • Fear seems to be a powerful justification for not spending time alone with God. “What if I ‘hear’ him speak into my life and I don’t like it?” I have heard this more than once from people reasoning why they shy away from solitude.
  • Many people speak of not knowing what to do or how to spend time alone with God. This is the brilliance of Pacem in Terris’ suggestion – simply reading scripture and reflecting. The late Howard Hendricks suggested reading for a 20-30 minutes, then reflecting for 20-30 minutes. And if I fall asleep? Then I fall asleep reflecting on scripture and God. How can that be a bad thing?
  • A common justification of us “doers” for not engaging in solitude: “I can’t shut my brain off.” Then don’t. Let your brain loose to reflect and ponder the scripture you are engaged with.

This is where the late Dallas Willard’s description of prayer is helpful – talking to God about what we are doing together, pondering together what’s going on my life. Picture Jesus’ times with God as exactly that. Picture Jesus pondering, “I really like Peter, though I know he’s a hothead. I wonder if he is someone I should develop as a follower?” (Or, more likely, “Peter? Seriously, Father? One of the Twelve?”) I can picture Jesus pondering with God, looking for ways to help his followers understand the reversal of the kingdom he was inaugurating. Maybe it was through times of pondering and talking with God about what they were doing together that he landed on the idea of passing through Samaria instead of around it as they traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee (see John 4).

Out of my experiences of solitude and pondering, plus a desire to make the experience less mystical for others, I coined the term pondertude. It describes the reality of my times with God – alone with him (solitude), pondering what we are doing together. Pondering what we are doing together in all my roles in His kingdom – as a husband, a dad, a grandpa, an engineer, a supervisor, a ministry leader, a math tutor, etc. Though I love Pacem in Terris, pondertude is a frame of mind more than a place. It’s a choice to regularly be with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, who has our best interests in mind. Why wouldn’t we want to block out times for pondertude?