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Monday, December 17, 2018

Formation Prayer

Preface - I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

People of earth, take me to your leader.
We are the people of earth. This is our home. It is not just that we are from the earth.  The Bible says we were made from her.  For God, in the beginning, made us from the dust of the ground.  He formed us with his hands. He shaped us in His image and gave us dominion over all the earth.

We were created with a purpose—to be in constant communion with God. Prayer is how we enjoy that fellowship. Far more than just folding our hands, bowing our heads, and closing our eyes to say a few words that mimic what we hear the preacher say on Sunday in church, prayer is placing ourselves back into the hands of the One who formed us in our mother's womb to continue the work of shaping us into the people He wants us to be.  And so, today, I want to talk a little on formation prayer.

Formation prayer is the intentional act of letting go of self and letting God’s form in us His attitudes, behaviors, and goals.

Isaiah 29:16
How foolish can you be?  He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!  Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”?  Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”?

Formation Prayer
In the church, we like to say “Prayer changes things.”  The most important thing it changes is us.  We are bound to change as we rub up against God Eternal through prayer.  When we start out praying, our prayers are mostly asking God to change our situations.  Often times, we are in those situations because of our own actions.  When I was a kid, my older brother had a BB gun and I wanted one so bad.  My mom was wise enough to know I shouldn't have one; I was mature enough yet.  Finally, I grew old enough she thought it would be OK and my brother handed down his Daisy Red Rider BB Gun.  I invite my friend Paul over and we played with it all day!  That was, until my pesky little sister started bugging us.  She was two-years-younger than me and she always wanted to bother me when my friends came over.  Finally, I'd had enough and I told her if she didn't leave us alone, I was gonna shoot her.  I pointed the BB gun at the ground near her feet and fired it to scare her.  The BB hit her in the foot and her world fell apart!  She ran off to tell my mom and I started to pray!  "Lord, please don't let my mama kill me!  And don't let her take the BB gun away!"  Well, God answered my prayers, sort of.  My mom didn't kill me, but she did take that BB gun away!  I obviously wasn't mature enough to have it yet.  You never point a gun at someone like that, even if you think it's unloaded and even if it's only a cheap, low-powered BB gun.  To many people have been maimed or killed that way.  I needed to learn to respect guns and thankfully I have.  My mom's lesson of taking that BB gun away from me when I was a kid helped teach me that lesson.

Perhaps you have heard of Abraham.  He is known as Father Abraham in three of the world's major religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Abraham gave the world a revolutionary idea.  He believed in God, but that wasn't that revolutionary.  Everyone in his day believed in God.  But Abraham believed in a God no one could see.  Everyone else worshiped animals or heavenly bodies or idol statues--things they could see, hear, and maybe even touch.  And along comes Abraham who believed an invisible God by faith alone.  People probably thought he was crazy, but Abraham knew it is important not to have any created thing represent the supreme God who created it all.  No idol could represent God and God later commanded Abraham descendants, "Do not make idols of any kind" (Exodus 20).  

It might be easier to worship an idol.  It doesn't take as much faith.  You can see it and touch it.  And you can make that idol god look like anything you want.  You can make it just the way it pleases you.  Plus, you can keep that idol put away in a drawer or the corner of some temple and only bring it out when you need something.  Then, you can put it away until the next time you need something.  Furthermore, if that idol ever tells you something you don't like, you can throw it away and make yourself a new god who will never say or do anything you don't like.  

Sure, that would be easy, but we know that's not the way it works, right?  We don't make God.  God makes us.  However, there is a way of praying--that many people practice--that treats God like some idol statue you can take out and pray to when you want something and then put him away back in some dark and forgotten drawer once we get what we want.  But that’s not real.  That’s not who God is.  We can’t control Him and we don’t tell Him what to do.  We've got things turned upside down up if we think that’s the way prayer works.

It was God who made us.  We are the idols—the images made to look like God.  We are the only idols authorized in the Bible.  God authorized us to look like Him.  The Eternal and Living God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, The One True God, the Great I am, who spoke the universe into existence, lovingly took the dirt of the earth into His divine hands and formed us and shaped us in His image.  And He is still working His art in Your life today.  Our job, then, is to yield to His vision.  Formation prayer is the method through which we yield.

Hummus and Humility
My wife and I discovered a new snack food called hummus about 15 years ago when I was in seminary.  I was the first one to try it.  They served some free food to the starving seminary students at Emory and I was glad for the free food.  They said, "Here try this.  It's called hummus."  I said, "What's hummus?"  They said, "It's popular in Mediterranean countries like Israel.  It's made from ground up chickpeas, olive oil, and lemon juice."  I tried is and it was pretty good.  Hummus used to be an exotic dish, but it's now become quite popular.  You can get it at the grocery store just about everywhere. now.

Hummus, comes from the same root word as humas, which means soil—specifically the layer of topsoil that is packed with organic matter that makes agriculture possible—like the amazing corn fields I see all around my community every summer.  Human also comes from the same root word; we are people of the earth and made from earth.

Humility is another word that grows out of the same family of words.  So there’s this connection between humanity, humility, and the earth:  humility is lowliness like the dirt of the earth (which is what we are made of); also, there is the idea of being grounded in the dirt.  Humility is freedom from pride or arrogance.  Some people think of humility as having low self-esteem, but that’s not it.  To be humble is to understand who you really are according to God.  Humility is knowing the world doesn’t revolve around me; it is having my place in the universe as a human in proper perspective.  We were made from dirt, humus, but we were made by the very hands of God in His image.  So humility also recognizes how unique and special we are without leaving us with a big head that thinks we don’t need God.

Christians are called to be humble humans.  But how do we become humble people of Earth?  We certainly aren't born that way.  Most children start out thinging the world revolves around them.  We have to grow beyond that self-centered mentality with God's help.  Through prayer, we can cooperate with the Hands of God that want to sculpt humility into our humanity.

Let me share some prayer exercises that can help God establish more humility with you.

The Little Way
The first prayer exercise is called “The Little Way”.  To follow the little way means that throughout the day you actively seek out the most menial jobs, welcome unjust criticisms, befriend people who annoy you, and help those who are ungrateful.  There are lowly jobs like washing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning the toilet, and other task that may seem beneath our rank in society or where we work.  Rather than avoiding these, make a point to get your hands dirty with these jobs.  Actively seek them out.  It will help you develop humility by remembering you are not too important.  We also all know people who get on our nerves and really annoy us.  But rather than avoiding them, seek to be their friend and rpay that God would help you to love them the way He loves you.  Realise that you are annoying to someone too, but God still loves you.  So, intentionally seek out and befriend people that bug you and it will help make you humble.  Follow the little way toward humility.

Another prayer practice that can help us with humility is solitude.  Solitude means to take some time to be lonely.  It is a great practice to get away from people for a little while so you stop worrying so much about what people think and remember to care more about what God thinks.

In the age of social media, we are constantly sharing with others what we are doing, where we are, what we’re eating, etc.  Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, we are in constant contact with our “friends” and the whole world has a chance to give us feedback about what they think.  Think how much more spiritually grounded we would be if we were as constantly connected with God as seeking His approval as we are with our social media networks.  What if we sent a snapchat to God in prayer as often as we snapchatted with our friends.  What if we posted or tweeted a prayer as often as we do on Facebook or Twitter.  Through solitude, we step away from the world—both our face-to-face interactions with people and our virtual interactions through social media—to focus on interacting only with the God who forms us.  

Jesus, the Son of God, knew the great benefit of going away to be by himself.  At the outset of his ministry, he spent forty days alone in the wilderness fasting and communing with God in prayer.  It prepared him for his three years of public ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection to save the world from sin.

But who has the time (or spiritual fortitude) in our crazy, hectic, and fast-paced world to go away and spend “forty days alone in the wilderness”?  Well, some people do.  There are some who are retired or have the kind of career that would allow an extended spiritual pilgrimage like Jesus took.  It might require a great sacrifice of time and money, but it is possible.  For most, that long a pigrimage is just not practical.  But if not 40 days, how about one weekend.  Most people could manage that.  There are even spiritual retreats like the Walk to Emmaus that are tailored to guiding people into deeper spirituality through study, contemplation, and solitude.  Certainly, everyone could manage one day or or one afternoon of solitude.

We often say we “don’t have time” for alone time with God; usually, the truth is we don’t make time.  We “make time” for the things that are a priority in our life.  Who do you know who was busier than Jesus Christ during the three years of his ministry on earth.  Crowds of needy people followed him all over the countryside begging for food, for healing, for wisdom, for salvation.  There were also those who despised him, who opposed him, who argued with him, who were threatened by him and wanted him dead.  The Gospels often say he was surrounded and pressed by the crowds so that his only way to escape was to get in a boat and flee out across the Sea of Galilee where the crowds couldn’t follow.  And yet still, the Gospels say again and again that Jesus “got up early before everyone else to go spend time alone with God in prayer.”  If the Son of God needed solitude, how is it that we don’t think we need it?

Could you not find a few extra minutes in your day to spend some time alone with God, worrying more about what He thinks of you than your friends on Facebook and Instagram?  This is possible for most of us, but it means we have to be intentional to carve out some private time for us and God and start to change our mindset so we become more interested in what God wants for us than what the world thinks about us.

Romans 12:2 says, "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Above all, we must pray that God would take us in His hands and form us like a Master Potter forms clay.  As we humble ourselves, our flaws are revealed and we lift them up to God to change them to conform more fully to His glory.  For the God who formed Adam from the dust of the earth is still forming people today.  He wants to hold you in His mighty hands and sculpt you into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that reflects His divine image perfectly.  But He won’t force His artistry upon you.  You must open your life to Him and invite His hands to take hold of you.  Will you?

I invite you to take a few moments to go to the Lord privately right now.  I give you this time to be alone with God in solitude to speak to Him and invite Him to form you into His image.

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