“But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.”

1 Corinthians 2:9 (Common English Bible)

Several years ago, my friend, Michael Brown, retired from the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, where he was the senior minister. Retirement implores each of us to examine what we have gathered through our life and forces the decision of what will be retained for a few more years and what will be given away. For Michael, one of the most difficult decisions was what he would do with his professional library—a library built with considerable thought and care over forty years of ministry. Among his large and distinguished collection of books were approximately twenty volumes by Leslie D. Weatherhead, a Methodist pastor of another generation. These volumes had special value for Michael, and he could not simply dispose of them. What he settled upon was asking me if I would add them to my library.

This is not uncommon—passing to our children or dear friends those things that hold rich meaning for us, but we are simply unable to possess any longer. My brother, Wayne, has our mother’s wedding ring and I have my father’s wallet which holds very old pictures of him as a child and of his parents—pictures that were to him of great nostalgic value. Nostalgia is a very natural, deep, and powerful emotion that takes up residence in many of us. The value of nostalgia is that it reminds us from where we come and provides a sense of identity and connection to something much larger than our individual lives. But nostalgia can be dangerous. Nostalgia is dangerous if it entraps us in yesterday; traps us in a yearning to return to the past. By idealizing the past, the present and future begin to grow dim.

The apostle Paul recognizes the potential dangers of nostalgia in these words he writes to the Christians in Corinth; “God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” Though the Bible has a rich regard for remembering the past—particularly God’s mighty acts—God desires that our faith be one that leans forward into the future. Paul seeks to assure the Christians in Corinth that the past, however rich their memories may be, is nothing compared to what is to come. God continues to be present in our lives, as God was present in our past. God continues to create, as God created in the past. Therefore, the practice of our faith is to lean forward, not backward as some caught in nostalgia are apt to do.

Today there are frightened and insecure people. They don’t know what the future holds. They cannot grasp the future, cannot see the future. The result is that they cannot manage or manipulate the future. Largely beyond their control, they fear the unknown. At its core, that is what original sin is, that great teaching of the church that is simply the desire to go through life on our own. Fiercely independent, we may love God, but we don’t want to trust God with the navigation of our lives. That belongs to us, or so we wish it would be. The result is fear, fear of what unknown circumstances, health challenges, and loss of loved ones will bring. Paul asks that we let go of our grasp of the future and trust it to God once again. For God does know the future. What is now hidden from us has been prepared for us by God.



The Fear of Insignificance

Jesus told them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”’”

Luke 11:2

Whether anything happens in prayer largely depends upon what kind of person we are. Many of us want to live a life of significance—a life that impacts our world in a large or small way. Such a life is rarely achieved without preparation, hard work, and the perseverance to move forward in the midst of challenges and difficulties. The road to significance is often hard. Yet, to recall a well-spoken line of wisdom from a movie some years ago, A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great!” The question is one of orientation. Some seek to define for themselves what significance looks like and then move toward that vision. Others seek to know God’s will and then move toward that.

Regardless of our beginning place—fashioning our own desired future or seeking God’s future for us—we want to take full advantage of the years we are given on this earth. Robert Cohn, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, comments to his friend, “‘Listen Jake,’ he leaned forward on the bar. ‘Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?’[1] Urgency has grasped Robert Cohn. Urgency grasps us. Looking back, we make a judgment, an evaluation of where we have come. Life is going by and the question presses, “Are we taking full advantage of it? Are we making a difference?”

If we are the kind of person that lives as we please, as we have fashioned our future, our aspirations, and our will, then the prayers we make will lack power. Prayers are rarely made unless our plans get into a snarl. That is the occasion we pray. We ask God to get us out of it; God is reduced to our celestial office assistant. Then we move forward with our own small plans. We remain unchanged. Ignoring God for a long time until our plans become jammed up is a little different from being a grasping child. The child asks the parent for unreasonable and selfish things. The parent may give what the child asks on occasion when it seems there is no other way to communicate love. But, as the child matures, parents help the child to think reasonably.

Those who seek to find God’s mind and will experience greater power in prayer. Principally, such persons pray because they love God and God’s will. Prayer is a communion between two who seek increasingly to know the other, to please the other. We pay close attention to a spouse or a dear friend to learn about them and to know what they like and dislike. Then we turn the orientation of our life over to causing the other joy. Loving and caring for the other is not separated from life. It becomes our way of life. In the final analysis, prayer implies a conversion, a new orientation to live not solely for oneself but for the other. It is a decision to turn our will over to the will of God. There, our lives find their significance.


[1] Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises,18.


Our Failure With Prayer

“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”

Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

A little boy once explained to his minister that he didn’t say his prayers every night because “some nights I don’t want anything.” Many of us are like that little boy. Our view of prayer is a limited one, reduced to asking God for something. Certainly, Jesus invited us to take our request to God in prayer. But that is not all Jesus taught—or demonstrated in his own life—about the subject of prayer. The consequence of an inadequate understanding of prayer is felt in our own lack of spiritual power. We are troubled by doubt, and by fear, and by a sense of weakness to make any real difference in a world of brokenness and need. We miss much of the strength God would provide us through a more expansive understanding—and practice—of prayer.

In this teaching from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just finished a hard, demanding day meeting the needs of numerous people. Another awaited him. How could Jesus be ready for it? The answer is right here in this one sentence of Scripture; “Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Conspicuously absent is any record of the content of Jesus’ prayer. In other prayers that Jesus offered, we are told the substance of the prayer. Perhaps the most familiar prayer is the one Jesus offered the night he was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and placed on trial during the night. It is a prayer that is familiar because we have offered it so often ourselves: “Take this suffering from me.” But here, in this account of Jesus at prayer, we are not allowed in on the conversation. All we know is that Jesus got up early in the morning to be alone with God.

This little verse teaches more about prayer than most realize. Rather than distract us with the actual dialog between Jesus and God, we are left only with the fact that it was important to Jesus to be alone with God. Before another day of ministry, before another day of addressing the great need of the world, Jesus addressed his own need to be alone with God. Regular time alone with God was the source of Jesus’ incredible spiritual power. Here, Jesus teaches us that prayer is more than our formal presentation to God of our various needs. Prayer is a demonstration of a life that is lived with God. Our failure with prayer is that we have reduced prayer to asking rather than understanding that prayer is a real and vital relationship with the divine.

Mark has one additional insight on the wisdom of prayer before we leave this story. Moving the narrative quickly along, we are told that Simon and the other disciples tracked Jesus down, told Jesus that other people, with their various needs, have gathered looking for Jesus, and that Jesus surprises the disciples by announcing that he is going in the other direction. What is apparent is that time alone with God in prayer supplied Jesus with more than spiritual power. Prayer infused Jesus with fresh clarity and focus upon God’s intention for Jesus. Jesus was now to go to the nearby villages so that he may preach there also. “That’s why I’ve come,” Jesus declared. It is easy to respond to the “asks” of those around us, people asking us to meet their needs. It is the greater wisdom to discern God’s intention for us, in prayer, and to respond faithfully.



Audacious Prayer

“Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.”

Hebrews 4:16 (Common English Bible)

A simple story, that is repeated often each day throughout the world, is that of a father seated in his home, reading a book, a magazine, or a newspaper. A young son enters the room and climbs-up into his father’s lap. The father, with a warm heart, asks, “Well, what can I do for you?” “Nothing,” replies the son. “I just want to be with you.” Prayer may be many things. Yet, in the final analysis, prayer – true prayer – is not the utterance of words, nor the advance of desires, but the desire to be with God. Prayer is not a formal, religious exercise or a vocal performance before others. It is deeper than that. Prayer is spiritual communion with the creator of heaven and earth. From beginning to end, prayer’s aim is to experience the presence, affirmation, and love of one greater and stronger than us. To know we are safe in their arms.

The Book of Hebrews teaches us that access to God is only possible through Jesus. Prayer will not prevail without the Son of God who made possible the removal of the veil that separated us from the holy throne of God. John Calvin, an early leader of the Christian faith, asserts that prayer is fundamentally acknowledging the continuing intercession of Jesus Christ.[i] Jesus must go with us as we draw near the “throne of favor”, the seat of almighty God. Without Jesus we remain shut out from the living God. As Jesus taught us in The Lord’s Prayer, prayer must always begin with the acknowledgement that we come to a holy, sacred place, “uphold the holiness of your name” (Matthew 6:9) We must not forget this. Therefore, when we pray, we come not only before a heavenly Father, but we also come into a royal place of power.

If we come to a throne, our posture must be that of deep reverence. Continuing today is the demonstration of respect and reverence as world leaders come before a king or queen – reverence demonstrated by a simple bow. It may be a bow of the head or a bow from the waist. Yet, what is expected is that any approach before royalty is accompanied by homage and honor. In the instance of prayer, the royal one we approach is the highest of all royalty, the King of Kings, says the prophet, Isaiah. Thomas Long, a wise interpreter of scripture, writes that sometimes contemporary Christians, schooled on a tame and domesticated picture of God, forget the sheer audaciousness of human beings daring to approach the holy, and thus we engage in prayer with all the casual nonchalance of ordering at a fast-food restaurant.[ii]

Though we come before “the throne of favor” with humility and reverence, we do come before a throne. Small change found in the sofa and left-over crumbs are not dispensed in a place of royalty. More, we are present before God at God’s invitation; we a called God’s children. That knowledge removes any hesitancy to ask God for anything. That knowledge also removes any expectation that all we can hope for are small favors – small coins or breadcrumbs. God’s invitation suggests that we are to appear with enlarged expectations! Yet, beware of imagining that God’s thoughts are our thoughts or that God’s ways are our ways. Ask for great things because you stand before a great God. But always pray as Jesus prayed, “let it be what you want.” (Matthew 26:42)


[i] Karl Barth, Prayer: 50th Anniversary Edition (Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002) xiii.

[ii] Thomas G. Long: Hebrews: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997) 64.