Thursday, October 21, 2010

Searching for Things I Don't Really Want to Find

I've been reading a book called How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life, by Dr. Gregory Frizzell, and while reading about types of prayer yesterday, I was particularly struck by what he said about confession in prayer. Confession is definitely not a topic we like to talk about--I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to want to hide my faults, not openly admit them. We spend so much time presenting our 'best side' to others that I think we automatically try to do the same thing to God, as if we could keep Him from noticing all the sin in our life if we just put on a good front!

Psalm 66: 18 says, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." That means that if you want an effective prayer life, if you want to know your prayers are being answered, you must confess those sins and turn from them!!

But, how exactly do we go about "confessing our sins?" I don't mean how do we confess something; I mean how do we make sure we're really admitting everything we NEED to admit?
I'm gonna be brutally honest here...I'm so good at hiding my sins from others, that I sometimes hide it from myself, as well. And this is where Dr. Frizzell's statements really struck me: he says, "Far too many believers ask God to search their heart and then give Him about ten seconds to do it!" Yep, that would be's not pretty, but there it is. And I don't think I'm alone in this.

When my kids were little...oh, who am I kidding? They're nearly 18 and 20 now, and they haven't changed. They ask me if I know where something is: "Have you seen my belt?"; "Are we out of mayo?"; "Where's the hammer, and maybe a blowtorch?" Okay, that last one would prompt some serious questions of my own...
Let's take the case of the missing belt: I'll tell them I think I saw it in their bedroom. About ten seconds later they come back: "I still can't find it." STILL?!? You spent all of five seconds hunting for walked into the room, stood in the middle and glanced about. Maybe if you were desperate for the lost object, you actually picked up one or two items on the floor before reaching the conclusion that it's just nowhere to be found.
Then I start making them really THINK about it. When's the last time you know you HAD the belt? What pants were you wearing at the time? Have you found those pants?...they HATE having to actually backtrack and think things through like that, but nine times out of ten, these few minutes of recollection result in the successful discovery of the lost object.

This oft-repeated hunt for lost items in my house is what I immediately thought about when I read these words from Dr. Frizzell: "Friend, you couldn't search a cluttered room by a brief, casual glance any more than your heart could be searched by a ten-second examination."

Ouch. Truth hurts. He went on to say that the sad truth is, the way many believers practice confession is that we ask God, " 'is there anything wrong with my life? anything I need to change?' After a quick, ten-second pause, we then say, 'I guess not, now let me give you my prayer list.' "

The truth is, I'm afraid it's often even worse than that. We pray, "And God, forgive me for all the ways I fail you," or words to that effect, and we don't even bother to stop and ask OURSELVES what all those 'ways' are, never mind asking God what they are.

But there's another problem with 'confession' too--we sometimes have the idea that God is just waiting to beat us over the head with our failures, but in fact God wants us to confess in order to FREE us from the weight of guilt and failure.
Dr. Frizzell says "Consistent confession and cleansing represent the primary ways we grow and become conformed to the image of Christ." That is a very important reminder to me--God doesn't want us to confess so that He can remind us of what failures we are; He wants us to confess and repent so that He can "continue the work He started" in us, making us more like Christ. He also wants us to confess to Him, so that we are reminded that it is by His Grace that we are saved and found righteous, NOT by our works. But Unconfessed sin leaves the door wide open for satan's attacks--He loves to use those unconfessed sins against us, to make us feel like failures, "unworthy" of God's love and forgiveness.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Potato Salad Worship

My father was the cook in our family, and a pretty amazing one, too. Dad did all the shopping and nearly all the cooking, although Mom would occasionally fix a meal when she felt like it. She was an excellent cook as well, but my dad just really enjoyed it, and Mom enjoyed letting him. Dad had also been a cook in the army, and so he was properly trained to prepare meals for our family of three teenage boys, two girls and the inevitable assortment of friends who quickly discovered they would much rather stick around OUR house for dinner than to go home!

My dad was also an inordinately calm, gentle man. I don't recall ever hearing him yell, at anyone...and this was a man with FIVE children!! Mom yelled enough to make up the difference, so we did get our fair share of parental outrage.
Dad did, however, have a bit of a passive-aggressive streak in him. Perhaps more than a bit, sometimes.

One summer evening, my aunts and probably an uncle and assorted cousins, were visiting. Dad declared he was going to go start dinner, and, in response to someone wondering what we were going to have, mentioned that he was making, among other things, potato salad.

Everyone just loved Dad's potato salad, and there were several comments of delighted anticipation and remarks about how wonderful his potato salad was. Then one of my aunts said, "but could you maybe leave out the eggs? I don't really like eggs." Dad replied, "sure." Then my other aunt piped in: "oh, and also don't put any celery in it; I just don't like the crunchy texture in my potato salad." Dad again nodded and probably gave his stock, "very good" response.
So then my mother decides to take advantage of the opportunity and said, "well, as long as you're taking requests, how about not putting quite as much mayonnaise in it as you usually do?"

Dad nodded again, sure, no problem...and headed off to the kitchen. Flash forward an hour or two and dinner is ready. My sister and I have set the table and put all the food out in serving dishes. Everyone is called to the dinner table, and then Dad comes in with one more, very large bowl, and sets it in the middle of the table. We all sit down, and someone finally gets up the nerve to ask, "Dad, why did you put an empty bowl on the table?"

Dad's response: "Oh, that's what's left of the potato salad, after I took out everything you all didn't want."

I thought about that story this past week, and then today I was talking to someone about our worship experience during church (or lack thereof, at times) and I was reminded again of this story, and was struck by the analogy of that empty bowl of "potato salad" and our sometimes empty "bowl" of worship.

See, we say we LOVE God. We delight in Him, we worship Him...or so we claim. But I fear that God sometimes feels like my dad must have felt about his potato salad...unappreciated, unwanted.
Just as my aunts and Mom declared they "loved" Dad's potato salad, but then started to critique it and eliminate all the parts that weren't quite to their "liking," do we not sometimes come to church, tell God we "love" Him, but then start to "pick and choose" our worship service selections?
To God, I imagine our Sunday morning "worship" sometimes sounds like this:
"Now, Lord, you know I LOVE You, and I'm here to worship You. BUT...I'd just as soon not sing this slow, dragging song...or this new, unfamiliar song...or this song that is too much like "rock"...and I'd just as soon not have to actually THINK about what I'm singing.
And Lord, you know, it's a little too cold in here for my liking...or it's a little too hot. Plus, Lord, my pew-mate just can't carry a tune, and it's very distracting, you know.
Oh, and could I just leave off all that smiling and greeting people...all that acting glad to be here stuff, because the truth is, I kinda need to be thinking about what I'm gonna eat for lunch.
Oh, and while we're at it, Lord, I'm not especially fond of listening to that pastor go on and on...could we maybe not use quite so much "sermon" in our worship service?"

And on and on we go, and pretty soon, all we're really left with is a great big Empty Bowl of "Worship." And just like that empty bowl Dad set on the table for us, our big empty bowl of worship, is, frankly, just not very satisfying. It's....well, it's Empty. It's tasteless. It's not nourishing. It's not filling. And it's certainly NOT Worship.

Worship is not supposed to be about US, and what WE want. It's about praising God for Who He is, focusing all our attention, all our heart and soul on HIM...and when we really get that, and fully participate in real worship...well, it's more satisfying than the best potato salad ever made!

1 Chronicles 16: 29: "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness."