Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayer Illuminated

As some of you may know, I recently arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado for training before I leave for Asia. Yes, I'll have about a month between the time I return from Colorado to the time I get on a plane for the Far East. But even after two days here, I'm realizing that these weeks in the Rockies may be the most restful time I'll have in the next year.

This morning all of us here at "X-Track" (the name of our training conference...also the most hardcore sounding name that could be thought of), went on a prayer journey. I know many Christians have been run through one of these in the past. Like a lineman high-stepping through tires at two-a-days or a freshly-enlisted recruit at basic training, we are spiritually run through different stations intended to focus our hearts on the right things and purge ourselves of the wrong things.

Love Jesus, don't love the world. Listen to praise music, don't listen to secular music. Confess your sin, don't keep it hidden. That type of thing. Often times I must admit, I more or less go through the motions, bowing my head at the right times, praying for a portion of the time, before I get distracted by whatever is consuming my thoughts that week. Things like this also normally have several stations that include reading passages several times over and and over, artistic expressions of worship and clever anecdotes of life, sin, forgiveness, redemption, etc.

If you can sense the pessimism in my tone it's because it's normally very present when I try to spend extended time in prayer. I think today was pretty good though.

One of the stations today I thought was particularly helpful. It was something about being washed of sin, made clean before God and realizing His desire to do both of these things for us. There was a bucket of water and a towel on the table with some passages to read through. Because there was something in one of the passages about being a fragrant offering to the LORD, someone had put some sort of fragrant mixture in the water that made it smell like red Kool-Aid, which I thought smelled great.

Unfortunately when I looked down at my hands before immersing them in the basin, I realized how poorly they looked. I bite my nails constantly and have done so since I was a teenager, so they were all uneven, jagged in some places. The palms were cracked as a result of the changes in weather and elevation. Plus, throw in the fact that I had just noticed the pen I was using to journal had exploded and I had unwittingly been smearing ink on my fingers. It was a Crescent State Bank pen, in case you were wondering and were worried about the same thing happening to you.

Anyways, I did as the instructions told me, dipped both hands in the water, rubbed them together a little and then dried them off. Not surprisingly, my fingernails were the same bitten down ones as before, and almost none of the ink had come off.

I certainly didn't look clean. If I was 5 or 6 years old, I wouldn't be allowed to eat dinner like that. But somehow, beyond the ugly appearances, I did feel a new sensation of cleanliness when I dried my hands and rubbed them together. They had been cleansed, even though I knew that it might take a day or two at least for my nails to grow back to a decent length and for the ink to disappear. I could eat fried chicken with hands. I could wash dishes with them. They were once again useful in a way that wouldn't spread an excess of germs.

I think often my life is the opposite. I worry about what I am displaying to people around me rather than if my heart is clean, my motives pure. I am very good at being presentable, but rarely am in a position where people around me see me in a mess, when actually I am clean and pure before God. But its a refreshing feeling.

Jesus explains this situation through the example of a cup that is dirty on the inside, but sparkling on the outside. It is useless for drinking or washing and is relegated as a trophy. He also speaks of tombs that look very nice and are whitewashed, but are containers of death.

I am hoping these questions will be something I can meditate on for a while. Would I be OK if I didn't have it altogether on the outside, but did have a deep relationship with Jesus? Would I want to trade intimacy with Christ for acceptance or honor from men and women? Would it feel like I was dying if I temporarily ignored God's grace and a relationship with Him?

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