My renewed interest in prayer began with knee surgery.
Appropriate, right? But the knee was not a significant subject of my prayers.
Following my surgery I was beat up by a little girl. Three times a week, for three months. These physical therapy sessions stimulated prayers for those I met there. However, PT (aka Pain Time) did not lead me to pray much more or pray much differently.
Graduating from PT, I thought that my old practices of just walking and biking would suffice for maintenance. I was wrong. A year after knee replacement, I was limping again. I thought that maybe I had overdone walking and biking. I prayed with remorse. But remorse is not unusual for my prayers. My habits of prayer still had not changed.
I returned to the doctor and the same little girl physical therapist.
To my relief I learned that I just needed to continue the simple stretches I'd already learned. Plus a couple more, presumably as punishment for substituting my favored exertions. The beatings and recommended stretches worked immediately!
Here's how I came to renew interest in prayer: During a subsequent stretching exercise at home, a question entered my mind
Might I also benefit from stretching in non-athletic ways?
An answer pretty quickly followed.
"Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4
But where to begin? Should I consult a prayer doctor, or what? I dug out my old copy of Richard J Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. Foster examines a dozen classic practices of the Christian life: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study; Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service; Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration. I knew that disciplines and virtues build from each other. I suspected pursuing too many of these at once would hurt more than help. I chose kind of arbitrarily to focus first on prayer.
Before I report on the dismaying yet fruitful experiences in "prayer stretches", let me emphasize this:
"You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve.
This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own.
It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.
God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted
us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are." - Ephesians 2
God is not a vending machine. Improving praying--or service, or worship--must not be an attempt to buy God's favor. He already favors us. Suppose as some do, that progress in prayer is measured by miracles. How is that so different than the rooster who feels his crowing causes the sun to rise? Perhaps with better praying I gain appreciation of God, enjoyment of his creation, empathy for people, or insights and feelings about myself. Positive as these are, ought these be my motives to pray? What are the purposes of prayer?
Studying prayer has been productive for me, but is no substitute for just praying. I ought not delay until I'm good. As Chesterton put it, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." I found that are such things as prayers God doesn't like. Yet as you'll see in a minute, I also found that God is prepared for us to pray poorly, with inferior knowledge and deplorable technique. As we come to pray, we have resources besides prior study.
It's not all up to me. I have--we have--a coach, a helper.
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with
groanings too deep for words." - Romans 8
Paul wrote about half the New Testament. Paul admits that he and other believers know diddly-squat about prayer. "We do not know what to pray for!" Many translations put this, "we don't know how to pray!"
Genuine humility is not a defect. Humility and confession are recommended opening stretches for prayer.
But Paul also has good news. He immediately adds that God's Spirit comes alongside as a helper, a coach, an advocate. Jesus several times says as much of the Spirit:
"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,
to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth,
whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him
nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you
and will be in you." - John 14
I plan to ramble on in several installments about what I've learned so far this year about prayer, how these stretches of my mind, my emotions, and even my muscles are improving my praying. In any case, I hope you will be encouraged to pray, just pray. You are not alone.
I recently had a great conversation with a friend of mine, Brad Barker.
Brad is an extraordinary individual, talented, smart, funny, and has been met with success everywhere he's been.
But maybe his biggest success would be his kids. Brad and Stacey have great kids.
To be sure, this is partly from their superlative genetic stock... but not completely, because child number three is adopted and she is incredible too.
So at least some of this in environment. Well done sir.
We're starting an Online Campus at The Surge and I'm on the hunt for interviews that would be interesting, meaningful and funny. Brad was a logical choice for the first one.
The long form of the interview is here. (click the link to watch)
And here are links to his kids and their recent activity - check them out if you would!
Matthias Barker TikTok
Benjamin Barker SoundCloud (check out These Long, Last Days)
Lily Barker Spotify (singles also on AmazonMusic)
Adapted from: Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible. 1959, Zondervan Publishing House
If you click on the item title, such as Prayer History Begins, a tab opens to the passage in your most recent Bible Gateway translation: the KJV, The Message, La Biblia de las Americas--whichever you last used.
On a computer, if you hover on the scripture reference, such as Gen 4:26, you'll see the initial lines of that reference.
As we get closer to crawling out of the morass of COVID-19, I’ve been thinking about joy.
In that process, I’m reminded that there are magical moments in life where, even in the moment, we realize that we are touching greatness.
Most of us have experienced this, and it’s actually been named. People call it being, “in the zone.” Or special forces call it the “green room.” We’re, even for a moment, completely dialed in, time seems to slow down, and you can execute your task perfectly. For me those moments have been rare, but entirely memorable and they are sources of joy even in remembering.
These have been most common in a venue of performance, either athletically or musically, or in public speaking or teaching. I was engaged in a great conversation with a friend about this dynamic and he rightly pointed out that for the “green room” to happen, there are several components.
1. It involves some measure of physicality.
2. It involves practice, rehearsal, or repetitive motion or activity.
3. It involves a public stage of performance, often accompanied by adrenaline.
4. It involves a special sense of awareness and an altered sense of perception.
5. It involves a feeling of power, where even something complicated feels effortless.
6. It is completely in the moment.
7. It is filled with joy and a ridiculous sense of fun.
There is a level of focus, of connectedness, of rightness that is difficult to communicate… but fortunately most people have experienced this at some point in life. Maybe it was the curve ball that didn’t curve, and time slowed down and you clocked it. Maybe it was the three you hit deep in the game and you knew it was in before you let go of the ball. Maybe it was a musical performance where it felt like you had a silly amount of time to place the 64th note just so. Maybe it was the moment of improv and you saw it, and dropped the line, with perfect comic timing. Maybe it was a near miss car accident where you saw everything and did a series of things exactly right to avoid the collision. Maybe it was a first kiss that was better than it had any right to be.
The difference between professionals and talented amateurs or semi-pros, is that professionals (perhaps intuitively) understand the run-up to this process better than the rest of us do. They get enough sleep the night before. They eat the same thing before the game or the concert. They wear the same socks. Many will have a highly regimented pre-game routine that is all about getting into this mental space. They do these things, not as a guarantee to the “green room” but they do everything they can to make it more likely. And somehow it is more likely. What can feel like superstition is actually participating in their activity at the highest level.
Even normal people can see it when this happens. Michael Jordan gets “that look” on his face and buckle up because something amazing is about to happen. Dave Matthews creates this incredible and musical moment and shares it with us. The orchestra fills the room, the conductor is perfect, the musicians just nail it, and the whole room is transported.
My argument is that this is the framework of joy.
Specifically in the idea that joy can be found in the nexus of things fitting together in exactly the right way in our response to a given situation. The good news is that this isn’t just limited to pros, or performance, which perhaps not everyone participates in. But these elements can also be present in the larger context of life, where routine can seem like drudgery and we don’t always see our day to day activity as rehearsals and run-up to greatness. The other piece of good news is that this kind of joy isn’t particularly dependent on external circumstance. Even in chaos, or in tragedy, we can sometimes find the green room to amazing effect. You don’t have to be able to dunk a basketball to find more joy.
Be intentional, with even the little things, as if they were preparation for a major event.
Invest in the things that are most important, both intimately with significant others and friends, but also with cohorts of activity and larger community.
Be in the moment as much as possible. Reflect, yes and plan, for certain… but don’t fall into the trap of always trading yesterday and tomorrow for today. One of most surprising things in the narrative of the gospels is how very present Jesus was, day to day.
Expect great moments to come. I honestly believe that we were created for these things and it is sacred to be conscious of the hope that longs to manifest.
Be vigilant when the great moment arrives. And enjoy it would you? Savor the perfect meal, the great conversation, the unexpected beauty of a sunrise, the run on the beach, the warmth of the fire with loved ones, the aggressive wet nose of a pet, or sharing the simple joy of finally letting your hair down after a hard day’s work.
And as the Bard says,
“Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life’s key: be cheque’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech.”
(~All's Well that Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1)
Merry Christmas Eve Surgeons!
We are missing spending time with you directly on Christmas Eve, but pray that your holiday will be lovely and bright in spite of the year 2020 has been so far.
We were testing live streaming equipment this week... and wanted to share a few of those things with you, as we learn this new medium from scratch!
The first clip is Karen and E doing Mary Did You Know? (Turns out she DID know per Dwaine... so you can skip that one if you wanted to...) and Oh Holy Night...
This second clip is one of my (E's) favorite things of the year. Karen playing Christmas Music on the harp. I love this girl and the music she brings! So if you're interested, take a few minutes and enjoy some carols from the online socially distanced but still loving space from our rehearsal room in Burke!
Take care and Merry Christmas Everyone!
Leonard Cohen could write a song.
And people who try to cover him have no fear...
My favorite version of this is Jeff Buckley's version, famously used on an episode of "The West Wing" by Aaron Sorkin.
This is another one from our dance band, the Beltway Rockers... but to be fair, I watched Guardians of the Galaxy recently, so it may have been that as well.
Just a great song, and a truly great performance with Gaye and Tammi Terrell... enjoy!
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.