LTP – Last Chapter

kalasToday marks the end of our study of Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas. I feel very blessed to have been led to this in-depth look at prayer and the psalms while isolated due to COVID-19.  As my emotions have run the gamut during this time of heightened stress and unknowns, I have welcomed the reminder that I can (and should) bring all things — exuberance, gratitude, repentance, helplessness, and yes, even anger — to my Lord in complete candor.

I pray that you’ve been blessed in some way from your reading. I’ll continue sharing quotes, book recommendations, and “odds & ends” on this site. God is good, Jesus is King, and the Holy Spirit is at work — I’m always looking for and will try to share evidence of these truths.

In today’s entry, I’d like to simply list a few quotes from Dr. Kalas’s final chapter on anger. Once again, this was a chapter filled with “one-liners” (so to speak) that stopped me in my tracks. A few of these, I’m still lingering over. Longing to Pray will be a book I return to again and again because it carries a message I often need to hear:  God desires relationship with me, and prayer is the language he and I can use to communicate. It doesn’t need to be lofty, polished, or perfect. It just needs to be.

 

From Chapter 12 of Longing to Pray

(FYI:  I added bold print for emphasis in a few places where I thought to myself… “Wow! That’ll preach!” LOL!)

“Anger – because it is so often misused – has gotten a bad name. But anger is essential to human progress…. True, anger is a dangerous power, but less dangerous than supine acquiescence to evil” (100).

“I admit that sometimes the vigor of the psalmist’s anger is more than I can handle. But I’m not in his shoes, nor am I ‘wired up’ as he was…. So while I may be uneasy with the language the psalmist employs, I will try to give him the kind of latitude I might want in some other circumstance. More than that, I will ask that I come to possess the same commitment to justice and righteousness [that led to his anger]” (101-2).

“As readers [of Psalm 139], we see quickly that David feels he is on the side of God in his hating…. But any of us who observe human nature somewhat critically realize that it’s very easy to baptize our prejudices and judgments…. So while the psalmist prays for the victory of good and the destruction of evil, he never forgets his own capacity for evilSearch me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me” (105).

“You and I are miniature battlefields, microcosms of what is going on in the larger world around us. So how do we fight this evil? … We fight by education, by political action, by economic reform, by petitions, and by marching in the streets. And by prayer” (106).

“Prayer deals with matters of life, death, and eternity; it wrestles with hell. So of course it includes expressions of anger against all that violates the will and purposes of God…. I want a God who is angry with all that hurts and destroys, that cheapens and violates. I want to join with God in this battle. I need prayer to do so: prayer that is powerful enough to attack evil at its most subtle and hidden places, and prayer that is humble and perceptive enough to keep my anger in productive restraint” (107).

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Helpless as a Child

I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)

From Longing to Pray:   “This is the essence of the prayer of helplessness. We seek from a base of love, and we solicit power to live. This is a mood born of the nursing infant who clings to the breast in trusting love and draws from it the very strength of life. It is the small boy holding his father’s hand on a crowded street: love and strength. It is a child of God, of whatever age, surrounded by the armies of hell, taking hold of with love the indomitable strength of God. Helplessness as a word may not appeal to us, but as an experience it is universal and lifelong. Perhaps it is even necessary. Without it, we would be incomplete as humans, because we wouldn’t know the full dimensions of friendship, either human or divine.”

Jesus infant
The Virgin of the Veil, Ambrogio Borgognone, 1500

Helplessness

kalasWe’re on Chapter 11 this week of Longing to Pray, and we’ve come to a topic I’m sure we’re all quite familiar with these days:  helplessness. We not only feel it when we read the news and witness others struggling against COVID-19, but we may also feel it within ourselves as we adapt to our “new normal.” But, helplessness is something I’m sure you’ve also experienced at other points in your life. I know I have.

Helplessness can make us feel frustrated, irritable, angry… lonely and sad. Alone.

Dr. Kalas packed several points of insight into his chapter on helplessness, and this week I’ll be writing a little more in-depth about five that stood out to me:

  1. During times of helplessness, we often build close, lifelong friendships that help us discover our full humanity – both human and divine.
  2. We know very little about ourselves – truly – until we see what we are like when backed into a corner or at the end of our rope.
  3. Acknowledging helplessness is one path to humility. We don’t know it all. We can’t do it all. And, that’s okay.
  4. Dr. Kalas makes the argument that God is also helpless at times, but his helplessness is self-imposed. We cry, “Where is God?” and God responds,  “I am here. But the battle is in your hands.” An interesting thought.
  5. Dr. Kalas also asks us to consider that God may not always be on our side in every argument. To some, this will come as a shock! We must admit helplessness and humble ourselves before God. It isn’t wise to make assumptions when it comes to “knowing” God’s will.

If you’ve yet to read Chapter 11, I hope this list of highlights has piqued your interest! Be well this week.  Consider your helplessness, and… contemplate its worth.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

P.S.  Shout out to all the Star Wars fans today.  “May the Fourth Be With You!”

Passionate Faith

Yesterday, we talked about Psalm 51 and the expression of King David’s repentance. But there’s something else mentioned in Chapter 10 of Longing to Pray that I’d ask you to give some thought to:  the passion of our faith. It was David’s passionate faith and love of the Lord that made him pursue repentance and restoration of his relationship with God.

Dr. Kalas asserts that in modern times, “we fail at repentance because our friendship with God has no or little passion. The Scriptures say that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” (86).

“That’s the language of passion…”

Dr. Kalas mentioned a hymn as an example of the passion we should have for our Lord entitled, Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart. I’d never heard this hymn and the complete lyrics weren’t given, so I went in search of what this hymn had to say. Come to find out, the hymn also has an interesting back story:

“The words of this sung prayer are among the most passionate in the history of hymnody….  This masterpiece of Christian devotional poetry is the work of George Croly (1780-1860), an Anglican minister born in Dublin, Ireland, but whose ministry took place in London. It was there that Croly accepted the challenge to reopen in 1835 a church in one of the worst slum areas of the city, one that had been closed for over a century….

“Through personal charisma and dynamic preaching, he attracted large crowds to St. Stephen’s Church. Croly prepared a new hymnal in 1854 for his congregation and published it as Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. [Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart] first appeared in that hymnal under the title “Holiness Desired.” It is the only hymn by Croly to have survived.” (Excerpted from UMC Discipleship Ministries – History of Hymns)

These words written by George Croly have survived over 150 years for a reason. Read them slowly, and let his desire for repentance and the passion of his faith wash over you… like baptismal waters.

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart,
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are,
and make me love you as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.

Did you not bid us love you, God and King,
love you with all our heart and strength and mind?
I see the cross, there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek you and O let me find!

Teach me to feel that you are always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
teach me the patience of unceasing prayer.

Teach me to love you as your angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame:
the fullness of the heaven-descended Dove;
my heart an altar, and your love the flame.

Saying Sorry

kalasThere’s so much to take away from Chapter 10 of Longing to Pray that I hardly know where to start! I do believe it’s important to take a look at Psalm 51 before we go much further, so maybe it’s best to begin there. Psalm 51, where the psalmist feels every bit of the gulf sin has created between him and God, the yearning he feels to repent, but also the assurance he has that says his relationship with God will only be strengthened by openly admitting his sins. This isn’t a time for hiding in shame.

The notation given with Psalm 51 tells us that it was written by King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. David knew the gravity of what he had done, but more importantly, he knew he must admit this sin to God and ask forgiveness… something we tend not to “know” instinctively anymore in the same way David did.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

As Dr. Kalas writes, “Several qualities are no doubt missing from a good deal of religious experience as it is commonly known in our day, but perhaps nothing is more serious than our failure to see the need for repentance…. We have such a limited theology of sin…. We don’t realize that sin, even as we experience it in its most pedestrian forms, is a violation of the very nature of our universe, a universe whose original core is utterly right because it is of God” (86).

But whatever David’s failures and despite all the wrong he had done, his heart still longed for God. The separation created by his sin was too much to leave untouched; something had to be done to repair his relationship with God. David also knew, deep inside, that he could go to the Father no matter what mistakes he had made. And he had to approach God with everything in plain sight in order to fully repent.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

“David counts on God’s ‘steadfast love’ as his assurance that God will hear his prayer and will accept his repentance” (85). It is so important to speak our sorrow at having done something against God. As a friend, we must speak it and ask for forgiveness. “Unconfessed sin, whatever its form – bitter memories, resentments, thoughtless words, moral and ethical betrayals – will eventually stifle the soul unless it is dealt with” (84). And we know that God – in his steadfast love – will draw us nearer as we say, “I’m so, so, so sorry.”

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

“If one cherishes a friendship ultimately, the need to repent is even greater than the need to be forgiven. Something in the soul says, ‘I want desperately for our relationship to be restored; but above all, I want you to know how sorry I am that I have violated our friendship. To forgive is yours; to repent is mine’” (88).

Tuesday of Holy Week

On Sunday, Cory shared a lesson in singing the psalms. I thought of that as I looked over Chapter 7 on specificity in Longing to Pray. Singing scripture and praying in specifics both require one thing most of us currently have a little extra of — time.

Our heavenly Father craves relationship with us, and Holy Week is a reminder of what he was willing to give for that relationship. As you give praise or thanks to God (or talk over your problems, anxieties, and needs), use that extra time you may have. Remember the specificity of the psalmists. And don’t leave out any of the details!

Dr. Kalas writes,

I suspect this dedication to the specific might become tedious to someone whose enthusiasm is not as great as the psalmist’s. Psalm 136 was almost surely sung and/or recited antiphonally, with a leader calling out the theme line and the congregation or choir singing the response, through twenty-six verses…. It isn’t the sort of song that was written for people in a hurry. But neither is it simply a series of repetitions, except for the choral response. Indeed, that’s the sense of the specific…. It isn’t made for lazy worshipers. (p. 60)

And now for Psalm 136

Yes! All 26 verses! No singing just verses 1 and 3 for this Psalm!!! Call up a friend, wrangle a kid or spouse, and read it in the style of a good old fashioned call-and-response. Or if you’re really adventurous… FaceTime several friends and sing it with an alternating lead and chorus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

17 to him who struck down great kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.