I believe I've mentioned on this site before that my prayer life suffers from willful neglect. I say "willful" even though superficially it is "accidental." What I mean is, I don't purposefully say "I'm not going to pray much this week (or at all today)," but I might as well. The end result is the same.
I've also mentioned, in that same previous post I think, that while I don't commit to purposeful times of prayer, I do talk to God all the time. Since high school (that's as far back as I can trace it), I've been directing what psychologists call my "inner monologue" Godward. So I talk to God all the time, and in a very real way, I do believe I pray without ceasing.
But it's not the same as focused, deliberate prayer; it's not the same as, shut out the world and all distractions and be still enough to pray and to listen.

So a couple of weeks or so ago, I told God I wanted to pray more deliberately but that I needed help. In no time at all, I began to receive e-mails and other sorts of indications from friends that were having various types of trouble. I hesitate to be specific, just for the sake of privacy, but most of these folks were dealing most heavily not with the troubling circumstances they found themselves in, but with how those circumstances are affecting them. Doubt, depression, faithlessness, fear, despair. These are big things for mere mortals.

In most cases, I could identify with my friends, and so I have committed to share their burdens, even if just in prayer. I had asked God for help in making my prayer more intentional, and He responded by sending me the burdens of friends to bear. (I even traded prayer burdens with one dear friend, committing to pray for him every day while he did the same for me. In that way, neither of us would feel like we were whining daily to God selfishly about ourselves but we still both were having our cares cast upon God.)

I didn't set this up on purpose, but as I was winding down the few books I wanted to finish before starting the two BIG books I have been planning to read over the summer, I have now ended up with two stragglers -- both are books on prayer.

I'm still struggling with deliberate prayer, but one of my strengths (or one of my faults, depending on how you look at it, or upon how I express it) is loyalty to my friends. I have remained true to praying for these people every day not really because my prayer life has been turned around, but because I don't want to let a friend down! How's that for accidental growth?

One thing I have worked out somewhat is not to get discouraged or distracted when prayer is difficult. Sometimes, especially when one is rusty, it can be hard to pray, hard to sense that the words are making it all the way up to God. There is no automatic relief or exhilaration in the prayers of a prodigal intercessor. But I am beginning to believe that prayer is supposed to be difficult, and that actual strength is found precisely in this difficulty. Perhaps at no other time is my faith more true and strong than when my prayers falter, God appears silent, and yet I keep believing He is there.
It is easy to have faith when all is well and prayer comes easy and God's blessings are raining down unavoidable. But there is strong faith to be found when one keeps trusting even though life is troubled and prayer is hard and God's favor is hard to find.


If you deny others forgiveness, you are denying the presence of the Kingdom of God. Forgiving one another is a sign of the kingdom, and when we do not practice it, or when we practice it begrudgingly, we are expressing distrust in the King and disbelief in His kingdom.

From N.T. Wright's The Lord and His Prayer:
[H]aving received God's forgiveness themselves, they were to practice it amongst themselves. Not to do so would mean they hadn't grasped what was going on. As soon as someone in one of these Jesus-cells refused to forgive a fellow-member, he or she was saying, in effect, "I don't really believe the Kingdom has arrived. I don't think the Forgiveness of Sins has actually occurred." Failure to forgive one another wasn't a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching. It was cutting off the branch you were sitting on. The only reason for being Kingdom-people, for being Jesus' people, was that the forgiveness of sins was happening; so if you didn't live forgiveness, you were denying the very basis of your own new existence.

The two clauses "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" and "thy kingdom come" in the Lord's Prayer are more connected than we realize.

In previous blogospheric discussions on forgiveness, I have had people express the need for the other's repentance before forgiveness can be properly given. I think there is some truth to that, but I fear making my forgiveness of someone so conditional. It smacks of gracelessness. My God saved me "while I was yet a sinner" -- indeed, because of my own personal theology, I don't believe I could have repented of my sins until God first freed me from them. So just as a personal stance, I would think myself an arrogant grace-denier if I denied forgiveness to those who have sinned against me until their level of contrition pleased me.

I want to forgive not because the forgiven "earns" it, but because the kingdom necessitates it.


Inability to Love

From John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted:
“The most serious sign of hurry sickness is a diminished capacity to love. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.”



Sorry for not having posted here in the last week or so. Real life has been very busy, and it is about to get busier. As we all know, busy-ness is not conducive to quietness. This interestingly illustrates one of the ironies of this purposefully quiet space -- if Shizuka Blog is quiet, it is because I am not.
I have quite a few ideas for the site queued up, and have even partially composed a few posts, so once things slow down in real life, I will definitely be back exploring quiet with you here. Thanks for your patience.



During the car ride to church this morning. Me, Macy (4), and Grace (almost 2).

Dada -- Oo, do you smell that skunk?
Macy -- Ew.
Dada -- It's stinky, huh?
Macy -- Why do we need skunks?
Dada -- I don't know. God wanted to make skunks for some reason.
Macy -- Just for some reason?
Dada -- Yep.
Macy -- But why do we need the sun?
Dada -- The sun? God made the sun so that we would have light to see things and so we could be warm and so the plants and trees and flowers can grow. If we didn't have the sun, the whole world would always be dark and we couldn't see. And we'd always be cold. And no pretty plants would grow.
Grace -- Yeah!

This morning, the very first thing said when I got her up out of bed.

Macy -- I just have to give you a smooch, Dada, because I love you.



From an excellent piece by Dallas Willard called "The Key to the Keys to the Kingdom":

What are some practices that will make "the keys" given in response to our faith in Jesus as Messiah effective in our lives as ministers? We strongly need to see the manifest hand of God in what we are and what we do. We need to be sure He is pulling the load, bearing the burden--which we are all too ready to assume is up to us alone. We must understand that He is in charge of the outcome of our efforts, and that the outcome will be good, right. And all of this is encompassed in one biblical term, "Sabbath."

The Sabbath, Jesus said, was made for man. (Mark 2:27) That is, it serves human life in essential ways. Without it, life cannot be what it should be. That is why it is given in the Ten Commandments, at the heart of the moral law. It is not something we have to do because God has arbitrarily required it of us, a pointless hoop He would have us jump through. It is His gift to us. At the same time it makes clear that our life and our ministry is also His gift to us.Sabbath is a way of life. (Heb. 4:3 & 9-11) It sets us free from bondage to our own efforts. Only in this way can we come to the power and joy of a radiant life in ministry, a blessing to all we touch. And yet Sabbath is almost totally absent from the existence of contemporary Christians and their ministers.

What is Sabbath? Biblically, it is a day, once a week, when we do no work. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work." (Ex 20:9-10) It was also a year, once every seven years, when God's covenant people not sow seed, prune vines or store up harvest. (Lev. 25:4-7) And to the question, "How are we going to eat in the seventh year?" God replied: "I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years." (vs. 21)

The moral principle certainly applies as well to our non-agrarian, contemporary life, though our faith will be greatly challenged in working out the details. Very practically, Sabbath is simply "casting your cares upon Him," to find that in actual fact "He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7) It is using of the keys to the kingdom to receive the resources for abundant living and ministering.



When I look up at the stars at night
What could I find beyond the light?
A hundred million worlds that we ignore.
Who can restrain Pleiades
Or know the laws of heavenlies?
How many times have we been wrong before?

-- from the song “Pleiades” by King’s X

I like that I live out where we can see the stars. I like stargazing, but I confess I always have trouble picking out the constellations. I like to think I have a pretty good imagination, but try as I might, I don’t see “figures.” I just see a bunch of stars.
What is seen when people – you and I or anybody else – look at the Church? Do they see a bunch of individual stars, some shining more brightly or dimly than others? Or do they see in all of the stars the shape of a figure?

Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?

-- Job 38.31-33 (NIV)

. . .On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
-- Matthew 16.18b

(The image is of the Pleiades star cluster.)

The Windless Nights of June

Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June;
Forests of green have done complete
The day’s activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon.

Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working place;
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms,
Are good to the newcomer.

Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening,
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
From leaves with all its dove-like pleading
Its logic and its powers.

from “‘Out on the lawn I lie in bed’ (To Geoffrey Hoyland)” by W.H. Auden

The painting, which admittedly does not depict enchanted flowers or forests of green, is West Texas Starry Night by American Plains artist Alice Leese.


Fasting as a Means of Sabbath-Taking

Dallas Willard with some excellent words on fasting as a means of taking the Sabbath and experiencing the kingdom:
"Fasting is another long proven way of finding our way into Sabbath, where we live and do our work from the hand of God. In fasting we abstain from our ordinary food to some significant degree and for some significant length of time. Like solitude and silence, it is not done to impress God or merit favor, nor because there is anything wrong with food. Rather, it is done that we may consciously experience the direct sustenance of God to our body and our whole person. We are using the keys to access the kingdom.

This understanding of fasting is clearly indicated by Jesus in Matt. 4:4 (with its back reference to Deut. 8:2-6) and in John 4:32-34. Fasting is, indeed, feasting. When we have learned well to fast, we will not suffer from it. It will bring strength and joy. We will not be miserable, and so Jesus tells us not to look miserable. (Matt 6:16) Was he suggesting that we fake a condition of joy and sufficiency when we fast? Surely not. He knew that we would "have meat to eat" that others "know not of." I and many others can report that we have repeatedly verified this in experience.

Fasting is one way of seeking and finding the actual kingdom of God present and active in our lives. And because we are then more immersed in the reality of the kingdom, practically utilizing the "keys," our lives take on the character and power of Jesus. This will assure us that our work is his work and that he is working. Though we act, and work hard, it is after all not our battle and the outcome is in his hands."


Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes!
-- 1 Samuel 12.16 (NIV)

One reason why I like (most) abstract paintings is because you actually have to look at them. You can’t just look at it and say, “Oh, it’s a country lane” and walk away as if you have really seen the work. With a good piece of abstract art (and, honestly, some of what goes for abstract is just rubbish), you actually have to look at the thing. There is contemplation, study, analysis involved.

And those tasks involve stillness. One obvious downside to the mass marketing of even classic works of art (I have a Starry Night magnet on my fridge) is that people actually stop looking at them. The cheapening of art fits well with our drive-thru culture.
Some people think we ought not to spend too much time with the mysteries and paradoxes of the Bible. Some people think the study of theology is not worth our time. I think this is largely because it involves disciplines that involve contemplation and analysis. It taxes our brains too much.
And it requires stillness.

We have so-called promise books (I have a few myself, including one right here on my desk) that compile hundreds of individual Scripture verses categorized according to encouraging or “positive” subjects. This is a good thing.
But this sort of one-stop shopping version of Bible study can get out of hand, especially if it becomes symptomatic of our need for instant answers and on-the-go behavior. Promise books are not marketed to still people.

If God has exhaustive future foreknowledge, do I really have free will?
If God is sovereign, how also is man responsible for his own sin?

Those are just two of the more obvious examples of theological conundrums believers have wrestled with for centuries. And there are plenty of folks today who would suggest we should just stop.This space is not designed to argue or debate those or any other theological issue. But I will take this opportunity to affirm the validity – the necessity -- of wrestling with the hard stuff of Scripture. Not just because if the Bible teaches something, we ought to do our best to make as much sense of it as we are able, but also because this contemplation encourages being still.

So much of the Bible can be so confusing. Abstract, even, particularly the poetic and prophetic portions. So let us not pass them by as too hard, too confusing, too demanding like we would an abstract painting in a museum. Let us be still and study. We still may not “figure it out,” but we have at least given it the focused attention the work requires and the contemplative stillness our heart desires.

You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing . . . Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come?
-- Isaiah 42.20,23 (NIV)

(The painting above is of a Musketeer with Pipe. It is by Pablo Picasso.)

Isn't Either

But the wisdom from above is first confusing, then disagreeable, harsh, unyielding, full of anger and irritation, without a trace of acceptance or equity.


This is a drawing Macy did yesterday. It is Dada surrounded by his girls. The fourth girl is Heidi, of course, silly. (The film adaptation with Shirley Temple is one of Macy's new faves.)

One thing I love about Macy's drawings is that the faces are always smiling. And she knows how to draw both sad faces and surprised faces, because I've practiced them with her. But she always chooses happy. That's comforting (and convicting) to me, because I worry sometimes that she sees Frustrated Daddy or Tired Daddy more than she sees Happy Daddy. But her drawings are a great indication of how she sees me. If that rendered smile ever starts to droop, I'll know something is wrong.