How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

How can I journal my prayers?: The Warm-Up

What is prayer journaling? What is involved? How does it look? What do I do?
Perhaps you find yourself asking these questions. And these are good questions to ask. In fact, when my wife first recommended journaling my prayers I had no idea where to begin. So I set out to find out how! I read different blogs, a few books, and a couple of articles on the web. What I came to find out is that there is no one set way to prayer journal.
At first this disappointed me. I am of a practical nature, and when someone informs me of something that will help I really want a step-by-step list of things to do. So when I saw a variety of ways to engage in prayer journaling, I was not thrilled, to say the least.
However, after spending some time searching for the way that called to me, I found that writing it out in a typical journal format was the best. Since then I have toyed with a few other ways, but I always return to, what I call, the traditional way.
To begin with, let me suggest a few things. If you are interested in prayer journaling, it might be helpful to do the following (this is not exhaustive or a list to be completed in any particular order, so if you are like me, I’m sorry!):
  • Do some soul searching:What makes you you? What causes you joy, sadness? Why do you get out of bed every morning (or evening, if you work overnight)? Some practical suggestions are taking a personality profile. Here is a website that offers a fun, basic personality profile. Spend time, and I mean thorough time, learning about you. When you begin to learn about yourself, how you react and interact, then you can begin to narrow down what type of journaling in which you may be inclined to engage. For example, I am introverted. When I am around a lot of people I get exhausted! I like to think, to contemplate. I enjoy crafting a thought and then writing it down in a journal. The same applies to my prayers. I spend time thinking of what I am going to say to God.

    What makes you you? Finding you is a great place to start on your prayer journaling journey.

    For others who are artistically gifted, art may be the avenue in which they pray. If they need strength for a difficult time, painting a picture of a field with a rock while meditating and praying to the God who is their rock may prove to be helpful. The bottom line is to find out who you are and then proceed to the type of journaling. I’d also recommend taking an Emotional Quotient test and a multiple intelligence test.

  • Find out what method is better suited for you:When you are looking for a certain prayer journaling method, it is important to find one that is best suited to you. I’ve already mentioned discovering the youness of you, so that should be a factor. With that being said, people are at different stages of life. A college student can do things that a married mom with four kids and a job cannot. A stay-at-home dad may be able to spend more time engaged in his method, while the executive wife has little time. So, what stage of life are you at? What is the freest part of your day? Do you have access to a physical journal? Will you use electronic means?
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    Will you use a traditional journal? A laptop? Or a canvas? The possibilities are boundless.

    Do you have the ability to write? Or do you prefer painting? Not only should the specifics of the journal and the means of journaling come into examination, but also the time. What does your life best equip you for? Does your career demand work regardless of time? Do you maintain a 9-5 job? Learning the best time to journal is as important as journaling itself. Being consistent is the key to helping you in your walk as well as deepening your perception of God.

  • In the initial stages, utilize several different methods for certain periods of time:Begin by finding two or three methods. Research them, explore them, read about how different people do different things. And then set up a time to try them out. Be realistic here, because if you determine to use a certain method for a year you may never branch off and find anything new! Perhaps two weeks would be a good place to start. After you understand the basics of the method, then begin practicing that for two weeks. Avoid the temptation to jump back and forth. Stick with one long enough to where you can work out your own kinks and also get an honest evaluation. If at the end of that period you don’t like any of them, find some new ones!
  • When you truly start, go all in:Once you have found your method, go all in! The time to play it safe is over. It’s the third period (that is a hockey reference, in case you did not know!) with a minute left of play and your chance to bag the game and head home in victory. Now, does this mean that you determine to spend seven hours a day journaling your prayers to God? Well, probably not. Of course you may have that free time, in which case, more power to you! But if you are like the average individual, your time is limited. Once you find your method, that extension of you, then go all in! For example, I love the traditional way of journaling. I’ll share the practical aspects of that soon, but one of the elements I love about journaling is its artistic nature. I love calligraphy, I love drawing.
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    I love felt-tip pens. There is something aesthetically pleasing when writing with one.

    I love the old world: leather-bound books, verbose works, and beautiful handwriting. So I use a leather-bound journal, I have a felt-tip pen (thanks Mrs. Burnside!), and I love crafting the beauty of the written language as I create a prayer to God and an extension of myself. If drawing your prayers is your preference, then get quality materials for the art. Make it a beautiful extension of your soul to God’s.

Imagine the training required for a marathon. A lady trains for months, years, to take on that arduous task. Training, nutrition, proper sleep all play into the success or failure. In a similar way, the ground work for prayer journaling is more important. Our goal is to connect with God on an ever-increasing, intimate way. Like a crazy person, we could just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. And like a crazy person we would fail. Just as a marathoner spends time in preparation, so you and I need to put in the work of learning who we are, what methods are appealing, how they look practically, and then when to run the marathon. Once you’ve reached this point, your prayer life will change.
What about you? What have you found helpful on your own journey in prayer journaling?

 

Why Should I journal my prayers? Benefits of Prayer Journaling 

Prayer Journaling, as I mentioned in a previous post, completely transformed my prayer life. But how? What are the benefits?

Certainly, prayer journaling is not for everyone. However, I (and others) have found it to be immensely helpful. Here is a small sampling of the benefits I personally found. I’d love to hear yours! Please comment below!

  • It helped with my consistency.

    I am somewhat disciplined. I have consistently worked out since I was eighteen. And when I say consistently, I mean consistently. One year I recorded the temperatures of the room in which I worked out. The high for that year was 118° and the low was 18°. I even woke up early on Christmas morning to get my workout in! With that being said, I struggled with prayer. But as I began to journal my prayers, I began to look forward to it more and more. There is something about writing a letter to God, focusing my thoughts into a meaningful conversation with him. And the desire increased the more I journaled.
  • It helped with my actual prayers.

    A fellow blogger mentioned that journaling helped her not be so repetitive. I couldn’t agree more! When I began prayer journaling, my prayers became more focused. No longer did “Father”, “Lord”, “please help so and so…”, fill my prayers. Now my prayers are focused. They are well-thought out. They are precise. And I love it.

    My prayers are precise. And I love it.

  • It helped with my closeness with God.

    I don’t know if others have found this to be true, but there is, for me, a certain reverence when writing to God. I feel his presence, that calm, still, small voice, right there with me. It is always quiet, as I tend to wake up early to spend time with him.

  • It helps focus my thoughts.

    Sometimes my mind wanders! I know, surprise! This affliction besets us all, I am sure. But prayer journaling has relieved me of the stress and worry of, “What did I say last?” Instead, a brief look down at my journal is all it takes. I see where I last left off, and pick it right up. It’s like a written bookmark of my soul as it is being poured out to God.

  • It provides encouragement for the future.aaron-burden-90144

    Whenever I look back at some of my older journals, I am always encouraged. My prayers become more focused overtime. My walk with God deepens, and I feel a closeness the longer I spend time with him. Whenever I remember a problem I faced, I return to that period in my journals. I am always excited. I saw God work in that time, and now, with that knowledge, I can look forward to what he has ahead.

I ask again, how has prayer journaling helped you? May God sweetly guide you on this journey!

“How is God present?” A Great Question for Parents and Guardians and Student Ministers

I have written a blog about the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus prior to this post. But the more I read this book, the more I am just impressed with the philosophy of Mark Yaconelli. The following is a section where he encourages student ministers (parents, guardians, etc.) to simply ask students, “How is God present?”

One way in which we can help in our discipleship is to ask questions. Jesus loved asking people questions. It is a great way to engage in conversations that are natural and reveal the actual thoughts and feelings of an individual.

The simple question, “How is God present?” is a great way to help students begin to look for and acknowledge him in their everyday lives.

Mark Yaconelli, in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry, gives four reasons why this is so helpful.

  1. “First, I’m reminding them that God is present and available.”

    This gives the students the reminder that God is actually with us (as the name Emmanuel is defined) and that He is intimately interested in our lives. Whether it is a soccer match, volunteering at the rescue mission, or simply taking a walk down the street, God is with us.

  2. “Second, the question also communicates that youth have the capacity to notice God.”

What an incredible thought! Your student has the capacity to notice God. This is the Creator we are talking about. The one that said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Sometimes adults can give off the impression that students cannot understand God and the awesome privilege we have to relate to Him. By asking that simple question we affirm our belief that they have the ability to see God at work in their lives.

  1. “Third, I am helping them reflect on their real-life theologies and religious biases.”

    I’ll use Mark’s words to describe this one. He writes, “When I ask a young person, ‘How is God present in this moment?’ she may respond, ‘I don’t think God has anything to do with my school; God is just about praying and church.’ To ask youth to notice God is to invite them to reflect on their beliefs concerning God’s relationship to the world.’

  2. “Finally, when I ask young people to notice the Holy Spirit in their midst, I’m helping them develop their sensitivity to God.”

And what better goal as those to whom God has gifted us with the training and rearing of these wonderful students, than to help them ‘develop their sensitivity to God’? This is, and should be, our heart beat, to draw the hearts of our students to a deep love of our Father.
I am praying for you, as you have the most influence, the most time, and the most potential, that God would open your eyes to the many opportunities we have to point our students to ‘the Name’, as the Jewish people call Him.

Lectio Divina: A Wonderful Experience

“Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, spiritual practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth.” [Griffth and Groome, 2012]

That is how the editors Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome begin their section on ‘The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practices’. In my recent reading of the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus author Mark Yaconelli writes about “two basic, traditional forms of contemplative prayer to parents and people who minister with young people: lectio divina and centering prayer.” [Yaconelli, 2006] The practice known as lectio divina is of great spiritual value to those who can mine its wealth. Certainly there is wisdom in approaching this carefully, weighing each thought and prayer in balance with the Scriptures. Having that as an understanding, let us move into the practical benefits of lectio divina and the methods.

Yaconelli defines lectio divina as “holy reading”. [Yaconelli, 2006] There is a brief mention of this practice in Scripture (see Acts 8.26-39), and Schneiders describes it as “a rich practice of biblical spirituality of transformative engagement with the Word.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012]

Schneiders continues, “Lectio divina is a four-step process that begins with the slow, leisurely, attentive reading (lectio) and rereading of a biblical text. Often the text is committed to memory in the process. By internalizing the text in its verbal form, one passes on to a rumination or meditation on scripture bear witness to both the spiritual depth and the imaginative breadth to which the process could lead.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012] Schneiders description is brief, and unfortunately does not provide much practical advice.

This is where Yaconelli comes in handy. He provides a five-step method which I shall reproduce for you.

  • Preparation- find a passage of Scripture that can be meditated, contemplated, mined for its wealth. Set the ambiance, light a candle, place a cross or crucifix before you. Use bread and wine. breadwine-63ed983aThese are all symbols (and there are much more) that can bring to mind a thousand thoughts and accounts from Scripture.
  • Silence- Yaconelli recommends finding a quiet place in which you can communicate with God without noise or distraction. The Psalmist recommends being still (Psalm 46.10 uses a word that denotes a complete cessation of activity), so this is the first step.peaceful-place-park
  • Reading- This one seems to stand without saying, but lectio divina requires reading. This reading is different than our normal reading. Sometimes we read for information, other times for leisure. But for this we are “seeking to be with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006] So a short Psalm, a few verses in an epistle work perfectly.
  • Meditation- This step allows the truth of the Scripture to speak through the Holy Spirit about your life, your thoughts, your successes, your failures, you.
  • Oration- This is where you begin to speak to God, you thank Him, beg Him for help. “Honestly express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires in a dialogue with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006]
  • Contemplation- I love how Yaconelli describes this last step. “Finally, allow yourself to simply rest in God, like a child resting in her mother’s lap.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

There is a mystical beauty in this practice. Sometimes it may be hard, especially for our western, fact-based thinking. But I close with the story he offers as a magnificent description of lectio divina.

“My wife and I dated in college before the days of e-mail. During the summers, when we were apart, we would write letters to each other. I still remember the excitement of running to the mailbox after each workday, hoping to see a letter with my name written in Jill’s handwriting. Each time I received a letter from my beloved, I would run down to my room, close the door, and then slowly pore over her words. When I read a letter from Jill, it was very different from other forms of reading. I wasn’t seeking to catch up on the news as much as I was seeking to experience Jill. I was seeking to meet her in her letters, to receive her love, to feel her presence and be with her in some way.” [Yaconelli, 2006]