Spiritual Greed

Greed starts in the heart and then it grows

when I get what I want, but don’t let it go.

When my hands are full…

Whom can I carry?

What cross can I bear?

When my mind is full…

To whom can I listen?

Whose cries will I hear?

When my spirit is full

of light…

How could it be hidden?

How can it not be shared

without the seed of greed

bursting out of the depths?

Empty my hands so I may have all.

Empty my heart so it may be full.

Empty my soul so you may draw me closer:

We are closer to God when closer to a brother,

empty of me, and filled with another.


Thought Leaves

My thoughts fall from a full tree

This autumnal majesty 

Such august vignette in October 

Sturdy oak leaves midair flip over

As a boy I bundle them to my soul

Piled high, jumping higher, sideways roll 

And I stand and sneeze, 

head filled with leafy allergies

And else comes in on god’s breeze.

Always fun until it’s happened

Tree flakes bagged up, mind gets trapped in

And taken to yon by the dawn’s soon rising 

To be chanced upon at some time surprising 


A Cross I Do Not Bear

A warning on this poem: it’s not easy to read. Or at least, given how difficult it was to write, I would assume it would be so to read. This is a real look at depression, especially for a Christian. There are questions asked that aren’t quite answered, but there are answers. Feel free to talk about your reaction to it in the comments section.



There is a cross I do not bear, a rip in the cloth that threatens to tear my seams apart.

I try to get smart, but what I think I know

I don’t; my mind

feeds me lines from the handbook of

Purposeless Suffering

Purposefully shuttering my heart from you.

I am cold, and you are fire, yet the logic of my brain says stay away:

“You’ll just bring further pain to her life,

You black hole. You life-sucking worm.”


Depression doesn’t teach you to distrust the shade.

It says the shade is what’s real, and the light is a lie.

The cave is where we go to kneel, and succumb to suicide below

the god of needless darkness, where we all get to be part of this

endless cycle of impotence, never able to cross the fence from sickness to sanity;

I got up once and ran with these

ideas of self-improvement

which left me in a room with nothing

but the devil and I was alone.

A stone

unturned and unseen by Christians daily: was it me, or did they fail me?

I was this close to putting hope in a sturdy rope of intertwined aspirations I didn’t live up to.

What’s a man got to do to be heard? You didn’t listen.

Not even close.


Where would I be without two good friends and one good family

Who saw in me what I desperately tried to say but couldn’t. I didn’t need the answer

to the question I spoke

but to the one I choked on that never came out

until You listened for the millionth time to me say, “Tomorrow, I’ll be okay,”

and provided the Heimlich to help me vomit out

my heart, which looked back at me black and bleeding and blaming

and its pulsing eyes crying the tears of a beaten young boy who became broken

left with nothing but a token faith in a God who wouldn’t leave me alone; I couldn’t shake Him.

He pulled my face underwater, farther and farther, and just when I thought I’d drown

He kept me down. What the hell’s in my head? I didn’t bring it to God to be fed; now it’s grown

deadly and familiar: I’m a soul-consuming monster who’s ready to take you down from the living

to the dead

all the while whispering from the very back of my head

where I kept myself

“I’m sorry.”

“I can’t help it.”



God has said, “I’ll never leave you.”

God has said, “My God, why you have forsaken me?”

Which is it today? When God I find taken away from my being and I’m left kneeling in the dark

at 4:00am

crying out to one who didn’t deliver. Where was my salvation when I needed it the most?

Where did Truth

come in when all I had constructed was an intellectual noose

that had me swinging between the gods of


and liberality

missing my center every time in this pendulum of dying, yet fighting,

vigorously trying to plunge myself into non-being

with a life which is not my own, bought with a price higher than my own

to bring healing to a little soul which has lost its way home

in the forest–

a new moon–

unfamiliar roots–

a promise of coming soon…always soon. But not now.

But not now.

Am I there yet?

Are we there yet?



Demon of depression, what are you truly? What is your form and essence, where is your home?

Yesterday I feared its name was Garrett, but today I’m trying my best to stare it

down to where it belongs. But I can’t do it alone, because alone

is where you go to die when you’ve nothing in your life. Are you alone? Come home! I’m here…

soon, almost now. You hear my footsteps, my child. Take another breath

and another…

and another…

one after the other…

heart beats…

and pumps again…

there is blood in my arms once again, up from the floor. Though depression

creeps through the door, there is a community of the saints

which moves me towards the sane.

There is a wife, a mother, a father, friends, who’d give all for my moment’s joy

and count it joy, my brothers,

to trade their energy for mine, to trade their time so that I

can know I am loved by them truly

have it demonstrated and proved me.

There is a darkness which stretches onward, beyond sight and beyond hope,

And every day is a choice between

the road of the rope

and the road of the cross,

between the daily suicide for my own sake,

or the daily martyrdom for Jesus’ sake,

between dying to final death

and dying to final life;

Isn’t it funny that how to live is in all in how to die?

It’s more than just a trying; it’s a giving everything, a relying on Christ

who does not fail–

did not fail me–

I was too blind at that time to see

like now I see

that I never truly considered suicide all thanks to the God who went up on that tree

for me

and hung there for hours. Went down lifeless, without power, to the hell

I’ve been through and more.

And all for the sake of his poor little lost souls, who need to find their way back home.

Are we there yet?




Here’s a hand; give me yours. Here is Christ; here’s his post.

Here’s resurrection; here you’re free. Give all to him; you need not speak.

He understands. He’s come for you.

There is a Church within the church:

his body that stays true:

we have hands for you

to lift you up, to drink your cup

of suffering and darkness, together fighting that darkness

every day fighting that darkness

and God forgive me if I ever look my sister, my brother in the eye when they

cry out


for help, and walk away. I’m done running. I’m here to be the one to bear

with you

that black and bloody pummeling…

that scare of death’s wind: that hurricane of gentle temptations

to concede that life is moving from one terrible station

to the next, to the next, the immanent weight of every word of the billion, million

unstoppable, impossible

too-easily believed streams of tattered thought-leaves in your tired and wasted mind;

the eternal, sandpaper, snail-paced time falling


so heavy,

upon your uncovered neck…

if I can…but keep in mind, I’m trying, too.

Are we home yet? Have you come back yet?




Are we home yet? Are you coming soon?

So close. Life is a breath away, always one more breath away,

just keep breathing,

keep that heart beating,

and you’ll be home before you know. They say Christ is close.

Always almost…



What is Life?

Luke 20:38 “Now, he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.” (Jesus of Nazareth)

To live before you, O Lord, is to live fully. Even in quiet and solitude, however rare, life bursts forth from me. Just as peace is always a battle, so I strive to be still and abide in you. You are unlimited Existence. I knew not how little life I had until you drew me near, but now, O Lord, I will never have enough and I rejoice at the thought! Our greatest joy is that in your infinite being we may always find more than what we expected, and are satisfied fully in every moment we drink of this living water. Your gifts are received not in passivity, but in activity, as the very imperative to be more alive, more full, and our souls obey. For who can choose in his mind to cease to exist? If my body dies, I die not, for before you I cannot help but live. In you, life is joy.

For existence is activity: we cannot, by force of will and choice, cease existence, nor can Nothing choose to be. We exist, and we were born into this world, like with most things, beyond our choice. How do You bestow existence upon these lifeless nothings? For apart from you there is neither life nor form, neither activity nor anything to receive your power. So we may say that you create that which is even now receiving existence: to receive God’s power of natural life is to actively and interminably exist. I exist, and therefore I am upheld by your eternal choice. How incredible is life itself! Receiving life is not passivity on our part, but activity. Such is the power of God that what he creates in turn creates by necessity. His creation begets creation in a smaller, but significant manner. we are not so inert as our own “creations.”

What can stand before You and not live? Even our sweetest rest is the active choice of prioritizing our play and our meditation over all else in our lives. And so, I pray unceasingly: not so that I might find simple rest or distraction, but so that I may engage life more fully, to be active in every moment, every conversation, drive, kiss, relationship, logical connection, scientific endeavor, every cup of coffee I drink. To pray is to stand before the face of God; to stand before God is to live.

But even further, to live is Christ and to die in Christ is a living mockery of death! Apart from Christ, we seek distraction: a passivity of soul, where we become more dead than alive. We seek death and court her. We run form Him who instill this power of running, this universe in which to run, and this very life where we seek distraction and death. If we are to live the full life, then, let our deadness die and be damned, and let us take hold of Christ and cling to him whose life has no end, nor defect, nor limitation. I fwe seek life, let us choose it wholeheartedly and stop the miserable half steps! For this life is of God, is a part of God himself which he offers to us by his natural love and anew in Christ that we might eat of Him and have his death and life become our life forever, O Lord! Let me be joyful and no longer compromise my relationship to you.

For we are not so much in a relationship to you as an equal, but O Creator Eternal, we are a relationship to You whose fullest mode or manner is Christ. Christ is a manner in which to relate to all, to the All in All. It is a mode where the self dies for the sake of God and others, and thereby becomes alive itself. Christ is a life of joy in the middle of this world’s obsession with dying: the drugs, the idolatry, the entertainment, the ISIS and Nazis, the abuse of body and soul, the death and murder of children–into all of this Christ walks as he went into the Very Nothingness and says forever, “Let there be light!”

And we go, too, sharing in such a life that others find what life they lacked in us–that is, in God whose existence we now share by the mode of Christ-life. We have life insofar as we have Christ’s life. Can there be any other choice?

All that is not Christ…though choosing Christ is to die and suffer, but in a way which itself defeats death and is itself life…All that is not Christ is a weak suicide, an attempt to die a little at a time with as much numbing entertainment as we can obtain. But our life is not our own. Therefore, our suicide is never a return to Nothing, but an eternal self-torture–it is to taste the same Hell now we will again choose later. Hell is the mode of life which both must live and must die simultaneously; it is a self tearing-apart, neither fullness of life, nor fullness of death, only fullness of sorrow, pride, spite, jealousy, malice, greed, and above all, ignorance of its own lack of life, its own lack of God, its own lack of Christ.

Who will save us from this body of Death? Where does our help come from? We must cry out to a God nearer to ourselves than are we, at that very point where he is bestowing existence even now, creating our very acting being. If we truly seek life, O my God, help us to seek You. For where else can we go? Who else holds the truth that is life itself?


To Be Salt

Matthew 5:13a “You are the salt of the earth…”

To be salt

is to be so different

it’s good; your food 

needs salt, and your children

need you — they all do. 

But not you — someone different,

so different it’s a mercy;

tersely speaking your own deeds,

generously jumping into one another’s

needs — it feeds

the soul to be

lower than the low,

forgotten but never forgetting:

love – faith – joy –

things so different they hurt —

and then


Prayer, Part 4: Faithful Prayer in the Absence of God


God, then us.

In meditating on prayer, we have gone through an enormous sweep from Prayer as response to who God is, to what God’s done, and to what God’s doing in us right now. Our prayers and our lives must be understood as responses to the reality of God and God’s grand narrative which began with the universe, climaxed in the advent of Christ, and is leading into a mysterious, but holy and joyous Kingdom made up of God’s faithful people. Apart from the story, our lives and our actions (or even and especially the gospel) become mere facts abstracted from their deepest meaning and therefore from their deepest power. A short man with hairy feet tossing a ring away is not the same as Frodo casting the ring with Gollum hanging on into the volcano of Mount Doom, destroying the dark kingdom of Sauron and bringing peace and freedom to the whole world. (The Lord of the Rings is, after all, a very Christian story, while also being the most popular novel of the 20th century by some polls.)

But what happens when we don’t sense God’s presence? Could it be that we go weeks, months or even years without the sense of God which helps to make our prayers confident? We will look briefly at the writings of Mother Teresa and Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), both of whom are known to have experienced a deep feeling of God’s absence. We will launch from the response of these two people into Jesus Christ’s own response to this feeling, and offer a short meditation on how we can be faithful despite absence, and even how this faithfulness leads to an unshakable faith and a life which “is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither,” rather than a life which “the wind blows away” (Psalm 1).

If I ever become a Saint–I will surely be one of “darkness.” I will continually be absent from Heaven–to light the light of those in darkness on earth. –Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”–Jesus Christ of Nazareth

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night while they say to me, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul?…Hope in God, for I will again give him thanks for the saving acts of his presence… –Psalm 42:1-5

God’s Absence

Even a cursory glance through the Psalms will reveal just how often David and the other Psalmists felt intense anguish at the apparent absence of God. If this experience was normative for a “man after God’s own heart,” then we should not be surprised if it fits the pattern of our spiritual lives as well.

Emptiness in general is perhaps the most ubiquitous experience of human life. Proof of this is found most simply in the Western world by going to the Amazon website and browsing through the millions of items offered as fulfilling for our needs, even when we know a thing will never satisfy us for more than a moment. What we seek, whether consciously or not, is love; specifically, the love of God. Our soul’s hunger and emptiness are infinite, and attempting to fill our hearts with anything else–even the love of a person or many people–will eventually lead to an even further emptiness or frustration and probably the destruction of those finite relationships which could never fully satisfy.

But why, if God is the ultimate and infinite satisfaction for our emptiness, does God not always make himself so tangibly present? Why does he not simply satisfy our whole desire now? Before we get to these questions, we need to explore two other sources of tangible emptiness: pride and ignorance. These lead to an emptiness which is nothing to do with God, but everything to do with us.

Has God Forgotten Me?

A thing’s value is determined by what someone will do for it. The truest measure of value is what God thinks of it and is willing to do for it. Whether we feel undervalued and forgotten by God or we feel no need for God at all, our thoughts and feelings do not determine the truth. Faith does not accept feelings as perfect indicators of the truth, but rather holds on to the truth despite the feelings. This is called faithfulness.

So, what is the value of humanity? What is my value? The Psalmist puts this question directly to God in Psalm 8: “What is man that you remember him? What is the son of man that you care for him?” Compared to the splendor of the universe, or especially to God himself, we are very small indeed. We have already seen in our previous meditations that within this Story of Everything we are not even the main focus: God is. But the Psalmist continues: “Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and honor.” Without God we would be of no particular value; we would only be lucky dust which over time evolved to become a human, though a mitigated and irrational human. Instead, with God, it would be more apt to say we are blessed dust, dust raised through time to become God’s crowned achievement.

We see this even more poignantly in the cross of Christ. God, in Jesus Christ, was willing to give up all rights to true glory and honor in order to become a human: the divine and the human coexisting in one person. This Jesus fulfilled the law, which he summarized as loving God with your whole being and then loving others as yourself (in this particular order of importance). He then died brutally in order to secure the redemption of a lost humanity, suffering the physical and spiritual judgment of our sins, and conquering even our death through the resurrection. On Sunday, the high school director of my church spoke to the whole congregation. His son had prayed one night simply for God to give him a hug. He turned to his son and explained that, in Christ, God was always giving us a hug.

If we forget this in prayer, we will be subject to both types of pride: thinking too much of ourselves apart from God, or thinking too little of ourselves despite what God has said and done. Humility is accepting both parts as true, and as the Catholic Catechism states with the brevity of Aquinas, “Humility is the foundation of prayer.”

In Jesus, God is always hugging us. If this sounds too childish for you, remember Jesus’ saying that “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Have I Forgotten God?

Some have a sense of the divine without formal or intimate knowledge of the true God. Some simply do not appear to know God at all, either through faith, sense or reason. Some, knowing God, take the promise of his presence to mean that they only need occasionally to turn to God and yet the relationship will somehow not be diminished in any way. I have been all of these people, presuming upon God’s goodness and wrongly taking advantage of that goodness to satisfy an infinite hunger with temporary and occasional experiences of God, rather than abiding in God’s presence wholly.

Abusing God’s gift of Christ and his constant nearness to us through the neglect of prayer, loving service, and worship and through failing to gather as the Church in your community will lead to emptiness. There is no exception here. Daniel prayed three times each day and more when times were stressful. Paul tells us to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God, which is our “reasonable worship” or service. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we must not neglect our duty to gather as the Church. Jesus Christ himself tells us to pick up our cross daily and follow him, and that if we love him, we will follow his commands: commands which range from loving God to serving the poorest of the poor, from declaring Christ to the world to denying ourselves. Peter even tells us that through engaging these commands and promises of God, we may be “partakers of the divine nature,” not in that we become God in essence, but in that everything we do and are we are energized, not by our own desires and power, but by God’s desires and power in us.

Now, if we find ourselves empty, but not through our neglect, ignorance of Christ, or pride, we can then ask the further question: why does God not make himself continually felt?

Spiritual Adulthood

John of the Cross

Our relationship with God through faith is just that: a relationship. It is not static, but dynamic. Though God never changes in his nature and character, we are changing constantly. God meets us in this change by continually giving us what we truly need in order to bring us to maturity in Christ. While God wants our faith and desire for him to be like the simple trust and single desire of a child, he does not want us to serve him, know him or enjoy him like children: God wants us to be adults, firmly rooted and unwavering through a faith that has been tested and remained faithful over time. In all of this, God brings us to maturity so that we can more fully know and enjoy him, just as two adults can know and love each other in ways far deeper, more stable, and more complex than two children can or should attempt to.

In the Dark Night of the Soul, the sixteenth century Spanish monk known as John of the Cross describes a type of purgation of the senses and soul by which God begins to bring a person on the path to spiritual maturity. The book is actually further commentary on a poem he wrote while he was kept imprisoned and tortured for nine months. He, like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, looks at the beginning of a person’s spiritual life in Christ as a time comparable to the birth of a newborn. God keeps his new child close at all times and feeds him a kind of spiritual milk; everything is a delight. Prayer is easy, worship is enjoyable, love abounds.

However, while everything feels wonderful to the new Christian, John writes, he actual harbors a great number of vices. “Sensory pleasure and desire, even in spiritual experience, obscures and obstructs the spirit,” says John. “Vexation makes us see how, through the blessing of this dark, dry night of contemplation, God supernaturally imparts his divine wisdom to an empty and unburdened soul.”

He reads in the story of Job the story of every faithful Christian. There is the beginning when all is wonderful in the service of God, followed by a time when God seems to draw away and the believer is left with a choice: continue to follow a God who seems to have abandoned you but in whom you find all your hope and joy, or go your own way and attempt to construct some meaning and happiness without God. However, even though Job’s pride at times gets the better of him, he does keep his faith in God. At the end, after God “stripped Job naked and left him on a dunghill, vunerable and persecuted by his friends,” God, the one “who lifts the poor man from his dunghill, was pleased to come down and speak to him face-to-face. This is when God revealed to Job the depths and heights of his wisdom, which he had never done in the time of Job’s prosperity.”

There comes a time for every Christian when God must stand the Christian on his or her own feet and walk away, even though he is always with us. God does this so that we can learn to reach out for God at a higher level, one where our worship and love no longer depend on our feelings or desires, but seeks God for who he is.

It is a more perfect love that desires the lover because of who that lover is rather than the love which seeks the lover for the good feelings the lover brings. That is a love which will not, cannot, run away in bad times or in good times. It is a love which will remain and grow stronger even when the world falls apart. This is the love God offers us in Christ, but it must be worked through suffering to become perfect, just as silver and gold are put in the fire to take out any impurities. God is desiring a pure and holy people because it is just that pure and holy people who can and will experience God’s love to the fullest extent, no longer distorted by the sin we cling to.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa wrote in a personal letter:

“Do not think my spiritual life is strewn with roses–that is the flower which I hardly ever find on my way. Quite the contrary, I have more often as my companion ‘darkness.’ And when the night becomes very thick–and it seems to me as if I will end up in hell–then I simply offer myself to Jesus.”

In her regular communication with Archbiship Perier, she pleads after years of this type of void and inner, spiritual pain, “Please pray for me, that it may please God to lift this darkness from my soul for only a few days. For sometimes the agony of desolation is so great and at the same time the longing for the Absent One so deep, that the only prayer which I can still say is–Sacred Heart of Jesus I trust in Thee…”

When Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, declares that, contrary to our thinking, “blessed are those who mourn,” he is not primarily referring to those who mourn for people they lose. Mourning is a sign of the soul’s discontent; in a spiritual sense, it is a discontent that arises from the difference between the the soul’s real state as desolate and inept and its simultaneous desire to be holy as God is holy. It corresponds with another of the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” where the desire for God’s holiness becomes primary to the point that the purely material concerns and addictions of this world become unimportant to us. The reason Mother Teresa first went into the poorest places of India, and lived for the most part in just as much poverty, was that she saw a spiritual need, and met the physical needs of the people because those people were indeed precious to God and would find their happiness in knowing and loving God.

This type of mourning is seen in her statement to Perier, “I want to say to you something, but I do not know how to express it. I am longing with a painful longing to be all for God, to be holy in such a way that Jesus can live His life to the full in me…I want to love him as he has not been loved [before].”

Thus, when we turn to that inner darkness that was often with her, there seems to be more than a literal significance to her statement that,

“When I walk through the slums or enter the dark holes–there Our Lord is always present.”

Here we see something utterly Christological in its deepest meaning. Before he died, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (A quotation of Psalm 22.) In that moment, the human nature of Jesus felt utterly abandoned and humbled beyond his ability to bear it. It is perhaps the most human thing Jesus ever said.

Some have argued that at that moment, because of Jesus’ taking our sin upon himself, God the Father somehow rejected Jesus and the relationship (or communion) between them was broken. Regardless of the problems this theory poses for Trinitarian theology, Mother Teresa, it seems, would say exactly the opposite: that it takes incredible suffering to bring God to people, but in that suffering God is not less active, but the more active; that there is a vast difference between what one feels and what one knows to be objectively happening. In that moment, we see that Jesus was faithful even when it felt like even God had left him. And that faithfulness led to our salvation and the opening up of the promise of salvation to everyone.

Thus, there is something Christ-like in praying even when we feel vacant, desolate, or that God is absent. In the depths of abandonment, Jesus quoted the Psalms, i.e. he quoted God’s own words back to God, even though he was God. The Psalms very often deal with these feelings, but always point the heart to God as the One who is faithfulness and joy Himself. By grace, we can be faithful as He is faithful, because we can share in that very life of Christ through His Spirit. As Peter Kreeft said in a lecture on the topic, this is Blessedness, something far more profound than the modern idea of Happiness. It is a state of being, a type of person, rather than a feeling or something which happens to us. It is the state in which we can trust God for our joy even when everything and everyone we treasured seems to turn against us, when even God seems to be absent.

But He is not. God is never absent. By holding to this conviction, we are brought by God up from crawling to standing on our feet. We never need to search for suffering in this world; it comes continually of its own accord. But we can learn to stop running from it and instead transform it as Christ transformed it: through faithful prayer that led to faithful action. That is a life with Christ in mind; it is a life lived for others. It is a life free from bondage to feelings, a type of freedom that should be more precious to American Christians now than ever before.

The greatest evangelism is this: to be found full of continual joy (blessedness, not contentment) in the midst of suffering, because that is a supernatural state whose only reason and cause can be God.

Wrapping Up

I hope you do not think this is something I have achieved. What I have stated is foremost what I observe in the lives of those who have persevered. While I find it all sometimes frightening, nonetheless their lives are somehow incredibly free and powerful. I want what they have, which means I need to want what they want most: God. This isn’t something I can do alone, just like you cannot do it alone. We need each other as Christian brothers and sisters; we need the Church, its history and lives; we need Jesus Christ, in the words of Scripture and His present, resurrected life; we need God’s grace, a grace which is given all the more abundantly in prayer.

Here we have the power to live no longer bound to feelings. Just as an alcoholic can never enjoy wine, so when we are addicted to feelings we cannot truly enjoy them. But, paradoxically, when we are free from them, our feelings become all the more enjoyable. We can rejoice anew at the gifts God has given, is giving, and will give, and more than anything else look forward with a renewed anticipation of that coming day when we “will see Him as He is,” knowing and loving God in his presence as never before.

Prayer, Part 3: Responding to What God’s Doing in Us


God, then us.

So far, we’ve seen prayer as a response to both who God is and what he has done. God’s previousness, in both our creation and the possibility of our salvation, is paramount to understanding ourselves and to creating the right heart, or spirit, out of which we can most effectively launch into prayer. Now, we want to go further to see how, in Prayer, we are responding to God’s current regenerative and sanctifying activity within us, and how that extends beyond us individually to whole communities.

If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation.—John Owen

A minister may fill his pews, his communion role, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.—John Owen

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God. (Philippians 2:12, 13 NET)

God at Work in the Individual

How do we pray? I do not mean as a technique, in order to master the art of prayer, but rather, how is prayer possible? In the original statement on prayer, we said that Prayer was made possible and successful by God. In experience, then, we find that God is effecting, even creating, a desire for what is good and giving us power to do it (Philippians 2, above). Humanity is not only very small within the Story of Everything, of which we have spoken, but also fallen; this gravely restricts our ability to ascertain what it is that is good, and, not only this, but, disconnected from God, we are unable to do any works which could merit salvation or be regenerative (Romans 3; Ephesians 2). Therefore, if prayer is communion with God, defined as being-in-God or living within his presence in a regenerative relationship, then it is the most fundamentally good thing we can do; everything afterwards is set right out if this relationship to God. “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6).

But, if prayer is the most fundamentally good thing, out of which we find all of our sanity, sanctification and energy for good (because we are connected to the Most Good), then that means as disconnected beings we cannot make prayer effective on our own, nor even seek it on our own. So when we find the desire to pray, we understand that there is a power in us which is greater than us at work.

Prayer is fundamentally opposed to the mindset of this world because it seeks above all else that which is not itself. It continually denies the self in search of the one priceless pearl. It is Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha is busy doing a thousand other things. Jesus’ rebuke to Martha that Mary has chosen the one, best thing in seeking Jesus did not mean that he criticized Martha for been busy per se, but rather that without Jesus, that’s all it is: busyness. It was constant motion and action without any true understanding of its meaning and without relation to the One who can make our actions good, worthwhile, helpful, fruitful and fulfilling.

Our small part in prayer is not to strain so that our prayer will be heard, because God is always present to us, but strain so that we might live continually in God’s presence. It is a continual assent to God’s continual work in order to share continually in perfect communion with him, with all the manifold blessings which this brings. Of course, regardless of whether we assent to God’s working in us, he works faithfully (and previously) all the same, because he will bring to maturity that which he has begun (Psalm 138, Philippians 1:6). Of this we need have no doubt.

But by a lack of prayerful assent to God’s work in us–the work that leads to repentance and transformation of our hearts and minds (Romans 2:4, 12:1-2)–we lose the manifold blessings and blessedness which are to be found by being in willing subjection to God. This subjection is not part of an arbitrary power play, but is an acceptance of our human reality as contingent upon the Absolute.

The blessedness we lose is exactly the blessedness talked about by Jesus in Matthew 5. The Greek word translated “blessed” is sometimes mistranslated “happy” in English texts. “Happy” comes from the earlier English word “hap,” from which we get the word “happen.” “Happy” is something that happens to you by chance, not a result of who you are. But the Greeks thought of it entirely differently. One could not be “blessed” without first being a good person. One could not experience joy without enduring the rigors of virtue. Thus, while one cannot be wrong about being “happy,” one can certainly be mistaken about being “blessed.” You can find an excellent lecture on the difference and the meaning of the beatitudes from the great, and humorous, Peter Kreeft for free here.

Jesus taught that true joy was not to be found in money, popularity, sex, power, being accepted, being loved, or even survival, but instead in being poor, not just literally but spiritually as well; it is to be found in those who are hungry for God, those who deny any sort of competition with others and instead are peacemakers, and even those who are ridiculed constantly for the sake of the truth, among several others (Matthew 5:1-12). Thus to be happy, we must be holy. There is no disconnect.

We will not attain true virtue, and thus fail to attain joy, without prayer. The two are intimately connected in the Bible, and in all of ancient thought. But this is what God brings about in us and for us, but not without us. We must “strain to enter the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24) and work out our salvation, all the while knowing it is God who is producing the desire and ability. Prayer is necessary in our lives, but it is also impossible without God. The good news is that God has provided a way, through faith in Jesus Christ, to know that our prayers are heard and made powerful by God.

God at Work in the Community

When we accept Christ, we thereby accept Christ’s people just as immediately (Rom 12; Ephesians 2:12-22). We are part of his Holy Church, which Christ himself is purifying by the washing in the Word (Ephesians 5) and which the Spirit is also purifying by burning away that which is dead and refining that which is good. As we have seen, God has sent this holy community into the world in order to manifest His image through conforming our imperfect image to Christ’s perfect and holy beauty. By the Spirit, Christ’s declaration of the Kingdom of God is being worked out in the renewed lives of the faithful, those who are faithfully praying and living out the life which God is working in them.

We are to be known by our love. God’s faithfulness is made real and wonderful to this lost and dead world when Christians are faithful to speak and act in love towards the weakest members of society onward up to the very leaders of this world. This is the extension of God’s grace we explored previously, extended from God into the believer, and through the disciple into the world. It is the truest meaning of being in the image of God, of being his ambassador to the universe. We saw that this was humanity’s purpose in the Story of Everything which God inaugurated as related in Genesis 1.

God’s love, which is his strength and power, is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and our love must mirror Christ’s love, which poured itself out for the sake of us who were opposed to it (Philippians 2). Christ counted his own life as nothing for the sake of the whole world and denied himself any rights to power and glory so that many might share in his glory by his sacrifice and new life.

We see and respond to the faithfulness of God in our communities through love and by prayerfully seeking out where we are to be active in that love within our communities, all in order to overturn this world’s order through faithful, self-sacrificing love. In this way, a darkened world is given glimpses of God’s Kingdom. Through prayer, our communities continually bring to remembrance the plan of God’s salvation, and are thereby more equipped to effectively communicate it in unity, through the various gifts of each member of the community.

Prayer as a world changing activity begins with each individual, but we will neither be unified in the love of God nor will we change the world unless we are regularly praying together. Prayer begins at home in secret, but it is also the power of the church and of every church group to announce Christ to the world. To change the world as Christ did and does still, we must love the world; to love the world, we must deny ourselves and pray for the world. “Pray without ceasing,” says Paul.

Where Prayer Leads

Prayer as Response leads to a working out of all of this–the virtues, hope, love, joy and unity–in our lives, from our intellects into our hearts, or wills. While this working out is primarily spiritual, such spiritual blessedness and transformation as is given by God in his grace transforms not only our spiritual lives, but also our intellectual, volitional, emotional and social being; in effect, it changes everything we are into that which God intends for us to be: the God-proclaiming, holy, blessed, joyful, self-sacrificing and unified people who love God as God, and love people by pointing in all words and actions towards God in Christ. This is what begins in a regular prayer life.

What begins in prayer never ends at the end of the prayer, but is carried by God’s grace into our whole lives, the whole life of our community, and into the whole of the world. Prayer needs strong legs, and a strong back. Prayer is work, but it is the best work any of us can do.

Next, we will look at Prayer as not only a response, but a faithful response to God’s faithfulness, even when he feels wholly absent.

I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ Psalm 16:2

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:1-2