Prayer Is (Still) More Than a Hashtag

Prayer Is the Power of Being Heard

This was originally published in July 2016, but in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, earthquakes in Mexico, violence in Catalonia, and devastation in Puerto Rico, I offer it again.

Why Prayer is (Still) More Than a Hashtag

By Beth Demme

girl_praying_beth_demme

In the wake of recent tragedies, I’ve seen a lot of #Prayfor____. I’ve seen the hashtags criticized, too.

I get it. It’s not enough to pray for something if prayer is a way of avoiding responsibility or giving only lip service. It’s not enough to pray if you expect God to change a mindset or fix a problem without getting you personally involved. I agree, in those cases, #Prayfor____ rings hollow.

But I also see that we #Prayfor____ because we are crying out to the God who is Love. (1 John 4:8[Twitter Link] We acknowledge how much we need God to help us through this maddening, confusing, scary time.

Sometimes I pray because I don’t know what else to do, but I believe God does. [Twitter Link] It might sound crazy or naïve to you, but I believe God interacts in this world, and that makes #Prayfor____ meaningful, even powerful.

Each time I pray, important things happen within me.

First, I get to experience what I affectionately describe as my sixth sense – a sense of peace that can come only from the wholeness and goodness of God. Second, and I say this a lot, I am reminded that I am not God.

Although I don’t actually think I am God, there are times my actions suggest otherwise. Sometimes I act like I’m in charge, of everyone and everything. Sometimes I talk as if I am responsible for the choices and decisions other people make. Worse, I sometimes get stuck in my own self-sufficiency; I think and speak as if I don’t need God.

The only one who doesn’t need God is God, and I’m not clear on how that works theologically.

Even a quick prayer before a meal reinforces my non-god-ness. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge that while I bought the groceries and cooked the food myself, God still had a lot to do with the creation of the meal (weather, nature, etc.) and with me having a place to prepare and eat it.

God’s Unlimited Plan

God Won't Run Out of Mercy For You

Gods_Unlimited_Plan_Img

You Are On God’s Unlimited Plan

By Beth Demme

Have you ever run out of something? Maybe your car ran out of gas? Maybe you were baking and you didn’t have that cup of sugar you needed? Perhaps, like my teenage son, you’ve run out of data for your cell phone?

It happens. We run out of things.

Do you ever worry that God is going to run out of grace? That maybe God has reserved only so much for you and you will, eventually, reach the end of it?

Well, don’t worry. You’re on God’s Unlimited Plan.

The Verizon unlimited plan is good, but God’s is even better.

This is illustrated in many Bible stories, but I think we especially see it in the story of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land (the land God promised to Abraham many generations before the Exodus (Genesis 12:1-7)).

The Israelites are released from Egypt after God sends ten plagues.

On the journey, the Israelites worried again, and again, that God’s mercy had run out. But, no, it never did. God kept showing up.

The Israelites complained about being slaves. (Exodus  3:7-8)
God took care of it. (Exodus 12:51)

They complained about the Egyptian army following them. (Exodus 14:10)
God took care of it. (Exodus 14:19-28)

The Reason You Don’t Feel Forgiven

It's the Cost of Unforgiveness

unforgiven_img

The Reason You Don’t Feel Forgiven

By Beth Demme

Every Sunday in church we join together and pray “The Lord’s Prayer.” To someone who is skeptical about church, this might seem a little cultish. I get it. Anytime a group of people says something in unison it’s tempting to assume they don’t mean it. And maybe some people don’t. But I have to say that this prayer still means a lot to me, even though I have prayed it hundreds and hundreds of times.

One of the things that might seem especially strange to the skeptic is the part of the prayer when we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It can sound like we’re asking God for a quid pro quo, tit for tat, kind of forgiveness. It might seem like we’re asking God to count how many times we have forgiven so that precise amount of forgiveness can be applied to us.

That isn’t what’s happening; this isn’t a math equation.

This line of the prayer reflects the reality when we withhold forgiveness, we don’t feel forgiven.

In forgiving us, God puts relationship above justice. That’s hard for us because we live in a retributive justice system based on punishment and repayment. God says repayment isn’t possible—everything we have is from God already. Imagine if you loaned your neighbor $20 and a week later she said, “Can I borrow $20? I need it to pay you back for last week.” If you have a great sense of humor and an especially generous spirit, you might give her the second $20, but you probably won’t feel like you have been repaid, right? So, if we did owe God a debt (a theological concept with which I struggle), we would never be able to repay it.

When it comes to forgiveness, I think we want it to be a debtor system.

Resurrection is Everywhere

And I Need It

resurrection_forest_img

Why I Need Resurrection

By Beth Demme

On a recent Spiritual Retreat, I was walking through the forest and I was struck by how resurrection was everywhere. I associate resurrection with Springtime, but it’s only the end of summer now, just about to edge into fall. Everywhere I looked I saw new life growing out of the old. I saw fallen trees give life to green vines. I saw decayed mulch give life to green sprouts. I listened to the birds sing and the crickets chirp, each note bringing its own kind of life to the air.

I felt surrounded by life in the midst of decay.

The troubling thing about resurrection is that it requires death. We don’t like to see things—good things—end, do we? And yet, sometimes they have to end so that something even more vibrant and vital can grow.

I’m learning there are parts of me that need to die to make way for resurrection. In fact, this is always part of a spiritual adventure. John Wesley described it as Sanctification. We are growing and maturing in our ability to live as Jesus lived. We are constantly on a journey to have our inner thoughts and our outward behavior align with God’s will.

The death part of resurrection can be scary because it feels unknown. And yet, we don’t have to be afraid.

I love Psalm 139, I’ve read it and prayed it many times. I prayed it as I walked the forest the other day and a pair of verses I had always glossed over struck me in a new way.

What if the Cross Is Really About Solidarity?

The Suffering of God in Solidarity With Us

cross_solidarity_suffering

What if the Cross Really Is About Suffering?

By Beth Demme

Is there an image of Jesus that makes you uncomfortable? I’m thinking in particular about a crucifix I once saw in Nicaragua. It was sculpted and constructed in such a way that I felt I could almost hear Jesus moaning. The way the blood flowed from the nail holes, how his feet were stacked, and especially how his hair seemed matted down by dirt, sweat, and blood made for a compelling, but gruesome, image.

I used to think these images were constructed to inflict a sense of guilt, but I don’t see it that way anymore.

Now I see that images like this offer a sense of consolation. That gruesome crucifix in Nicaragua communicates to the people who visit Iglesia San Francisco that Jesus is with them in their suffering.

What at first seemed to me to glorify suffering in order to put people down, actually communicates solidarity with the hope of lifting people up.

The crucifix didn’t change, my understanding changed. Maybe my need for compassion changed or my underlying understanding of how deeply I need God changed.

It Is Safe to Let Go

#ThreeSteps: Step Forth

let go img

It Is Safe to Let Go

By Beth Demme

Sacrifice. It’s an unpopular concept. I know it can be a stumbling block for people, even people of faith. I know it has been a stumbling block for me.

In the letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Eeeew. Sacrifice my body?

No, Paul isn’t calling for human sacrifice. In Paul’s day, Jewish people did offer animal sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul wasn’t seeking to reform that system and replace it with human sacrifice. Instead, Paul encourages us to be completely devoted to God with our whole lives.

Paul says we should sacrifice what we want for ourselves and substitute God’s will for our own.

This might sound sort of awful. Almost as awful as human sacrifice. But not if we understand the core truth at the heart of Paul’s teaching and at the heart of all Christianity: God loves you.

Paul knows that sacrifice is never for God’s benefit, it is for our own benefit.

Step Toward Others in Love

Even If They Hate You For It

toward

Step Toward Others in Love, Even If They Hate You For It

By Beth Demme

I was going to title this, “Why I’m Choosing Sides and Praying for Nazis,” but I was afraid you wouldn’t read it. I am, however, choosing a side.

I choose humanity.

And I am praying for the Nazis, White Supremacists, Alt-Right, and all those who spew hatred and who want to divide our country. I pray the hatred within them is erased. I pray their hardened hearts will be softened. I pray God will take the pain they’ve been taught to inflict, and thrive on, and render it powerless.

I pray for them with a sense of sympathy and sadness, knowing they’ve allowed themselves to be manipulated.

The lie they’ve been told is an old, old lie.

Maybe it’s more accurate to call it a set of lies. The first lie is that the world is made up of two groups, “us” and “them.” The second lie is that if they have more, we will have less. The third lie is that if we have less than them, we are worth less than them; we are worthless.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus erasing the line between “us” and “them.” Jesus shows us there is no “other,” there is only humanity.

Look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Stepping Out In Faith

#ThreeSteps In a Christian's Walk

leap of faith

Stepping Out in Faith

By Beth Demme

Has anyone ever told you to take a leap of faith? It can sound irrational, even dangerous. For example, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, one of the last challenges Indy faces as he searches for The Holy Grail is a “leap of faith” across a deep chasm. When he steps out into the chasm we expect him to fall to his death, but <cue the trumpets!> his foot lands on a hidden stone bridge. At that point in the movie, Indy smiles in his charming, knowing way and dashes across the bridge to victory. (Watch it here.)

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Apostle Peter also steps out in faith. Peter and the disciples are on the Sea of Galilee. They see a figure walking towards them. They think it’s a ghost, but Jesus reassures them saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Wonderful, impulsive Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking on the water.

Peter walked on water not because he had faith in his own ability, but because he had faith in Jesus.

All is well until Peter notices the strong wind. He gets scared and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches him. Jesus escorts Peter into the boat, at which point the wind stops.

Peter stepped out in faith, and into faith until life got stormy.

I can relate to Peter. It’s exhilarating to step out in faith and walk toward Jesus. Nothing is better than those moments when I know, without a doubt, that God is with me. Moments when the path in front of me seems impossible, and yet I have a peace that passes all understanding.

When I can’t see the path, I’m driven to pray, pray, pray. My prayer sounds something like, “Jesus, if it is you, show me how to come to you.”

It’s Not About What You Can Do

God Can Make Abundance From Nothing

It’s Not About What You Can Do

God Can Make Abundance From Nothing

By Beth Demme

I know you know the story. The story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Jesus wanted a little peace and quiet to mourn the death of John the Baptist. He tried to go off by himself, but the crowds followed him. Jesus put his need for time and space to grieve on the back burner. Compelled by compassion for others, he chose to care for the people in the crowd.

Jesus spent the day healing people. At the end of the day, the disciples knew the people needed to eat. They told Jesus to send everyone home. The disciples wanted the people to be self-sufficient, to feed themselves.

But Jesus tells the disciples he’s not going to send the people home.

He says, “the crowd can stay, you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, probably with a tinge of disbelief, “we have nothing except five loaves and two fish.”

I always picture this scene with an almost cartoonish exaggeration. The disciples stand with their shoulders and their eyebrows raised, the pockets of their tunics are turned inside out, they hold out their hands, and they say, “But, Jesus, we’ve got nothing for them.”

Maybe their reaction was more reserved, more subtle. Maybe even a little regretful. “Sorry, Jesus, we didn’t bring any food. There isn’t enough. We have nothing we can give these people.”

We all feel that way sometimes like we have nothing left to give—whether it’s money, time, gifts, abilities—whatever it is, we feel like we have nothing God can use.

But our God is the Creator.  If we look back at the poetry of Genesis 1 we see God creating something out of what? Nothing.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand ends with there being more than enough—an abundance.

All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:20-21)

God created an abundance from what the disciples described as nothing.

Speechless Prayers Might Be Your Best Prayers

A Reflection on Romans 8:26-39

Speechless Prayers Might Be Your Best Prayers

By Beth Demme

Some moments in life leave us speechless. Sometimes wonder, or gratitude, or disbelief, or grief seem to steal our words.

Sometimes I want to pray, but there are no words. Other times the words come, but I know they are not enough.

There are times when I am awe-struck by the beauty of creation or the gift of another day. There are moments when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the family, and the life, I have. There are times I shake my head in disbelief over how people treat each other, or how I have treated another. And there are sob-filled moments when I am overcome with the pain of old losses and fear for losses yet to come.