What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

I believe in prayer. That doesn’t mean I’m very good at it. Or that I have it all figured out. Far from it.

But I believe in prayer precisely because I’m NOT very good at it. I believe in prayer because it reminds me how desperately I need God’s grace. Because I am not very good at prayer — or, for that matter, much of anything — it throws me back onto the grace of God that meets me where I am.

In fact, recognizing you’re not very good at prayer is, I believe, itself a form of prayer. Giving voice to our weaknesses is a part of prayer; in fact, I would say it is what prayer is all about. For coming to God begins by acknowledging I don’t got this. And I sure as heck can’t figure it out on my own.

So I pray. Feebly. Weakly. Stammering, even. Sometimes with groans; sometimes with giggles. But always recognizing I’m desperately, completely, totally, stunningly in need of grace.

So, over the next five weeks at Fern Creek Christian, we are going to wrestle with prayer. We’ll talk about it. We’ll learn about it. But most of all, we’ll pray. For none of us has it figured out, but ALL of us need it. And it begins with these simple words: God, I don’t have this figured out. There is so much about (my) life that I don’t understand; can’t change; can’t fix. So I come. To You. I need You. Can You meet me where I am?

And the amazing thing about prayer is: He does.

Four Kinds of Friends You Need

There are four friends you need in your life. I say this not because I am very good at this, or because I am some kind of “friend expert.” I say this because, after 46 years, I am slowly learning this to be true in my life.

In fact, these kinds of friends are not original with me. What follows below is adapted from a sermon podcast I listened to recently; the preacher said he had adapted it from someone else. The truth is: very few ideas are original; we’re all just riffing on stuff we’ve heard elsewhere. So why would it be any different when it comes to something so essential, and so timeless, as friendship?

So, based on centuries of accumulated wisdom, 46 years of life experience, one sermon I’ve heard, and one key guy from the Bible (David, who is the example I’m using), these are the four friends I think you need in your life. (Note: everyone I mention is a guy, but you don’t have to be a guy to apply this. Also, these specific people won’t fit your exact situation, but adapt it to your life. It’s what people have been doing for thousands of years).

  1. You need a Nathan. When David lost focus and turned his eyes to a woman who he had no business being with — and when things then really hit the fan for David — Nathan was the guy who was there to challenge David (with one of my all-time favorite lines from the Bible: You are the man!). Not an easy job for Nathan, but vital. Unlike David, you are a not a king, but you need a Nathan to challenge you, guide you, and mentor you in those places where your head gets a little big for your crown. You need a friend like Nathan.
  2. You need a Jonathan. He was the friend that stayed with David, even when Saul, Jonathan’s father, turned against David. Jonathan was a true friend; a peer who loved David for who he was. When others did what was convenient, Jonathan stood by David. To the very end. You need a friend like Jonathan.
  3. You need a Solomon. Solomon was David’s son, and was his successor in the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately, the train went off the rails for Solomon. But the point isn’t about Solomon, so much, or even that he was David’s son. The need we all have is someone we pour ourselves into; someone we influence who is coming up after us. We need to be encouraging and mentoring someone who will continue the journey after we are gone. The fact that Solomon failed is the exception that proves the rule: faith must be passed on, or things fall apart. You need a friend like Solomon.

In summary, these three friends can be viewed this way: someone older and wiser to guide you through the places they have gone; someone who is a peer to walk with you wherever you go; and someone younger who needs to be encouraged to carry the baton to places where you can’t go. I hope you have these 3 in your life. If you don’t, begin praying and thinking about who might fill these areas of friendship for you, and then do whatever you need to do to make it happen — because you need them. And they need you.

But there is one more friend you need. You also need a Mephibosheth. He was a servant in the house of Saul; a handicapped man whom David chose to love for Jonathan’s sake. Mephibosheth had nothing to offer David. In fact, a lesser man would have treated him as a threat, as he came from the house of Saul, David’s enemy. But David chose to bless Mephibosheth, a man who could offer nothing to David in return.

You need to befriend and love someone who can’t return the favor in equal measure. This person may be poor, physically or spiritually. They may have a mental or emotional condition that makes friendship difficult. They may come from a completely different mindset and lifestyle than you. But you are blessed when you open the arms of friendship to someone who can offer nothing in return. You need a friend like Mephibosheth.

So, these are the four friends you have to have in your life. The kind that make you human. The kind that make you like David. The kind that ultimately make you more like Jesus.

Facebook, vs. Face-to-Face

Late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien once predicted that youtube, twitter, and facebook would merge. The result, he said, would be a new social media outlet called youtwitface.

When I was a kid, social media was playing Pac-man with my friend on his cutting-edge Atari video game console. And there was no youtube, there was just one tube — and it didn’t have very many channels. And facetime was, well, talking with someone face-to-face.

In a world that now comes at us through our screens, how do we make sure that we don’t let life in the virtual world overtake life in the real world? How do we make use of social media, while guarding against it using us?

I’m glad you asked. Here are some thoughts:

Remember that life isn’t filtered. Life has good days, bad days, and a whole lot of pretty average days. The problem is, you’d never know that from Instagram. In Social Media Land, everyone is tanned, smiling, and with all their “besties.” Or, on the other extreme, our social media posts are an opportunity for us to air all our dirty laundry. In either case, I think the goal is the same: Look at me, and give me worth. Tell me I matter.

Ok, I will. You matter. To God. To others. The unfiltered — the average, everyday, boring you — you matter. God said that way before social media. And your real friends and family will say the same thing — no matter how uneventful your real life is.

Which leads me to the next thing. You don’t need “likes” on Instagram or Facebook to be liked. Because we are desperate for people to like us, we then spend too much time posting things that are designed to get them to like us. But your self-worth is not determined by reaching the magical number of 100 likes. God has already given you His thumbs-up. And so do the people who really care about you.

Which leads me to one more thought, this one borrowed from a friend, who says: We need to live our lives, not thumb-to-thumb, but face-to-face. Social media is fine, as long as we don’t let it become what it cannot be. And it cannot be a substitution for real relationships. Facebook can keep you connected, but face-to-face is how real relationships are developed, and grow. And, it’s in the personal where relationships happen; it’s in the humdrum, day-to-day, less-than-exciting daily-ness of life where people grow to love and care for you, and you for them.

So, enjoy social media. Stay connected, but don’t be dramatic or fake. And don’t find your self-worth online. And know when to put your phone down, and really be present with the real people with you — at the table, in the car, in the pew, and in life.

On Seeing Clearly

There’s a strange passage in the Bible that is hard to figure out. It’s hard because it looks like Jesus needs two takes to take a man from blindness to full sight. In Mark 8, some people bring a blind man to Jesus. He proceeds to spit into his eyes, and then asks him what he sees. The man replies, I see people that are like trees walking around. Huh?

Jesus then touches the man’s eyes again, and this time the man looks up and sees everything clearly. Ok, that’s better. That’s the way it should be. But why does it look like he is only “half-healed” at first glance? And what’s with the tree-looking people?

I don’t know that I can explain what happened, but I think this story begins to make (some) sense when I read what Mark writes around this story. Right after the healing, Jesus asks his disciples what other people are saying about him. Most people think you are a prophet of one kind or another. But what about you? Jesus asks them.

Peter blurts out: You are the Christ!

To which, Jesus essentially says: You’re right. Now, here’s what it means. It means that I am going to be rejected, killed — and on the third day, rise from the dead. At which, Peter, who only 3 verses before had made the Good Confession, now rebukes Jesus. No way, Peter says to Jesus. No way this happens!

To which, Jesus gives an even harsher rebuke to Peter: Get behind me, Satan!

Strong words, spoken strongly, I think, because so much is at stake. Peter sees who Jesus is (the Messiah!), but he has a complete lack of understanding what this means for Jesus (suffering, death, then resurrection). In other words, Peter is a lot like the blind guy Jesus just healed. He sees Jesus, but he doesn’t see clearly. Peter has the right language for Jesus; but he simply has no idea where that leads.

And so, fresh on the heels of the rebuke of Peter, Jesus turns to his disciples and the crowds, and says: If anyone wants to follow behind me, it’s going to involve a cross – cuz that’s where I’m going. If you are serious about following me, then the way to life is through death.

Could it be that the story of the blind man and Peter are two ways to tell the same truth? — If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to understand who he is? We have to see him clearly. No simple glances, or cute categories, or flannelgraph images. No projecting on Jesus our categories or our limited expectations. Instead, following Jesus means we better have our Eyes Wide Open. We had better look clearly; and we had better see clearly. And see Him clearly. For the path of Jesus is difficult. It may ask more of us than we feel we can give; it might take us places we’d rather not go.

Look at me clearly, Jesus might say. See ALL of me; see all that I came to do. And then decide: are you ready to follow me — ALL the way?

Yes, I want to say. Yes, I want to go all the way. But, with the father of the boy with an unclean spirit, I cry out: I believe. Help my unbelief!

For I know I cannot do this on my own. And I know so often I fail. Just like Peter, who would go on to deny his friend and Lord; and yet preach the first sermon on the day the Church was unleashed. Just like Peter, who would be the first to reach some non-Jews with the good news of Jesus, and then refuse to eat with them at the same table.

Peter would grow to see clearly; but still he would stumble. Like me. And probably like you. And when we do, we open our eyes, yet again, yet more clearly — and say, yet again: You are the Christ; help me to see you, again today; and again today, to pick up my cross and follow you. All the way.