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Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus



Prayer Stories (Prayer III)

Brandon Cook

At first, tuning into the reality of God’s goodness can be difficult or unnatural. It’s like tuning into a radio station and we can’t quite get the dial right. Because of the things that have been done to us or the things we’ve done, we can easily become deaf to hearing who God really is.[1]But through prayer, the station becomes louder. Somehow, we start to find it more easily, more quickly. We start hearing the song of God’s goodness, and that changes everything. Pray long enough, and you’ll soon have stories about all the ways that God speaks. 

When I moved to California, I felt I was ready to meet someone—the someone. I’d had a string of super dysfunctional relationships. If someone could be paid for creating unhealthy relationships, I would have been in the Big Leagues. Maybe an All-Star, too. But I had experienced some wholeness and healing, and after having sworn off women for a long season (I know that might sound dramatic; I guess you have to be dramatic sometimes), I felt ready.

My sister had told me to pray for my wife in specific terms. Like, “God, I’d like her to be like this… and this… and this… with brown eyes.” What the heck? I thought. I’ll give it a try. So I drove down Spring Street in Long Beach, praying for a few things, personality traits and whatnot. Then I started thinking about her looks. 

I’d always had an attraction to dark-skinned women. I spent some time in Israel and I had come away thinking dark hair, dark eyes, yes, the Lord is good. So, I opened my mouth to ask for that. And, as I live and breathe, I could not open my mouth nor bring myself to pray it. My body refused. Something within me—surely the Holy Spirit within and all around me—said, “Nope…don’t pray that.” I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew on a gut level that I wasn’t to pray those words. I literally said, “Wow, okay. I guess that’s that,” and kept on driving.

That week, I met the woman who would become my wife. She is gorgeous. And white as the Alpine slopes. Not what I had in mind. And absolutely perfect. I learned something from the encounter: on some intuitive level, I could hear the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t some magical voice in my head, it wasn’t even a communication in words per se, but I had heard—in the form of a tug on my mind and a clear sense of instruction, like an invisible stop sign—the voice of God. 

I heard pastor and author Greg Boyd tell the following prayer story: A man who had basically nothing and had been reduced to living in his car felt led to attend a church service at Greg’s church. Further, he felt led to put his last twenty dollars into the offering. A member of the church (let’s call him Bill) saw the man from the back of the room and, knowing nothing at all about the man, had a clear sense that he was to give the man twenty dollars. So after the service, Bill found the man and said, “I feel like I’m supposed to give you this.” The man broke down, because it was like God saying to him, “I see you, I have your back, and I want to have a relationship with you.”[2]

The moral of the story? The Spirit of God wants to make Jesus known, but his people have to learn to listen. Bill was listening, and because he was, God could make His love and goodness known. Bill was in prayer, even if he wasn’t trying to pray. The more we incline our hearts to hear the voice of God, the more we will hear, always. 

These two stories are simple examples of God wanting to bring someone—in one case, me, in another, a man whose name I don’t know—into His goodness. They are somewhat “sexy” stories, in that they have a twist in the tale. But the reality is that sometimes (most of the time?) our faith walk does not feel sexy. Sometimes those “wow” stories recede into the past like oak trees along a suddenly treeless path. But even in the most mundane parts of the walk, the voice of God is there, to remind us that He is with us and that He is at work. And that He is leading us somewhere. Wherever we are in our walk with God, Jesus wants to keep us aware of a constant experience of life through his love.

For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'

[1]See the ongoing realities of Exodus and Exile in ‘Chapter 11: The Grounded Life: Scripture.’

[2]I am going from memory, so I’m no doubt missing a detail or two about this story, especially since it’s not mine and I’m paraphrasing.

What is Prayer? (Prayer II)

Brandon Cook

You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think.[1]
-Brother Lawrence

Jesus was always in prayer, but Jesus also arranged his life for dedicated moments of prayer. 

Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.[2]

 Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray.[3]

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”[4]

Jesus dedicated himself to intentional times of prayer, and he went to places where he could pray easily. The wilderness. A mountain. In community with his disciples. Already, we get a sense of some practical “how-tos.” But what exactly was Jesus doing during these times of prayer?

Was he asking for things (perhaps for “a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”)? Indeed, that’s how many of us relate to prayer. We simply ask God for things, as if He’s the great Gumball Machine in the Sky, or better yet, our Cosmic Butler.[5]

Of course, prayer is a lot about requests, and Jesus tells us certain things to ask for, but the first thing that matters in prayer is our posture before God. Because prayer is the place where we learn to relate to God as Father as Jesus did. It’s a conversation with God that allows us to become aware of His presence, nearness, and goodness in a way that continually transforms us. We can only fully ask from prayer in the way that Jesus tells us to if we are in prayer with this posture.

When I was growing up, I was scared of approaching my dad most nights. If, say, I needed him to sign my report card or ask him for money. He had this big blue armchair in his study and he’d there watching TV, his back to the door. I was terrified of interrupting him and annoying him.

Guess what? I pretty much learned to relate to God—and to prayer—in the same way. Our adoption into our identity as children of God is often messy because there’s a part of us that has to die in order to be resurrected into an awakened understanding of who God is. The part of us that doesn’t think we can trust God, that thinks we have to earn His love or approval—that part has to be put to death.[6]And even if we don’t like those parts of us that are put to death, they are still part of us, so it’s still painful to have them die.

What gets resurrected, though, is glorious and fully worth it. In prayer, we learn to see the reality of who God is. He’s not aloof. He’s not sitting in some heavenly armchair. He’s not angry, absent, or ambivalent. He’s far better than you can imagine. We get to awaken to this reality. This is what prayer is all about.

For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'

[1]Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God. Whitaker House. New Kensington, PA. 1982. See “The Seventh Letter.”

[2]Luke 5:16.

[3]Luke 9:28.

[4]Luke 11:1.

[5]See Skye Jethani’s With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. 2011.  Cf. Chapter 3, “Life Over God.” 

[6]Often, even what we’ve learned in the Church has to be put to death, if it doesn’t reflect the reality of who God is.

A Life of Constant Prayer (Prayer I)

Brandon Cook

The crowds bustle around Jesus. Children are laughing, running between their parents’ legs as the adults try to get close to the strange, marvelous rabbi from Galilee. Dogs have to get up and scamper out of the way as the throng moves down the street, a slow-moving stampede. People are shouting, screaming, calling out.

In the midst of this, a poor woman, nearly doubled over, somehow manages to push—or perhaps crawl—her way through, sneaking up behind Jesus and touching the hem of his garment. Suddenly it’s as if she’s put her hand into an electric field and touched the source of power. Faith holds the current and transforms it into healing life. Instantly, she’s made whole. Just as instantly, Jesus is aware that someone has drawn power away from him. He stops, turns, and says so.[1]

When the woman touched Jesus, he was praying. Maybe not in spoken words and probably not even consciously. But he was praying, nonetheless. Jesus was always praying. His life was a prayer. And we, his followers, are told to pray always as well.[2]

What does that mean and how is it possible? To “pray always” is an expression that means,Pray a lot, every day, as often as you can, continually.” But the way Jesus modeled it, it can almost be done literally—all the time—as we learn to constantly abide in the presence of God the Father, where all the healing power of life and love is. We can always be praying, whether we are aware of it or not.

We cultivate this life of “always-prayer” by practicing prayer until we find that we never leave the conversation, even after we’ve left our knees or moved out of our prayer closet (or our bedroom, office, or car) and into the day. We intentionally create space for the dedicated practice of prayer. We make room for encounter in the spaces of our everyday life, even if it’s just short moments that bring us back into a deeper awareness of God. There we learn to listen for and hear the voice that calls us beloved, awakening us to our adoption and to the heart of God, again and again and again. And we learn to stayin the conversation, because the conversation is not something we’ve created, nor is it something that leaves us. It’s this life of awareness, through prayer, that makes us become present for others, a people who can presence the Reign of God as Jesus did.

In our discipleship process, we constantly ask, “Jesus, what are you speaking to me?” This is a practice in prayer through which we anticipate hearing because he’s already speaking. If we just incline our hearts in faith to listen, then we trust we will hear and that we will learn all the ways that we can always hear, always remaining in prayer. We will find that, indeed, we are “always praying.” 

For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'

[1]Luke 8:46.

[2]I Thessalonians 5:17.