Eric Youngblood: No Mere Doofus With Dad-bod

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

Weird phrases sometimes sting me like a sweat bee, making themselves unforgettable and unavoidable.

So one day I’m attempting to pray, as it’s not only part of my job description, but also has become like oxygen for me.

By habit I’ve learned the Psalms are a favorable prayer cliff from which to jump. I employ these God-inspired words as a sturdy platform for leaping into God’s air, much like those insane folks down the street, more technically referred to as hang-glider pilots, use Lookout Mountain as their launching pad for flight. I open to Psalm 109.

As I’m warming up to prayer, I observe the Psalmist struggling to rouse the God who never sleeps, or at least, to compel Him to speak up, because his life has become flanked with treacherous back-stabbing. His moments all sprinkled in a betrayal stew to boil in a cast-iron cauldron of hatred.

Funfetti Gooey Bars anyone?

Consolation is no place near.

“In return for my friendship, they accuse me…” He can’t catch a break. Even his closest confidants have joined in the alienating assault.

But then, instead of stuffing his face with Funfetti Gooey Bars that he found from a recipe on Pinterest; in lieu of a long reassuring look into the national treasury (over which he presided); and rather than merely reminding himself of the good things in his life--- “Things could certainly be worse. I’m a king, after all. I’ve won a ton of battles. I’ve got 30 wives who support me and lots of lovely, marginally well-adjusted children....” he, instead, self-consoles with this bewilderingly weird phrase: “But I am a man of prayer.” Huh? What’s that got to do with anything? A man of prayer? Seriously?

An Instructively Weird and Emboldening Phrase

That weird phrase instructs me. It also emboldens me.

It can, if we heed it, shake us from sleep-walking through the moments of our days. It can re-direct our earnest but wrong-headed obsession with forming our own identities and needing to self-define.

He has come up with a life-label that pertains, neither to his biological urges, nor to his own wishes or accomplishments.  Instead, like any conferred identity a created man or woman receives, his is rooted in relationship with Another, despite the deficits within himself and the defects in his environs.

He identifies as one who lives off God’s intervention through asking. He is a man of prayer.

Neutralize the Wackadoo

Would it shock us if the POTUS, or the chief of staff at the hospital or the principal of your local elementary school decided that the deficit was so bad, employee morale so sour, test scores so gloomy and home-life so dilapidated that a prayer retreat was in order? 

Wouldn’t their advisors chide, “You can’t do that you kook, there’s actual work to be done. You can’t be off gallivanting by the lake, prayin’ for Pete’s sake, not when there’re national security issues, public health troubles, and we’re falling behind in STEM fields!”

Would you faint if a politician suggested in a CNN debate that before we can act wisely, we must pray expectantly? And if he elaborated, “no wise leader should presume to serve as an agent of Christ’s providential rule on this sorrowful and magnificent planet apart from a vital life of communication with him in prayer?”

Such a wackadoo would instantly be neutralized, possibly arrested, and likely admitted to a lab at the National Institutes of Health to be carefully observed and examined; deemed an invader from another planet, sent to spew lamebrain, fanatical, and simpleton fiction in the face of such grown-up problems.

The Height of Irresponsibility?

And if you yourself decided, “but I am a woman of prayer” and then determined to act like it, would you expect to be untampered with corrosive inner indictments?

Wouldn’t you expect self-critical messages if you decided to take off early from your normal duties next Tuesday to be, for a couple of hours, a mother of prayer?

“My kids need me, there’s too much wash to be done, supper to prepare, a budget presentation at work tomorrow...my peeps are depending on me…this is the height of irresponsibility for me to be out here praying like this!”

We’d all be susceptible to such a reasonable internal backlash if we bothered to realize this ideal in the middle of demanding lives.

But, the author of this Psalm, I have to remind myself, was the King of Israel. He wasn’t just some doofus afflicted with dad-bod, poking around with nothing to do, little to trouble his vacuous head about, and therefore, clear-scheduled with plenty of time to play World of Warcraft while pounding seasonal, locally brewed IPAs on a couch in his mother’s basement.

He was Head of State!

And Jesus too, the One we consider reigning King of the Universe and Savior of the entire planet—was censured by well-meaning cabinet members who couldn’t find him while he was at prayer (cf. Mark 1)----they reprimanded his priorities, “Everyone is looking for you!”...AKA “There are clumps of human need screaming for your attention and you aren’t on the job!”

But Jesus was off praying on a mountainside...in the sort of “lonely place” to which we are told the planet’s Redeemer often retired to labor in prayer.

Curious isn’t it?

Consolation from a Seemingly Mad Moniker

I’ve not noticed many (including myself) who console themselves with the seemingly mad moniker “man of prayer.”

But I’m starting to think it’s a worthwhile consolation.

What if we adored our distressed neighbors and troubled communities so ardently, and so despised the vandalization of indifference, the atmospheric toxins of disregard, and the viral imprisonment of many in the “gloomy little dungeon of themselves,” that we’d refuse to be anything except “men and women of prayer” with intentions that our prayers would find feet?

What if we learned King David’s resourceful mantra and applied it to the unwellness all around us: I’ve lost my job, but I am a man of prayer!

My anxiety is extreme, but I am a woman of prayer!

They say it’s stage IV cancer, but we are a community of prayer!

My husband doesn’t love me anymore, but I am a wife of prayer!

The violence is frightening and destructive but we are a neighborhood of prayer!

I don’t know the best way to nurture and guide my children, but we are parents of prayer!

We’re not sure where the money will come from, but we are people of prayer!

The ailments are so severe, the issues so thorny and complex, but we are a city of prayer!

Babies need rescue, foster children, relief, but we will be activated and empowered to act....as we are compassion seeking in prayer!

The poverty is debilitating and the pornography immobilizing, but we are pleading for emancipation and glad-making revitalization in prayer!

The Power of Reversal

To be a person of prayer is simply an affirmation that there is reversing power and sustaining love the likes of which we easily  forget to expect from the One whose listening is “like a vacuum that sucks prayer out of us.”

And any person or community that leans into this identity as  “pray-er” will soon detect that the material of our prayers frequently becomes the actions of our lives, especially as we plead for alignment of our wants with the wants of Jesus who has “propped himself him against the ruin of the world.”

So give weirdness a chance. Risk being called a dingbat. Endeavor to embrace this kooky but consoling calling of prayer so that when you stumble upon “but I am a man of prayer” you can nod with King David in a knowing sort of relief.

---

Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org



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