Framing Faith - Book Review

Have you ever experienced that moment when something strikes you, figuratively, causing everything around you to fade and noises to muffle as you focus on the moment?  Matt Knisely calls them “chasing sunsets” – the moments we experience something so powerful, so intense, so beautiful, that our soul snaps an internal picture, forever engraving in our memory what it was that suddenly grabbed our hearts and made us think.  He chases those moments as an award-winning photojournalist, seeking to capture the emotion of the moment through an image that tells a story.  Sometimes it just happens, but sometimes you have to keep your eyes wide open and searching, stopping long enough to make the observation.

When I experience moments like that, I want to draw someone else into it, to experience it the way I did, even if that person is standing right there next to me.  Are they seeing the way I see it? Or are they seeing something that I don't?  Sometimes it seems there are no words to describe the moment, the story taking shape right in front of us that can be easily overlooked.  

Sharing stories connects us, forges relationships, and brings understanding.  Jesus used stories signs, metaphors, and symbols to communicate truth about God, and through these He reframed reality in a way that helped his listeners see things differently.  Sometimes we have to slow down to see it, slow down long enough to listen. When we do, we will want to share it in a way that others can feel as if they are experiencing it too.

Matt Knisely approaches faith as a photographer approaches its subject or an artistic approaches art in his book Framing Faith.  Through the concepts of photography he shows how to focus, capture, develop, and savor the moments of life that really matter. Focusing our faith involves discovery, attention, purpose, and listening.  Capturing our faith encompasses recognizing the moment, perspective, subject, and composition.  Developing our faith includes processing, seeing light and darkness.   Through these, he shows how to move faith toward God and better lift Christ up.

After reading the book, I realized that I want to be more focused and less distracted.  Matt Knisely inspired me see with different eyes and showed me how to frame it so that others can see it too.  This book isn't a feel-good book about faith.  It isn’t a book trying to explain faith by spiritualizing photographic concepts, nor is it full of photography jargon.  It’s a book about seeing…and then conveying what you see in a story that touches the heart of the listener.  Whether or not you know anything about photography, this book will help show you how to deepen your faith and then express it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

Morning Prayer

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.  Bless my dealings will all who surround me.

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.

In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.

In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Give me strength to beat the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.

Direct my will, teach me to pray, and You, Yourself, pray in me.


Morning Prayer of Philaret of Moscow (1782-1867)

Praying Written Prayers

While my daughter Emily was in the hospital following a serious snow-skiing accident, a friend sent me beautiful, elegant prayers via text.  In the moments as I waited at her bedside to hear if she would walk again, in the horror of what had happened, I was unable to formulate my own words of prayer beyond "O Lord, heal her." But having the text-messaged prayers gave me a specific prayer with which I could join in praying along with my friend. It gave me words to express what my shocked emotions could not formulate.

I grew up in a denomination that had a sort of unwritten code that you should not pray other people’s prayers or read your prayers.  Reading prayers was considered too impersonal and might result in vain repetition, so better not to pray them at all.  Instead, it was better to say clumsy, stumbled words from the heart than to say something poetic and profound and potentially not mean it.

I recently read a book by Scot McKnight called Praying with the Church that showed me that reading prayers have the potential to re-shape the soul. They provide a way of engaging with God in a meaningful way.  Vain repetition comes from a heart not focused in prayer, not because of the prayer itself. 

These are some advantages that I have found to using written prayers:
  •  Improves prayer life.
  • Easier to pray on a routine basis.
  • Brings connection with God and greater intimacy with Him.
  • Gives a sense of unity with other Christ followers praying the same prayer.
  • Lifts the burden of being creative in my prayers and gives me the words to say in ways that express my thoughts better than I can by myself.
  • Leads me away from vain repetition.
  • Mentors me in how to pray. 

 Some sources of written prayers that I use:
  • Psalms: Psalm 51 for confession, Psalm 121 for protection, Psalm 139 for intimacy with God.
  • The Our Father/Lord’s Prayer: Jesus taught us to pray with this prayer. When I want to pray but don’t know what to say starting off, I use this one.
  • The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
  • The Common Book of Prayer - I have this as  one of several prayer apps on my phone.
Some resources that Scot McKnight recommends that I’d like to check out:
  • Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours
  • The Glenstal Book of Prayer
  • Celtic Daily Prayers
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
Written prayers involve reciting the intimate words of others and incorporating them as our own.  They help order our days, reminds of old truths, enlarge our hearts, and teach us how to pray. Using written prayers has helped to stimulate my prayer life.  

Transforming a Disappointing Prayer Life

Is it possible to pray unceasingly?  If praying unceasingly means thinking constantly about God or speaking continuously to Him throughout all of our waking moments, then probably not.  But if praying unceasingly means to think, speak, and live in the presence of God, then yes, it is. 

My prayer life has been disappointing to me for much of my life.  Scattered, dis-ordered, random, and when I try to order my prayers, it results in lists that eventually transform into vain repetitions.

Recently, I’ve tried praying in different ways and have a new enthusiasm for developing this discipline that draws me nearer to God.  Here are some different types of prayer that I am trying to include in my daily prayer life: 
  • Scheduled times of prayer: first thing in the morning, noon, and last thing at night.  When I know exactly when to intentionally pray and which kind of prayer I am going to pray, it helps me to be diligent.  If it means stopping at a certain time to pray the “Our Father”/“Lord’s Prayer” or a Psalm, I have connected with God more than I would have if I just skipped it altogether because I had nothing to say.
  • Spontaneous prayers: throughout the day for help and strength for myself and others, requests, and quiet words of praise when I feel the upwelling of thankfulness in my heart. These prayers include turning the thoughts in my head from a self-centered monologue into a conversation with God as I present my thoughts to Him in dialogue with Him.
  • Written prayers: praying the prayers of other believers lifts the burden of trying to find the words I want to pray and helps me to join hands with other Christ followers in the present as well as throughout the centuries.
  •  Psalm prayers: like written prayers, but praying the words of Scripture that express my feeling, my trust, and my faith, and God’s promises.
  •  Music prayers: hymns and other kinds of music sung as prayers and praise to God, much like the written/Psalm prayers with the emotion that rises from the beauty of music.
  • Silent listening:  letting God speak into my heart while listening and not speaking.  Sometimes I do this best by repeating a phrase over and over or by listening to a repetitive piece of music that helps me focus on Him instead of my mind wandering all over the place.  I like to listen to Misty Edwards when I do this type of listening, such as “Let It Rain”, forcing me to listen for 7 minutes until the music ends.  (Otherwise, I tend to forget what I’m doing and suddenly find myself in the kitchen.)

Variety in prayer has energized my prayer life. Written prayers and praying at fixed times of the day are new on my list.  (I will post more on these topics next time).

Sharing Christ with the Dying - Book Review

When we are face-to-face with mortality, we realize how frail we are.  No matter how strong and self-sufficient we may be, during a health crisis, there is no amount of competency or physical/mental prowess that will escape us from the reality. This can be terrifying.  Sometimes, this is how God works.  The work of the Holy Spirit can break through the barricades and strong fortress of pride.

The dying process is painful but can bring with it new levels of understanding and the time needed to contemplate one’s spiritual state.  It jumps the dying person onto the spiritual fast track.  When we have a loved one who is dying and we do not know if they are spiritually ready, we have entered a zone of life-changing significance.

Melody Rossi suffered a surgical mistake after a routine surgery, nearly losing her life.  Her long months of recovery equipped her with the compassion and patience to help those suffering during a health crisis, which hit her repeatedly in the following years.  She walked alongside each of her parents and her stepmother, none of whom knew Jesus until at the very end of life.  She put on her walking shoes and trusted that God would make her path clear through each of the relationships as she ministered to them in their suffering. Even in the most strained times, she discovered that the most powerful way to gain entrance into someone’s heart is to serve them.  The small, insignificant tasks opened up opportunities to share.

In her book Sharing Christ with the Dying, Melody Rossi tells her stories and gives practical advice to prepare us to walk the path with a loved one through the dying process.   While much of the book is spiritual, she also addresses the medical and legal issues as well as the physical changes that take place before a person dies.  She walks us through the procedures that must take place after death and offers advice.  She ends the book with a chapter on grieving well.

The author shows us that illness and death is not just an end, but a beginning, and that “as we offer a cup of cold water to them in the name of Jesus, the Lord can use it to quench even the deepest thirst”.  Whether your dying loved one is a believer or not, this book is practically useful as well as encouraging and shows how to offer both the physical and metaphorical cup of cold water. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.