Persistent Prayer- God’s Invitation to His Story | Ep. 38
What is prayer? Is it an art- a creative expression of your soul? A science- a persistent and methodological accounting of your needs and the needs of others? Or is it a mysterious invitation that welcomes you into the heart of the Trinity and the story They are telling? Join Karlene, and her guest, Mimi Dixon as they talk about the vibrant power of our consistent and persistent praying.
Bio: Renovare’ Board of Directors, Institute Faculty, Ministry Team
Miriam (Mimi) Dixon began her ministry in 1979 serving as an associate pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington. From April of 1985 to May of 2019 she served as senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Golden, Colorado. She earned both her MDiv and DMin degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. Mimi is on the Renovaré Board of Directors and teaches for the Renovaré Institute. She is faculty for Next Frontiers, a ministry to pastors in transition, and actively promotes Christian Spiritual Formation, crediting Richard Foster and Dallas Willard for their influence in her life and ministry. Mimi has authored a biography of Richard Foster’s bestselling Celebration of Discipline, which is projected for release through Barclay Press in the autumn of 2023.
Show Note Links:
1 John 5:14-15
Karlene Cannon: Dearest Larger Story family, a real treat awaits you today. I was blessed to have a rich conversation with someone who is very dear to our ministry, Mimi Dixon. Mimi was Larry’s and Rachael’s pastor for over 15 years, and if you keep listening, you will immediately know why.
My conversation with Mimi was so nourishing and enjoyable that we talked for over an hour, so we’ve broken the episode into two parts. In this first part, you will hear Mimi share how she experiences prayer and intimate relationship with the Trinity. I think you’ll enjoy the many resources and inspiring stories she brings into the conversation. So get comfortable and enjoy our conversation on relational prayer, inspired by Larry’s book, The Papa Prayer.
Karlene Cannon: Welcome Larger Story family. We’re so grateful that you have joined us today. We’re Glad to welcome you to the Relational Spirituality podcast, the place where you can sink into the reality that you belong to God, that you can become all that He’s made you to be, and in that process you can be safe to be known and to know others.
Today I have the delightful opportunity to have a conversation that matters with someone who’s really important to the Larger Story family. Mimi Dixon has been the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Golden, Colorado. She was there for 34 years and has over 40 years of pastoral experience. During that time, she was the pastor to our founder, Dr. Larry Crabb, and so they spent a lot of time together talking about some of the things we’ll be talking about today. I know that was a sweet relationship for Larry. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Mimi through that connection. I think you’re going to really enjoy her and what she has to share with us and our conversation today. We’re really grateful that Mimi, you have joined us. She is also now on the board of the Ministry Renovare’, which focuses on spiritual formation and spiritual direction; she is a teaching fellow.
She listed all the content and things that she’s a part of, but she’s still very active in producing important content, events, webinars and opportunities for people to learn and grow and really get to know this Trinity who we’ve all decided to join. So Mimi, thank you so much for being with us today.
Mimi Dixon: Thank you, Karlene. It’s a real privilege to be here with you and with this community that has learned so much from Larry and Rachael. It’s an opportunity to share together for a little while. I’m looking forward to this conversation. Thank you.
Karlene Cannon: Thank you so much. I am too. One of the things we chatted about just a little bit before we got on here, you mentioned the long history you had of breakfast with Larry. Many of us in this audience had our opportunity to have breakfast with Larry, but I was just wondering if you might have a special memory or just a little anecdote or maybe just what that meant to you before we move into our conversation today.
Mimi Dixon: Breakfast with Larry was something you never forget. It was lots of hot coffee and wonderful conversation. The thing that he and I enjoyed talking about the most was our growing and deepening relationship with the Trinity. To understand who the Father is as our Abba. To think about who Jesus is as our Teacher, our Savior, our Lord, our Friend. To be open to the way that the Holy Spirit is deep at work within us, shaping us and reshaping us into the character of Christ. These are the things that Larry and I talked about and it was absolutely wonderful. One thought and idea and experience would trigger another and we’d lean in and it was rarely less than four hours.
The people in the Blue Sky Cafe where we met in Golden, Colorado were so hospitable in allowing us to have that time together to imagine and dream and understand and look forward to all the ways that in this Larger Story, this redemptive arc of history, to think about where we are right now, and how our understanding of God’s wonderful plan of salvation changes the way that we deal with the difficult and sticky parts of our everyday lives and our experience. And particularly Karlene, as it comes to prayer and the problem of unanswered prayer and the question of persistent prayer. Is it nagging? Or is it participating at a deep level in something that God is doing and He’s inviting us into it? These are the kinds of conversations that Larry and I had over breakfast.
Karlene Cannon: Breakfast that turned into lunch it sounds like. That’s very dear. I think to remember that I had a few of those breakfasts as well So I know a little of what you’re speaking of. I hope that we can have a similar conversation today. I want to just jump right in. We are focused on Larry’s book called The Papa Prayer. I was particularly excited to have this opportunity to talk to you Mimi, because one of the first things I ever noticed about you was just the way that you prayed and the authentic, real sense that you had a deep relationship with each member of the Trinity in a way that I thought was different. I was just drawn to that. This opportunity for us to talk about prayer has been really exciting for me too, I’ve been anticipating this eagerly. Where do you start when you think about what it means to commune with the Trinity? With this guide we all have some sense of who we’re talking to, to actually have a conversation? Where do you start with that?
Mimi Dixon: That’s a great observation because you’re absolutely right. One of the things that you and I talked about briefly before this conversation was recorded is, how important is our image of God? When we think about God, what kind of picture do we have? Are we drawn? Do we feel resistance? Are we worried that we’re going to be weighed and found wanting? What is our picture of God? Larry in The Papa Prayer on page 104 says that there are 10 common images of God. So he lists them as being a smiling buddy, a backroom watchmaker, preoccupied king, vending machine, stern patriarch, kindly godfather or grandfather, impersonal force, – “The force is with you” – a cruel tyrant, a moral crusader, a romantic lover. The kind of conversation that we have with God or anyone has to do with our experience of that person, with the way that we perceive them, the kind of relationship that we have, whether we perceive ourselves as being welcomed and beloved and cherished, and we respond very differently to a person like that, as opposed to a person that we feel is judging us, or we don’t feel safe, or we don’t know what they’re thinking. In the back of our mind, we’re wondering if there’s approval or disapproval. So our image of God is a place where eventually the Lord draws us into an exploration of that. We begin to get a sense, what is our gut feeling, our emotional response, when we think about God being right here?
I can remember when I was in high school, my mother once said to me, remember God is watching all the time. Now Karlene, I did not experience that as being a positive thing. I thought, in the shower? My image of God that was immediately conjured up wasn’t of someone who welcomes you into their lap and holds on to you and listens quietly, but rather a sense of being observed and scrutinized in a way that felt uncomfortable.
Then I heard a story one time about Abraham Lincoln and his son, Tad, who died when he was in late elementary school, but he was pretty sickly in his early years. This was a time when the White House was open, so people could come and just camp in the vestibule waiting for an opportunity to sit with the president. Among the people waiting in the White House was one of the commanders of his army, then the union. He waited a couple of days and finally his turn came and he knew he would have 15 minutes with president Lincoln. He was angry about the way things were going. He didn’t feel there were enough resources for the troops, so he came with a whole list of complaints against the Commander in Chief. He finally is welcomed in, he goes in, he sits down across the desk from President Lincoln. Lincoln had just welcomed him, thanked him for coming, and asked him what his concerns were when there was a knock on the door and the door flew open, and in ran his son. He ran around the corner of the desk, jumped into his father’s arms, into his chair. Lincoln turned his back, it was a high back chair, so that his the back of the chair was between him and the commander of his army. Tad was in tears. There was lots of crying and Lincoln mumbling something quietly and then more crying and after about five minutes, the little boy was all sorted out and he ran out again. Lincoln turned the chair around and he apologized. He said I’m so sorry, but my son knows that he has access to me all the time. The commander stood up, saluted, and said Mr President I don’t have any questions.
I think the way that we approach God matters. I can approach God with my complaints and my requests, with my challenges, with my petitions, or I can approach Him knowing that I am a beloved, and that I have access to Him all the time. That’s a relationship that deepens over time, I think. Some people may enter into it immediately, that’s their experience of God from the first, but so many of us have had experiences in our lives that are wounding and there’s been trauma and we wonder why a loving, kind, gracious God that we read about in the scriptures would ever allow such a thing. If you would give me permission, I would like to share with you some of the things that I learned from my old friend, Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 14th century, one of my really old friends.
Karlene Cannon: I would love to hear that. I just want to highlight that what you did there was to take something that perceived scrutiny that often feels invasive or even frightening in some way and actually turn it into this really significant gift that we have access to the Commander in Chief, someone far beyond that, the creator of the universe, who is also very focused on our tears and whatever’s going on with us. What could be perceived as scrutiny is actually this unfettered access to the source. I think that’s really significant. I just didn’t want to glide past that. I thought that was important. Yes, I’m very interested to hear. Larry quoted Julian a few different times and different things, but I’m interested to hear what you brought for us from Julian of Norwich.
Mimi Dixon: Thank you. What Julian is trying to do is to help us understand that we have the kind of access to God that a beloved child has. The actual word that Jesus used with Julian is dear, worthy, that you and I are dear and worthy. That’s how He sees us. Furthermore, that we are one to Him. There’s no separation. It’s like a mother. In fact, Jesus compares himself to a mother, the way God feels about us is the way that a mother feels about a child and a mother’s relationship, as you well know, to a child is so intimate. It’s so bound up that you would draw into yourself anything that could possibly harm them. That’s exactly what God has done for us in Christ. This is some of what Jesus told Julian in 10 uninterrupted hours of conversation. I’m so glad she wrote it down and shared it with us. Thank you, Julian.
She says, we are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it. No created being can ever know how much and how sweetly and tenderly God loves us. And yet, deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer so. Such terrible evils, that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them. We consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it, so that we cannot find peace. In the blessed contemplation of God, as we should do, we revolt against the darkness, our minds filled with groaning, enduring the pain and sadness, praying for the time when the divine presence will once again be revealed to us. The Lord brought to my mind our customary way of praying, how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love, we spend so much time in petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to Him that rather than piling up our petitions through His goodness, we should pray with full confidence and by His grace cling to Him with real understanding and unshakable love. The problem is that our reasoning powers now are so blind, so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity. This is the medley of human life; faith and sorrow, insight and darkness, joy and agony, singing in counterpart throughout our days. God wants us to know that through it all, the divine presence is the melody that never changes. Our Lord God tenderly touches us, and blessedly calls to us, speaking to our souls. Let me be the only object of your attention, my beloved child. Focus on me alone, for I am enough for you. Rejoice in your Savior and your salvation. This is what He meant when Jesus told me, You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well. Jesus says, Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time, you will truly see it in the fullness of joy. Two duties then belong to our souls. One is to reverently marvel. The other is humbly to endure, always taking pleasure in God. He wants us to remember that life is short, and it won’t be long until we clearly see within Him all that we desire.
That’s really powerful. It’s a description of what that general witnessed, isn’t it? He saw that there was a child that was so disturbed and upset that he didn’t have to make an appointment. He didn’t have to wait two days. He could just bust in, and his dad would scoop him up in his arms, listen, hold him, talk with him, and help him know that he was heard, seen, and safe. It wasn’t long before that little boy was sorted out, and that’s all the general needed to know. The Commander in Chief was that kind of man. When we come to know our God as that kind of God, it changes everything.
Karlene Cannon: I think one of the most powerful parts of that story you tell about Abraham Lincoln is him turning the chair and just attending and focusing on his son. I know as a parent, that’s often a hard thing to do, but I also know the power of your eyes and attention being on your child or on somebody. I think that’s part of what she’s trying to communicate here is that God is always attending to us, but He’s always ready to be focused and personal. We know we have a personal God, but there’s something about that particular illustration and making the connection to the parent-child relationship or an earthly relationship that I think gets lost, at least for me. To go back to Larry’s list, sometimes God feels far away or disinterested, like He’s already got His plan and His story and I’m just a gadfly, if you will. What you’re saying, what Julia is saying, is that’s the furthest thing from reality.
Mimi Dixon: That’s very perceptive. I think you’re right. It’s a journey into intimacy. That’s what this is and it’s a journey into the heart of the God who sees us and loves us and created us and who longs to be with us. The thing that I appreciate so much about Julian and this 10 hour conversation is that there was a plague in Norwich where she lived. Nobody knew then about fleas. Nobody knew about the black plague. The rats came over on ships from the continent to Norwich in the bottom part of England, not too far from London. Before long, this bustling community, people just started dying. Within 10 days a person would be dead and the dead were piling up and commerce stopped and it was horrible. It was a nightmare and what people said is, these are the days of Noah and God means to destroy us because of our sin. So Julian in prayer said, is that how you see us? Do you look at us as sinners? Are you turning away in disgust? What’s happening here? And so Jesus came and talked to her about it. Over the course of these 10 hours, Jesus tried to show her what God sees when He looks at us. AThere were many things. He talked about hazelnut. He talked about God clothing our nakedness with Jesus. He talked about the Lord and the servant. There were a number of different illustrations. Julian was a very bright person like yourself. She would listen and she’d say, yeah, but what about this? How can you look away from sin? Are you not disgusted the way I’m disgusted when I look at myself, when I look at others?
The illustration that finally got through to her was when Jesus said, I am a mother and you are like a little child who’s just been hurt. When you’re afraid, when you’re hurt, when you feel unsafe, run to me, don’t run away from me, don’t hide in the bushes, run to me. That did it for Julian of Norwich. Then she said, Oh, now I understand. Because she knew what that felt like. When Jesus said, we have made you male and female, we have made you to be parents so that you would have a direct connection with how God sees us, how the Father, how Jesus, how the Spirit sees us. They’re all in. They don’t hold back. They don’t say, you have to get sorted out before we’re going to pay any attention. They say, this door is always open to you. You never have to wait. You just come and we’re always welcomed. So then the question becomes – and this is where Larry and I enjoyed conversation so much, and I know that many of you listening had the same experience.
We would talk about what was wrong in the world. How can God stand it? Now, Larry Crabb had the courage to address issues that many people would rather not address, would rather not talk about. In his books he just laid it out there. It was honest, it was raw and it was true. So one of the things that we would talk about and that he wrote about and that is on everyone’s mind who was serious about prayer and a deepening relationship with God is, what about evil and suffering in the world?
What the scriptures tell us, what that transformational arc reveals that Larry talked about, what he wrote about in his books, is to say that God is at work with this, and there’s always a balance of free will. Because God will not violate free will. That’s a line He won’t cross. And so He invites people into this redemptive, sacrificial, healing place. We join Jesus. We follow Jesus into it. Now, what you and I know, Karlene, what all of us who are listening know, is that Jesus is a first responder. He runs toward the fire when everybody else is trying to escape. He moves toward the gunfire when everyone else is trying to get away. He’s always a first responder. What He says to me is He says, Mimi, would you come with me? Would you follow me? Would you come with me into that? Now it doesn’t mean I’m going by myself. He doesn’t say go. He says, come. He invites me to be present with him in situations that are very troubled. The reason that Larry Crabb lives is because he was and always has been a first responder. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to come to where people were cowered in fear, to where they were overcome with fear, with suffering, with trauma. Larry was a person who would come and be present with Jesus to that person in that situation. So we are seeing things that are very difficult, but really great things.
I have a good friend who loves English murder mysteries and you know what she does when she cracks one open? She reads the first chapter and then she reads the last chapter. She does that. I said, why would you do that? Because you miss all the tension of them trying to figure it out. She said, I’m not looking for a solution. What I want to do is make sure all the main characters are still alive at the end. That’s exactly how the scriptures are structured.
Karlene Cannon: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Mimi Dixon: We have the last chapter. We know that we’re still alive. We know that Jesus wins. We know that when the whistle blows, we know what the score is going to be on the scoreboard. We know that there’s going to be a renewal of all things.
One time Dallas Willard, when he was in the last couple of days of his life, Richard Foster went down to visit him at the hospital. The afternoon when Dallas was sleeping, Richard went out and he went to the little church where he first met Dallas. It wasn’t there anymore. It had become an apartment building. So that evening when he went back to the hospital, Dallas said, What did you do this afternoon? And Richard told him. And Dallas said, Oh, don’t worry, Richard. That little church will be there in heaven. What if in heaven, all the dear things that the locusts have eaten, what if they will be restored? Dallas was pretty sure that they would. Larry knew that they would. He talked about it, and he looked forward to it, and he said, these things are not lost. These things are being held in trust. Even your tears are being collected in a bottle. Not one drops to the ground and is missing.
I love the Trinity. I love this God who doesn’t hold Him apart from our suffering, but pours Himself in and holds it with us and helps us remember that we’ve read the last chapter. We know how this ends. This is the pinchy part of the story, but it’s going to be okay. Jesus told Julian, remember sin is inevitable. There’s going to be hard stuff, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Don’t worry, I’ve got this.
Karlene Cannon: I think that’s not just a good reminder, it’s just the reality. I have a good friend who – echoing the idea of the scrutiny turning into this full access – she’ll say, our God is a God who casts our sins as far as the East is from the West and cherishes our tears in a bottle. That’s who we worship. I think that’s such a powerful reality to approach God that way. Larry was so fond of saying, He’s serious about sin. But He’s more serious about us, He wants us. That’s what we’re invited into, the relationship where our tears matter, we matter, and we can rest in that famous phrase that all things will be well, all manner of things will be well.
Mimi Dixon: Yes, Karlene, that’s right.
Karlene Cannon: So Mimi,if you don’t mind sharing with us, as you’re engaging in prayer with the Trinity and communion with the Trinity, how do these realities impact you when you’re the little boy who’s just had something that’s upset him and needs to sit in his father’s lap, if you will, to be settled, to be reminded, to be comforted, to be restored?
Mimi Dixon: That’s a great question. The first thing that I remember is that it’s the order of things that Jesus was willing to move into and take hold of all of the violence, all the persecution, all of the ways that things are torn from us, He moved into it and through it, keeping his eyes on the Father. Now we know that in Gethsemane, we really see His humanity. He was in agony. He was grieving. He was weeping sweats of blood. He was really suffering. He asked, Abba. Is there any way we can accomplish the same thing without having to do it this way? And He goes back to the disciples and they’re sleeping because many of us sleep when we’re really upset about stuff. It was easy to just take a little nap and avoid it. He goes back twice and then each time He comes back it says that He renewed that request. Abba, please, Daddy, is there any way to do this a different way? I’m going to trust you with that because I know I am securing your love. I’m confident in it. I know that you are with me. So when I experience suffering, I know that part of the brokenness of this world where earth is Alcatraz. We all have numbers instead of names, we have the orange suits on. We learn to survive, we learn what to avoid, we learn what alliances we should have to stay safe, and we put a lot of energy into navigating those relationships.
Jesus has already said that Alcatraz is not our normal way of living, and one day we’ll get the beauty of Earth back, but right now we live in a very broken world, and there’s no way to avoid it. We’re swimming in raw sewage. It’s toxic here, and we learn to be really careful in navigating things. When we enter into suffering, that’s the reality that we have created by our choices, and we know that Jesus and God, the Father are not apart from that, and the Holy Spirit is implanted within us, helping us increasingly with our permission to respond as would Jesus in our place. We’re living now, as Larry would say, as we will for all eternity in God’s heaven. We can begin living that way now, by shifting our perspective. Now you and I are being called to be President, Father Lincoln, we’re the one who’s invited to view others with that kind of openness and with kindness to treat them the way that we’re being treated by God. We’re in this place, but there’s a lot wrong.
Mother Teresa used to say to her sisters, if what we see every day breaks our hearts, imagine what it’s doing to Jesus. Every day, she told them, every day when we go out, we’re going with Him so that He’s not alone. We’re going with Him. He’s not alone. That’s the shift of perspective that we experience increasingly where now we begin to view these things as an invitation of Jesus to offer somebody what He would offer them in our place. If those people are people that we don’t really like, or people who have injured us, or where there’s some kind of wound and they’re the kind of person who’s poking it all the time, these things are very difficult.
I want to share with you, if I may, a story about Lilius Trotter – she’s become one of my new old friends, Karlene. I hope that you get to know her. Lilius is a person from the 19th century. She was a single woman, British, who loved Jesus. He called her to go and live in Algeria. She went without knowing a word of Arabic in a country where missionaries were not allowed to do anything. You couldn’t build a school, you couldn’t build a health clinic, you couldn’t do anything at all to set up a visible presence. She just moved there with some friends and started loving people and telling them the story of Jesus. Lilius was there for 30 years. She died there. In those 30 years that she was there, Karlene, she saw almost no fruit from their ministry. That was troubling to her. She said, where’s the evidence of the work God has called me to do? Did I get it wrong? Jesus taught her something about prayer that has taken on a real important place in me because she talked about why we persistently pray. When we’re in a dark place where it doesn’t seem like any of our prayers are being answered, then what is the invitation from God?
This is what. He told Lilias, when one of the support columns in our ancient Arab home collapsed suddenly one morning shattering on the pavement below and carrying with it a block of masonry and shower bricks and blue and white tiles from the arch above it, I recognized this as an illustration of Jesus’s teaching on prayer. An architect explained to us the probable cause of the collapse. Each night for the past eight years, the two bakers in the attached shop next door had swung a huge seesaw to knead their bread. Every blow backward and forward had sent a vibration through the house, and now at last, the result was seen in the shattering of masonry that looked as though it would last as long as the world. I recalled an article I had recently read in a weekly periodical in which this same phenomena had been observed in similar situations. Soldiers walking in step over a bridge, the beating of looms, each resulting in the bringing down of a structure. I wrote in my journal, there is a vibrating power going on down in the darkness and dust of this world that can make itself visible in startling results. In the upper air and sunlight of the invisible, each prayer beat down here, vibrates up to the very throne of God and does its work through that throne on the principalities and powers around us. We can never tell which prayer will liberate the answer, but we can tell that each one of them is doing its work.
Then she quotes 1 John 5:14-15, this is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. If we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of Him. So persistent prayer isn’t trying to beat on the door of God and saying, are you listening? Don’t you care that we’re drowning here? It’s instead participating in this way of releasing in the heavenlies something that will have a visible effect on earth, breaking down strongholds, touching the lives. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see some of those prayer beats being fulfilled, but it goes back to that whole thing of confidence, doesn’t it?
Karlene Cannon: I hate to stop there, there is so much goodness to come, but I hope we’ve left you with a savory taste of what it means to wrestle with God and to pray persistently, joining in a vibrating power that breaks strongholds and touches lives. What a transformational thought. I hope you can carry the inspiration and promise of that idea into your week. I pray that you’ll join us next week where Mimi will share more about what God has taught her about this most important relationship. Thank you for joining us here on the Relational Spirituality Podcast. I hope you were reminded of how good it is to belong. I hope you were inspired by all that God desires for you to become, and challenged to be known and to go with Jesus as He knows those around you.
Until next time, Blessings to you. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.