Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On Prayer: Morse, Lamott, and Dobrenen

Written by: on January 23, 2015


There was some irony for me in this week’s reading. I would call it serendipity, but I would also call it providence. Let me explain.

I went to Rwanda in 2007 to do some research on a new ministry organization that I had helped develop. This trip became a turning point for me in my spiritual life – it was not a positive experience. In fact, this trip caused me to question many things about Christianity, about truth, about spirituality, and about my own faith. Although I had been disillusioned before, after having served in church ministry for 16 years, this particular experience was different. This was the deepest spiritual disillusionment I had ever had. It made me question everything I had ever believed in. The questions poured from my broken soul:

  • How can Christians lie and not be held accountable for their dishonesty?
  • Why is so much of Christian leadership filled with so much un-Christian behavior?
  • Why do pastors so often “lord it over” their congregations?
  • Why is Christianity so hierarchical?
  • What is the purpose of short-term mission trips?
  • Why are Christians afraid to be confronted?
  • What is wrong with asking questions?
  • What does it mean to be a Christian?
  • What is the point of church?
  • Whatever happened to common sense?
  • Why are people who pray just as unspiritual and those who don’t?

But asking such questions got me into trouble, big trouble. As I brought up some of the issues with the leadership of the ministry I went to examine, I was told to mind my own business and to quit being judgmental. I was told to stay out of their ministry because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Ultimately, I was cut off from fellowship altogether. Suffice it to say, this was a painful time. The memories are still painful. But many of my questions are still there, unanswered. Oh God, Help!

So why share all of this here? After all, I am a D.Min student at George Fox University for goodness sake! And such students don’t have such problems.

Because of my experiences in Rwanda, my spiritual life changed. I have become a person who questions everything, but I am looking for truth in everything I question. I don’t fit into the “Christian box” where I once lived my life. I don’t read the Bible very much, and my prayer life has become more like Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.[1] In her book, Lamott lets her readers into her own honest understanding of prayer. It is unorthodox and very helpful. The book even made it to Oprah![2] Since Rwanda, I have read quite a bit of Lamott’s work. It counters and balances out what I experienced in my almost 20 years of Christian ministry. I am thankful for this since it has helped me to not throw out the baby with the bath water. I heartily recommend Lamott’s work.

So, back to this past week…you can now see why I was a little reticent with this week’s reading. Frankly, I didn’t want more of the same. I didn’t want someone telling me how to pray. I was scared to open the book. But I was, overall, pleasantly surprised with the text, especially when I saw that Carol and Miriam were part of this endeavor.

In her book,[3] MaryKate Morse gives us various glimpses of prayer from a Trinitarian Christian perspective. Morse discusses different facets of prayer that are related to the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Some of the specific topics she addresses include community prayer, work prayer, confession prayer, simplicity prayer, relinquishment prayer, conversational prayer, and prayer language. She then gives suggestions for utilizing these various kinds of prayer in a group, with a partner, and individually. Also, interspersed in her commentary are other’s comments on these various types of prayer. Finally, she concludes the book with a chapter called “Simply Pray on the Road of Life.” This chapter deals with prayerlessness and spiritual dryness, which really caught my attention. Morse says, “Most of us try to have a meaningful connection with God through prayer. But something happens along the way, and the life of prayer drifts into a dead zone of prayerlessness.”[4] My ears really perked up by this time. She continues, “I want to suggest that prayerlessness doesn’t need to mean that we are stuck or that our spiritual lives are empty. Instead, prayerlessness can be a signal that it is time to begin an authentic adventure. And the journey begins with first naming one’s reality: Prayer is dry and empty for me.”[5] Morse concludes her commentary by saying that such an experience is often interpreted by those in churches as shameful rather than as an opportunity for a spiritual adventure. I loved this. Spiritual shame never works. I should know; I have shamed and been shamed through the years. And shame does not produce good fruit. But God does not see things the same way as human do. He says come. He does not say that you are not worthy enough. He does not shame.

At the same time that we were starting MaryKate’s book, I was beginning a prayer meeting at the school where I work. Why? For several months, it was on my heart that I do this. I work at a small Christian college in Portland, OR, that has as part of its mission statement the following phrase “…a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college…” What does it mean to be Christ-centered? At least for me, part of that means that we need to know Christ. But how? It needs to be more than just know “about” Him. How does one get to know another person? Certainly, it means that we spend time with someone. So, I decided to start a time for focused prayer for my school. I decided this weeks ago. But I didn’t begin until this week, the same week we were assigned a book on prayer. I would like to tell you about the meeting.

I made a decision not to advertise this meeting. Rather, I decided to choose one other person to meet with me. She is the most spiritual person in our office. Her name is Ricklyn, or “Ricki.” I asked Ricki back in the fall if she would be willing to pray with me for the school. This wonderful charismatic-Catholic grandmother was excited about this time and would be happy to join me. Thanks, God! Although we were going to begin in November, for many reasons it didn’t work out. Then came news of some lay offs at the college. Ricki’s job was cut. She was let go with eight other employees the first week of December. I was shocked. Why didn’t I start the prayer time earlier? Now what?

Over Christmas break, I got in touch with my prayer friend on Face Book. I discovered that her layoff, although a surprise, was a blessing of sorts. Ricki had been able to spend more time with her grandchildren now. Her attitude was amazing. Finally, I mustered up the courage to ask her if she would still like to pray together. To my surprise and great joy, she said she was very willing to join me. Wow! This dear lady, laid off by the school where she was both a student and an employee for years, was now willing to come and pray for them. And what a time of prayer we had! It was one of the best spiritual times I have had in the ten years I have worked at the college. And, this was the first overtly spiritual thing I have done since Rwanda.

I am grateful for God’s grace. Thanks!

I am humbled by God’s willingness to help my wounded soul. Help!

I am amazed by God’s loving kindness and second chances. Wow!


[1] You can read and listen to a brief interview with Anne Lamott here: http://www.npr.org/2012/11/19/164814269/anne-lamott-distills-prayer-into-help-thanks-wow.

[2] See http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Read-an-Excerpt-of-Anne-Lamotts-Help-Thanks-Wow.

[3] MaryKate Morse. A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God (Dowers, IL: IVP Books, 2013)

[4] Ibid., 243.

[5] Ibid.

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

8 responses to “On Prayer: Morse, Lamott, and Dobrenen”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    One of things that I’ve come to appreciate about you, Professor, is your openness about your questions (doubts) of faith. This post is just another inspiring example. Only in the openness of your questions could you be led to encounter God through prayer in such a meaningful way. I was also hesitant about the book, prior to reading it – thinking too; that I didn’t need or want someone telling me how I could or should pray…and yet through the understanding of how the Trinity relates to our prayer life, I was encouraged through it. What would Ricki say was the reason she had no hesitation about coming back to pray in the place that had just terminated her employment?

    • Deve,

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      As you know, this time of prayer with Ricki was a very significant time for me, a marker in my spiritual journey. So why did Ricki return to pray? Several reasons I think. First of all, she and I have a trusting relationship; I had her as a student some years ago, so she knows me as a colleague and as a human. Also, she is a mature Christian. She loves Warner in spite of what happened, and she refuses to allow the school’s decision to throw her into negativity. Thirdly, and most importantly, she recently had a prayer group that she was in for years disband, and she sees the value of prayer in a group context. For me, her maturity is a great example of how a Christian can be in the midst of an uncomfortable situation. It speaks volumes about the sincerity of her faith. What a great gift!

  2. Bill, once again you have shared your emotions and your willingness to be transparent. Thanks! I believe you would appreciate the poem I posted this week. I so agree that shame is not God’s game. There is now condemnation but there is conviction with love. I so much appreciate that. We do belong in the presence of God. Not by what we have done but all because of what He has done. I to am grateful for your continual determination to press through your questions and struggles and find the reality of relationship with Jesus. He loves you Bill. Keep allowing Him to love you and call you…. You belong with Him!

  3. Mitch,

    Thanks for your words of encouragement. I will read your poem.

    Yes, shame is not God’s game. If I didn’t believe this, I would have a hard time waking up every day. I will never give up pressing through my questions and struggles. And I know that the Lord will never give up on me.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  4. Richard Volzke says:

    Thank you for your honesty. I know the hurt that Christians can do to one another, as I served in a church for over five years where the backbiting between the staff was difficult to deal with. My family and I were attacked on a personal level, and it got so bad that my children didn’t want to attend the church. Fortunately, God had another place for them. God calls Christians’ to be different than the world, but it seems that many of us do not take that command to heart. I struggled to understand why God kept me in that ministry position for so long. Now, looking back, I know that I learned much from the experience about “how not to be a Christian”. I recognize the signs of an unhealthy organization and leadership team.

    • Richard,

      Thanks for sharing your story here. I certainly relate. I have a daughter who will likely never go to church again due to the same thing. I get that and hurt for her. She is not bitter but doesn’t like phony people. I also don’t want to be bitter either and am working daily at finding the real Jesus. Hopefully, as I spend time with Him, his love will rub off on me and on those around me so that I might be reflecting the reality of God who loves all people deeply.

      Again, thanks for your sharing here. You are a good man.

  5. Julie Dodge says:

    Ahhh, Bill. Always on the journey. I just want to say how very cool I think it is that you wanted to start praying with someone at work. And then, even after all of the change and what you or I might think of as loss, that Ricki still wanted to pray. And that’s the heart of it, no? That God is good even when our circumstances are not. God is faithful even when we deny him because cannot deny who He is. It is not God who changes – it is us. I hope that Ricki is still one more demonstration of God’s faithfulness, and a reminder that we still can see God in one another – even if others are a huge disappointment.

    I am waiting on that coffee meeting! Or a Horse Brass visit…

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Bill, ma man, another stellar post. This is the level of depth I find refreshing and I know you know this because of our times of sharing. You are right, there are a lot questions about, in and around Christianity, but very little answers at times.

    I really enjoyed reading the way you incorporated and introduced Lamott to us. Ricki too sounds like a super cool person. “Spiritual shame never works,” you are totally spot on and as you have put it, being thankful, open to help and surprises from God “wow” is much better.

    Thank you

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