Breath

A lot of devotionals today give advice on how to fit God into our busy lives. With such hectic schedules it truly is a challenge to “make time” for spiritual things. We try to systematize discipleship and devotion into something efficient and streamlined so as to get the maximum return for our time.

But the more I think about it, I am growing convinced that we have it backwards. God’s processes are not instant or quick. In fact, sometimes they seem quite inefficient. Instead, His molding and shaping is a life-long process, and His hand works in slow, steady ways that would be easy to overlook if we are moving too quickly.

The fact is that while the human pace of life has increased drastically in the past 100 years or so, God remains unchanged.

And I wonder if we’ve missed the boat by trying to cram God into our busy lives, instead of adjusting our lives to accommodate the ways of God.

I am reminded of the story of Elijah up on Mount Horeb, waiting for the Lord to appear. (1 Kings 19:11–13) First a tornado came by, then an earthquake, then a fire. But God was not in any of those things. Instead, a “gentle whisper” (NIV) or a “gentle blowing” (NASB) indicated the arrival of the Lord of the Universe. The Hebrew word actually denotes silence or stillness.

Similarly, the Hebrew word for Spirit also indicates breath or wind. This makes Jesus’ comparison of the Spirit to the wind in John 3 a delightful play on words and food for deeper thought.

Although God sometimes moves in dramatic, earth-shattering ways, His Spirit is more likely to come to us as a whisper, a breath, a gentle wind. If we are constantly running, making our own “wind” as it were, we are likely to miss the gentle moving of our God in our lives and in this world.

Throughout the centuries people have followed Christ at great personal cost, as discipleship demanded that they often lived out of step with the rest of society. Could it be that in this generation, the sacrifice we are being asked to make is to slow down and still ourselves? Are we willing to radically alter our lives in order to become more aware of the gentle, quiet Breath of God?

Advertisements

Busyness: the Pursuit of Happiness

Nov7

The final lie that I believe keeps us running at a frantic pace is the notion that happiness is our highest purpose. And by happiness we mean an absence of pain, anger, or sorrow. And so, instead of stopping to deal with the inevitable wounds, disappointments, and failures of life, we run. We numb ourselves with activity and distractions. We skip like a stone along the surface of life, knowing that if we slow down we will sink into the murky depths below.

Because at heart most of us are filled with fear. We are haunted by ghosts of the past and the monsters lurking in our own souls. We are too afraid of the voices in our own heads to be alone and quiet with ourselves. We dread the darkness too much to accept it as a normal part of life.

Our Christian heritage, unfortunately, reinforces these lies. Spouting verses such as “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials…” and “In everything give thanks…” we mask our inner turmoil with brave smiles and fever-bright eyes. There are certain emotions that mature Christians are not supposed to feel—be it anger, fear, doubt, despair—and so we do our best deny their existence. We look askance at those who aren’t living in “victory.”

The tragedy of this deception is two-fold.

First of all, we rob ourselves of the very thing we want: true, lasting, deep happiness. It is as if, instead of facing the pain of pulling out a splinter, we choose to leave it in. And so the offending sliver continues to fester, prick, irritate, infect.

This gives me new insight on the beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What a strange “blessing.” Nobody wants to feel the gut-wrenching pain of grief. But the point is that grief will come, and unless we allow ourselves to mourn truly, deeply, authentically, we will never experience genuine comfort.

One man who was struck with huge tragedy reflected later that, “…the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise.” (Gerald Sittser, quoted in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero) Unfortunately, many choose the dim haze of twilight over the black darkness of night, and thus never get to see the dawn.

Secondly, by denying certain parts of ourselves and our existence, we actually rob ourselves of a deep relationship with God. Throughout the ages theologians have asserted that a true knowledge of God is dependent on a true knowledge of self, and vice versa. In The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner explains that “…people who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God.”

God is truth, and requires that we be authentic with others, with ourselves, and most of all with Him. He wants us to, as C. S. Lewis writes, “…lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” He wants us to give ourselves to Him fully. Fully. That means even the ugliest, nastiest, most wounded bits of us. This requires time, and honesty, and courage. But imagine the joy when we open our darkest corners to His light and find ourselves fully loved. Fully. Without performance or pretense.  Our truest happiness is obtained; we need run no further. And we are one step closer to really knowing God.

Busyness: the Need to Achieve

Oct20

I recently overheard a woman describe how her family had helped her while she recovered from surgery. “They did everything for me, took over all my responsibilities.” Then she continued, “I felt so worthless—I finally had to get up and do something useful.”

Her statements reveal the second lie that I believe keeps us so frantically busy. For most of us our self-worth is tied up in what we accomplish, what we do.

This idea is reinforced in every facet of our society. In the workplace, in school, in sports and hobbies, and even in the home we are encouraged to excel and achieve. The mantra goes something like this: the more you acquire, the more you produce, the more you succeed—the more you are praised, valued, emulated.

One would hope to find something very different within the church system. However, we have actually amplified this compulsion to over-achieve by spiritualizing it. Verses such as “Whatever you do, do it heartily…”, “…make the most of every opportunity”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” leave us in fear of wasting time, doing anything half-way, or showing weakness. While we reject striving for material gain or personal glory, our faith all too easily can become performance-based.

The danger is that it is tempting to confuse a life full of church-going and Christian activity with a vital, growing relationship with God. Others looking on will certainly make that assumption. And we can deceive ourselves, thinking, “My service pleases God and proves my love for Him.” Secure in our religious busyness, we often settle for shallow, fleeting experiences of God. Usually that’s all we have time for! But as Richard Foster put it in his book Prayer, God “…aches over our distance and preoccupation.…He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (pg. 1)

I think it is very telling that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) It wasn’t about doing or performing. It was about relationship, about being.

The thing about getting deep and knowing someone on an intimate, heart level is that it takes time. A lot of it. And it doesn’t actually look like much is being accomplished. One author, in his attempt to get to know Jesus more personally, began meditating on passages about Jesus’ life. The problem, as he states it, was, “I wanted to judge it by what I got out of it. When I did, it often seemed to be a dreadfully inefficient spiritual practice. But productivity and efficiency miss the point. What God wants is simply our presence… That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other.” (David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, we often have trouble stopping long enough to truly commune with God. To sit still and hear Him. To open our hearts to Him in a vulnerable way and experience His passionate love in return. The inactivity chafes, the quietness is uncomfortable. It is hard to measure progress or find tangible results.

But gradually something does happen. Our sense of significance begins to take root in and grow out of this supernatural relationship; our value comes to be based solely on the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe—unconditionally, dizzyingly, consumingly.

And then, as Myra Perrine writes in her book, What’s Your God Language?, “When we live our lives…knowing the truth that we are already loved as much as we will ever be… then we will not constantly be trying to get it right, striving to do it better, working hard to please God and secure His love… We will be at peace knowing we are fully known, fully wanted, and fully enjoyed.” (pg. 148)

In other words, we will be freed from the lies of performance and achievement. We will find our worth in the arms of God alone. We will learn what it really means to be at rest.

Busyness; the God Complex

Oct10

As I observe the world around me, I am coming to the conclusion that busyness is one of the most wide-spread and damaging diseases of our day. Not only does it rob people of physical, mental, and emotional health, I see it fragmenting relationships and separating us from God. In our frantic attempts to live life to the “fullest” I fear we are missing out on what it means to be truly alive.

Nor do I think this is accidental or coincidental.

In looking at what motivates our break-neck pace of life, it seems that we have deeply internalized three insidious lies put forth by the Deceiver, working hand-in-hand with our cultures and our own fallen nature.

the God Complex

The first lie comes straight from the core of the Evil One’s heart; “I will ascend into heaven… I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14: 13, 14) Whether we realize it or not, most of us carry a god complex and run ourselves ragged trying to take His place.

I have so often heard well-meaning people say, “I can’t possibly stop. This [ministry, job, person, etc.] needs me.” “If I don’t do it no one else will…” Change the words as you will, the central idea is the same: “It all depends on me. I am essential.”

I have even heard this inflated idea of our individual importance perpetuated by well-meaning evangelical speakers, “You are His hands and feet; God can’t touch the world without you,” and carried to the extreme: “If you don’t share Christ, you might be responsible for sending someone to hell.”

No, no and no.

I absolutely believe we should live, breathe, and demonstrate the gospel every moment of our lives. But I reject the idea that I have the ability to send someone to hell, nor can I save anyone. It is beyond my power. But if God has chosen someone, nothing I do (or don’t do) can thwart His purposes.

And when it comes to doing His work on earth, if I am essential to a project or ministry for its survival, there’s a good chance it is my work, not His; my vision, not His. Because if it is His work, He can handle it very well without me. To think God’s plan would fall apart without my involvement is mind-blowing self-aggrandizement.

In her book Sabbath Keeping, Lynne M. Baab writes, “…even though God has created us to be his partners in sustaining the universe, he is fully capable of bringing about his purposes without us. We are creatures, completely dependent on the one who created us and sustains us. God alone is in control, and God alone upholds the universe.” (p. 28)

Whether in ministry or in daily life, our efforts to manage or control our personal worlds is to step into a role reserved for God alone. Our fumbling attempts to “keep it together” are self-deception at best, and at worst, a blatant rejection of the fact that “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17)

We also equate ourselves to Him when we try to live as if we have no limits. We are finite. We must eat. We must sleep. We cannot be in two places at once, no matter how frantically we multitask. We can’t have it all; to choose one thing necessarily closes the door on other things. Our knowledge of the big picture is woefully incomplete, even with the amazing resources available to us today. To deny these God-given boundaries is to reject our humanity and claim something that belongs to God alone.

While most of us would never actually boast of possessing omniscience, omnipotence or omnipresence, when we live on a practical level as if we are central to the grand scheme of things, we elevate ourselves to the level of the Most High and challenge His rightful place.

– – – – –

The two other lies that keep us busy will be unfolded in later blog posts.