negotiating rest

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6

I’m not the worst when it comes to rest, since I can do it just about any time, maybe due to a degree of sleep deprivation over the years. But when it comes to simply resting when on vacation, I chafe a little under the bit. Work for me is where it’s at. I need to be doing something.

Jesus’s words to his disciples came in the midst of a busy season for them, full of ministry to many people. And even when they were endeavoring to get away, a crowd pressed in, Jesus changed his plans, and what followed was the feeding off the five thousand.

Rest in our day surely means to unplug and stay that way, except for an emergency phone call. Being present for others certainly means that at times our rest stops will be interrupted. But we need to be committed to slowing down, even stopping. Simply being in a place where we can rest alone and in quiet. We are little aware just how much we need such times to undo our frazzled, ever moving interior experience, which we see as normal.

We need to learn to be at rest with the Lord, leaving our own propensity to strive and at times even panic, behind. Just the fact that Jesus called his disciples to this, and more than once, is instructive for us today. We need those getaways from our immediate surroundings, yes from the internet. If at home, simply in quiet. We need to simply stop and do nothing. In the presence of the one who can help us enter into the Sabbath rest in which we are refreshed and renewed. Something I want to learn to not do, but be in better. In and through Jesus.

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more, not less, but also less, not more

Oh, how I love your law!
    I meditate on it all day long.

Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is the great psalm and scripture that one might call, in fact I am nearly sure I read this in connection with the psalm: in praise of God’s word. Of course we refer now to the written word, scripture, the Bible. I find that I need to be in the word more, not less, especially when there is so much on my plate in life, and pressures from various places seem overwhelming. It is often best to focus on one matter at a time, get that done, and then go to the next. In this life it’s never done; there’s always something more pressing us. And the world wants to crash in as well. There’s the tidal wave of US politics and all the controversy and divisiveness surrounding that. And all kinds of other things which can occupy so much of our attention.

I like liturgical churches, myself, where Holy Communion is celebrated every week, and it’s considered more than a symbol. And I read somewhere that instead of thinking one has to be in the word more, that kind of service helps us to be centered in the Lord apart from that, since most people just can’t sustain such a practice. I do think such a service helps keep the gospel front and center, and certainly the public reading of scripture is a big part of those times. And there’s always the danger of hearing, hearing, and hearing more of God’s word, while not sufficiently putting it into practice, as James warns us.

But I need to be lifted beyond my own thoughts, and perspective. And I need to get into the flow of God’s word, so that I can begin to see God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will, even God himself, of course in and through Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit. Reading scripture, and hearing it read (click the icon on the upper right to listen to Psalm 119, which is available in that translation from any scripture).

At the same time though, I also find that I need less, not more. Maybe in a sense that’s true of the word, though I think we both need to read, or hear read large portions of it at a time, and also slowly meditate on it. What I’m referring to now though is simply refusing to be taken into the more that needs to be done, and simply setting aside time to rest. Yes, unplugged. Even to do nothing, nothing at all, except maybe to simply be somewhere. With shoes kicked off, relaxing. Maybe in just hours of silence. Rest, and along with that something other than work, which we enjoy doing.

We need both more and less. A kind of rhythm in life in which actual physical rest is taken seriously so that we practice it. While we seek to remain in God’s word, in scripture. And along with that, in silence before him. Lifted beyond our own thoughts and troubles, and the chaos of this world, into God’s presence and counsel. Hopefully that practice along with the rest going together, in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.

agreeing to disagree agreeably

Yesterday I made a plea for grace to be practiced among us, especially during this contentious (to say the least) election, and time of ungrace. What about the fact and reality that Christians who are equally committed to the Lord, may completely disagree, and strongly so? I can’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who most think was in  a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, though based on a challenge to that (one I haven’t read), I rather doubt it. However there’s no doubt that Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler and Nazism early on, for years and years, and ended up more and more in the minority among professed Christians in doing so. So he stands out as an example of one who disagreed strongly with the majority of Christians of his day.

Now to the presidential election of this year: Some swear up and down that Hillary Clinton not only should not be elected president, but should be locked up in prison. Others decry Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency because of his temperament, troubling ethics, and lack of real knowledge. Maybe others are not sure on this.

For many, to be gracious means not to say a word at all, to simply be quiet, and perhaps in doing so, being above the fray. For others, to be gracious might not preclude speaking out, but would surely include being silent and listening well to counterarguments, and the claims of the other side, as well as to other positions.

I for one have spoken out some, and I likely will continue to speak out. But I will read and listen to other sides, as well. I am certainly open to further understanding. And there’s a time for silence. As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

…a time to be silent and a time to speak…

To practice grace with each other, doesn’t mean that we simply agree, or rationalize so as to agree. Nor does it mean that we never speak out on difficult, contentious issues. It surely does mean that we do so always with a full measure of grace, the truth as we understand and take a stand for, always done with love and respect for those who oppose that, and may be challenging us.

At the same time, by and large I think silence should prevail, and certainly so rather than a constant bickering and arguing. There can be a time to make one’s case, have the other make their case, perhaps receive counterarguments, maybe followed by each one giving a closing, summary statement, and letting it go at that. Refusing afterward to speak, even when inevitably more, and perhaps new, fresh thoughts arise on the contentious matter.

I think churches and pastors do well not to take sides in political elections for the sake of the gospel, so as not to alienate those who may be very much sold on one position, or another. And even in the most extreme cases, we might do well to ask questions, and hopefully by that increase awareness about a matter we consider to be of utmost importance. We should be careful of the idea that unless another thinks like us, or sees what we think we see, or acts as in voting (or perhaps not voting at all) the way we might suggest, that they are somehow being disobedient to Christ, and a lesser Christian. Remember, the same grace that they need, is exactly what we need, as well.

In the end, we all need to love, and make the most of it, whatever differences we may have, and whatever happens. It is no less than the gospel of Christ which unites us who are in Christ. We must continue on with that, come what may, and learn to do so together, even as we disagree on what amounts to lesser things, as important as they are. Knowing that even in the present, God is at work, and Jesus will return as Judge and Savior to sort out the inevitable mess that we humans will leave behind.

when words fail

Sometimes the tragedies of life along with changes we would not ask for or want hit us in such a way that words fail us. We have nothing to say; we may only be able to grieve, remaining silent in our grief and sadness.  No words seem to be enough.

That is when it’s good to be silent, to listen so that maybe we could catch some thought that is fitting for the occasion. Being silent before God, praying in the Spirit with words, perhaps unknown words as well (see 1 Corinthians 14). But more than anything, being still.

Words will come, hopefully aptly spoken as apples of gold set in silver (Proverbs). But any words out of love will do.

We simply are being with others, somehow a part of their lives, even as they are a part of ours. Unlike others, we may have nothing fancy to say, perhaps nothing at all. But our hearts can say what our heads can’t. Words have their place, but they also have their limitations. The written word of God is not limited simply because it points us in the direction of God’s final Word, Jesus, which in and of itself, we can say himself, has no limitations, all of God’s good will being in that. The Word we need whether or not words fail us.

keeping one’s body in check

James tells us that one who controls their tongue is able to keep the rest of their body in check. That could mean that if our words are marked by holiness (truth and love in Jesus), the rest of our life follows.

What gets us in trouble, even if we are only speaking to ourselves? The tongue. That is why the psalmist (attributed to David) asks God to set a watch over their tongue. Otherwise the psalmist is afraid they’ll be drawn to do evil. Getting to the core of that, we do wrong when our actions including our words are not in line with loving God with all our being and doing and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So it is best to check our impulses and not act on many of them. Particularly when it’s about saying something which while we may be thinking it, is not particularly edifying in itself and potentially destructive of another. And we need to bring such thoughts to God. Oftentimes in confession of sin along with prayers such as we find in the psalms. We’re going to find often enough that our thoughts and judgments were awry, off the mark. And we are reminded again by James that we’re not qualified to stand in judgment of others, anyhow. As scripture elsewhere reminds us, we first need to judge ourselves. Often what we think we see in others is what we already know exists in ourselves. We fail to judge ourselves. Until we do that, we can’t help anyone, even when they could use our input. In such matters of course, we would have to tread ever so lightly and slowly.

So today and everyday we need to slow down, calm down, and keep a lot of our thoughts to ourselves and God. We need to focus on our own problems and be an example to others of those who follow the Lord with their tongues and then all the rest of their body.