blessedly slowing down to gather one’s thoughts (and more)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Ecclesiastes is one of those books of Scripture which has always fascinated me, but also on which I struggle to get a handle on. The writer, mostly “the Teacher”- Qoheleth, takes us through a whirlwind of life experiences “under the sun,” with the conclusion that in the end none of it really satisfies. The book makes it clear that we should give ourselves fully to whatever our lot is, and enjoy the simple gifts of God. With the conclusion in the end that when all has been considered we’re to fear God and keep God’s commandments, with the realization that we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

All of us live in experience, even when we’re trying to understand Scripture texts. If we approach that correctly, it seems to me that it all has to do with life, yes life “under the sun” as we read in Ecclesiastes, as well as life in the context of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, present now, and to be consummated into its fullness on the renewed heaven and earth in the life to come. To want to escape from experience is not a good place to be. Instead we need by God’s grace to begin to get a grip on reality, on the true basics, we might even say basic basics. And set ourselves to live in that.

Fearing God is perhaps the most basic starting point of all. It’s simply the realization that God is the “Source of All Being,” the “Eternal Word,” and “Holy Spirit.”* We owe our existence and everything else that is good to God. And with that privilege to us humans indeed comes responsibility.

Jesus fulfills what none of us can accomplish ourselves, so that we can slow down, and blessedly let God catch up with our feverish, often misdirected steps. So that we might gather our thoughts so that we can begin to settle down on what is most important and what will bring us life. Out of the whirlwinds of the world and of our own making. Into the grace and peace of God. In and through Jesus.

*From morning and evening offices in Voices Together hymnal. 

slow down

therefore thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16

According to the NET Bible, the Hebrew is “‘will not hurry,’ i.e., act in panic.” If there’s one simple word I have to keep reminding myself again and again of perhaps more than any other, maybe it’s this: Slow down.

Our culture is caught up in hurry and worry tags close behind. When we’re in a hurry, most of the time we’re mostly taking matters in our own hands as if all depends on us. God is distant, for all practical purposes as far as we’re concerned out of the mix. My work demands some degree of haste. And all too easily one can develop that attitude the entire time.

But I find that God usually seems distant when I’m doing that, and especially after I’ve been in that mode for a while. And when I tell myself to slow down, it’s usually just a matter of time and not long at that, that some sense of God returns. 

Slowing down is similar to keeping in step with God, in the words of Scripture: walking with God, being guided by the Spirit. We want to be involved in God’s life, in God’s work, not merely our own. When we slow down, God overtakes us so that we can begin to live and move and realize that we have our being in God. In and through Jesus.

slow down and trust God; listen and pray: pray and listen. and Advent.

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.”

Isaiah 28:16

But the Master, God, has something to say to this:

“Watch closely. I’m laying a foundation in Zion,
a solid granite foundation, squared and true.
And this is the meaning of the stone:
a trusting life won’t topple.”

Isaiah 28:16; MSG

A trusting life, as Eugene Peterson puts it, or one who relies on this stone who we know is Jesus is said to not topple, be stable. Not stricken with panic. According to the NET footnote the Hebrew there means “will not hurry, i.e., act in panic.”

I find it does me a world of good to slow down. I can all too often live with a sense of fear and a feeling of panic. Instead I need to act on what I profess, that God will take care of it now, that God has already established the new reality in Jesus, and that God will bring everything to full fruition.

I have to be in Scripture and prayer, prayer and Scripture, and just keep doing that. And when I’m afraid, make prayer the focal point of what I’m doing. To pray and listen, listen and pray. Add to that the new faith community Deb and I are a part of. We so much have enjoyed being with them, albeit now on Zoom, and seek to discern truth, God’s truth together.

Yes, yes, yes. We have all we need in Jesus. And all that’s needed comes in and through Jesus, a wonderful new world. The reality of that world begins now, but the full break in, we await. At the heart of what Advent is about. In and through Jesus.

slow down

Related to my thoughts yesterday I think, I want to simply say here that we need to slow down and quit trying to take in big chunks of spiritual food. Instead we need to chew on each morsel, and take things in slowly. And then respond prayerfully, thoughtfully and not be in a hurry.

This certainly doesn’t exclude reading (and/or listening) through the Bible, say like in a year, more or less. That too has its importance and value for sure. We do need to see the big picture, and not just dwell on this or that detail. When we stick to even the “precious promises” as important as they are, our default paradigm is often in place rather than God’s story. So yes, we need to work at getting the big picture. That takes time, something we can’t rush through and get overnight.

But again, the point of this post is that we need to slowly process things, as we engage God in the written word. One thought at a time, one phrase, maybe even one word at a time. Not losing sight of the context, and continuing to go on. But taking our time, or maybe stopping to consider. And never being in a hurry. Slowing down to take in all God has for us, being the goal. In and through Jesus.

a benefit of slowing down

Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Life is busy, sometimes quite demanding. We have automation nowadays, but that only increases expectations of more efficiency at less cost. And with that comes pressure to make it work. But I think a lot of that pressure we impose on ourselves. And that’s related to all our other expectations to succeed and even excel, to be better than someone else, to uphold our own imagined high view of ourselves or our ability, or the reputation we’ve gained.

When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s all poppycock. Just a waste of time, effort, literally a passing breath. The text above tells us it’s better to have less with tranquility, rest, or quiet (compare NIV with NASB and NRSV from link above). It depends on how one translates it, but the idea is essentially the same. Putting one’s whole heart and life into something doesn’t mean what we’ve thought and maybe been taught: to run ourselves ragged.

This is not at all downplaying the importance of hard work and diligence. But it’s saying that we need to do so out of heart of tranquility, rest and quiet. And I think for most all of us, certainly for me, that means we have to slow down. Part of slowing down is not only physical, but inward. We pause, become more thoughtful. We pull out the stops here and there when need be, but we’re willing to shut the operation down rather than try to do what is barely manageable, if at all.

When we refuse to slow down, expectation builds to maybe do better, or keep up what often amounts to a brutal pace. Or we have other expectations, like being better than someone else at this or that, or persuading others that we’re right and they’re wrong, whatever. The list could probably go on and on.

Instead we will do much better if we learn to slow down, be satisfied with something less than before, which actually will become something more. Our tranquility can help others. Our expectation is always from God, not from ourselves. And it’s God’s work, whatever God considers important. Oftentimes that will be a change of heart in ourselves which comes only in stillness and rest as we look to God.

It’s a learning process, not something we can step into easily overnight, but something indeed that we need to do. The same problems exist, but we can now engage them more prayerfully and thoughtfully in faith. And find the rest meant for us in and through Jesus.

slowing down

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
do not leave your post;
calmness can lay great offenses to rest.

Ecclesiastes 10:4

One of the changes I’m making and actually getting used to is simply the act of slowing down. I’ve been in work on the floor, on my feet for years, where at least at times I have to pull out the stops, and move it to keep the operation going. What I do now is no exception. But I’m purposefully slowing down, and frankly putting other considerations before the bottom line.

Certain things outside of my control along with my own new inclination are contributing toward the idea of simply slowing down. I still try to stay on top of everything, but it’s more like slow motion. Or probably more accurately, I don’t worry about trying to control or keep the operation going. I will scoot fast when need be. But if I don’t get there on time, or I had to be somewhere else, if the line shuts down, that’s okay with me. Of course we are a team, just a small number, but we work together to keep the two lines going.

I’ve found this helpful not only to me, but I think to others. Slowing down means one can take in more of what’s happening, and especially the human side of it. And be more thoughtful, considerate, and even gracious. When one is honed in on just keeping everything going, and passionate about production, then other things slip to the side, or even get in the way. I found for myself being so intense, I was too tense, and too close to the edge, which with all the fast work is not a good place to be. And tends to isolate us from others.

And a new calmness has come. But that seems to depend on both my new action and attitude that goes along with it. Which reminds me of the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs, which seems to combine actions with attitude, so that you might say either one can contribute and help the other. We tend to see good works flowing from the heart. But sometimes changes in what we do can actually help. Like when we’re told in Scripture to stand still, or cease striving.

For a number of reasons I’ve decided to simplify and slow down. I hope I remain on this course. But frankly, it will take some adjusting. I’ve been hurried and harried for years. But it’s actually a glad change and relief. God will take care of everything. I want to do my part, but hopefully in step with God and God’s will. In and through Jesus.

 

shift down and relax

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-26

I think one of the staples of the United States has been hard work. I guess the Protestant work ethic has somehow figured into that. But we work long and hard. And production or how much you get done for the bottom line (profit), is considered critical.

I am trying to dial down, yet be fully engaged at the same time. Just much more relaxed, in fact essentially relaxed. I have been uptight for years, staying on top of everything, and pushing to the max always. But while that might have translated well in terms of output, I don’t think it was either that healthy for myself, or even for others around me who might pick up that spirit. One is more on edge then. Production numbers might be higher, but at what cost?

I’ve decided that for me to carry on day after day, I need once again to dial down. Staying on top of things as best I can, yes, but much more laid back. Our job can be fast paced and have one machine problem after another. And without knowing it, I can easily be living outside of God’s peace in the midst of it all.

My goal now: do one thing at a time, relax, try to keep everything going as much as possible, but not be upset when we don’t, even if I’ve overlooked something in that process.

It seems like that’s something the Lord may have been working in me for some time, to slow down, actually do less, and pay more attention to God and God’s priorities of love to others in Christ’s love, and out of love for God in response to his love. Too often in my life I’ve been quite driven, and while that can contribute to good numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the good that God is looking for. God might want something better, at least hinted at from the passage above in Ecclesiastes. In and through Jesus.

Eugene Peterson

One person who has surely touched as many households as any in my lifetime is Eugene Peterson, now with the Lord. I have a good number of his books, most of which I believe I’ve read, and benefited greatly from. One might not readily recall details from the best writing, but it will inevitably have a lingering effect on you. Such was the writing of Eugene Peterson.

Writer of over 30 books, including The Message, and first and foremost a pastor. Well studied, in depth thinker in the Presbyterian tradition. With a Pentecostal background. Grounded and seriously committed to scripture, certainly within the tradition of orthodox Christianity.

Eugene Peterson was not about show, but substance, day in day out. “A long obedience in the same direction.” You couldn’t find fault with his writings. The one critique might be leveled against his best known work: The Message, but it is meant to be a rendering of scripture, rather than a standard translation. And you would do well to read through it, or listen to it. He once said (or wrote) that he disliked it when people said, “Here the word of the Lord,” and then began to read from The Message. He noted that they should use a standard Bible translation when doing that.

Eugene Peterson was about substance and simplicity. And a big part of that is simply in slowing down. He wrote: Read slower, not faster; less books, not more. I think from what I’ve gathered from him, that he simply wanted to live as much as possible in what God was about, whatever that was; to be still enough to know God, and be in the flow of what God is doing.

He will be missed, but his influence will linger on especially through people, as well as his writings from generation to generation. Until Jesus returns.

life change: slowing down

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I have worked in an environment for years, even decades in which you have no other option but to move fast, especially at times, and to keep moving. And within a time frame when I could do that. And I have always believed in hard work, and that doing that is a part of living with a whole heart: one’s heart completely into something, hopefully in serving the Lord.

Lately that’s changed, and with getting older, and actually slowing down just a bit a few years back as our team leader then encouraged me to do, as of yesterday, I am on a life change. Challenging for me, but I think necessary, and I’m already getting a glimpse of it being good. And encouragement from at least one other, so far.

My job has high demands and pressure, and the option of doing plenty of extra things during specific intervals in time. I still intend to work that way. But slowing down means I won’t be able to get to as many things as I did before. And for me, that’s hard.

What prompted this change is actually a current change in our work schedule, which allows little time for much of anything else during the actual days we’re working, except to work, eat, and sleep. It has its good points with the time off, though I’m not a fan of it, myself. So I was wondering if this change is actually a rebellious reaction to it, that a little bit of that, at least, might be in me.

Actually, it seems like my life is on a theme of the Lord wanting to slow me down. Recently I didn’t see a flashing light in a school area, so that even though I wasn’t exceeding what I think* is the normal speed limit, I was picked up, and cited, since the lower speed limit was then in effect. So I’ve been driving slower ever since, yes, on the right hand side when I have to. So the thought of slowing down at work, which actually correlates with helping preserve my health seems to fall in line with that.

Just the same, although I had stated this new change at work, and was beginning to do it, I felt strange, out of place, and just couldn’t tie what I was doing to putting my whole heart into it. Until the above passage came to mind, which I began to repeat again and again.

Every bit of that passage is so important for me in this, for us all in life, actually. Yes, I’m weary and burdened. Yes, I need to come to the Lord for rest. He is gentle and humble in heart, so humble to work with the likes of me. And oh yes, I need that rest, for sure. And the thought that his yoke is easy and his burden light, and that he’s right alongside us in this. Wow. Wonderful. And just exactly what I need. So that, yes, I continue to serve God with my whole heart, of course not that I ever did that perfectly. But in a new, deeper way, which is actually more in line with God’s will in that it’s more oriented to Jesus, and less to myself.

So this is a new path I’m on as of yesterday. Soon after I embarked on it, I was tempted to go back for good reason, but stayed the course. And then, blessedly, the Matthew 11 passage came to mind. Something I intend to follow and grow in, in and through Jesus.

*Actually I just found out that I was 10 mph over the normal speed limit, and therefore 20 over with the flashing light. But the officer did reduce it to 10 mph over, so that my fine wasn’t as high. All the more reason to slow down. (3/10/2018)

 

trying to catch one’s breath

Sometimes life comes at us hard from several directions, rather than the steady hum we may have become accustomed to. Or perhaps it is just crazy from one source. There is no question that life can become hectic at times for a number of reasons.

Recently I was driving through an area I’m not used to, and had to stop behind a school bus. Afterward I went forward to get to the light, which I don’t think was that far away. But I had failed to notice the yellow flashers on, and was picked up for doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone. That was a pretty hefty fine, relatively speaking, although the police officer did reduce it to a charge of doing 30 miles per hour, which helped. I thanked him for doing his job, and know it’s important for him to protect the person helping direct pedestrians (I take it) in that zone at specific times. But it made me adopt a new practice of staying in the right hand side and making sure I don’t go over the speed limit, which is a novel idea, since it’s commonly thought that they give you a certain amount over. Though technically they can ticket you for being one mile an hour over the speed limit.

Maybe that will be a helpful event in my life, since it reminds me to slow down, something a friend who was over me at work once encouraged me to do a few years back, so that I to some extent took his advice. And yet some pressure to get things done will inevitably put us in a position in which we have to move at a faster pace than we ordinarily would. One axiom that has helped me is to simply do one thing at a time, and then the next, and the next. And also to try to minimize the hectic, so that one can act purposeful, work hard, yet not be in a hurry. A popular term nowadays is “Don’t work hard; work smart.” Being a bit more old school, I have a hard time with that, because it seems like the application of that sometimes is to not work at all. And yet there’s plenty of truth in it. I often think about how to do what we’re doing in an easier way, because it will likely often be hard, regardless. But to make it easier for more efficient work.

All of that to say, I really don’t have any one good answer on just how we can catch our breath. I do believe we need some good down times of quiet and being in prayer before the heavenly Father. And where we can, it is good to avoid having being in a hurry, planning and thinking ahead so that we can be as efficient as possible. But not being rushed in spirit. That can be a challenge for sure, at times.

Where we can, we need to take the time for needed rest. And for simply being present. A rest which is about knowing others, and especially the One who made and loves us: God. Something I haven’t been all that good at in my lifetime, though knowing God comes by simple faith. So a rest from our own hard labor, and a rest in God, which scripture talks about at various places. But I leave us with our Lord’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30