Here's a question for you: Would you say you are living a divided life or a unified life these days? It is a question I've been thinking a lot about for the past couple of weeks; both because of what I sense in myself, as well as what I have been noticing in those around me. It is so easy at times, due to the demands and chaos of life, to live in a reactionary type of way that views life as a collection of disconnected parts that have to be managed and attended to, rather than viewing it as one unified whole. And I am coming to find out more and more that how we see things makes a significant difference in how we live things.
What about you? When you stop and reflect on the life you are currently living, what feelings arise? Do you feel more divided or more unified? If you're still not sure, maybe this question can give you another hint: Are you typically overwhelmed and exhausted or are you typically energized and engaged?
My kids loved playing with Legos when they were little. There is a distinctive sound that occurs when a child is rummaging through a container of Legos looking for just the right one to complete his masterpiece. And that noise was a constant in our house for many years. In fact, one year my youngest son asked for a Lego Pirate Ship for Christmas, which he got. And I still remember his excitement as we opened up the box and looked at the enormous amount of pieces (756, to be exact) that were somehow necessary to create this object of his delight. Now I'll have to admit that while his dominant emotions were sheer joy and utter excitement, I was a bit overwhelmed, and somewhat paralyzed, by the seeming enormity of the task ahead. "How in the world will I be able to turn all of these separate pieces into something that resembles the impressive structure pictured on the front of the box?" It was exhausting to think about. You see, I've never been one that is particularly gifted in the area of building and construction. Nevertheless, we waded in to the project together. And as we began assembling the (as yet) mythical pirate ship, something happened within me. Somehow I stopped seeing it as 756 parts and started seeing it as one thing. A thing of beauty. And when that shift in my seeing took place, the feelings of being overwhelmed and paralyzed began to vanish and a sense of excitement and energy began to grow within me. I became totally engaged in the process.
We all have a tendency, I think, to see our lives that way. We tend to see them as 756 separate pieces rather than seeing them as one unified whole. I mean, there are just so many parts to manage: faith, ministry, work, family, school, friendships, etc., etc., etc. All of which we tend to treat separately (compartmentalization) rather than treating them together as one whole, unified life. And when we live life this way it is both overwhelming and exhausting. I mean, who can possibly balance all of those things at once? It reminds me of the guy on TV that balances the spinning plates on top of sticks and constantly runs from one to the other trying to keep any of them from falling off and crashing to the ground (Plate Spinning). It seems like an impossible task. Even life and ministry become two separate parts rather than one unified whole, which is a tragedy. And not at all what Jesus had in mind (As you go, make disciples...Matthew 28:19).
I suspect that God's vision and desire for our lives is much different, and much greater, than that. I think that God desires us to see life as one thing rather than as 756 things. And when we start recognizing the fact that life is really about one thing it simplifies everything. It allows us to breathe a little rather than continually running breathlessly about. When we begin to see life as one thing (a thing of beauty) we begin to be engaged and energized rather than overwhelmed and exhausted. And that one thing is the same one thing Jesus spoke to Martha about in Luke 10. That one thing is this: living life with God. That's it! In its most simple terms, all of this life is about this one thing: just live life with God. Everything else will take care of itself. Because when we do that there is a wholeness and a purpose and a vision and a unity to our lives.
A great example of this can be seen in Jeremiah 6:16: "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'" Within these 33 words is a wonderful pattern that shows us what it looks like to simply live one life with God--wherever we go, whoever we are with, whatever we do. In fact, it is a pattern I have adopted over the past few years that seems to make good and fruitful space for the Spirit of God to speak and to lead and to guide in all areas of my life and ministry, if I will continually live from it.
It all starts with stand. In other words start by stopping. Stand. Be still. Be present--fully present. First to God within you, and then to God around you. In other words, show up. I believe it was Woody Allen that once said, "Eighty percent of life is just showing up." Show up with God and show up with others. That's where it all starts.
Next comes look. Stand at the crossroads and look. Pay attention. Look for God. Look deeply for him in whatever, or whoever, might be in front of you at the moment. Look past the surface. Look into the depths. Search. Seek. Seek him in all things.
Then comes ask. Specifically, ask God. Ask God, "What are you up? What are you up to within me? What are you up to around me? What are you up to in this circumstance? What are you up to in the life of the person in front of me? Ask. Ask for the ancient paths. The ancient paths are those well-worn paths that lead straight to the heart of God. Those paths that multitudes of other saints, poets, and pilgrims have traveled well before us. In fact, whenever we see someone walking deeply and intimately with God we need to take note because that person has found these ancient paths, and watching them can show us the way into the heart of God. Solitude, silence, prayer, scripture, etc.,these things, indeed, are a significant part of the good way.
Notice that, up until now, we still have not moved. We are still in one place (stand, look, ask), seeking God's heart, mind, and direction. And it is not an easy thing to do because our default mode of operation is movement. Our norm is don't just stand there, do something. We tend to operate (whether we like to admit it or not) out of a "ready, fire, aim" mentality. Which, in all likelihood, leads to a significant amount of wasted motion. Our default, it would seem, needs to change more to a don't just do something, stand there mindset.
And finally, once we have stood and looked and asked, it is time to move. Walk in it is the phrase Jeremiah uses. Walk in the good way, whatever that may mean. For, once we have received our direction and guidance from God, it is time to enter into whatever he is doing. It is time to move toward him (and his work) whatever that may look like. Sometimes it will mean speaking a word he has given us to speak and sometimes it will mean keeping our mouths shut. Sometimes it will mean simply being present and sometimes it will mean reaching out to embrace. But whatever it is, we can be sure of its power, substance, and authenticity because it has come directly from his heart and not merely our own.
And the result is incredible: you will find rest for your souls. No longer exhausted and overwhelmed, we will be energized and engaged by the winds of God's Spirit. We will no longer be divided, but unified and at peace because we are just trying to do the one thing rather than the 756. Thanks be to God!