Monday, July 31, 2017

earnestly i seek you

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. ~Psalm 63:1



O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you.  And therein lies the problem.  The truth is that we might seek God on occasion, and we may even seek him with some regularity.  But the real question is, are we seeking him earnestly?  And what does that even mean?
    
The word used here in Psalm 63:1 is shachar, which literally means at dawn, or early.  It gives us the definite impression that David is calling himself, as well as each of us, to seek God before everything else, to seek him first.  God is not to be one of many things, or people, that vie for our attention and our affection; he is to be the first thing.  And everyone and everything else must fall in line behind him.
    
The question, then, that we all must answer is: Do we seek God first?  Do we seek him before all else?  Do we seek him before our own comfort and convenience?  Do we seek him before our own plans and agendas?  Do we seek him before our friends, families, and loved ones?  Do we seek him before all of the other demands and expectations that are placed upon us on a daily basis?  What are we earnestly seeking in our lives?  What is first? 
    
The truth is that most of us want God, and life with God, but we lack the will and the courage to make him the first priority in our lives.  Oh, we might say that he is first, but the way we live our lives would seem to contradict that.  In the words of Dallas Willard: “The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy.”
    
I think that’s why the words of this ancient prayer are so important.  They encourage us to constantly examine our lives, and to regularly recommit to a life (not just a desire) that seeks God first, above and before all else. 

O God, give us the grace and the courage and the strength to seek you earnestly this day. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

always before me

“I have set the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  ~Psalm 16:8


What extraordinary words!  King David boils the entire spiritual life down to one phrase.  If somehow we could learn to set the Lord always before us, life would be so much easier.  Not easier in the sense that nothing bad would ever happen to us, but easier in the sense that God’s strong and loving presence would be with us whatever the circumstance.  Centuries later, Brother Lawrence would call this “practicing the presence of God.”  It is both a perspective and a practice.  It is a way of living life in which we are always conscious of the presence of God within and around us.  Everything that happens to us is seen and interpreted through those lenses, whether we are in the midst of the dark night, or reveling in the abundance of this life, or simply washing the dishes.  When we set the Lord always before us, all will be well.  When we are fully aware of God’s presence, at all times and in all circumstances, we will not be shaken.  May this very phrase serve as our prayer and our companion this day, so that we too may set the Lord always before us.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

why wait


Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5, ESV)


It is difficult, at times, to discern God’s voice from the many voices around and within us that are constantly clamoring for our attention and attempting to determine our direction.  It’s quite maddening, and can be terribly confusing unless we take the advice of the psalmist and wait patiently for the voice of the Lord to rise above the din of all the other voices that continually assault us. 
    
But waiting patiently is no easy matter.  It will cost us significantly.  Waiting for the Lord takes time.  Listening for God’s voice takes space.  It requires silence and solitude.  It means that we must slow down, disconnect, and disengage from all of the people and the things that fill our lives and our hearts with noise and clamor and endless compulsion.  It seems like everyone we meet loves us and has a great plan for our lives, and will gladly tell us exactly what that is if we are willing to give them our time and attention.  But no one else can tell us who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do except the One who made us.  It is his voice alone that must determine these things.  And unless we listen for his voice we will never know exactly what they are.  Unless we are willing to invest the time and attention necessary to truly hear his still, small voice, we are likely to be blown around by whim and opinion and circumstance.
  
That’s where the words of this ancient prayer offer us help.  They ask God to be the one to determine the way and the path.  For he alone knows the truth, and will gladly tell it to us if we are willing to listen—and wait.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

wait

Be still and wait patiently for the Lord. . .(Psalm 37:7)


     I call to you,  Lord, from  my quiet darkness.  Show me your mercy and love.  Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak.  I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence.  But I cannot make that happen.  Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.
     But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, "Do not be afraid; it is I."  Let that moment come soon, O Lord.  And if you want to delay it, then make me patient.  Amen. (A Cry for Mercy by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

     God comes like the sun in the morning--when it is time.
     We must assume an attitude of waiting, accepting the fact that we are creatures and not creator.
     We must do this because it is not our right to do anything else: the initiative is God's, not ours.  We are able to initiate nothing; we are able only to accept.
     If God does not call, no calling takes place.  If God does not come, there is no history!  History is the coming of God to us, and the way in which we reply.
     Only God created the heavens and the earth; only God can create history.  We carry it out through our response, but the inspiration, the design, and the strength to carry it out come from him.
     In short, he is what creates, and we creatures are in an act of becoming. (The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)


See how the farmer waits for the  land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7-8)


Apparently waiting plays a significant role in our lives with God.  Unfortunately, we are not good at it.  We like to charge ahead.  We like to make things happen.  The problem is that the things that we can make happen are probably not the things God wants to have happen.  So even when it is our desire to help God (as if he needed it), we, all too often, actually get in his way if we are not waiting patiently for him to tell us and to show us what he desires.  Waiting, it seems, must always precede acting.  Otherwise we are merely acting on our own behalf, rather than God's.

O Lord our God, be the initiator this day, and give us the grace and the courage to respond.  Amen. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

refuge

"Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge." ~Psalm 16:1


I've been praying the psalms with a group of friends for the past several months and it has been such a joy and delight!  One thing I have noticed during that time is how often these prayers refer to God as our refuge.  It is a funny thing to pray on those days when needing a refuge is the furthest thing from my mind.  Those are the days, I suppose, when I must remind myself that the prayers I lift to the Lord Most High do not always have to be about me.  Those are the days when I must realize that the community I pray these prayers for and with hold many people within them who are in desperate need of such a refuge.  Those are the days when I pray for them, my turn will come soon enough.

What does it mean that God is our refuge anyway?  The word refuge in the Hebrew is chacah.  It means to flee for protection.  It is used 25 times in the book of Psalms alone, usually translated either refuge or trust.  It conveys the image of God as our safe place.  Within the warmth and protection of his loving and powerful embrace we can be fully at home and fully at peace, regardless of the circumstances.  God is the one to whom we can flee and find safety.  Oh, maybe not safety in the sense that no harm will ever befall us, but safety in the sense that, whatever comes, he is the one in whom we can trust and rest secure.  He loves us deeply and is strong enough to shelter us from and sustain us in even the direst of circumstances.

So the psalms are an invitation to step inside the fullness and the beauty that this image has to offer.  Therefore, call upon the Lord your God to be your refuge, whatever that may mean today.  And if that image doesn't seem to translate into your life at the moment, pray it anyway, I'm sure it does for someone that you know and love.


"Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." ~Psalm 34:8

Thursday, July 6, 2017

dream

When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  (Psalm 126:1-3, NIV)


I don’t dream enough.  I’d like to, I really would.  But somehow I get so busy managing and controlling and manipulating and surviving and WORRYING that I just forget.  And that is really sad.  It is sad because dreams are the things that life is made of.  Dreaming is what gives breath and wind, energy and vitality to this life we live in Christ.  Dreams put a spring in our step and joy in our hearts.  They focus us on possibilities and opportunities, rather than hardships and struggles.  They fill our mouths with laughter and our souls with hope and joyful expectation.  They make us live our lives on tiptoe. 

     Our dreams—or more correctly, God’s dreams in us—are so vital to our souls.  They are the things that nourish and enliven us.  They are the things that give fuel and energy to our prayers.  The dreams that God dreams in us and for us are intended to give our lives direction and vision and purpose.  But, unfortunately, we are often led by our fears, insecurities and anxieties instead.

     What are your dreams these days?  Sit down and spend some time thinking and praying about that.  Ask God to dream his dreams in you.  Ask him to show you what his deepest dreams are for you.  Then listen for his response.  Write it down.  Cherish it.  Order your life according to what his dreams are for you.  You won’t regret it.


Lord Jesus, help me to be led this day by my dreams instead of my fears.  Show me what your dreams are for me, and help me to be led by them.  Amen.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

be careful

I feel compelled.  And it is hard to know exactly what I mean when I say that.  It is difficult to tell where it is really coming from.  Is it God?  Or is it merely my own anxieties and insecurities?  Or some strange combination of the two (which is my best guess)?  Whatever the case, whatever the reason for the compulsion I feel to write, I'm going to venture on.  After all, isn't that what this blog is for, to write about what is stirring within me at any given moment.  So, here goes.

There has been (and continues to be) an enormous amount of conversation recently, in my little corner of the world anyway, about the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a nine sided figure used in an ancient personality typing system that is designed to analyze and represent the spectrum of possible personality types.  It is the modern synthesis of  a number of different ancient traditions, but was put into a system of thought in the late 1960's and early 1970's by a man named Oscar Ichazo.  Since that time it has been used mainly by spiritual directors as a tool to help people understand the dynamics of their inner lives.  And an incredibly valuable tool at that!

The problem with it, as with any tool, is that it can be misused.  A scalpel in the hands of someone who is skilled and trained in the art of using it is a priceless treasure.  But in the hands of a novice it can be the cause of great harm.  So it is with the Enneagram.  In the hands of someone wise and discerning, and skilled in the art of directing souls, it can be an enormous aid in the process of helping people understand their inner patterns and landscape.  The problem comes when those of us who aren't particularly skilled or discerning in that area begin to use it on ourselves and those in our lives and world.  We read a book or a blog and are so captured by what we have read (and rightly so) that we suddenly become an expert.  It is almost like reading something about surgery and beginning  to think to ourselves: "Here's what a scalpel is and how it works; and this is where the major organs are, so let's cut each other open and see how it goes."  Discernment is a funny thing; we all think we have far more of it than we really do.  In fact, from my experience, those who think they are the most discerning are probably the ones you want to stay away from.  While those who feel like they are the least discerning are the ones that we need to gravitate toward.  For from the gift of true discernment comes true humility.  Those who really know, think that they do not know anything.  That is wisdom.

Does that mean that we should not read these books or have these conversations about the Enneagram and the wisdom it teaches us?  Not at all.  We just  need to be careful.  Here are a few things to keep in mind. 

First, I have noticed that the Enneagram is enormously helpful in aiding the process of recognizing our patterns and ways of being that may have gone unnoticed or unexplained for years.  The problem is that after the first "Aha" that the Enneagram produces, and the conversations associated with that, we can actually proceed in such a way that it begins to stifle and cut off conversation, reflection, and prayer, rather than encourage it.  The reason is that we stop listening, to ourselves and each other, as our minds immediately run ahead to whatever number on the diagram that most closely describes them.  Instead of listening, we begin to label them and box them in.  We make assumptions rather than trying to discover.  We form opinions rather asking open ended questions.  In that case, the Enneagram can become constrictive rather than expansive.  Whenever you hear (or say) the words "That's because I'm a ________" or "That's just because you are a ________," stop yourself right there.  You are reducing yourself, or the person in front of you, from an endless mystery to a number on a diagram.  It is easy to fall into the trap of dismissing rather than engaging. And it can close us off to each other rather than opening us up.

Also, we need to be really careful when we are using the Enneagram on ourselves.  It is easy to fall into the "that's just how I am" mindset; which can either offer us an excuse for our behavior or can make us feel helpless and trapped inside it.  Explaining and excusing are not the intent of the Enneagram.  The ultimate intent is understanding and transformation, becoming all that we were created to be.  To recognize and understand our unredeemed patterns and habits--those things, events, and people that make us the worst version of ourselves-- and why they occur, in order that we might move toward the redemption and freedom of Christ--the best version of ourselves--through the act of repentance.  That is what spiritual formation is all about.

Finally, always remember that the Enneagram is not, and was never intended to be, an end in itself.  It is only meant to be a tool and a companion.  The Word and the Spirit are still our primary and most reliable guides.  If your studies and conversations about the Enneagram are not moving you regularly  toward the scriptures, where you are constantly being reminded of the truth, beware.  It is far too easy for us to be deceived by the false narratives that live within us and move us toward their own ends.  Remember Jeremiah's admonition: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9)  It is so easy for me, if I am not regularly in God's word, to be led astray.  It is easy to define myself by what I want to be, or how I want to be perceived, rather than who I really am.  And this can be incredibly subtle.  I know that there is as much "want to be an artist" living in me as there is actual evidence that that is who I really am, but I still choose to define myself in that way.  So we must be careful.  Ultimately this whole spiritual life is not about us anyway, it is about God.  It is hard to remember that when we get swept up in conversations about the Enneagram.  Thus, the main question is not so much "What number am I?" as it is, "Am I moving toward love?"

So I guess all I'm really trying to say is: Be careful.  You are far more beautiful and wonderful and mysterious and unique and complex than any number on any chart could possibly do justice to.  And so are the people around you.  Don't reduce them to a number or a type.  Don't finish their sentences for them.  Don't tell them what their story is, but listen deeply to it with the ears of your heart, without preconceived notions.  Make sure you don't pigeonhole them, but help to uncover and reveal the fathomless mystery of who they really are.  They deserve that.  And so do you.  Have real conversations: discuss, reflect, pray, love.  Don't analyze, don't explain, and don't fix.  Be open to God's Spirit within you and among you.  That's what this life with and in Christ is all about.

There, I feel better now.

"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." ~Psalm 25:4-5