Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

We need both ...

I often hear the argument, "I am not the kind of person who engages in spiritual practices," or "I am too busy engaging in ministry and serving others for things like prayer, reflection on Scripture or prayers of examen."

I sympathize with these arguments and I struggle with them as well.

However, I still argue that all of us, no matter our personality, need to include specific activities in our lives that allow God access to our hearts, that allow space and time for our souls to "come out," and that give our relationship with God more than mere "lip-service."

The Catholic writer and mystic, Thomas Merton, said: "He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his [or her] own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity for love [through the quieter spiritual practices], will not have anything to give to others."

Don't we intuitively know this is true?

When I engage in intense seasons of ministry without creating space for rest and reconnection with God, my service to others often ends up being no service at all.  Especially to those poor people I am trying to serve.

Perhaps this is why, after a period of intense engagement with the world, Jesus would often say to his disciples, "Come away with me and rest awhile ..."

Simon Chan, in his book Spiritual Theology, puts words to this: "A comprehensive spirituality stresses a balanced approach to the cultivation of the spiritual life. It recognizes that true spiritual growth consists of rightly balanced opposing acts."

Even the extrovert must make time for silence, solitude, reflection on Scripture.

Even the introvert must get up from the desk to serve and speak and engage others.

Is your spiritual life "rightly balanced?"

 

Endless Busyness

Mark Buchanan is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. He is a pastor from Canada and often writes brilliant one-liners that say more than an entire paragraph!

Here is one I've been pondering this entire summer:

"Endless busyness is earwax against God's voice and a blindfold to God's presence."

So many of us wonder why we don't hear God. We complain about not sensing his presence. And yet we run around all day and into the night like chickens with our heads cut off. Endless running. Endless noise. Endless busyness.

The diagnosis is not difficult to make.

The question always is: What are we going to do about it?

Prayer

One idea that has helped me with prayer more than almost any other comes from a Norwegian Christian named Ole Hallesby.

In his classic book, simply called Prayer, I first encountered this idea:

"Prayer is simply helplessness combined with faith."

Hallesby says more to help us understand this simple, yet profound truth:

"Prayer and helplessness are inseperable. Only those who are helpless can truly pray."

"Your helplessness is your best prayer."

"Prayer is for the helpless."

I so often find myself facing things - either internal issues of the heart, or external circumstances - about which  I feel very, very helpless. And so often I don't know how to pray; don't even know what to pray. And then I remember Hallesby's admonition that it is this very helplessness that opens the door to prayer. I just need to combine that helplessness with faith the size of a tiny mustard seed and then offer my concerns to God. And trust He will hear and respond.

Now, anyone can do that!

What is it you feel most helpless about today? Know that your helpless feelings are the very heart of prayer ... they are one of the very profound ways in which God uses our weakness to demonstrate his strength.

Helplessness + Faith = Prayer

That is a math equation I will actually make use of my whole life!

Distractions ...

I have been noticing lately that I am much more distracted than normal. My mind seems to wander in ways that it never used to. I am having a harder time focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. And I am fairly confident this has nothing to do with turning 50 this summer.

For instance, I sit down to read and within minutes I find my mind wandering away from what I am reading and almost without conscious thought I step away from the book and am checking my e-mail, making a pot of coffee, or throwing a load of laundry in.

Or, I am watching television and am checking and re-checking my phone during the entire show or movie in case I might be missing something exciting that someone might want to tell me about online. Seriously?

Or, I am working on a teaching and find that I need to keep a notepad next to my computer in order to record all the tangential thoughts that keep pinging around in my mind while I am working.

I  have a feeling I am not alone in this.

I remember reading that our brains are being rewired to expect, and even desire distractions. We have become accustomed to being constantly interrupted by a link, a video, a notification of a new e-mail, so much so that our brains have simply come to expect and look forward to these interruptions.

I am not a technology basher. But I do want to stay awake to how I am living. And what I am noticing is disconcerting to me.

So I am engaging in a little exercise, which I hope may re-train my brain to stay focused for an extended period of time when I am attending to or working on things that matter. Let's say I am sitting down to read. Once I start, I set a timer for 30 minutes, and I simply refuse to get up and attend to other things during that time. My mind still tries to interrupt me ... "Check your e-mail!" "Google that piece of information you want!" "Get up and get a piece of gum!" but I simply refuse to give in. I stay focused for 30 minutes, no matter what. And after that 30, I take a little break, and start again.

This re-training practice will help me stay focused when I sit down to read and reflect on the Scriptures. I want to be able to be focused enough to hear God speak to me; to hear his words through His Word. I want to stay with a passage of Scripture or a set of passages long enough that I can plumb the depths of its meaning, or meditate on how it might intersect with my life. I can't do these kinds of things if I am constantly distracted.

I don't know if this will work. I tried it yesterday, using my phone for a timer, and within 30 seconds I got a text from one of my kids and then one from my husband, and I told myself , "I'll just check this one text ..." and before you know it I was in a full-blown texting party with my family.

So, I will try again today. I want a mind that can focus on the most important things. I don't want to give up that ability for something as shallow and relatively meaningless as spam e-mails or the next ice-bucket challenge video on Facebook ...