Posts tagged Christian Spirituality
Peace in Chaos...
If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
– Jesus, Luke 19:42

Every desire for something externally is an expression of something lacking internally. 

There have been many times when, after an exhausting week, all I've desired to do is lie on my couch all day and watch stupid TV. I'm tired, drained, and irritable and I just want to shut off my brain. Often though, once I've had my way, I'm no better off than I was. Still tired, drained, and irritable! That time ends and all I want is another day to be lazy or do something else centered around how I feel (self-centeredness). Why is that?!

I'm realizing that when I get things that I want it rarely satisfies my reason for wanting them in the first place. I often choose shallow solutions to deep needs. 

Now when I'm tired, I try taking a deeper look at myself. Why am I tired? What exhausts me most? Why? What is lacking in my extremely overprivileged life that is tiring me out? It usually comes down to an question that only my soul can answer. Once I actually give it the time to do exactly that, my exhaustion silently lifts. The same thing can be applied to when I'm energetic too.

The point is: every desire for something external is an expression of something I lack internally. So, looking externally for peace, joy, love, gentleness, rest, or inspiration is starting in the reverse order. 

Once I get this right, I'm far less demanding of my circumstances, surroundings, friends, and family because I've dug down to the root of the issue, within my own heart. And that is where we will always find God's attention being drawn to: The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17:20&21
Everything is a spiritual practice...
...he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
– Acts 17:27&28

One of the biggest first crisis' of faith I experienced was at the same age that nearly everyone has theirs. I was moving to Pasadena with friends and tired of limiting God's presence, meaning, or significance to church buildings. Either God was real and can be found everywhere or God is an idea and can only be found in certain buildings or people groups. I didn't see this type of faith being lived out or even really talked about in churches (although my Dad and I talked about it regularly over Sunday morning breakfasts, thank God) and it was the only thing that I was interested in.

Reading Brother Lawrence's small book The Practice of the Presence of God  when I was only 16 was what instigated this for me. It changed the whole direction of my life. Life is so doggedly inconsistent that if there is actually one thing which is consistent (God's presence), it must be worth all of my attention!

After 15 years of slowly growing and maturing in this perspective, I've learned that everything is a spiritual practice. Everything.

If Christ truly "is all and is in all," it leaves room for nothing else. Sitting, standing, talking, listening, walking, reading, writing, running, lying down, bathing, eating, observing, and resting are all moments when each of us are in the Presence of God. But what is our practice of It?

There are many areas of my life where my practice is distraction; to ignore Christ and Love and be centered around myself (self-centered) . It's what I do regularly and know best. There are other areas where I'm becoming more sensitive to Love and Life in all and through all. I've made it a practice to grow the number of these areas.

When we emphasize God's presence in one place or person or point in history, we simultaneously diminish his presences elsewhere. That, then, becomes our practice: worshiping one place or person or point in history. Everything is a spiritual practice: to participate or to ignore.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
– Colossians 3:11
There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
– 1 Corinthians 8:6
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 
– Ephesians 4:4-6
Unveiled Faces

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18

This little verse has captured my imagination for years. "Unveiled faces..."

For years, I mistook my faith as veil that was placed over my "sinful and distorted" face; something that covered me and protected me, not uncovered me. That understanding left me feeling horribly discouraged about myself and other people. Today, my understanding is completely reversed.

The first thing my faith unveils is the reality of who I and everyone else really are:

"God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
– Genesis 1

So, this is who we are and why God calls for us to a spirituality of unveiling, not covering up. Because, before "original sin," before life happened to me, and before I made any decisions about myself, this was and is true. My anxieties, fears, and insecurities are veils over this truth and presence. They cover me and obscure my vision. It is sad to admit that I used Christianity as just another layer on top of them in an effort to satisfy their desperate needs. What a mistake.

My faith has been an unveiling of my face, my identity, and how I see others. It is about removing my layers of false identity and desperate needs for validation for the revelation of something that already resides within me.

Numb life doesn't = abundant life.

No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until they are willing to relinquish not sin only, but their whole way of looking at things.
– Oswald Chambers, My Upmost for His Highest

....That's not easy to read or really wrap my head around. You might say, it's the original inconvenient truth. Some might say, it sucks.

The things that we don’t question about ourselves are usually the areas where we are the most numb to the presence, design, and desire of God. Those places are usually the areas where we are content with ourselves. I’m not saying those areas are bad, but that they are areas where we live without any active, substantial, or meaningful reliance/connection with Christ.

Of course, we question our “big sins,” but we don’t think twice about what excites us and why. What are the things that I'm happy with? Why? What about them stirs up my happiness? Often, we'll be surprised by how self-centered the answers can be in areas like parenthood, marriage, friendships, work, volunteer work, church participation, et cetera.

Usually, when I’m unconsciously content with an area of my life it is because the needs of my self-centeredness and ego are being met. For instance, do I feel appreciated? When I do, I’m usually far less interested in doing what God appreciates (loving the stranger, my neighbor, and tending to the needy). The needs of my self-centeredness are being satisfied and it doesn’t even cross my mind to seek the love and presence of Christ in that area.

Religion and religious services are two places where we are easily seduced into being content with our self-centered needs being met. God and Christianity are not about getting rid of sins and adopting religious practices, but making room for life and life more abundantly. This is why Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." He doesn't specify denying only sins, but our selves: our individuality, our particularity. Numb life doesn't = abundant life. Christ teaches us how to savor in all and through all.

What is Silent Prayer?

The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, "Look, here it is!" or "There!" for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17:20&21

Lately, it seems like I've been having a lot of conversations about Silent Prayer and what it is. I've heard so many people saying they are feeling drawn to silence in prayer. It is incredibly inspiring!

This clear statement from Jesus (above) is at the core of what Silent Prayer is all about.

Much of what we're taught about prayer is centered on things external: circumstances, self-expression, articulation, et cetera. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is the lesser of these two good things.

The story of Martha and Mary gives a wonderful depiction of this: Martha is doing a good work of preparing meals and rooms for her guests (including Jesus), while Mary is sitting at Jesus' side, being wholly present to Him. Martha speaks to Jesus about her circumstances and need for help in order to get them done (sound like a lot fo your prayers?). Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”

Here is a quick snapshot of what Silent Prayer means to me:

  1. Stillness. "Be still and know I am God." – Psalm 46
  2. Time. Committing myself to this stillness for longer than it is only emotionally stimulating immediately reduces the level of self-centeredness. Years ago, I started with only 20min.
  3. Attention & Intention. I give both of these major components of my identity completely over to God by silently and slowly repeating a passage of Scripture or simply Jesus' name. This slows down the hectic regular pace of my thoughts and creates room for Presence.
  4. Acceptance. One of the most challenging and yet powerful aspects of this practice is releasing all of my expectations. The expectations I put on myself, my experience, God, and the results of my time. No matter the level of distraction or focus, I accept my experience and trust God, wholly.
  5. Love. Every true spiritual practice draws out of us a greater love for God and everyone around us. This is where stillness paradoxically meets action.

That is a very brief summary of a huge topic. If you try it and find that you're overwhelmed by how scattered and chaotic your thoughts are, don't be discouraged! If we're not "good" at silent prayer, that's the point! :n)

The Monk and the Hermit... (The Lord Is Not There)

The kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
Jesus, Luke 17:20&21

Thanks to everyone to downloaded "The Lord Is Not There" and for the kind words. A friend of mine was once tell me about how much he liked "The Lord Is There" and when I corrected him about the title, he gave me a curious look. The meaning behind the title comes from a story about a Franciscan Friar's encounter with a hermit.

something easily overlooked

The Friar was walking through the dense woods on the east coast when he came across a hermit who had committed to living a life of solitude in a small hut located somewhere in that wilderness. They spoke with one another for a little bit and then carried on their way, but after a few yards walk the hermit called out, "Friar!"

"Yes?"

"I'm not able to share with people like you are, so would you tell them something for me?"

"Yes! What is it?"

"The Lord is not out there!" Then the hermit smiled and went on his way.

What the Friar concluded the hermit meant was, we need to stop searching for a Loving God "out there," somewhere other than where we are at any and every given moment. God is not out there. God is here.

Elijah's story in 1 Kings 19 resonates with this. The Lord is not out there in the wind, earthquake, or fire. Jesus brings definitive clarity to this when he says, “The kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.

To download the song "The Lord Is Not There" right-click here.

Silent Prayer...

"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like people think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them..." Jesus, Matthew 6:6-8

Silent prayer is how we cultivate sensitivity, receptivity, and a sincere consent to God's abiding love and presence.

When we don't stop talking or acting, our focus quickly becomes fundamentally (yet, innocently) self-centered because our prayer is driven by feelings, impressions, and desires and our ability to articulate them. This naturally veers our attention toward how we feel about God, what we want from God, or what we want God to change. Those aren't bad things, but they are each centered around ourselves (self-centered).

Letting silence be a prayer language is a way of learning to let God to be God as God is and you to be you as you are. It is consenting to a trust that God does not need to be or do anything more than He already is and is doing. And that He loves us as we are and not as we should be (to quote the great Brennan Manning). God is Good. God is Love. Does He need to prove it through our circumstances before we choose to just accept Him in the same way that He accepts us?

"...you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one." Jesus, Luke 10:41&42

Discipl(in)e...

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…" Jesus, John 15:5

Someone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus', but without the inconvenience of discipline is like the caboose of a train detached from the engine. Sure, you're on track. Sure, you are a part of the train. But you aren't going anywhere. The connectedness that Jesus points toward in John 15:5 is more than just an agreement with a historical story about Jesus' life and purpose. It is a discipline of setting aside my expectations and, simply, actively, Trusting.

Trusting what? We are Trusting that Christ is just as alive within us as he was to the disciples over 2000 years ago. Truly living out of this profound Trust takes a discipline of consistently returning to stillness, sensitivity, and receptivity to a Gentle Whisper.

The reason this discipline is required is that God positions Himself in such a way in our lives (beneath the surface) that He is easily ignorable, easily overlooked, easily forgotten. It is the humility of God. As we increase in our own consistency and humility, we increase in our receptivity to a consistently humble God. This receptivity and consent has to be personally cultivated. Daily. Hourly. It is completely counter-culture.

"God is with us." Not externally, but gently, internally. Now.