How To Become Silent Before God

The other week I wrote about Lectio Divina. One of my favorite ways to go deeper with the Bible. In that post, I made the point that if you want to hear from God, you have to learn to be silent before God. But I never actually described how a person becomes silent before God. And the truth is, being silent before God is actually quite hard. Maybe you have noticed this.

Because by quiet, I don’t mean just siting before God without talking. Though let’s be honest even that is hard enough sometimes. No, by quite I mean, quite in your soul, and in your mind. It is to “Be still…”. (Ps. 46:10).

Quiet before God is when you have no burdens weighing you down. No thoughts racing through your mind. No stress inside of you. When you are quiet before God there is a sense of feeling empty. But a good empty. An empty like a drinking glass is empty just before it is filled with water. An emptiness that is ready to be filled with the living presence of God.

So how does one actually enter into this kind of silence before God?

 “palms down palms up”

One method, which has most helped me, is what Richard Foster calls “palms down palms up”. He writes,

“Begin by placing palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’ Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, ‘palms down.’ Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands. After several moment of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.’ Whatever you need, you say ‘palms up.’ Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not fine.”[1]

Over the years I have added variations to this “palms down palms up”. Usually when I want to be silent before God I start with my hands out in front of me in a pushing position. Then every time I confess something that is on my mind I imagine that I am pushing it away from me and toward Jesus. Then I imagine Jesus literally taking each of my burdens. I do this until I can’t think of anything else to give over to Jesus—until I feel quiet and empty. Only then do I turn over my palms, and receive the gift God has for me.

For me “palms down palms up” (or some variation of it) has been the most effective way for me to enter into silence before God, in preparation to hear from God. I pray it works just as well for you too. If you’re interested in other Christian practices that have long helped people enter into the presence of God, I would highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

 

[1] Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth 30-31

Going Deeper With The Bible

At some point reading your Bible becomes boring. You know all the stories. You’re familiar with the popular verses. And you have a pretty good sense of what the whole thing is about.

You begin to wonder, “now what?” “Am I doomed to a life of begrudgingly re-reading the same things year after year? Or is there something more?”

Thankfully there is more– a lot more!

If you’ve only been reading the Bible,  you may have given yourself a breadth of biblical  knowledge. But what you lack is depth. Likely your boredom with Bible reading is the Holy Spirit’s way of telling you that your soul is ready for something more. That you need something deeper.

One of my favorite ways to go deeper,  is a method of Bible reading called Lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh di-vee-nuh).  It means “divine reading”. For over 1, 500 years Christians have practiced it in order to hear from God, and draw closer to Christ.

Here’s how it works:780px-Lectio_Divina_.svg

Dr. Richard Peace, professor of Spiritual Formation,  describes it as a four-part movement “beginning with the the text and ending in prayer.” [1]   The four movements are as follows:

Reading/Listening: Read aloud a short passage Scripture. As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you. What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?

Meditating: Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn. Make connection between it and your life. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?

Praying: Now take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God’s love. What is God leading you to pray?

Contemplating: Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing himself to you?

 Lectio divina is more than a  simple “quiet time”. It takes intentionally getting to a quiet place with no distractions. It also takes practice. Learning to listen to God, is like learning how to use a new muscle. There’s nothing “magical” about it. But it won’t happen until you’re able to sit still, and be silent before God.

If you want to learn more about the practice of Lectio divina, I would start with a copy of Richard Peace’s Contemplative Bible Reading: Experiencing God Through Scripture. It is a short Bible Study handbook that provides more detail about the four movements. It also includes examples of how the process works with different passages of Scripture. The study can be used for an individual or groups. So if your currently in a small group and you think your group might also be interested in going deeper with the Bible, then this might be a great study to do together.

Whether you use Lectio divina by yourself or with a group, I pray it will be something that will draw you deeper into the Word of God, and closer to God through Jesus Christ.

 

 


Finding Peace: Week Four of Advent

I think I may have missed my calling to be a beauty pageant contestant—because I sincerely desire world peace.

But is world peace even possible?

Our society feeds on conflict. Whether it’s 24 hours of almost entirely negative news, inflammatory political rants from talk-radio hosts, or the latest firestorm on social media about the actions of a celebrity. It is all just noise that spoons conflict into our lives. We eat it up. And we can’t get enough of it.

Then we complain about it. We love to complain about it. We love to tell anybody who will listen, and many people who don’t want to listen, what in the world (or at least our world) is messed up.

And this of course breeds stress, anxiety, and anger, in our lives and the lives of others. With the result, that each day our world becomes a little less peaceful.

But we say it’s not our fault:

If only those people over there would stop doing….then there would be peace.

If only that leader would start doing…then there would be peace.

If only this or that person would change…then, the world, our families, and our lives would be peaceful.

But God’s Word tells us something different.

Peace is not dependent on the actions of others. Peace comes to us when we enter into the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Perspective

The Apostle Paul shows us what this looks like. While confined to house arrest in Rome, he wrote the following encouragement to a suffering church in Philippi:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Did you catch Paul’s recipe for peace?

Peace comes through joyful worship of Jesus (4)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Peace comes through prayerful reliance on God through Jesus (6-7)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace comes through the enjoyment of the things of God (8-9)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you.

The point is, despite our circumstances, peace is available to us now.

It is true that this is not the same kind of peace we will have in heaven. Now, our peace is fleeting. In heaven it will be continual. But the peace we experience in heaven will come from doing the same kind of things we are now able to do on earth. That is, the continual worship, reliance, and enjoyment of Jesus Christ.

What Paul knew is that, as long as we have access to Jesus, we have access to peace- the peace of God, that transcends all understanding.

So if you, like me, sincerely desire peace, then join me this week and come into the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Let’s turn off our 24-hour news channels. Let’s change the station on our political talking heads. And lets take a breather from our social media outrage.

And instead, lets spend time praising Jesus, relying on Jesus, and enjoying the gifts of Jesus–then we might just taste the beginnings of world peace.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

 

 

Share The Gospel Like a Farmer

Share The Gospel Like a Farmer pic

I am not a farmer. In fact, I am not even that great at taking care of the flowers in my yard.  But when I want to see something grow, I need to think like a farmer. And that means thinking about what it will take for a seed to have the best chance to grow.

Any farmer will tell you, if you want a seed to grow, you need good soil.  And to make good soil, you need to do three things: remove the rocks, add nutrients, and provide plenty of water.

When it comes to sharing The Gospel, the same thing is needed– good soil. That is, a heart that is fertile ground for the seeds of the Good News (Mark 13:1-8).  And if we want to produce that good soil, we need to take the same three farmer-like actions: remove the rocks, add nutrients, and provide plenty of water.

What does this look like?

Remove The Rocks– Everybody has rocks in their heart.  By rocks I mean those barriers in a person’s heart that keep them from fully and freely worshiping Jesus with their whole life.  These barriers might be negative attitudes toward God, pain caused by other Christians, false beliefs, or idols that are ruling their life.  Whatever the barriers, they must be removed if the seeds of The Gospel are going to grow. Our job as ‘spiritual farmers’ is to discern those barriers (by observing, asking good questions, and praying) in order to ask God to remove them.

Add Nutrients– Good soil is also full of good nutrients. Without nutrients in the soil a seed will have little chance at survival.  As Christians, it is our job to make sure we’re doing everything we can to fill the soil of the hearts around us with good nutrients. By this I mean filling the hearts of others with the goodness of God.

Matthew 5:16– “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Luke 6:30-31– “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Philippians 2:3-4– “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Imagine, if we lived out these commands, how open to The Gospel the hearts of those around us might be.

Provide Lots of Water– Rock-free, nutrient-rich soil is not enough for seeds to grow. Seeds, of course, need water.  Our water is the Living Water from Heaven– Jesus Christ (John 4:10).  Jesus is the well which never runs dry, He is the fire hydrant that gushes forth forever. But for some whose hearts are bone dry, His presence is too much. And as much as they might need to drink deeply from the Water that quenches all thirst, they might only accept the water that comes in drips. So how can we share this Living Water without scaring them to death?

Pray that Jesus would reveal Himself to them.
Pray that Jesus would care for all their burdens, needs, and pains.
Pray that you would be the presence of Jesus when you are around them.

 

Like the sun, only God can make things grow, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to help the situation.  So the next time you’re frustrated by someone who is unreceptive to The Gospel, ask yourself, have I done the work of a farmer?  If you have, then don’t worry. In the proper time God will make things grow.

 

 

 

 

Why pursue Jesus now?

Why not enjoy life now, do whatever I want and then pursue Jesus later…after I’ve had all my fun? This was the question we discussed last night at our high school group. It’s is a good question, one I  thought about in high school and have since thought about as an adult.  For most of us if we’re honest we’d admit that there are times when we see others “enjoying” life apart from God and we can’t help but think— why can’t I do that and then ask for forgiveness later?

But the question is usually asked when we’re not thinking about three things…

1.  I am not in control of when I die.

God says in James 4:13-14

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

No one has control over their tomorrow.  We can make plans but ultimately our life is in God’s hands.  My family became painfully aware of this truth last fall when my wife’s mother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurism.  She was healthy, full of life, and we should have had many more years with her. But instead our lives were turned upside and we were forced to come to terms with a new reality.

Medical emergencies, car accidents, and even school shootings are everyday reminders that we are not in complete control of our mortality.  So when we assume that we’ll have many tomorrows in order to turn our lives around we’re making a pretty foolish assumption.

2.  God has good things for me to do now

Ephesians 2:10  says, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is one of the greatest promises of God.  If I have given my life to Jesus, then I can know that Jesus has prepared good things for me do. I can literally wake up every morning and say to God, “Would you lead me to the good things you have for me today”. My job, then, is simply to be faithful to where God’s leads me.  The reason I pursue Jesus isn’t just to avoid negative consequences, but rather to enjoy watching God do good things through me.

3.  In Jesus I have access to joy–all the time

This leads to the third truth, in Jesus there is joy—all the time.

Psalm 16:11- You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

In the presence of Jesus there is joy.  Now what I didn’t know in high school was that this verse does not mean that Jesus will fill my life with joyful things.  Instead it means, despite the suffering that may come from external circumstances, there is joy when I acknowledge the presence of Jesus over all my life and chose to praise Him–no matter the situation.

This is actually an amazing experiment to try sometime. Wait till you’re angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, anxious, or stressed out of your mind…and then start worshiping Jesus. Seriously.  Start with the simple stuff, like “Jesus I thank you for giving me a mind, and thoughts, and the ability to think. Jesus I praise you for color and giving me eyes to see it. Jesus I praise for creating good flavors and the ability to enjoy food. Jesus I praise you for the trees outside that look like they are lifting their arms to worship you” …whatever comes to your mind.  As you do this you will literally feel your heart soften, and the beginnings of joy enter in. It is this secret of life that led the Apostle Paul to exclaim, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), while suffering in prison. Jesus is worth pursing now, because He offers joy now.

Life maybe short and unpredictable, but in Jesus we know that there are good things planned for us and joy in His presence–now and forever.

When have you been tempted to ask, why can’t I sin now and then ask for forgiveness later? How have you experienced the joy of Jesus’ presence? What has motivated you to pursue Jesus?

God is Reality

Image

Think about the last time you sinned. Why did you do it?

When I sin it is because in that moment my experience seems to run contrary to God’s truth. Or to put it another way, the reality I am experiencing is running contrary to the truth I have been told to accept.  Sometimes, in that moment of temptation, I don’t believe that my soon-to-be experience of sin will in reality actually be sin. Other times, I don’t believe that the “sinful” experience will in fact lead to any “real” death, “real” destruction or “real” consequence.  Because in that moment of temptation,  I don’t accept that God’s truth will in fact correspond to my reality.

Recently in a time of confession I told God this. I told Him that there are times when I don’t believe Him, I told Him there are times I do not accept that His truth corresponded to my reality. And do you know what His first words of response were to me:

“I Am Reality”

Then the Bible verses came to my mind…God’s revealed name to Moses, of “I AM” …Jesus’ use of “I AM”

Is not this identity statement of “I AM” the most succinct and profound way to communicate, “I am existence”, “I am the essence of being”, and “I am Reality “

Why does this matter?

If God is Reality, and if Jesus is God in human flesh, then to know God through Jesus is to know Reality.  Reality therefore cannot be based on your’s or mine’s experiences. Because our experience is at best only our perception of reality. Thus when our experiences of God’s truth do not correspond to what we perceived to be reality we should not look to condemn God’s truth but rather to condemn our perceived reality. God truth could no more be separated from reality then light could be separated from the sun. Because just as the sun is the source of light, so too God as Reality is the source of Truth.

Thus the next time you or I are having the experience of temptation, we can cling to the truth that God is Reality, which will in turn serve as good reason to distrust our distrust of God.  And  then in that moment of distrust of our distrust of God, we will be able to run to God, trusting that as “I AM”, He will shine his Truth upon us.

Overcoming The Intimidation: 3 practices for ministry volunteers

Students haning out

There’s nothing more intimidating than walking up to students, as a new volunteer.  No matter who you are, students won’t introduce themselves, they won’t make you feel welcome, and they will likely avoid you.  And when this happens your first temptation will be to go find the nearest group of adults and talk only to them.  Fight that temptation.

God has called you to help students grow closer to Him,  and thankfully there are a few things you can do to overcome the intimidation and allow God to work through you:

Pray
Pray that you would be sensitive to God’s leading
Pray that God would lead you to the students He has for you
Pray that Jesus would make Himself known through you

Commit  
Commit to knowing a small group of students (5 or less)
Commit to learning their names and listening to their stories
Commit to praying for them

Share
Share things you like with them
Share why you’re there
Share stories of God’s work in your life

It may take some time,  maybe a lot of time, but whether you’re  a new volunteer, or one that’s been around forever, when you  Pray, Commit, and Share,  God will show up in your life and use you to change the lives of others.

If you’re a youth leader or volunteer, what other practices have you found helpful?

Jesus is not fragile

Sometimes I think we approach Jesus as if we could break Him.  As if we could vent too much to Him, to the point where He would respond, “no more, that’s too much…quit it, you’re stressing me out.”

Of course we think that, because we have those moments…those moments when someone’s confession of pain or trouble starts to overwhelm us.  Sure we listen and sympathetically nod, but inside we’re thinking “no more, that’s too much…”

But thank God, Jesus is not like us. He is never stressed out by other people’s stress. Rather, He tells us to give Him all we’ve got.  Jesus says, “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.” (Mathew 11:28-30)

Only Jesus is able to turn stress into rest. We cannot break Him, because He has already been broken for us. On the cross He felt the weight of all our pain, but now He has overcome. So now we can come to Jesus-the Mighty One, our Refuge, and our Rock. And now we who are fragile can lead others to the One who will not cower and will not break.

Thank God, Jesus is not fragile.