Prayers For The Path: The Prayer of Silence

It is four o’clock in the morning and I’m wide awake. My brain is racing with words demanding to be put into sentences and things needing to be marked as done. There are the things I wish I had said yesterday, and a few words I wish I hadn’t. I can spit out the things that need to get done today, so I can replace them with things tomorrow that are only a little less urgent.

This is no way to begin the day. This is a life, but not life we would call real. This is something less than that.

And so instead of this sprint what I want, maybe more than anything else, is to sit for a minute and remind myself that who I am has nothing to do with this list of things and everything to do with the One who declares I Am. What I’m looking for is a place to hide, if only for a moment, from the demands to go and do. I’m in search of a shelter from the doom and gloom seemingly all around us. I’m trying to find a space not to do but to be.

And so I run, not for the hills, but to the silence, to listen for the words of the God who has something to say to me. Even me. If I can listen. For a moment.

I run to it because, even at this hour I can remember the lesson that so many wise teachers have tried to get into my frazzled and hurried soul – grace doesn’t come from producing words but receiving them. I must decrease, He must increase, John the Baptist said after encountering Jesus.

Sounds about right.

I can’t begin to count all the hours I’ve spent wondering what I should say to God or the best way to approach God in prayer. I’ve struggled my whole life to find the right words to describe my situation and labored to put things in the most appropriate light.

This is how I’m wired. I like words. I read them. I write them. I use them to justify why I’m right and everyone else is wrong. I want to tell God how things need to be and exactly what I need to have happen.

And so it’s humbling to be reminded that the key to receiving the rest God gives begins with me speaking less and listening more. Grace isn’t a great argument to win but a gift spoken to me.

When it comes to prayer, my words are optional. God’s word is essential.

And so I remember the words I need – You were created for more than this. I remember the words that define who I am – You are my child. I remember the words that order my days – Take up your cross and follow me. I remember the words that call me back – You were bought with a price.

Not words that came from me, words that were given, words that changed everything.

And so what I am trying to do right now, in this season of Lent, is to get close enough to Jesus to hear what he has to say. Not from a distance, but up close, where I can see his face and hear the tone in his voice.

That’s what all of this is about. I’m tempted to speak, to tell him what he needs to notice. I want to tell him where to direct his attention. It takes everything I have not to tell him how to solve a particular controversy. It’s on the tip of my tongue how he needs to set this person straight.

The longer I can go without talking, the closer to him I get. The more of his words I hear the easier it is to see what is in front of us. The more I pay attention to him, the more I begin to act like him.

This is why I want to flee the noise. This is why I crave the silence. This is why I run away from the hustle. This is why I want to rest in being present.

To hear his words and to learn his way.

This is the prayer I need.

 

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Six For Your Long Weekend

If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope. – David Brooks

I hope these reads help you think, help you connect but mostly help you enjoy a restful long weekend.  It’s been a long, hot summer.  Enjoy the space an extra day can bring you.  If you catch a moment or two, click on one of these.

Making Modern Toughness, David Brooks 

Dear Burning Man, It’s Not You, It’s Me, April Dembosky

“How do you maintain a freshness and a sense of innocence and discovery for something when you’re doing it over and over and over again?”

Nine Labyrinths for Restless Souls to Wander in Their Lifetime, Carol Kuruvilla

“The narrowness of the path helps focus the mind.”

Ann Patchett on Stealing Stories, Book Tours and Staying Off Twitter

“The best of me is always going to be in the book. I gave the book everything. I’m proud of it. I can sign it or read from it or tweet about it or gift wrap it but the book itself is still the same. If you’ve got that, you’ve got me.”

The Resurrection Isn’t An Argument, It’s the Christian Word for Defiance, Giles Frazier

“I know the Church of England is supposed to be dying. And there are those who want to save it with cod management theory and evangelical up-speak. But if we as a church really believe in death and resurrection, then we don’t really need any of that secular sorcery. There has been a priest in my parish continuously since the reign of King John in the early 13th century. Politicians call it resilience. I call it resurrection.”

The Bread of Blessing or the Stone of Original Sin, Danielle Shroyer

“What if we recognized that the story scripture has been trying to tell us, page after page after page, is that the basis of our nature is not sin but God’s unwavering love for us? What if our children were told this so often and so persistently and so passionately that they were able to move through both feats and failures with an anchoring in the One who made them?”

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More Than Work: Losing The Idol of Busy and Finding Grace in Rest

Fridays are the most difficult days of my week. Fridays are also my day off.

Sundays aren’t really days of rest for preachers – as friends in church are so kind to remind me, this is the only day I work all week.

And Saturdays, well between the Gunners, the Vols and the honey-do list that awaits, there’s not a lot of Spirit-infused rest happening then either.

And so Friday it is – the day of rest, the day of ease, the day of Sabbath, and the day of doing the mental gymnastics it takes to try to make myself avoid work.

I’ve read the books – HeschelDawnBarton. I can tell you why Sabbath matters, how it is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us busy people, what it has to say to us achievers and why those of us tempted to self-validation require its correction that the world’s existence actually doesn’t depend on us.

And yet as I roll out of bed on Friday mornings, I know it won’t be long before I begin to hear work’s siren call.

There’s always more to be done – the phone call to be made, the essay to write, the place in that sermon that could be a lot better. There’s the theology book that’s been sitting on my shelf for months, if not years, that I need to read, and actually want to read.

I’m reminded of that visit that needs to be made, the person to be seen, lonely and desperate for connection, demanding the church, and by extension me, to provide it. There’s the community leader I’ve been trying to connect with, the planning crying out to begin and all the people whose expectations I would be a lot closer to meeting if I could put in just one more day.

Good, important and faithful things they all are. But on Fridays they are distractions from what matters, and they are more than that – invitations to idolatry and opportunities to ignore what God wants to do in and through me.

One of the most important things God wants to do with us on the Sabbath is to provide the space to help us deal with all the things that are keeping us disconnected with God and one another.  Work becomes a distraction and noble things become objects to faithfulness when we allow them to take up the space in our minds, souls and lives that God wants to use to transform us.

To avoid the call of work is to avoid the things that will prevent me from noticing and dealing with the anxieties and insecurities that are keeping me from becoming the person and living the life that God wants for me. It is only by avoiding these distractions that we can come to grips with the truth that all our attempts to build towers of self-justification and achievement have come crashing down.

When we live into the rest God gives us in Sabbath we come to more fully understand our own sin and the damage it is leveling in our lives. When we take the time to sit with ourselves and with God we begin, maybe for the first time, to realize who we really are, all the ways we are missing the life we really want and where in our lives we need to invite God’s grace in so we can discover a better way.

Serious Stuff

I am always stunned in reading Exodus at the seriousness with which God takes Sabbath – both the keeping of it and especially the breaking of it. While we find Sabbath optional, God finds it non-negotiable. To make sure none of us miss the point, when God is giving Moses the rules for life in the Covenant, right in the middle of them is that those who break Sabbath are subject to death.

Why is God so serious about Sabbath?  There are plenty of things to take serious – murder, theft, adultery, lying, racism, violence – and on and on we could go. That not resting would be a crime that gets you executed seems particularly odd to those of us who live in a culture that so effectively blurs the borders between work and non-work.

I can’t say for certain why this is.  After all, I wast there. But I think one of the reasons God is so serious about Sabbath is because transformation requires rest. We can’t repent and experience change without dealing with ourselves. And we can’t deal with ourselves unless we first stop to figure out just where and why we need grace in the first place.

It’s a crazy thing, but one I am finally beginning to learn – work, even the good and holy work of church, can be an idol. And the work of spiritual change begins with rest.

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