Inner silence

Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. ~Matthew 8:5 (CEB)

October can be so busy. I come to the end of it every time and wonder where it has gone off to. October 31st always finds me taking a deep sigh. Gone are the packed weekends. I even have these couple of weeks where I don’t feel so overly busy. Then Thanksgiving hits and I find myself running again.  At the end of such a busy time it seems good to remind myself of the need for silence… the inner kind of silence.

Inner silence is the absence of any sort of inward stirring thought or emotion, but it is complete alertness, openness to God. We must keep complete silence when we can, but never allow it to degenerate into simple contentment.

“Silence is the state in which all the powers of the soul and all the faculties of the body are completely at peace, quiet and recollected, perfectly alert yet free from any turmoil or agitation. A simile which we find in many writings of the Fathers is that of the waters of a pond. As long as there are ripples on the surface, nothing can be reflected properly, neither the trees nor the sky when the surface is quite still, the sky is perfectly reflected, the trees on the bank and everything is there as distinct as in reality.

Another simile of the same sort used by the Fathers is that of that as long as the mud which is at the bottom of a pond has not settled, the water is not clear and one can see nothing through it. These two analogies apply to the state of the human heart. ‘Blesses are the pure in heart for they shall see God’ As long as the mud is in motion in the water there is no clear vision through it, and again as long as the surface is covered with ripples there can be no adequate reflection of what surrounds the pond.

As long as the soul is not still there can be no vision, but when stillness has brought us into the presence of God, then another sort of silence, much more absolute, intervenes: the silence of a soul that is not only still and recollected but which is overawed in an act of worship by God’s presence; a silence in which, as Julian Norwich puts it, ‘Prayer oneth the soul to God’. ~From Living Prayer by Anthony Bloom

Heavenly Father, help me to quiet my soul this day so that I may reflect Your love to those around me. Settle the restlessness inside of me from too much activity. Quiet my heart so I may hear Your wisdom in the space. Amen.

 

Does God really care?

LORD, how long will I call for help and you not listen? I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence are before me? There is strife, and conflict abounds. ~Hab 1:2-3 (CEB)

Often I find myself wrestling with questions. In reading the book of Habakkuk I find he is wrestling with some of the same things. His primary question to God is “Why does the Lord permit the righteous to suffer while the wicked prosper?” He has a series of questions and as he continues to raise these questions, the Lord responds. Habakkuk seems to be most concerned with how wicked people can even play a role in God’s work.

The time frame for this book is during the time of Israel’s defeat by the Assyrians and Judah’s oppression of those same Assyrians. The Assyrian rule was being felt greatly. Alliances were being made with other nations instead of turning to God. Habakkuk’s vision declares that this practice of trusting in human power and strength would ultimately lead to defeat. Habakkuk reminds Judah that the righteous live by faith.

In the ensuing conversation that Habakkuk has with God, he learns that the question at stake is not how one is made righteous but rather how the righteous might face evil’s apparent domination. He begins to realize that the question at stake is rather how the righteous might face evils apparent domination. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” (2:3-4) The prophet’s vision emphasizes trust in God despite circumstances. At an appropriate time, an answer will come; in the meantime, the righteous will continue to trust in God.

From Habakkuk’s honest dialog comes a hope based not on visible circumstances but in God, who ultimately triumphs over evil and all of its manifestations. I too can say despite not knowing what tomorrow holds, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” (3:18-19)

Lord, help me find my security in You, not in my present circumstances. As long as my eyes are on You I have the faith needed to know that You will ultimately triumph over evil. Amen.

As the river flows

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” ~Mark 8:34-37

“Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it. The life is lived within us, and we learn how to say yes to that life.” ~From Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Today I am going to try to not swim against the current. Today I am going to rest and let the river do the work. When I try to get places by my own power, I just wear myself out. I think I will lay back and see just where this river takes me.

Heavenly Father, You say in Your Word that Your yoke is easy and Your burdens are light. Help me to make the right choices this day so I can step out in faith and not feel overly weighed down. Help me to flow better with the currents of life so that I can look up and see Your glory around me. Amen.

By faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful. So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. ~Hebrews 8:8-12 (CEB)

It is hard for me to relate this passage. I don’t have the long family history, those stories that tell me who I am. It is hard for me to understand what it was like for Abraham to leave all he had known, to leave his family behind and step out on faith.

I have a confession to make. I never ever thought twice about leaving all I had known or my family to move 6 hours away after I finished college. I didn’t consult with God whether I should go or should stay. I just went. I wasn’t thinking of my future much less of children and grandchildren when we packed up the moving van and headed to east Tennessee.

Now that I have lived away from immediate family and half raised my family with only my husband to help out, my view of family has begun to change. The examples laid out for me had been get married and move off. That is what my parents had done and their parents before them. The whole idea of living in an area surrounded by extended family is completely foreign to me. But as I have gained friends who have that family history, stories and support, I have begun to understand just what it might have meant to leave all I had known behind.

In Abraham’s time, it appears that he was a well established “city dweller” living in his family estate. Here was his inheritance. Here was his history. Here was his support. God called to Abraham, asking him to give up the security he had. God wanted him to have something more. This was a new concept to look to your Heavenly Father for your inheritance. When the Jews heard this story, they knew what sacrifice Abraham was making, what dreams he might be giving up. They understood the risks that Abraham was taking to head out from an established home into the wilderness to roam. Abraham believed God when he said that he had something more in mind for him than Abraham had for himself.

I am at a point in my life where I feel that God is asking me to let go of what I have banked my securities in. He has something more in mind for me than the little niche I have carved out for myself. Can I have the faith of Abraham? Can I blindly go where He calls me to go? Can I believe enough in a promise to find something more than I hold in my hands now? Abraham did.

Heavenly Father, give me the strength to stand up when You call. Guide my steps so they go with a purpose. Keep me from wandering too far from Your promises. I believe the scriptures when they say You have my good in mind. I claim this day all the promises You have for me. Amen.

The church

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. ~Ephesians 1:18-23 (CEB)

This excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s book, Bread for the Journey, really makes me stop and remember how crazy mixed up I was in college. I never really lost my faith in God but I really struggled with the rest of the package. I have never really known how to word what I went through in my heart other than to say I had lost my faith in “religion”. I have since understood that the community of believers is not perfect but that we still need that community:

“The Church is an object of faith.  In the Apostles’ Creed we pray:  “I believe in God, the Father … in Jesus Christ, his only Son – in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  We must believe in the Church!  The Apostles’ Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God.  But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers.  God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us.”

Heavenly Father, as we struggle to live in this world with people so different from ourselves, help us to come together through You. Help us be in communion with one another, all of us forgiven for our sins through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Searching, again

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. ~Psalm 23:4 (NRSV)

There are days I feel adrift from God. Sometimes it may be a result of my trusting in self again. It isn’t that God has moved, I have moved away from Him. Other times He has moved and I need to seek after Him. Again. Gary Moon in his Book Falling for God says it this way:

“All believers who want to become an apprentice of Christ and not just his admirer will find themselves in the blank space between the verses in Psalm 23. Because he loves us so much, the Shepherd moves on. We look around and wonder where he has gone. We feel alone, abandoned. We call out. Nothing. The voice that used to call our name is silent and does not respond when we call. He is gone. He has moved farther down the road that leads home. During the dark night experience our job is to seek God and to go to him again. When we do, we realize we are not the same person. Our relationship with him is not the same. We [too] have moved. We are closer to home and closer to union.” ~From Falling for God by Gary Moon

So whether my rough spot is due to me moving toward idols (Self-reliance) or God moving me on down the path to greater maturity, my job, your job, remains the same. We say, “Here I am, Lord, helpless without you.”

Heavenly Father, help me to seek You in all I do this day. May I ever grow more into who You see me to be. Amen.

Born to be restless

The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “ What are you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?” He replied, “ Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. ~John 1:35-30 (CEB)

If you look on the church calendar, you will find that we are in the middle of “ordinary time”. We are betwixt and between Easter and Christmas. It isn’t Lent or Advent or even Pentecost.  Ordinary every day life can sometimes be the hardest to live through. We aren’t looking forward to or celebrating an arrival.  Here can be much restlessness. Sometimes I find myself in this restlessness and I can’t help but wonder, “What am I looking for?” Nothing seems to really fill that space.

I think John’s disciples may have felt the same way. If they had found all they needed in John the Baptist they would have not looked up and seen Jesus and felt the need to follow him. John had said all along that he was not “The One,” so some of his disciples may have been feeling restless when they noticed Jesus walking by. When Jesus asked his question though, “What are you looking for” it must have been like a light coming on and they knew what they were looking for. They were looking for Jesus.

I wonder sometimes if we were all born with that restlessness to be on the look out for “something”. We may try to fill it with many things, success or addictions. Deep in our hearts we are all waiting for Jesus to ask us “What are you looking for.”

Heavenly Father, You planted deep within us a longing for you. Although I may try to fill my time and space with other things my heart needs to hear You ask “What are you looking for.” Call to my heart this day Lord so I may follow You. Amen.

God’s hiddenesss

“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” ~Job 23:2-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes in the midst of my troubles I feel so alone.  I even feel abandoned by God.  Here is an example in the Bible of a righteous man who also felt abandoned by all and God seemed to be so far away.

Life can get really ugly sometimes. We don’t have to live it perfectly. We just have to make it through each day until we get to the other side of bad times. We can’t get to the other side without living through it. The Israelites are an example of this. To make it to the Promised Land they had to go through the desert. They didn’t do it perfectly. They even still had some kinks that needed to be worked out when they got to the new land. But God guided them through the desert and they eventually got there.

When it seems that God isn’t answering my prayers I have to remember that He is faithful. There are things that He is doing that I cannot see. All I am required to do is to live through each day, letting Him guide my steps. I don’t have to see where I am going. I just have to go.

 Guide my steps this day Lord, blind as I may be to the work you are doing. Strengthen my trust in You that all things will work out in the end for my good. I know that the only way to get through this desert is to just walk on through. Steady my steps when they falter, strengthen my heart when it is faint, give me faith when it seems all hope is lost. Amen.

Real religion

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)

In Micah, the author accuses the people have not having real religion. They went through the motions of the spiritual acts and festivities. But they forgot that it wasn’t their acts but their heart that God was looking at, He looks at the spirit of their giving.

Only if we walk humbly with God can we respond to God in a proper (good) way. God isn’t looking for the large sacrifices that might seem culturally acceptable. We are required instead to practice “justice” so that we can set things right between others and God and “love kindness” by maintaining a loyal commitment to God and others that transcend any legal requirement.

We are reminded in this summary of the Law by Micah that walking humbly with God can only result from a transformed life that conforms to the image of God. If we wish to be genuine Christians we must strive towards an intimate walk with God based upon faith and a life of active service to others rooted in compassion and justice, they reflect the loving nature of the One whose image they bear. This orientation is a movement from self to God in all things. Real religion is a journey of faith working by love leading to holiness of heart and life.

Heavenly Father, May I find myself this day on a journey towards being a reflection of You in all I do. Help me to have enough strength to practice justice, to show kindness and to humbly walk with You. Amen.

Walking on water

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. Just then Jesus spoke to them, “ Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “ Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “ You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” ~Mattew 14:22-31 (CEB)

It is interesting to remember that the disciples found themselves in that storm because they had obeyed Jesus and got into the boat in the first place. Obeying Jesus didn’t keep them out of the storm. In this case it caused them to be in the middle of one. But if Peter had never gotten into the boat, never had faith enough to step out of that boat and attempt to walk where no human had ever walked before, he would not have been in the place to find himself in the arms of Jesus. Being in the arms of Jesus isn’t such a bad consequence I am thinking.

In an attempt to help my son through a storm a few years ago, I asked him, “What was the worst thing that could happen to us if a tornado did hit our house?” His reply was that “We would die.” “Then where would we be?” I asked him. “Heaven”, he said.

Sometimes when I think of the worst case scenario, the worst case might actually be the best case. In the arms of Jesus is the best place to be. If my stepping out in faith brings me straight into his arms is that really a bad thing?

Heavenly Father, may I have enough faith today to step out into this storm called life. In obeying You may I find that it actually brings me closer to You. Amen.

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