Posts Tagged ‘prayer

04
Jul
17

Be Free!

freedom picToday is the Fourth of July. It is the day to celebrate freedom.

For the most part when we talk about freedom, we mean political freedom:

  • We mean the ability to freely and democratically elect our leaders without pressure or fear of reprisal.
  • We mean the ability to freely speak our minds about the state of our country and her leaders… even if that speech is critical.
  • We mean the ability to travel from one place to another without restriction.
  • We mean the ability to worship – or not worship – in the style we choose.

These freedoms are precious and fragile and TOTAL. Citizens of the United States are blessed to enjoy 100% of each of these freedoms. They have been obtained by the willing sacrifice of women and men throughout our country’s history. We should never come to take them as entitlements or guarantees, but rather be grateful for them on each of the other 364 days of the year.

And yet, as I use this time off to reflect on the topic of freedom, I realize there are freedoms in my life besides political freedoms. True, these are not the freedoms we typically celebrate on the Fourth of July, but they are certainly worth pondering.

There is our mental/emotional freedom. Or another way to describe it is freedom from fear, anxiety, resentment, and anger.

There is freedom from compulsion. Can any of us truly say we are completely liberated from those nagging little (or sometimes not so little) habits that show up over and over again?

There is economic freedom… or more accurately the freedom from worry about how we will eat, clothe, shelter, or support ourselves.

Finally there is spiritual freedom… also known as “… the peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7, NRSV). The freedom from the forces of darkness and despair.

I count this freedom as the greatest – and also the most accessible – freedom of all. This is the freedom that prompted Christian mystic Julian of Norwich to say, “All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well,” and Horatio Spafford to pen the words to the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul in 1873.

A long time ago we decided that it was fitting and proper to set aside a day of national celebration in honor of our political freedoms. It is good that we routinely remind ourselves of their preciousness and importance… and of the sacrifices made by countless men and women to obtain them.

Somehow I have not figured out the connection between overeating, amateur incendiary devices and political freedom, but who am I to argue?

But today I wonder… how and when will I celebrate those other freedoms? How will I – or any of us – choose to express an appropriate level of gratitude for the spiritual freedom Christ died to give us? How will we choose to make a point of setting aside time and space to say, “Thank you, Jesus!” for breaking the chains of sin and death?

Paul reminded us in Galatians 5:1 that FREEDOM was at the very heart of Jesus’ mission when he said, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV).

So yes… get out and gather with friends and family today. Shoot off some firecrackers… grill some hot dogs, crank some homemade ice cream and splash around in the pool (weather permitting).

But don’t forget to spend part of the day on your knees giving thanks for ALL of the freedoms you enjoy.

Abundant blessings…

16
May
17

LISTEN!

SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”

 

– Abundant blessings;

25
Apr
17

Good luck!

Clover picHey… check out this clover from my back yard.

I guess clover is supposed to be a bad thing to have in your yard, but I really like the look of it.

It transports me to Ireland for a fleeting moment… and reminds me of childhood days of long ago.

No, I never did live in Ireland, but behind our house we had a big field of clover. I can remember getting down on my hands and knees and searching through the field intently… studying each plant closely. I was searching diligently for that magical and elusive FOUR LEAF CLOVER!

And then one time, when I was nine or 10, I actually found one! Yeeeehhhaawwww!

I could hardly contain my excitement and joy! I ran inside to show it to my mom and little sister.

Mom told me that if I wanted to keep it really safe I should put it between the pages of a big book to flatten and preserve it… and then of course I should also remember which book I had put it in.

This advice from my mom made sense, but I was really not sure whether I would actually follow it. You see, the whole reason I went looking for a four-leaf clover in the first place was for the GOOD LUCK it would bring me. And at that age I was really not sure how wide the “luck radius” for a four-leaf clover really was.

I mean, did it work only if the clover was physically in my possession? Would I be OK if it were three feet away? Or six feet? Or a couple of miles?

On the other hand, I knew that if I carried it around with me, I would probably either lose it or destroy it.

What to do?!

“Well, the thing for you to do…” said my Today Self to my 10-year-old self, in response to his dilemma, “… is to grow up a little and dump the whole idea of the good luck talisman in the first place.”

He/I continued: “I mean really; think about it for a minute. How could that green plant, or that penny you found on the street the other day, or that rabbit’s foot you carry around in your pocket influence the outcome of the events of your life?”

You do the best you can… you pray and commit the outcome to God’s hands, and then you just get on with your life! It’s not about luck. It’s about hard work, persistence, and God’s grace… not necessarily in that order.”

And then, if my Today Self had a Bible with him, he would turn to Matthew 6:34 in the “lilies of the field” portion of the Sermon on the Mount and read where Jesus says to his listeners, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worriers of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Hopefully 10 year-old me would hearken and understand the message.

But it also caused me to realize how tempting it is to become caught up in different types of this kind of “magical thinking”… like baseball players who wear the same socks when they are winning… people who toss a handful of salt over their shoulder after they spill it… or those who practice the careful avoidance of cracks in the sidewalk (you don’t want to break your mother’s back, after all!) when they walk.

An attraction to shortcuts and “magic potions” seems to be particularly strong when we talk about the whole area of relationships, too. We each hope to discover that ironclad phrase or action that will bring us true love or will inoculate us against hardships.

Alas, there is no such thing.

Ultimately we find out that relationships – like most of the rest of life – require hard work. They take time and attention, just like the garden out back. And just like your garden, the health of our relationships tends to rise and fall in direct relation to the time and care we put into them.

But most of all, they take PRAYER.

We might not ever be able to grow a crop of four-leaf clovers, but with prayer and a lot of good, old-fashioned “elbow grease” – as my dad used to call it – we can grow sound, healthy relationships with those we love.

 

Abundant blessings;

23
Aug
16

Those chores!

Mopping-floor

“Rusty! Have you done your chores yet?!”

I can still hear my mother’s voice asking that bothersome question today… 46 years after she left us.

Because usually the answer was “No, mom.” Followed by the intentionally vague, yet somewhat promising-sounding, “In a minute.”

My chores back then were simple. Those on the “daily” list were: Take out the trash. Make my bed. Clean my room. Feed the dog. The weekly tasks were a little bigger and more demanding; mowing the grass and shining the shoes, for example.

I used to hate chores. They cramped my style. They cut into my free, unfettered time of idleness. They cost me valuable energy and were not fun. The sound of the word itself is grating; “chore” sounds exactly like “bore” and inspires me to do nothing but “ignore.”

Isn’t it interesting how a few decades of time and life experience can change things?

Because today I must confess: I have a whole list of them and I LOVE my chores!

Besides the normal waking up and getting rolling duties (which become more like chores with each new birthday), I am responsible for making coffee, walking the dog, giving the dog her pills, feeding her, watering the porch plants and the tree out front, and watering the transplanted bush, hanging plant, and also the basil plants in back. On Thursdays, add to that list collecting and taking out the trash, on Fridays, watering the houseplants, and now and then emptying the dishwasher.

And that doesn’t even count weekly mowing, trimming, and weed pulling in the yard!

My chores fill me with a real sense of purpose and accomplishment. They make me feel like a valuable, contributing member of the household team. Dried up, dead plants and a tubby puppy would be the result of me slacking on my chores… neither of which would be good.

But for all of the vital, necessary, “meaning-giving” purposes they serve, it dawned on me recently that my chores can also work against me. It occurred to me that my beloved chores can serve as a benevolent barrier to doing the quiet “soul work” that I need to do.

To shamelessly steal Stephen Covey’s categories, chores are urgent. They call for one’s attention and energy RIGHT NOW. They must be done! Soul work – on the other hand – is not urgent. It does not come screaming for my attention.

Of course when you hold the two up to the light and compare them, anyone can see that an hour spent in the yard, pulling up weeds, edging around the side of the house, or mowing is a LOT more productive than quietly meditating in the chair in my office, reading the Bible, or writing a blog post.

My chores produce a visible residue of effort… something that can be pointed to with pride as clear evidence of one’s value. Especially when you bag the clippings!

Time spent tending the interior landscape produces no such pile of evidence. It happens quietly and sweatlessly. Its work is hidden from view… locked away in the intricate crevices of the infinite interior. Its results emerge slowly and gradually… almost imperceptibly.

Soul work is certainly not urgent. It is, however, important.

And it seems the more anxious I am… the more eagerly I feel the need to have my worth validated by YOU, the more readily I am drawn away from soul work and toward my chores. Away from the important and toward the urgent.

Dear Lord, today help me discern more clearly between the urgent demands on my life and those that are important… those that feed the eternal dimensions of my soul and those that deal only with matters of the surface.

Because the world will certainly survive a slightly shabby lawn. But it may not survive a whole collection of shabby souls.




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