Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

two minutes with God: Philippians 4:8

a Quote:
“An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought . . . suiting them for service in workaday life. A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God.”

and

“…the true intellectual occasionally sees some things, makes true observations and has insights that few, if any before him have seen or had. If there is any danger in this, it is not in having a one-track mind, but in having a mind with so many tracks that it either arrives at many places at the same time or it never gets out of the station.(emphasis added)

(from Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire)

my Prayer:
Intellectual? That sounds so much better than “I just over think everything,” which we both know I have a tendency to do, Lord. Sometimes my head is filled with so many thoughts and ideas, I can’t focus. Sometimes I weigh alternatives to the point of inaction. So frustrating.

Even so, thank you for my love of reading and learning and thinking. And thank you for my limitations, both real and self-perceived. They keep me grounded and authentic. It’s so easy for education and knowledge to displace my trust in – and dependence on – YOU, especially in times of confusion or when circumstances seem . . . irrational.

Thank you for every day that I wake up with more knowledge and understanding than I had the day before. At the same time, thank you for making it crystal clear to me that – compared to all that is possible to know and understand in this world – I know and understand about as much as can be contained within grain of sand.

Thank you for the intricate details in this world, from the greatest wonders to the tiniest. That you are evident in the awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon as well as in the first breath of a newborn infant is just a peek at your perfect plan and limitless power. Every creation is filled with opportunities for discovery, every problem is an opportunity for ingenuity,

Through your power and grace and mercy, please help me to learn from my mistakes. Please help me to make different and better decisions based on what I’ve learned. Please bless me with insights and ideas and imagination, even if they sometimes overwhelm me. I want all that I am and think and feel to lead me to choices that place me in the center of your will. For your glory.

the Word:
“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.”
Philippians 4:8

the lyric:
“With all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all the strength that I can find. Take my time here on this earth and let it glorify all that You are worth. For I am nothing, I am nothing without You ”
from Nothing Without You (youtube link) by Bebo Norman (amazon link)

and if you have an extra 3:33 minutes…


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

(Christian brain image from wallpaper4god.com)

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May 25, 2011 Posted by | bible, books, christian living, devotions, faith, music, prayer, spiritual growth, two minutes with God | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

two minutes with God: 1st Thessalonians 5:17

a Quote:
“O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with thy assistance, receive all my works and possess all my affections.”
(from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence)
(CLICK HERE to read the free online version)

my Prayer:
Lord, after being so distant from you during my “drift,” I’m desperate for a constant awareness of your presence in my life. I want to spend every waking moment with you, but I have to do stuff. Like chauffeur kids, load the dishwasher, work on my web page, train clients, write emails, talk on the phone….

I know I can’t attend to all these regular, everyday tasks while I pray in the way my small mind thinks prayer “should” be. I can’t load the dishwasher and write in my prayer journal at the same time. I don’t know how to “abide” and write HTML code at the same time. I can’t seem to consistently involve You in my conversations when I talk to someone else at the same time.

PLEASE teach me how to do all the things I have to do with You at the center of my consciousness. I want to come to the end of the day and know, without doubt or regret, that I spent it with You.

the Word:
“pray continually”
1st Thessalonians 5:17 (NAS)

the lyric:
“Is Your voice upon the wind? Is everything I’ve known marked with my maker’s fingerprints? Breathe on me. Let me see Your face. Ever I will seek You. ‘Cause all You are, is all I want, always. Draw me close in Your arms, oh God, I wanna be with You.”
from Always (youtube link) by Hillsong (Live) (amazon link)

and if you have an extra 4:02 minutes…


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | bible, books, christian living, devotions, faith, music, prayer, spiritual growth, two minutes with God | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

tracking the drift.

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalms 42:4-5

How does it happen? How do I consistently dedicate daily time with God – for months – YEARS – and then just . . . stop?

I don’t understand it.

But I do. The Bible is full of stories about people forgetting God. Elijah experienced discouragement. So did David. Story after story. My faith is no stronger than theirs.

It seems like it was a “single moment” kinda stop. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe it was gradual. I need clues. My prayer journal is my historical record. When did it happen? Working backwards, I see near daily journal entries for April, and for March 31st. The last entry before that? March 23. I didn’t write in my prayer journal for 7 days. That represents a week without dedicated time with God.

The March 31st entry begins with:

“Lord, I miss my time with you. It’s so easy to get distracted and allow my time and thoughts to be pre-occupied by what I believe to be the “demands” of the day.”

Please draw me back to you. Remind me till I see.

Then I read the words that reveal I was smack in the middle of a spiritual desert on March 31st:

“Please bless me with an overwhelming awareness of your presence in my life, not in an abstract, general way, but in an intimate, detailed way. Help me to be aware – to STAY aware of you. Please don’t let me find myself going through the motions, doing what comes “next” without considering whether it should be done at all.

Please reach into my heart, past all the barriers and bring me back into intimate fellowship with you . . . Lord I miss the joy and peace I experience when I’m in close fellowship with you. I miss the recognition of you working in my life . . . Please encourage me today, please jolt me into a place of desperate desire for time with you, for the saturation of your Spirit in my every moment.

The next day, April 1st, I took my first step back. I’m still finding my way, so I’m not ready to explore that part of my journey quite yet. I’m looking for a trigger. Wondering what I need to address before I can get completely clear of this desert. How did I get here?

Realistic or not, I’m also trying to avoid the next desert trip. I’m compelled to try and figure out what to do differently next time. Because I’m not so arrogant as to claim there won’t be a next time. I’ve still got one foot buried in the sand as it is.

What was I praying about in the days before I took a nose dive into a spiritual abyss? Or, as evidenced by the gaps in my prayer journal, what was I NOT praying about?

I have no idea if I’m going to be able to track back to a trigger. I’ve got some journal reading to do. I’m starting with March 23rd and working my way backwards.

Prayer in distress dredges the soul. It is a good thing to keep a note
of the things you prayed about when you were in distress. We remain ignorant
of ourselves because we do not keep a spiritual autobiography.

Oswald Chambers: The Best from All His Books
Oswald Chambers


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | bible, books, christian living, devotions, faith, prayer, spiritual growth | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

in the dark. surrounded by trees.

an analogy. no. an allegory..

When I first began recording, the studio I sang in was separated from its control booth. The doors to each room were around a corner from each other and there was no window between the sound studio and the control booth, like you often see on TV. I was completely separated from people – physically, visually and audibly.

It was a little weird, especially because there were long minutes of silence between takes while the guys in the control booth were talking to each other and I couldn’t hear them – or see them.

It was also very, very cold in that room. I remember bringing a jacket and a scarf, even in the spring and summer. I would tuck my fists in my pockets and wrap the scarf around my face because my fingers and my nose would get so cold.

But the weirdest thing about that studio was that the lights were on a motion sensor. After about 15 minutes, the lights would automatically turn off and I would be left in the dark.

pitch dark. There were no windows, remember?

Even more challenging was the fact that I was surrounded by what the sound guys called “trees.” They were actually big fat, foam-like tubes on stick-like stands. I’m not sure exactly why they needed to surround me the way they did – I’m sure it was to enhance the sound and create “sweet spot” in some way – but the bottom line is that when the lights went out, it was a challenge for me to find my way past the trees and move into the motion sensor’s line of sight to activate the lights again.

The recording sessions were about 3 and a half hours long and, tucked in the middle of the microphone (with all its accoutrements) and these giant trees, there was no place to sit down. At the end of the session, I was tired. I was tired from the singing and I was tired from the standing.

If you’ve read my last “two minutes with God” post, you may already know where I’m going with this. (if you haven’t, go ahead and click the previous link and catch up, I’ll wait. really, go ahead, it makes the rest of this post less confusing)

For a few weeks now, spiritually, I’ve been in the dark. surrounded by trees.

But here’s the thing. When I was in that studio and the lights went out during a take, I didn’t stop singing. I kept going. It didn’t matter that I was in the dark. I knew what I was supposed to be doing whether I could see or not. I didn’t really even need to see the lyrics sheet because I knew the song by heart.

I actually found that I sounded better when I couldn’t see, if you can believe that. The darkness meant there was one less distraction.

Singing in the dark helped me focus on what was important while allowing me to abandon myself to God’s leading – at the same time.

Disconcerting at first, but as I grew more dependent on the instincts I believe God provided for me, instead of the tangible, visible microphone, the lyric sheet with its numbered lines, the headphones with the cord that kept overlapping my right arm, the line of masking tape on the floor to mark where I should stand…

I realized I didn’t need all those assurances. They were tiny, irrelevant markers of proof for what I confidently knew:

– the microphone was working and there were people in the sound booth who could hear me
– they were taking the work I was doing and making it even better.
– I didn’t need lyrics if I knew the words by heart.
– it might be cold, but it was temporary and I was equipped for it.
– yeah, I would get tired, but nothing beyond what I could handle and I could rest later, after my work was finished.
– if I started out standing in the right place and didn’t absently walk away, I would stay in the center of the sweet spot.

All of that led me to an even greater assurance: that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing, when I was supposed to be doing it and that I was being equipped by someone far more able to help me than all those other things.

When the lights were on, it never occurred to me to abandon all the markers I could see and depend wholly on an “invisible God” as Philip Yancey calls him.

Lord, thank you for reminding me of this experience in my life and showing me how it relates to the lessons you’re teaching me right now:

– You are with me whether I can see You or not.

– I can depend on You whether or not you provide me with easily recognizable assurances or ask me to trust You as You lead me through the dark for a while.

– I’m going to keep singing, knowing You can still hear me and knowing that you’ll show me what I need to see, when I need to see it.


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | christian living, faith, patience, spiritual growth | , , , | Leave a comment

two minutes with God: 1 Kings 19:10-15

a Quote:
“Sometimes we experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual lives. We feel no desire to pray, don’t experience God’s presence, get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than a childhood fairy tale.

Then it is important to realize that most of these feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts, and that the Spirit of God dwells beyond our feelings and thoughts. It is a great grace to be able to experience God’s presence in our feelings and thoughts, but when we don’t, it does not mean that God is absent. It often means that God is calling us to a greater faithfulness. It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline so that we can grow into new intimacy with God.(emphasis added)

(from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith and
The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life both by Henri Nouwen)

my Prayer:
Lord, I’m going to keep listening for your voice even when I think I can’t hear you.
I’m going to keep looking for you even when I think I can’t find you.
I’m going to keep talking to you even when I think I’m not making sense.
I’m going to keep reading your word even when I think I don’t understand it.
I’m going to keep serving you even when I’m not sure I’m doing any good at all.
I’m going to keep singing to you, knowing you can hear both my words and my heart.

Lord, I know these thoughts and feelings are lies. I’m so thankful that my faith isn’t grounded in them because they are temporary. You are eternal. And you are here with me, whether I can sense your presence or not. Thank you for that knowledge, it’s my rock.

the Word:
“He [Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.”

1 Kings 19:14-15(NAS)

My Paraphrase:
Elijah: “wah, wah, wah, I just witnessed your unlimited power, but now I’m sad and I feel alone.”
God: “I am HERE. Why are you still here?”
Elijah: “wah, wah, wah, I just witnessed your unlimited power, but now I’m sad and I feel alone.”
God: “Go. You have work to do, and whining isn’t on your to-do list.”

1 Kings 19:10-15(NAS)

the lyric:
“This is my prayer in the desert, when all that’s within me feels dry. This is my prayer in my hunger and need, my God is the God who provides…I will rejoice, I will declare, God is my victory and He is here.”
from Desert Song by Hillsong

“Come Holy One, awaken me, to your design, from my sleep.”
from Your Name by Curtis Froisland


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | bible, books, christian living, faith, music, prayer, spiritual growth, two minutes with God | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

oil and water. anxiety and faith.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

I’m anxious. Yet at the same time at peace. Trying to figure out what I have to do. Waiting on answers from other people. At the same time I’m literally OVERwhelmed with a sense of “it is what it is” and a profound belief that God has a reason for allowing this in my life.

I’m not clear on the meaning of the Subpoena Duces Tecum sitting here on my desk, but my accountant tells me I’m being audited by the Florida Department of Revenue. It seems the payroll service hired to file my quarterly taxes . . . didn’t.

It started last Friday when my husband got a call on his cell from a gentleman at the Department of Revenue. The message? Copies of my quarterly tax documents needed to be faxed to him by Monday or a lien would be filed against my company.

Let the phone calls begin. Accountant. Payroll service. DOR Representative. Can’t reach the accountant, payroll service wouldn’t talk with us because technically, the accountant was their client, not us and the DOR representative interrupted my husband explaining this to say, “I don’t care about any of that, I just need the documents by Monday.”

Anybody know me? How do I handle it when a problem that needs fixin can’t be fixed? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it the rest of my flippin life: “I don’t do “nothing” well.”

FirstHusband prescribed a day on the boat Saturday.

Monday. Let the phone calls begin again. Accountant is reachable. Payroll service rep is not. (at the time of this writing – Thursday – I have no idea if a lien has been filed against my company.)

Tuesday. We wait. Payroll service is figuring things out. I’m scouring (for HOURS) the entire house for any tax paperwork I might have missed. Nothing. I’m scouring my accounts to find the tax payment that the payroll service was supposed to automatically withdraw. I have no date of withdrawal and no amount. I finally found it. January 8th. For $0.00. No. That’s not a typo. The automatic withdrawal was for ZERO.

Wednesday. Accountant faxes every tax document that exists for my company to the DOR. The DOR rep, finding my accountant’s phone number on the fax coversheet, calls and asks for the UTC-6 form, which was included in the original fax of 24 pages. That particular document is faxed again, this time alone. The Payroll service finds the error and assures that they will refile and cover any delinquencies.

Thursday. I call the DOR rep to ask him to please clarify that the appearance time on the Subpoena is a typographical error, that the time of appearance should be 2 P.m., not 2 A.m. I also ask him if there are any other documents I need to bring other than copies of the ones already faxed to him.

Now I wait. Did I mention that I don’t do “nothing” well?

Friday. Tomorrow. I hope the DOR rep, currently in possession of all the documents he’s asked for, does not require me to personally deliver additional copies of them tomorrow. I’ve got rides and childcare covered for now, but I’ll need to pick FavoriteSon up by 4pm or his sits on the curb at school and waits after basketball camp.

it is what it is.

I’m looking at it this way. Either God is allowing this situation so I can learn something from it or God is allowing me to be used so He can work in someone else’s life. If the lesson is mine, here’s what I’ve learned:

I can do everything I know to prepare, but in the end, the result is not up to me. I did the right thing. I don’t know diddly or squat about taxes, so I took trusted advice and thankfully outsourced those responsibilities to professionals. One of them made a mistake. I’ve made what I see as a much bigger mistake in my business before. Their mistake was just a clerical error. Like the a.m./p.m. typo on the subpoena. Hopefully the DOR rep will see the parallel.

I need to take action, to do what I can do, but in the end, GOD is all powerful and nothing happens to me that he doesn’t allow. Sometimes he allows stuff I don’t particularly like. Sometimes he affords undeserved blessings that blow me away. I don’t sit around and wait on God to serve me like I’m at Olive Garden. I need to get off my butt and cook my own dinner. And even then? The couscous could turn out lumpy. Cause I don’t control how water seeps into a grain of couscous.

I can pray and ask God for what I want and/or think I need, but in the end, He is all-knowing and all-powerful. I either trust that in EVERY situation or I don’t. No middle ground. He knows what is best for me and He has the power to make ANYthing happen in my life. When I ask Him to allow me to serve Him more, when I ask Him to “SEND ME!!” I have to trust that sometimes He sends me and doesn’t let me in on the reason why. Sometimes, I get exactly what I’ve prayed for – He allows me to serve Him more – and I don’t even realize it. He may allow me to be a part of His story while not allowing me to read that part of the book. Since I don’t know the ending, prayer is the FIRST thing I’m to do, not the last resort after I’ve tried everything else first.

This perspective permeates my life.

My husband and I can work as hard as we want to make a life and a home for our family, but in the end, GOD is in control. Every time my husband arrives home from a business trip, it is because God kept him safe and returned him to us. Every time we leave the house, it is by God’s grace that we aren’t involved in the accidents we see as we rush from one place to another. Every time my son steps out onto the football field or the basketball court or the track, he walks away uninjured because of God’s mercy. Every time my daughter sings I hear God’s gift to her. Every time I arm our alarm and our family curls up in our beds in an air conditioned house I am trusting God for another night of safety and rest. I know how fast a home can be lost, a person can be taken and safety can disappear. It is by God’s grace that we are undeservedly blessed and unconditionally loved.

As I raise my kids, I can make the best choices I know how, actively seeking to learn more as I encounter problems and decisions along the way. I try and equip them spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, physically, relationally . . . but in the end, GOD loves them more than I do. He knows what they need to experience so they will grow into the people He knows they can be. I can pray to be a good steward of these precious gifts in my life, but in the end, they belong to Him and everything that happens to them passes through His hands first.

I have an opportunity to record two songs next month instead of just one. I can rehearse and go to voice lessons and listen to harmonies and work out what I’m going to sing and where . . . but I canNOT control when my voice cracks. or when I become too tired after hours of singing in that little booth. I can select a song I like or I can pray and ask God to lead me to the song He wants me to record. He knows if and when that song will reach out and meet a need I may never know about. He can use the recording of that particular song to speak to the heart of one of the guys working in the sound booth. I can’t control whether I get the harmonies right when it counts, no matter how much I rehearse. The end result is up to GOD. HE gave me my voice. He can do with it what he pleases.

I can market my business as much as I want, but in the end? The phone rings because He allows it. The prospective client emails me because He allows it. The clients cancel because He allows it. An opportunity to sing or speak is offered to me because HE allows it.

But still after writing all that, there is anxiety. It causes my husband to say “stop eating rope.” when I tell him my stomach is in knots.

It takes conscious, continuous effort to trust God sometimes. Like today.

Today, I’m doing nothing. Another word for that? Abiding.

“Like others, I have prayed for healings, for miracles, for guidance, and for assistance.
Frankly, there were times I was sure God would answer me because I had mustered strong feelings of faith. But many of those times nothing happened – or if it did, it was entirely unlike what I had anticipated.”
Ordering Your Private World
by Gordon MacDonald


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | christian living, faith, god's will, grace, patience, prayer, spiritual growth | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

praying for continued pruning is unsettling. but good.

“Lord, I’m asking you to prune me. To remove anything and everything from my life that separates me from your will for me. Please show me those things – whether they be something tangible like a client or a vehicle or something difficult to extract, like my will. Take anything you think needs to be gone. Please give me the courage to freely and faithfully give up the things you ask me to and please comfort me and give me peace and hope if you take something that breaks me.”

May 17, 2010 Posted by | prayer | , , | Leave a comment

pruning produces “much fruit”

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
John 15:1-8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I pruned my rosebushes. I HATE doing it. It just seems so wrong. Inevitably, I end up cutting off what I would call – from my immediate perspective – perfectly good, nearly blooming rosebuds. But I know it needs to be done, so I just man up and do it. As I was pruning, I started thinking about the book Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson.

Long story short, for about two weeks (during which time the scratches on my forearms have healed), I’ve been praying for God to prune me. I’ve been asking him to remove everything from my life that keeps me from bearing “much fruit.” I’m praying for God to take away everything that distracts me from what He wants me to be doing. I’m offering up everything in my life – the things I hate (easy), the things that I just do because I just . . . do (indifferent) and the things I love (not so easy).

On Tuesday, of last week, right in the middle of my prayer time, four things happened within a matter of about 30 minutes:

1. Full Sail called to see if I could have another song ready to record by Friday, May 7th.
2. I received an email message from my vocal coach offering an open spot.
3. I got an email telling me praise team wasn’t singing this week. (nothing to rehearse)
4. A client canceled a new hire computer training session, choosing to skip training for the new hire “this time.”

I have no idea what this means. If anything. Did I just lose a computer training client?

I went back to my prayer journal:

“Lord, please use me. Big or small. Now or later. Individually or as part of a group. Please allow me to serve you. Show me where to focus my energy . . . Please prune me – whatever that means. Lord, please comfort me and give me hope if you prune the things I love and/or the things I think I need. I trust you.”

I do trust Him, and when I prayed for pruning, I intentionally included the possibility that He would prune things I love . . .

eek.

But look:

“Change always takes much longer than we expect because to make room for the new, we have to get rid of some of the old selves we are still dragging around and, unconsciously, still invested in becoming.”
Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra


This devotional was dual posted at my main blog, Pragmatic Compendium.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | books, christian living, faith, god's will, spiritual growth | , , , , | Leave a comment

no further uneasiness.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
Romans 8:1 (NIV)

I was introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen through the writings of Philip Yancey and I’m finding in Mr. Nouwen a trait I gravitate to in writers: The willingness to be open about their weaknesses and the courage to publicly share their questions about God. When I read authors who allow me to see their confusion and doubt and take me with them, through their writing, to explore the possibilities, I am the better for it. They make me think about things outside my relatively tiny little world. And I believe that God, through these writers, sometimes teaches me what my life looks like through his eyes. Henri Nouwen is a case in point.

Nouwen, in seeking to answer the question, “What do we really desire?” believes the word “communion” seems to best summarize the desire of the human heart:

“Communion means ‘union with.’ God has given us a heart that will remain restless until it has found full communion. We look for it in friendship, in marriage, in community. We look for it in sexual intimacy, in moments of ecstasy, in the recognition of our gifts. We look for it through success, admiration, and rewards. But wherever we look, it is communion we seek . . .”

Henri Nouwen
The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life

My favorite coffee mug reads, “That which is good to know is difficult to learn.”

Ain’t it the truth?

Why is this so difficult to learn? Why is it so difficult to remember that these temporary distractions stand in the way of experiencing the communion with God that really satisfies and fills me with the peace of God I crave?

Because I forget God.

And I am not alone. Look at the Israelites. Time and time and time again, they forgot God. And I’m no better. I forget God. And when I do, what do I do? I can stand around paralyzed by guilt and whine about the fact that I forgot Him AGAIN, or I can repent, confess and come back. I choose to hurry up and come back. Time’s a wasting! I don’t want to lose one minute of communion with God because I’m too busy beating myself up for something Jesus died for. This is why God sent His son. He KNEW we would forget. He KNEW we needed Grace.

And I gratefully accept His Grace. So I repent and come back into communion with Him. But I know I’ll forget Him again. And. So. But. Repeat.

C.S. Lewis talked about the fall of man in the book “The Problem of Pain“. He acknowledged that while most of us think of the “fall of man” as an event, something that happened in the Garden of Eden, he also sees the fall of man as something that happens daily. It’s a, sometimes moment by moment, falling away from God’s presence. He wrote:

“at this very moment you and I are either committing it, or about to commit it, or are repenting it.”

Ain’t it the truth?

I can also identify with Jack’s daily determination stay in communion with God:

“We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God’s feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God’s share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of our own pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel to be ‘our own.’

Since I don’t shave every day, I’m wondering how much faster I take my day back than Jack did. Do I claim my day for myself before my feet even hit the floor? I’m thinkin some days – YES.

But by the grace of God, when I remember Him, the immediacy of my repentance and return is prompted by a quote from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence:

“When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. (emphasis added)

I’ve forgotten God. I forgot Him yesterday. I forgot Him earlier today. And I will forget Him again. I will fall away from His presence. Again. Even after having experienced the profound peace and contentment from communion with God, I will instead strive after the temporary distractions Henri Nouwen described. But, when I remember HIM again and I recognize my God-given desire for communion with Him, I will come back and by His Grace, I will “give myself no further uneasiness about it.”

What blocks forgiveness is not God’s reticence, -‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him’ – but ours. God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.

Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

March 31, 2010 Posted by | books, christian living, comfort, faith, grace, gratitude, prayer, spiritual growth | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’d like to think I would.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Matthew 13:44

Recently, I was asked to deliver a short message about giving. The emphasis was to be on financial giving, a touchy subject for some. Especially in today’s economy. So, I got the obvious question out of the way. If I’m doing all this talking about giving, do I put my money where my mouth is? Do I give? So I admitted, right up front. We tithe.

When I first got married, tithing was a foreign concept for me, but my new husband took care of paying the bills and I was happy to be rid of the monthly guilt associated with the fact that I never opened my bank statements. I used to joke that I married him so I would have someone to balance the checkbook. And my new husband wanted to tithe. I was uncommitted. Meaning, I didn’t care.

That’s the admission. I began tithing because my new husband wanted to and I didn’t care.

Reading that back just now, it doesn’t say much for me.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve continued to tithe. We’ve had lapses, but they were more from laziness and disorganization rather than a conscious decision to hold onto “our money.” In the end, we found that the best way for us to give is to schedule our tithe on bill pay. What do I think about that? What I don’t see, I don’t miss.

But as I prepared to talk to others about giving, I was thinking I should have a better reason for doing it than “My husband wanted to and I didn’t care.” and “It’s set up so I don’t notice it.” I understand why I began tithing and the logistics of how we tithe, but why do I tithe?

Then I remembered story of Elijah and the Widow of Zaraphath in 1 Kings 17:

8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”

“Commanded.” I saw that word before. In verse 4: “. . . I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” Then verse 6 reads: “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.”

Birds brought Elijah bread and meat, morning and night, because the Lord “commanded” them. That’s impressive provision. At my house, we feed the birds. (and the raccoons, but, I digress.)

10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

Commentator Matthew Henry describes the widow as “very charitable and generous,” saying “She objected not to the present scarcity of it, nor asked him what he would give her for a draught of water (for now it was worth money).” She didn’t tell him she had more important things to do than fetch a stranger, an Israelite, a drink of water. She didn’t make excuses because she herself was weak from famine. She just stopped gathering her sticks and went to get Elijah some water.

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

But honestly? If the land was in famine and I had a starving child, would I? Or would I find out if this stranger could barter anything of value so I could take care of my child?

12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

That we may eat it – and DIE? That’s abrupt. Brutally honest. She only has enough flour and oil to make one meal for her child and then she expects they will starve to death. But she’s talking to a prophet. Didn’t she get the memo? Didn’t the Lord “command” her?

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ “

She’s a Sidonian. Elijah is talking about the God of Israel. What kind of faith does she have in the God of Israel? What kind of faith does she have that Elijah has heard from the God of Israel? This guy could be a nutcase. He could be desperate and willing to lie for food or delusional from lack of food and water. She just told some stranger that she had just enough to feed herself and her child and then she expected to die of starvation and he responds with “Don’t be afraid. Make my bread first and then make something your child.” This Israelite is asking her to feed HIM before her starving child. And telling her she won’t run out of flour and oil. Won’t run out. That doesn’t make sense. How is that possible? She has a starving child in a land of famine and some stranger is asking that she FEED HIM FIRST?

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

Would I see then, as I can “objectively” see now – from my vantage point of having well-fed children tucked in bed for the night – that one meal would not save my child’s life? Would I be able to see that one “last” meal would just prolong the inevitable? Would I look at this man, this stranger, who professes faith in the God of Israel, and tells me my oil and flour won’t run out, and do as he asks me to? Would I put my hope in him and his God?

I’d like to think I would.

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Would I be willing to give up everything I have and think I hold as “mine” in exchange for something greater? Would I be willing to give up EVERYTHING in exchange for the blessings of faithful provision of an all-powerful God? I’ve never been asked to give up EVERYTHING for Him.

Or have I?

Romans 12:1:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
(NIV)

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
(The Message)

I’m asked to give up far more than my last handful of food or my last two coins. I’m asked to give myself. Do I do that? Not consistently. But by the grace of God, every time I’ve taken possession of my time, my day, myself, I’ve come to my senses, and given again. I love what Matthew Henry writes: “The meal and the oil multiplied, not in the hoarding, but in the spending.”

I believe the “treasure” in Matthew 13:44 has nothing to do with money or possessions. I understand the “treasures” of this world are fleeting. I’ve learned that joyful giving brings unimaginable blessings. And I’m also aware that you don’t get a gourmet meal from flour and oil.

This is why I tithe.

You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love. You know now where it is,
but you are not yet ready to own it fully. So many attachments keep pulling you away.

Henri Nouwen
The Only Necessary Thing, Living a Prayerful Life

February 18, 2010 Posted by | faith, giving, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment