I came across a quote from C. S. Lewis that fits well with our emphasis on praying, and I had to share it with you. He explains why the real problem of the Christian life comes where we don’t usually look for it:
"It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and fretting; coming in out of the wind.” — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
That "other point of view”? We serve a loving God who will bring all his people into his good purposes, and bring us all to himself one day for a celebration. Let’s ponder this until we can see it in action in us.
What will your tomorrow morning be like?
— from Dallas Willard:
Every person should have regular periods in life when he or she has nothing to do. Periods of solitude and silence are excellent practices for helping us learn how to do that. The law that God has given for our benefit tells us that one-seventh of our time should be devoted to doing nothing—no work, not by ourselves or any of our family, employees, or animals. That includes, of course, religious work. This is Sabbath.
What do you do in solitude or silence? Well, so far as things to "get done," nothing at all. As long as you are doing "things to get done," you have not broken human contact. So don't go into solitude and silence with a list. Can we enjoy things in solitude and silence? Yes, but don’t try to. Just be there. Don’t try to get God to do anything. Just be there. He will find you.
Even lay aside your ideas as to what solitude and silence are supposed to accomplish in your spiritual growth. You will discover incredibly good things. One is that we have a soul. Another, that God is near and the universe is brimming with goodness. Another, that others aren’t as bad as we often think. But don’t try to discover these, or you won’t. You’ll just be busy and find more of your own doings.
The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for there we find that we are safely more than what we do. Thus, the cure of loneliness is solitude and silence, for there we also discover in how many ways we are never alone. When we go into solitude and silence, we need to be relatively comfortable. Don’t be a hero in this or in any spiritual discipline. You will need rest. Sleep until you wake up truly refreshed. And you will need to stay there long enough for the inner being to become different. Muddy water becomes clear only if we let it be still for a while.
You will know that this finding of soul and God is happening by an increased sense of who you are and a lessening of the feeling that you have to do this, that, and the other thing that befalls your lot in life. That harassing, hovering feeling of "have to" largely comes from the vacuum in our soul, where we ought to be at home with our Father in his kingdom. As the vacuum is rightly filled, we will increasingly know that we do not have to do many of those things—not even those we might want to do.
Excerpted from Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks by Dallas Willard.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul. (Psalms 23:1–3)
Do you remember Psalm 23? God’s care for his people is first and foremost his presence with his people. That presence refreshes and restores the deepest part of us — our soul. We are better able to experience his presence lying down in green pastures, or beside still waters. Work and relationships drain us; we need time with God. We need rest.
“Most of us are more tired than we know at the soul level. We are teetering on the brink of dangerous exhaustion, and we cannot do anything else until we have gotten some rest.” ― Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
It’s not just work that drains us, and it’s not just the pace of our lives. Relationships can drain us, too. You are almost certainly related to or involved with some “high maintenance” people. Solitude and silence are the green pastures and still waters that restore us.
You’re tired. Your Shepherd is waiting to lead you to a quiet spot.
Lord, I’m ready for rest but feel too busy. Lead me where I need to go. Amen.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)
Jesus is concerned that the disciples might get so caught up in doing good that they would collapse under the weight of responsibility and opportunity. We live in a culture of unparalleled responsibility and opportunity. It seems counterintuitive to slow down or take a break.
Solitude and silence are ways to take a break to restore our soul. The restored soul makes good choices, and connects well with others.
What quiet place can you find or make today? Let Jesus settle you, and if necessary, redirect you.
Lord Jesus, there is so much to do! I cannot slow down. Yet not my will, but yours. Lead me to a quiet place today. Amen.
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence. We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses”—dare we say it?—we do nothing. This discipline can be used of God as a means of grace. In it we may even find another reminder of grace—that we are saved, justified by His redeeming power—not by our strivings and achievements. — Dallas Willard in “Personal Soul Care"
You are back to work today after the Independence Day holiday, or at least back to your routine. Our routines can consume us if we run through them in our own strength alone. Practicing solitude and silence can keep us sane even in the craziest schedule. This is true because of who God is. God is love. Solitude is a way to settle into the presence of God.
When today can you take a break for a few moments do nothing? Doing nothing in God’s presence even for a few moments can re-center us and restore us.
When this week will you stop your work and do nothing in a time of gratitude to the God of everything?
We have been talking about what amounts to a paradigm shift. Reading Psalm 23 closely like this shows us the kind of life God offers us now.
We tend to slip back into thinking that the Christian faith is about cleaning up our act, minding our tongue, or choosing to be loyal to the right side. While all of those are part of the process, none of them are the core of following Christ. The paradigm shift Psalm 23 invites us to make is to instead see God himself as the ongoing source of our life and refreshment.
Green pastures. Quiet waters. Right paths. No fear. Comfort. A banquet. Enemies at bay.
None of the above are things we do or make. All are the result of walking with God, all are things we can receive from God as we are open to him.
Yesterday’s question: How can we experience the life God promises?
Do you remember the thought experiment from a few days ago? “What next?” Turning our thoughts to Jesus as often as we can is one way to be open to what God offers. That openness allows the free flow of “quiet waters” to the deepest parts of us.
Over the next few days we will look at what kinds of things we can do to make ourselves open to what God wants to do in us. He wants to pour life into us so he can pour his love through us.
It’s a small shift that brings major benefits.
Lord, make us open to you today and always.
Have you ever been out to eat and run out of what’s in your glass before you finish what’s on your plate?
Here’s what you find yourself doing: You pick up your glass, look down the mouth of it to the bottom, hoping that you’ll find something there you missed. No, it’s empty. Or maybe there's just ice, nothing to drink. So you shake the glass a little hoping that will shake loose a few drops. Really nothing. You look around for the server, wondering if you can get a refill. She’s nowhere. (If you can get a refill, will you have to pay for it?)
That never happens at the LORD’s table:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalms 23:5)
Overflows! The LORD is lavish in the sustenance he provides. Abundant food, overflowing drink.
So if we’re thirsty — finding ourselves at a loss facing a problem, finding ourselves at odds with a loved one, or having trouble finding our way and don’t know why — if we’re thirsty and our cup is empty it is likely not because God is holding out on us.
How can we experience the life God promises? How can we know frequent refreshment from him for our days?
Let’s talk more about that tomorrow….
As we continue to luxuriate through Psalm 23, let’s pause at the “table”.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
The “you” of course is the same LORD who is David’s shepherd. The LORD prepares a banquet table and invites David to be the honored guest. The table is set, fit for king and queen, overflowing with food to delight the senses. The table is beautiful and bountiful not because David is impressive, but because the LORD is.
The great host provides the grand banquet table. And we are invited to feast! What poor manners it would be if we were to fail to show up. The host is providing not just refreshment but his company!
In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable of a man who plans a great banquet, inviting many. When the time comes and the banquet is ready, those who at first agreed make excuses saying they cannot come. Business, family life, and ordinary transactions get in the way.
The offer for a place at the table remains open for a time, both in that parable and in our days: God offers the pleasures and refreshment of his presence. But how hard it is to just sit!
What is it you’re off to do today?
The table is set. What would it take to get you to sit with our Host?
If our health and peace depend on following Jesus as a sheep follows a shepherd — and they do — how often should we look up to see where he is?
Once a week? (You mean every week?!)
Once a day? (Some days are pretty long!)
More often than that?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1–2)
Do you suppose Paul intended us to set our hearts and minds on Christ once in our life — as if that would be enough? My heart needs to be re-set pretty frequently. More than daily.
Sheep look to the shepherd whenever the shepherd moves, and so should we. Wouldn’t it be good to raise our heads from the green pasture or quiet waters every now and then just to see if we’ve gotten too comfortable and missed his call to move us along? And to make sure we are staying close to him when the valley shadows darken?
Frank Laubach was a missionary in the Philippines who had a love for God and for people. His joy was to turn his heart and mind to God as often as he could think of it. Laubach advised:
All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: “What next?” In these chinks of time, ask Him: “Lord, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What is on Thy mind for me to do now?” When we ask Christ, “What next?” we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/it-happened-today/2/26/
Try it! The Wednesday night group that is studying the Soul Keeping book by John Ortberg is trying it this week. I think you’ll find it easier to understand what God intends to do through you as you practice this. And you may experience his presence in the process, which is a gift in itself.
What next, Lord?
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.