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Archive for September, 2018

 

Peace! Be Still!

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Mark 4:39

Jesus had been teaching to a crowd on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Evening came and Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat when a “great windstorm” arose and threatened to swamp the boat. His disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus got up and rebuked the wind, saying to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind stopped blowing and “there was a dead calm.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

How many times in life have we felt beaten and drenched by the winds and rain of life’s challenges and wondered, “Lord, do you not care that I am perishing?” Serious health issues, suffering loved ones, job insecurities, troubled relationships, bills piling up – name any issue and many people experience the feeling of drowning under that particular pressure. Difficult times seem to attract more difficult times. Old wife’s tails like “God will never give you more than you can handle” are discouraging, at best, if not patently false. Even so, Jesus looks out over our situation and says, “Peace! Be still!” In my experience, the seas have always calmed, although seldom on my timeline. During the calm after the storm, I hear Jesus patiently whisper, “Have you no faith?”

And yet, this is our journey. Iron is sharpened by iron, and our faith is strengthened by our challenges. Anyone can be faithful when life is easy. Life, however, is never smooth for long. Our emotions rise and fall like the waves, turbulent and rough one moment and smooth as glass the next. We tend to believe we have life under control during our moments of calm, only to experience something that sends us flailing in the waves again. We become victims of our emotions, unless and until we learn to rise above the turbulence of our surroundings to the dead calm of Christ.

A little-understood fact of life is that there is no security, no stability, and no calm outside of our total reliance upon the provision of God. There is no bank account large enough, no home solid enough, no body healthy enough, no relationship strong enough to stand against every storm that may come. There is no insurance policy comprehensive enough to assure the restoration of life to a previous state. Everything of the earth deteriorates and dies, as has been true for billions of years. Our world is in a state of constant flux as God creates and recreates new life in its stunning diversity. If we are unwilling to consciously change with our surroundings, we will be worn down like a boulder stubbornly fixed in the middle of a raging river. The wearing down over time, however, will not be the fault of the river or the rock – it is simply the nature of creation.

Perhaps when Jesus looked out over the stormy sea and said, “Peace! Be still!” it was as much a command to his frightened disciples as it was to the sea. “Trust me – I’ve got this,” may be another helpful translation. Yes, life will be rough. But it is our own resistance to what is that makes it so. It is our lack of faith that is on display, not God’s lack of care for who we are at our essence, which is eternal.

Some changes to our world – hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires – cause immeasurable suffering to many of the individual lives who inhabit it. But life, as a whole, survives and thrives. Individual life on earth was never intended to be permanent because the earth must continually redistribute the elements that compose our bodies and all of creation into new life forms. We are blind to the grace of every circumstance because we mourn what we believe we have lost instead of rejoicing in what is gained.

Jesus’ words, “Peace! Be still!” are a directive, calling us to trust God’s sometimes-raging river. When we strap ourselves in and commit to enjoying the ride wherever it takes us, we are less likely to be consumed by the seeming tragedies that occur along the way. We, too, will perish in God’s stormy sea one day. Paradoxically, only then will we truly know the peace of Christ. Until that day, faith is our best option.

This is the 38th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Pray Then in This Way, Part 2

 Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

Three verses prior to providing the foundation for what became the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6a). Obviously, there is nothing wrong with reciting the Lord’s Prayer verbally, and millions do it every week. If God’s language is silence, however, might we be talking over God’s communication with us if we only pray with words? When Jesus tells us to go into our room and shut the door, he may be hinting at another method of prayer. I picture going into my room and shutting the door to mean entering my interior heart-space, where I can truly be alone with God in a safe and silent place.

One technique of praying the Lord’s Prayer without words requires that we enter into the spirit of the prayer. When we understand Jesus’ instructions to “Pray then in this way” as an instruction to live then in this way, we orient ourselves to become the prayer, whether or not we recite it verbally. Here is an imperfect illustration:

    Our Father in heaven. This line sets the context. As Father, or as our divine Parent, we acknowledge our direct, familial relationship to and with God. We are created as children in God’s image and likeness. We can relax because we are family. We belong with God, we are loved by God, and so we enter the prayer in a spirit of familiarity.

    Hallowed be your name. One who is hallowed is holy or sacred. By acknowledging God’s name as holy, we affirm the awe and wonder of being in the presence of pure holiness. We enter the prayer in a spirit of reverence.

    Your kingdom come. We believe God’s work is done in the world through us, bringing forth the kingdom of God in time and space. We enter the prayer in a spirit of cooperation. We may not always know what the kingdom of God is, but we trust it is worthy of our efforts.

    Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We enter this prayer in a spirit of submission. God’s will will be done. We can resist it, fight it, complain about it, or cooperate with it. Life goes smoother for us when we submit.

    Give us this day our daily bread. We enter the prayer in a spirit of trust, knowing that God always has and always will provide what is required to meet the needs of the day. Our future needs are not a concern for this moment.

    And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. We enter the prayer in a spirit of forgiveness. We seek forgiveness from those we have treated poorly, just as we forgive those who have wronged us. Obviously, to enter the prayer in an unblemished spirit of forgiveness requires significant work beforehand for many of us, doing the hard and humbling work of forgiving others and ourselves.

    And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Finally, we enter our time of prayer in a spirit of humility. We recognize our personal weaknesses and tendencies toward specific types of unhealthy temptations. We acknowledge and depend upon God’s power over our areas of weakness.

Praying in the spirit of the Lord’s prayer is to find a quiet place where we can enter our heart-space in a wordless spirit of familiarity, reverence, cooperation, submission, trust, forgiveness, and humility. These are not qualities we can force upon ourselves, nor can we fake them in a sustained way. They are gifts – signs, if you will – developed naturally as we mature in our relationship to and with God. As this happens, we become the Lord’s Prayer instead of merely praying it. Jesus said, “Pray then in this way.” I think he invites us to live in this way. The Lord’s Prayer, then, becomes more than words; it becomes a template for the Christian life. As we learn to live it and not just say it, we pray less to God and more with God. And that is a prayer worth praying!

This is the 37th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

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Pray Then in This Way, Part 1

 Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

Prayer is a consistent challenge for many of us. How do we do it? What do we say? Does God actually listen – or answer? Must we be on our knees? I understand each of these questions because I have asked them many times myself. In his letter to the Romans (8:26), Paul writes, “…we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Jesus says, “Pray then in this way,” and gives the prayer that forms the basis for what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Did he mean for us to pray these words, or did he mean for us to pray in this spirit? I think the answer is both. Sometimes, we need to use words because that is the way we learned to communicate. As we age, at least in my case, prayer becomes deeper and richer in the silence before and beyond words.

What confuses many of us is our need to capture what we experience with words. We forget that words are metaphors. Words represent something, but they are not the thing, experience, or person. For example, I say the word tree and you picture a tall plant with leaves, branches, and a woody truck. But a description of a tree, even of a specific tree, is not the tree itself. The words tell us nothing about the life history of the tree, how it experiences dormancy in the winter, or how it experiences me as I sit beneath it. The word tree is a metaphor pointing to a living reality. In the same way, you cannot know my essential nature by knowing my name, age, height, weight, profession, gender or any other descriptive term about me. When we think we know or understand someone based on a verbal description, even a description based on our interactions with that person, we remove ourselves from the essence of that person. The description of our interaction with another is not the same as the actual interaction. Words, though helpful, are deceptive when we confuse them with what they represent.

Rumi, a 13th Century poet and mystic, wrote, “Silence is the language of God, all else is a poor translation.1” God does not communicate with words. God communicates heart-to-heart or spirit-to-spirit. I can imperfectly illustrate this by describing how I write. I receive an idea or inspiration that I attempt to capture in a song or on paper. The initial inspiration is like an image or an internal “voice,” but it is wordless until my mind latches onto it and begins describing or translating the inspiration, effectively reducing it to words. It happens so quickly that it is easy to believe the inspiration was given in words. Where the initial inspiration and the resulting song or essay part company is in my inability to find adequate words to capture the inspiration. In fact, it is impossible to perfectly capture an image or interaction in words. Everything I write suffers from my inability to translate the purity and beauty of the inspiration into words. The best I can do is to describe a place beyond words, with words that point you to a similar place. The words, alone, cannot carry you there.

We know the words to the Lord’s Prayer, but what would praying silently in the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer be like? I believe it begins with setting our mind and heart with the intention of being with God, as opposed to talking to God. Numerous passages in scripture tell us God knows what we are going to say before we say it. Our words are never necessary, except perhaps for our own comfort. In fact, I believe our words get in the way of entering into God’s presence because we focus on the words instead of the reality pointed to by the words. Reading a review of a nice restaurant will not give us the experience of fine dining.

Jesus’ words, “Pray then in this way,” are an invitation. The Lord’s Prayer provides a nice template for how to set our intention to be with God, wordlessly, which I will explore further next week.

This is the 36th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

1          https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/27617-silence-is-the-language-of-god-all-else-is-poor, accessed September 3, 2018.

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