Tuesday, August 27, 2013


But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
                                                                                                                Matthew 5:48 (NLT)

Perfection is an intimidating term. Jesus gives this instruction and I feel hopeless to follow it. But I am encouraged when I read the same verse in the Common English Bible:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Completeness sounds more doable than perfection. If I think about perfection as completeness, then I can see a way to begin the process toward perfection.

Yet even completeness can be misunderstood. As I am writing these words, a fellow church member sticks his head in my office and talks about all the various "balls" he is trying to keep in the air. If completeness is thought of as an attempt on our part to be all things to all people, then it becomes just another ball we juggle--a burden rather than a blessing. Surely this is not what Jesus means!

But if we think of completeness as the recognition and use of our gifts and abilities to glorify God, then moving toward perfection/completeness becomes the process of self-discovery, of learning who we are in Christ (Colossians 3:3). It is not about adding more items to an already full to-do list, but about pushing some of those items aside to journey inward, to move past the labels that describe what we do (parent, employee, child, volunteer, etc.) and to consider what it is that brings me the deepest joy. For when we consider that, we discover our place of completeness.

Living a faithful and obedient life in Christ is not about gritting your teeth and pushing through a jungle of "shoulds" and "oughts." The only "should" is that a faithful and obedient life should be a life of joy and peace. This is only possible when we strip away the "doing" that is burdensome, and instead attend to our "being." As we come to know who we are in Christ, we can live fully alive, from the depths of our being, and such a life is manifested in the joyful offering of our spiritual gifts, in fact, our whole selves, to the world.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Prayer as Life

This past Saturday I presented a workshop on prayer, sharing how we can really pray continually, as Paul instructed the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As I prepared for the workshop, I considered opening the session by asking participants, “How would you describe your prayer life?”

That got me thinking about the term “prayer life.” As often as I have heard, or even used, that term, I never realized before last week how much of a misnomer it really is.

Using the term “prayer life” implies that prayer is a compartmentalized part of life. We “do” our praying, check it off the list, and move on to the rest of our life. If that is what prayer is, then Paul’s instruction is nearly impossible. We would have to give up work, family time and most everything else in order to pray continually.

If that is what we think prayer is, we have an inaccurate description of prayer. Prayer is life, not just a part of life. Prayer is living in the continual awareness that we are always in the presence of God. Thus all our activities are continual prayer offered to God if we are attuned to God’s continual outpouring of love over us.

To talk about “prayer life” is like talking about “breath life” or “heartbeat life.”  We cannot compartmentalize our breathing into a certain block of time, or stop and start our heartbeat at our convenience. Our very breathing is a gift from God, and is offered back to God in gratitude without us even thinking about it. Our heart beats in praise to God. When we are aware of these great gifts, our awareness becomes a prayer to God for them.

We offer petitions to God, but these are only part of a life of prayer. Living a life fully alive and aware and in a state of gratitude makes all of life a prayer. When we live life this way, we cannot help but draw nearer to God. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Senses as Sacrament

O taste and see that God is good.
                                                                Psalm 34:8

Taste is not the sense I first think of when speaking of the goodness of God. In fact, when I hear taste and good in the same sentence, I think of something to eat. Yet the taste of food should remind me of God’s goodness. The orange juice I drink with breakfast, a sweet cookie enjoyed midafternoon, the bread and wine of Eucharist—all these are gifts from God and should be present reminders to me of God’s goodness.

But this verse is not exclusively about tasting the goodness of God. Each of my senses should draw me to a deeper awareness of God’s goodness.

The warmth of sun on my skin, the coolness of a breeze, the hug of a friend—O touch and see that God is good.

The sight of a sunrise, the color of a flower, the smile on a child’s face—O look and see that God is good.

The sound of a bird’s song, laughter around a table, or the whistling I hear in the hall outside my office—O listen and see that God is good.

The aroma of freshly baked bread, the scent of a baby’s neck, the smell of a ripe peach—O sniff and see that God is good.

With all my senses I can praise God. I worship with every hair, every heartbeat, every breath, every swallow, every blink. It is all available as sacrament—an outward and visible (or tactile, auditory, gustatory, olfactory) sign of God’s grace. Each of my senses tune me toward God, turning my mind to worship, to awareness, to prayer.

So taste and touch and look and listen and sniff and experience God’s goodness, which is in and around us every moment of every day!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Listening for Quiet

Most of us have almost constant noise in our lives. Whether it’s the inadvertent sounds of air conditioners, traffic or computers or the intentional sounds of television, music or conversations, we are surrounded by sounds. Many people I know invite background sounds of television or radio because they don’t want their surroundings to be quiet.

We may hear the Spirit through the voices of friends and family or through music or through other sounds. However, we may be more likely to hear God’s voice in silence.

Elijah, the famous prophet, whose story is told in 1 Kings, received God’s messages regularly. But when Elijah’s life was threatened, God came to him in an unexpected way:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.”
A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord.
But the Lord wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, there was an earthquake.
But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.
After the earthquake, there was a fire.
But the Lord wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, there was a sound.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat.
He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance.
A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”      1Kings 19:11-13(CEB)

Wind. Earthquake. Fire. These are ways we might expect the God of all creation to make God’s presence known. Instead, God came to Elijah in quiet—quiet that Elijah can hear.

When we intentionally choose quiet, it is a fast from the almost perpetual sound that keeps us always at a level of semi-attention. We may not even be conscious of the wear such sound is placing on our souls. Quiet gives our souls time to rest, time to heal, time to listen for that thin sound of God.

If you are not practiced at intentional quiet, I invite you to try it. Start small—5 minutes a day, or if you are really feeling adventurous, try 5 minutes at two different times a day. Like physical exercise, you have to be deliberate, be consistent, and build up gradually.

Thin. Quiet. It is a marvelous invitation to listen for the whisper of God!