Listening

(Congratulations to commenter Monica Brand, who won an autographed copy of the book Refuse to Do Nothing.) Formation Fridays are for you, dear one: explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in.

"There is much I can do for you, Lord!" I say, tapping my foot, to-do list in hand, type-A personality in tow.

The response: absolute silence, deafening.

"Remember the high D & high S I scored on the DISC profile, Father?? I'm thinking a leadership position filled with about 50% people interaction would be perfect for ME, don't you agree?"

*Crickets.* The heavens are silent. Circumstances close in. Future uncertain. 

Perhaps I should try listening. That "be still and know that I am..." stuff. Why does it take a life so-outside-of-my-control to bring me to a place of sitting at his feet? 

"Few things are needed—or indeed only one," Jesus said. "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42 NIV)

The Savior of the world inverted the social order to praise Mary of Bethany for in essence, being a female disciple—and I cannot come to him, sit at his feet, and listen? I cannot take him up on his lavish invitation? I cannot hear his voice because my own is so loud and insistent?

Where is the duct tape when I need it?

***

A few months ago at a spiritual retreat, one of the directors shared her journey into the spiritual disciplines. She talked of her meeting with a spiritual director, and how this person encouraged her that she had done everything "right" in working for God, but that she now needed to celebrate with God, to enjoy him. When praying, to literally sit in God's presence and bask in his love.

Her response: "Does that count?" Does that count for what? she said at the retreat session. Or to put it a different way: who is counting anyway? You? God?

The retreat director, Pastor and author Sharon Garlough Brown gave us a suggestion on how we might listen to our heavenly Father.

She suggested we sit quietly with God and ask this question: "Lord, what do you think of when you think of me?"

I dare you to try it. Be quiet for as long as it takes to actually hear something. (Most likely not an audible voice, of course, but a quiet nudge.)

If the voice is condemning and harsh and critical, you are not hearing from Jesus. He is redemptive, loving, kind, and insistent on you knowing you are His Beloved. But if the voice speaks with challenging truth and love and quiets you and reminds you of your value in the eyes of Almighty God, you might be hearing from the God of the universe.

I am still working on doing this regularly, because when I do, inevitably I begin to believe that He loves me unreservedly, and pursues me passionately, and cares for me tenderly. Life recenters, horrible disappointment coming into focus, into balance with all the good gifts I have received.

But the hardest part of this whole darn thing is just learning to be quiet. Once I am quiet, I want to listen. Abba, I say in a small, childlike voice, I want to know: What do you think of when you think of me?

Your turn: What keeps you from listening to God's voice? What fruit emerges when you hear from him?

What's up with spiritual formation?

Formation Fridays are for you, dear one: explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in. Growing up as a Baptist pastor's kid, I didn't know what spiritual formation was. I only knew I went to the combined church and Christian school at least eight times a week. I knew that I was required to memorize Bible verses. And I was given the impression that Godly people maintained their godliness through a daily "quiet time."

Specifically, these little workbooks required you to read Scripture, write down what it said, and write down how to apply it. Nothing wrong with that, it can be a valuable exercise. But if we're not careful, these kinds of exercises can become rote, mundane, and lifeless. They can puff us up, leading us into knowledge instead of relationship with a revolutionary, living and acting God.

***

"Becoming like Christ," says Dallas Willard, "is about effort but not earning."

***

What if it is possible to ask Jesus in prayer "how do you feel about me?" and to wait expectantly for his answer?

What if the Bible transforms into sweet manna for one whose stomach is grumbling, loudly...

And the Lord's Prayer, instead of being perfunctory, becomes the cry of a heart about to burst with assent: "Yes, Yes, Father! May your Kingdom come today on earth as it is in heaven. How can I bring your Kingdom to earth today?"

And get this: what if, whenever you fasted, you realized you were so filled with the Spirit that your stomach was hungry no more?

(The fasting thing would not be me. But before he died this year, 77-year-old professor and ordained minister Dallas Willard shared that after years of walking with Christ, he no longer hungers during a fast. This explains why I fell in love with him, spiritually speaking. Oh, to be filled and content, mind quieted, resting in your Savior with abandon.)

***

There are two things God seems bent on etching on my mind regarding the spiritual disciplines:

1. They are get-tos, not have-tos.

2. We follow Jesus into the disciplines. 

But the Bible doesn't speak to spiritual disciplines! some cry. Which is a sad testament to our biblical illiteracy. For good Jews prayed three times a day, and the Jewish carpenter named  Jesus seemed to regularly exceed the quota. "Where is he now??" I imagine Peter asking, exasperated. "Oh, you know," John would reply. "He's probably retreated to some lonely place to pray. Just check out the nearest mountaintop."

You see, Jesus was praying and studying and memorizing and fasting and serving and giving and listening and obeying. This is what he did, and this is what his disciples would have done, too. So ordinary, so necessary, so life-giving, that the spiritual disciplines made up the warp and woof of living the Jesus-way.

What is life? To be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the one who died for you.

How do you get this life? By effort, but never earning. By following him into his life-giving ways. By pursuing the disciplines, and in so doing, becoming truly free.

Your turn. Describe your experience with spiritual disciplines. What comes easy or hard? How are you being formed into the image of Jesus?

Welcome to the blog: hope you'll pull up a chair!

Anyone who's anyone is blogging. That's one of the very reasons I've been reluctant to do so. In the last five years alone I have:

  • gotten married
  • moved out of state
  • faced several years of infertility
  • turned 40
  • decided to pursue adoption
  • served as an interim pastor
  • led a Bible study for recovering addicts
  • coauthored a book
  • pursued a theology degree
  • weathered the loss of my husband's parents

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Look at your own life and you'll note: a lot can happen in five years. Along the way, I tried to blog but couldn't sustain it. My heart was all wrapped up in questions and quandaries, and I simply had no need to speak of these things publicly. Frankly, some of these things felt too terrible for words. 

And yet.

I've been through a refining fire that has transformed my heart, renewed my mind, and somehow, someway, shaped my theology to the point that I can tell you that God calls me His Beloved even if I never have a child, even if I don't find the perfect spot to exercise my calling, even if there are some things in the Bible I will never understand this side of eternity.

Here lately, with theology classes rumbling around in my head, and a heart scanning the horizon for God's beauty expressed through His World and His Word, I have longed to speak and write of these things too precious for words. So here we are, you and me. And here's what you can expect.

A place of longing, hope, careful biblical reflection, heart formation and transformation, and amidst it all, a search for the Beauty. I heard it this week in a child's laugh. I saw it last night on the face of a husband who is fighting for his wife's heart; I observed her fighting for his as well. I was reminded that God's promise-plan to Abraham, and likewise to us, reeks of the Beautiful. And that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is overwhelmed by it, brimming over with Kingdom hope and rightly-ordered affections. Stick around very long, and you will see that I long to see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I seek that my heart would agree with God's heart for all of His big, beautiful Creation. And lest there be any mistaking it, I long for each one God has created to be reconciled to Him through Jesus.

And so, a few notes on particulars. I'll follow weekly posts as much as I am able. Here's what they'll look like:

Barren Mondays & God Stories

How does one discover beauty and meaning when life appears to be stripped of hope and fruitfulness? How does a woman living out her infertility battle her brokenness to discover beauty? Tune in for true stories of inbreaking joy found through the laments of life—we'll be talking physical, emotional and spiritual barrenness and how God breaks through the dry and cracked soil of our broken places to bring new life.

When I served as a pastor, I would occasionally share "God Stories" with the congregation—that is, stories of the inbreaking of the Kingdom in our everyday lives and our everyday church. As stories occur in my life and the lives of those God puts in my path, I watch my theology grow, evolve and become grounded in a God whose goodness overshadows every pain and struggle we might face. Read the stories and remember that God is alive and active, restoring, renewing, and bringing hope in the most unlikely places.

Word-filled Wednesdays 

Sometimes the Bible surprises you, slaps you upside the head, knocks you over with intensity and begins to promise you more than you ever dreamed you could hope for. Welcome to the last five years of my life. Take a fresh look at God's Word and discover the freedom of  reading it for what it is, not for what we want it to be. Surprises await! Go ahead, drink deep.

Formation Fridays

What was lost will be found. Find grace in these disciplines that always felt like they were confining us, reining us in, keeping us in line. Instead, explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Formation Fridays are for you, dear one. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in. 

Aside from these scheduled conversations, I'm hoping you, the reader, will create ideas for conversations yet to be conceived. We are in this together, and together we will add to the Beauty that God intended from the beginning. Let's get this party started!