Wednesday, June 29

The spiritual discipline of rest

My greatest desire is to show grace to all--to my loved ones at home, to my family and friends and neighbors all over the world. Of course, in order for my life to be a reflection of God's grace, I need God's grace for myself. I need to spend hours with God, to soak in his grace.

The spiritual discipline of rest

Honestly, though, I don't have time for this.  My to-do lists are long; the hours for completing them are short.  Surely I need to advance, not retreat!

Yet I am pulled again to God's word.  The words of Isaiah leap off the page, spoken to the people of God who needed to hear.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, 'No! We will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you will all flee away,
till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill."
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
He rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are those who wait for Him! (Isaiah 30:15-18, NIV)

So I am on retreat this week. And, boy, am I grateful to be part of a group that values retreat. I serve on the Ministry Team of Renovaré, and every year we retreat together to a beautiful place in Colorado.

We all love it. We're excited to be here. But the fact is we have to make ourselves do it. This kind of withdrawing from society and getting away together takes a good deal of preparation and sacrifice, both for us and for our families. But the effort is worth it, for we all need rest.

“The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion,” writes our friend and team member Jim Smith in his important book The Good and Beautiful God.  This is a bold proclamation, but I believe it is right.
Surely the need for rest is not a new development, nor is the instruction from God to rest a new instruction.  God commanded His people: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10).  Hmmm.  A commandment to rest. 
Throughout most of human history, men and women have been aided in their need for rest by the fact that there was light by which to work only for a portion of each day.  As civilization progressed, humans found ways of producing light to see in the darkness, but those sources of light were usually expensive and often scarce.  Faced with the reality of no light by which to work, humans slept during the darkness.
That scenario has changed.  As humans have developed more reliable ways to generate light, they have simultaneously warded off the darkness for longer and longer hours.  What was once a reliable source of rhythm for the cycle of work and rest is now gone.  We can now have light available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Darkness is now hard to come by in some parts of the world.
Yet the way the human body functions has not changed much in the years since God commanded his people to observe a day of rest.  The amount of time generally set aside for sleep has shrunk, but the need for it has not.  In these days filled with artificial light and late-night opportunities for work and play, we must now be very purposeful in the pursuit of physical rest.  I think we often fail to consider that we must choose to rest or else we're likely to have rest forced upon us when we are exhausted to the point of physical, mental, or emotional distress.
A friend of mine discovered this truth the hard way over the past few years.  An intelligent, well-educated, talented woman, Marian is a busy wife and mother of three.  At one point she was active in her church and community and was homeschooling her children.  She was doing a wonderful job at many worthy tasks, but she wasn’t resting.  Marian writes:  “I was unraveling in every way imaginable.  Chronic headaches and unshakeable exhaustion were constant companions, but they were nothing compared to the state of my weary soul, a soul that was dealing with far too much in its graceless, tapped-out state.” 
After a time of retreat that included a good deal of sleep, Marian realized an important truth.  “Our culture preaches the false gospel of productivity and Christians have swallowed it down too, living out a subconscious theology that God helps those who help themselves, make it to the top, and save the world while they’re at it.”
A false gospel, indeed, and the antidote to it is to choose to stop.  To rest.
When you stop to think about it, you realize that resting is an act of trust.  Trust that the world will keep on spinning, the sun will keep on shining.  Trust that God is good and loving and will provide for us.  Will our work pile up while we rest?  Perhaps.  But our ability to do our work will also accumulate.  Rest is not in vain.
Do you need some rest?

Sunday, June 26

Grace to pursue grace

"This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 188:24).

O Almighty God,
who alone canst order
the unruly wills and affections of sinful men;
Grant unto thy people
that they may love the thing which Thou commandest,
and desire that which Thou dost promise;
that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed,
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

This is a beautiful prayer, but I especially appreciate it when I consider this reflection on the prayer written by my friend Chris Webb:

"If you look at it carefully you find it's a prayer that we might be given grace to pursue grace. Our unruly wills and affections are constantly being enticed away from God. But if you, Lord, transform us by grace to genuinely long for a life immersed in you--to desire your commands and promises--then we will become open to the gracious gift of Christ, in whom all true joys are found. In fact, grace will fix our hearts on Jesus, who is full of grace and truth.

"A man once told Jesus, "I believe - help my unbelief!" It may be that you want to say, "I need grace--give me the grace to long for grace!" If so, this might be your prayer today."

Yes! I need grace to pursue grace. How about you?

Tuesday, June 21

A prayer for busy times

It's full-fledged summertime now. I was looking forward to it. I thought it would be a time of slow, lazy days--just what I needed after the craziness of May.

But the slow, lazy days haven't materialized. Of course, some of the craziness of this season has been good activity--a family wedding, a trip to see my family in Tennessee and Mississippi, a trip to Washington with my husband for a charity gala, family birthdays, and more. Lots and lots of fun events crammed into a few weeks.

On top of that, I've had days of caring for my crazy dog who somehow got into a container of ibuprofen with a childproof lid, eating heaven knows how many pills before my son discovered the evidence. Nothing like taking a dog to the animal emergency room in the middle of the night to get your summer started right!

And this week our water heater went kaput. No warning, just all of a sudden no hot water. A visit from the plumber confirmed that there was no repairing to be done; replacement was the only option.

Mercy. I feel like I need a cold drink and a hot bath.

But as busy as the days can be, I am heartened to remember that I am not alone. My heavenly father knows everything that is going on, and He loves me through them all. On days when it seems that my hours are consumed with thankless tasks, I know that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Perhaps you, too, could benefit from this little reminder, words inscribed on altar found in the Hebrides:

Even though the day be laden,
And my path dreary,
And my strength small,
A song keeps singing in my heart:
For I know that I am Thine;
I am part of Thee;
Thou art kin to me,
And all my times, all my times are in Thy hands.

Soul encouragement for busy days

I've found myself singing this over and over to myself; perhaps you'd like to join me.  Thank God for His nearness!

Monday, June 6

Remembering D-Day

June 6, 1944 is a day that should be remembered by every living U.S. citizen, as well as by British and Canadian citizens. D-Day.

Do you know what the "D" in D-Day stands for? It stands for "day." To say "D-Day" is like saying "T-Time" or "H-Hour." You've probably heard people say "T minus 10 minutes and counting," right? Any specifically scheduled military operation may be so designated.

There's good reason that the June 6, 1944 landing of Allied forces in Normandy came to be known as the D-Day, though. The largest amphibious landing in history, Operation Overlord involved over 160,000 Allied troops supported by more than 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships. Does that sound like overkill? It wasn't. Although the Nazis forces by the time of the landing were far less strong than they'd been earlier in the war, Allied casualties on D-Day were still about 10,000 killed, wounded, or missing in action. 

After years of some of the greatest atrocities in the history of the world, D-Day marks the beginning of the end of the horrors of Nazi occupation of Europe.

In 2014, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, my husband and I took our sons to visit Normandy. As we surveyed the battle sites and saw the many remains of Nazi fortifications, I couldn't help but think that had we lived 70 years ago, my sons might well have been among those storming the beaches on D-Day.

Since then, my oldest son has become an officer in the U.S. Navy, so the thought of such action impacts me even more greatly than ever before.

War is terrible.  But sometimes there is no choice but to undertake any means necessary to battle a great evil.  The fight against the savagery of the Nazi regime was such a time, I think.

Here is General Eisenhower's message to the members of the Allied Expeditionary Force.  If you've never read it, you should.  If you've read it before, I know you'll appreciate reading it again.
You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.  The eyes of the world are upon you.  The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one.  Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened.  He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944!  Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41.  The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man.  Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.  Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of fighting men.  The tide has turned!  The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.  We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good Luck!  And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
As I reflect upon the freedoms that we enjoy, I am grateful beyond measure for the many men and women who sacrificed so greatly 72 years ago.