Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lent: Desert Season to Deepen our Roots

Lake Superior

"But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

Lent is an opportunity to join with Christ in his forty days of fasting and praying in the desert wilderness. Indeed Christians since the Early Church have set apart the forty days leading up to Easter as Lent to remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness and rededicate their lives to the Lord. It is a season to share with Jesus in the forty days’ desert experience of fasting and prayer.

Two Options in the Desert
The desert is dangerous, by definition. In the physical wilderness, we lack our basic needs—let alone our desires—for everyday life. Likewise, a spiritual desert season is one in which we do not have all that we want or need. Often we do not experience God’s love or guidance or comfort as we have in the past. Instead, we feel lonely—as well as emotionally and spiritually dehydrated—and we wonder where the Lord has gone.

The desert is dry and difficult. It demands that we wait and trust. “The desert makes us wait, forces us to look for help beyond our own initiative, plans, or grasp and to long for pure, unmerited, no-conditions grace.”[1]

We can respond to that desert in couple of ways. One option is that we can become impatient and grumble. That is precisely what the Israelites did after Moses led them across the Red Sea during the Exodus. “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” they complained. “Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Exodus 17:3 RNAB). Such ingratitude and grousing only cultivates more impatience and bitterness in our souls.

The other option is for us to put our roots down deeper. When plants go through dry seasons, they put their roots further down, hoping to find more water. So, in desert seasons, we are invited to extend our roots further into the Lord. When the sources of spiritual vitality go dry, it is an opportunity to experience God on a whole new level. Letting go our former ways of experiencing the Lord in our lives, we are free and receptive to relationship with God on a whole new plane.

As we trust in the Lord during the drought, our roots go deeper and deeper into him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 states, "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD. . . . They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.”

Putting our Roots into the Lord
Deep roots do not go down overnight. It takes a whole growing season for stronger roots to be established. Lent can be such a growing season in our lives. In fact, it welcomes us—it beckons you and me—to new spiritual growth.

Joining with Jesus in forty days of fasting and prayer is a powerful way to reorder our priorities and cut through the clutter of all that keeps us from wholeheartedly walking with the Lord. This year, let us take that invitation and put our spiritual roots down deep so that in the months ahead our branches can bear fruit as never before!

[1] Blasé Cupich, as quoted in Give Us this Day (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press), pp. 244-45.

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lent: A Season of Single-mindedness

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

One thing I ask of the Lord,
    this is what I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
-Psalm 27:4

Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow spiritually because it aids us in being single-minded. David declared in Psalm 27 that he was only focused on one thing in life—that is seeking the Lord. Nothing else—being king of Israel and military leader—ultimately counted. David’s focus was on getting to know the Lord better and spending time in God’s presence.

Traditionally the three spiritual disciplines of Lent have been fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Especially the first two help us to gain—and maintain—a single-mindedness during Lent.

Fasting can be done in many ways. It can be restraining from all food for a meal or a day or longer. It can be restraining from specific foods, like candy or deserts, during the 40 days of Lent. It can also be abstaining from Face Book or texting or Tweeting. For some people, turning off technology is much more of a discipline—and therefore offers much more focus—than abstaining from food.

Whenever I’m fasting, I notice how hungry I am during the time of day when I usually eat. My body wants its normal sustenance. Whenever I feel those hunger pangs, I remind myself that I am even more hungry for the Lord. Yes, I’m missing food, but even more, I am longing for the Lord. As I do so, those feelings of hunger channel my heart to a greater single-mindedness on the Lord.

Prayer then directs that single-mindedness toward a fresh pursuit of God in my life. Lent is an opportunity to have special times of prayer beyond our ordinary daily rhythms of prayer. This can be through taking a retreat, attending a weekly Lenten service at church, setting aside a special time during the week for prayer or adding an extra timeout during the day to focus on the Lord.

Especially if we fast from a meal, we can set that time aside for prayer—we partake spiritually instead of physically. Rather than simply getting more done on our “to do” list during that mealtime, we can direct our hunger to the Lord.

Whether through fast or prayer or any other aid, I welcome you to us use this season of Lent to become single-minded. The busyness of life tends to numb us so that we do not realize how hungry we are for God. Lent is a time to get in touch with the deepest longings of our soul.

Take this opportunity to cultivate a fresh single-mindedness toward the Lord, so that you can say with Psalm 27, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; . . . To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent: A Season to Start Over

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

After Christmas and Epiphany, I look forward so much to Lent. Both my wife and I really anticipate these 40+ days leading up to Easter as a unique opportunity to reassess our lives, repent of where we are not right with God and others, and finally redirect our lives toward a resurrection lifestyle that we celebrate at Easter.

Lent is a time to reassess our lives, inside and out. We can step back and take a long, hard look at the reality of our lives to see them as they really are—not what we hope they are, think they are, or try to project them to be. Standing before the Lord we allow ourselves to be totally honest.

Spiritual practices of solitude, silence and going on a retreat give us space to look afresh at our lives. Disciplines of fasting and prayer help give us clarity as we allow the Holy Spirit to point out anything that is not as it should be.

Some of us might recognize that we have become distracted. Life has many distractions, and we easily become preoccupied with work, family crises, and even the weather. While all of these things are important, Jesus calls us to seek him first—with our whole heart—and everything else will be added in due time.

Others of us could discover that we have become apathetic toward God. We don’t like to think of it in those terms, because deep down we love the Lord. Nevertheless, in our day-to-day existence we have become “ho hum” regarding time with God, we have neglected time of reading Scripture, we have lost our passion to pursue him in prayer, and we have begun to stray from our first love. Jesus says in Revelation 2:4 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” If that has happened in our hearts, we need to face it honestly before we can change.

Still others of us realize that we have gone off track in one area of our lives or another. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way,” declares Isaiah 53:6. Indeed, this is true of each and every one of us.

Wherever we have gone astray, become apathetic or simply preoccupied, we need to turn around. This is the meaning of the word “repent”—metanoia, in Greek. It means a change our mind and change our direction.

First we must admit where we have gone astray. Confession is key to making lasting, substantive change in our lives. Often times it is when we acknowledge out loud—to God and another person—where we have sinned, that we are hit with the stark reality of what we have been doing. Precisely here is where we experience a deep sorrow. That Godly sorrow leads to repentance.

Redirection & Restoration
Then we turn around—in thought, word and deed—and go the other direction. Sorrow, repentance and, indeed, the whole season of Lent are always moving toward restoration—reorienting our lives toward God and restoring our relationship with him.

“‘Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
    and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me
    when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’”
    -(Jeremiah 29:12-14)

As Lent begins this year, let us use this time as an opportunity to start over—whether that be in one area of our lives or in many. Let us seek the Lord with our whole heart, knowing that he is just waiting for us. Let us experience the restoration and freedom that he has for our lives.

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Being Led by the Spirit: Sacrament of the Present Moment by de Caussade

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

In Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s classic, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, we are challenged to see God at work around us moment-by-moment. Although we seldom comprehend what the Lord is doing in our lives—and through our lives—we trust that he is indeed present with us. God works, not only through circumstances, but also through his gentle leading in our lives, like the “still, small voice” through which the Lord spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12).

Following the Spirit’s Impulses
God often leads us in ways that we do not understand. We sense that we should speak to someone in the store, and we discover that this was an urging of the Holy Spirit in our heart. We are prompted to intercede for a friend and later find that it was at a moment of great need.

“God uses his creatures in two ways. Either he makes them act on their own initiative or he himself acts through them. The first requires a faithful fulfillment of his manifest wishes; the second, a meek and humble submission to his inspiration,” asserts de Caussade. “Surrender of self achieves them both, being nothing more than a total commitment to the word of God within the present moment. It is not important for his creatures to know how they must do this or what the nature of the present moment is.” (49)

When we are willing to follow the Lord’s leadings, we become an instrument in God’s hands. “The only condition necessary for this state of self-surrender is the present moment in which the soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon,” affirms de Caussade. “Such souls are like molten metal filling whatever vessel God chooses to pour them into” (22).

Unseen Chain of Events
When we allow ourselves to be used by God in a small way, we open the door for him to use us further in the future. We, of course, seldom see that larger plan that God has in mind. All we know is the immediate prompting of the Spirit.

However, as we follow God’s leading—which, at times, is almost imperceptible—God sets in motion a chain of events. De Caussade concludes, “We must therefore allow each moment to be the cause of the next; the reason for what precedes being revealed in what follows, so that everything is linked firmly and solidly together in a divine chain of events” (21).

Sacrament of the Present Moment
All we need for going deeper in God has been provided for us in the seemingly mundane of daily life. If we but make ourselves present to the Lord’s presence in the moment—each and every event that comes our way—we will be used by God and transformed by him.

“So we leave God to act in everything,” states de Caussade, “reserving for ourselves only love and obedience to the present moment. For this is our eternal duty. This compelling love, steeped in silence, is required of every soul. They must foster it unceasingly and always be prepared to meet any demands it may make” (11).

Invitation to All Christians
“Everything connected with surrender of self, devotion to duty or purity is attainable by every Christian. . . . All [God] expects is the fulfilment of his will, as signified by our duty to the present moment to be as faithful as we can to our obligations. . . . For this is all that God requires of us for the accomplishment of our sanctification whether we are strong or weak, great or small.” (54)

The Sacrament of the Present Moment is a must-read Christian classic. What an encouragement de Caussade offers Christians today, especially when we do not understand our present situation! What a challenge he presents to those of us who tend to spend all our time planning, always living in the future! Instead of being anxious about tomorrow, we are called to watch the hand of God in the present moment, seeing him move in hidden ways—shaping our character and using us, often when we get but a glimpse of the final results.

*All quotes are from Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jean-Pierre de Caussade: Sacrament of the Present Moment

Crown College Campus

Actively working in and through our daily lives, God’s presence surrounds us—veiled in ordinary events, responsibilities and trials we face. Our greatest spiritual growth takes place as we embrace those challenges that present themselves moment-by-moment.

This is the simple, but powerful, message of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a spiritual leader in eighteenth-century France. Listeners took notes on his conferences regarding the spiritual life; however, it was more than a century before these notes plus excerpts from his letters were compiled and published under the title, Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Various editions have been released over the past 150 years. Quotes in this article come from the beautiful translation by Kitty Muggeridge entitled The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Another readable modern translation is published as The Joy of Full Surrender. All of these, though, are simply different editions of the same book.

God’s Hidden Hand
God reveals himself each moment of the day. Yet he does so in hidden ways—often in the mundane events of life. Through difficulties and humble service to which he calls us, the Lord is at work in our lives. Often we do not recognize the hand of God, however, because it is cloaked in the ordinariness of everyday life.

Yet God’s hand is indeed working, shaping our character and making us more like Christ. De Caussade asserts, “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love” (62).

How do we live out this faith and love? De Caussade tells us that we do so by embracing the responsibilities and challenges that come our way each moment throughout the day and by following the impulses and leadings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Obeying in the Moment
“The present moment is like an ambassador announcing the policy of God,” states de Caussade, and “the heart declares ‘Thy will be done’” (77). No matter our station in life, we all have responsibilities. Some of these are interesting to us. Others seem mundane and even pointless. Masked beneath all of them, however, are God’s presence and his purpose for us.

No matter what we may think of our obligations in life, spiritual growth consists of faithfulness to what God has placed before us. Obedience to the present moment is essential. “What he ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best and most divine for us. All we need to know is how to recognize his will in the present moment.” (42-43)

Such immediate obedience requires surrender. We must yield our wills to the Lord’s if we hope to obey in each situation that arises during the day. “God’s order and his divine will, humbly obeyed by the faithful,” affirms de Caussade, “accomplishes his divine purpose in them without their knowledge, in the same way as medicine obediently swallowed cures invalids who neither know nor care how.” (42)

Embracing Difficulties and Trials
God’s hand is also concealed in life’s trials. Some days we seem to experience one difficulty after another. Exhausted, we do not get a moment’s rest. Although we cannot see what God is building in our lives, he is indeed at work. De Caussade asserts: “He knows, too, that you don’t know what is good for you and makes it his business to provide it, little caring whether you like it or not. You are going East, he will turn you to the West. You are set fair on a course, he turns the rudder and steers you back into harbour.” (34)

We can all identify with times of weakness in bearing our cross or distaste for some of our duties. Yet de Caussade assures us that God is present in these moments. Moreover, Scripture commands us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

If we embrace these trials as from the Lord, they will transform us. God moves in unexpected but powerful ways through things that we do not necessarily enjoy. “To live by faith, then, is to live in joy, confidence, certainty and trust in all there is to do and suffer each moment as ordained by God. However mysterious it may seem, it is in order to awaken and maintain this living faith that God drags the soul through tumultuous floods of so much suffering, trouble, perplexity, weariness and ruin” (22).

The first time I read de Caussade I understood his message—at least intellectually. Over the past four years I’ve sought to live it out in my day-to-day existence, and I’ve found that, while this message is simple, it is not easy! Although I have begun to live in the light of God’s hidden presence more and more each day, I believe it will take a lifetime to fully realize this truth in my life!

*All quotes are from Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Friday, January 31, 2014

Meeting God in Ordinary Time: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence

A classic of spiritual formation, appreciated by Protestants and Catholics alike, Brother Lawrence’s little volume on practicing God’s presence all day long is a gem. Recently I went through it again and wrote down some quotes.

Heart and Mind Fully Focused on God
“I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God’s presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment. To accomplish this, it is necessary for the heart to be emptied of everything that would offend God. He wants to possess your heart completely. Before any work can be done in your soul, God must be totally in control. There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God.” (p 29)

“I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without practicing His presence. My preference is to retire with Him to the deepest part of my soul as often as possible. When I am with Him there, nothing frightens me.” (p 31)

Punctuating the Day with Glances toward God
“In the beginning of this practice, it would not be wrong to offer short phrases that are inspired by love, such as “Lord, I am all Yours,” or “Lord, use me according to your will.” (p 70)

“During your meals or during any daily duty, lift your heart up to Him, because even the least little remembrance will please Him. You don’t have to pray out loud; He’s nearer than you can imagine.” (p 33)

God Gently Calls Us Back When We Are Distracted
“My day-to-day life consists of giving God my simple, loving attention. If I’m distracted, He calls me back in tones that are supernaturally beautiful. If you think of me, remember the grace with which God has blessed me, rather than my typically human ineptitude. My prayers consist of a simple continuation of this same exercise. Some-times I imagine that I’m a piece of stone, waiting for the sculptor. When I give myself to God in this way, He begins sculpting my soul into the perfect image of His beloved Son. At other times, I feel my whole mind and heart being raised up into God’s presence, as if, without effort, they had always belonged there.” (p 38)

What a wonderful reminder this is to commune with God all day!

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, January 18, 2014

God of the Thundercloud!

Public Domain

He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.
-Psalm 18:10

This past week a blizzard raged across the Midwest. As I had my devotions that morning in a comfortable room, I became present to the moment. First, I was filled with thankful for a warm house—and a short one-mile commute to work. Then I asked myself questions to become even more aware of my surroundings and present to the moment: What do I see? What do I hear? The second question led to a overwhelming time of reflection.

What do I hear?
I hear driving wind outside—a blizzard of wind and snow is pounding the Midwest. Hearing the snow and sleet pelt the windows, Scripture came pouring into my mind:

He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?
-Psalm 147:17

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers.
-Psalm 104:1-4 NASB

I began to reflect on the Lord’s awesome power. Here is what I wrote in my journal:

Our God is a God of power and terrible might! Who can stand before you, O Lord?
O God of power and might, go before me and lead the way. O Wild One, rule my life as you reign with splendor in the earth! Let me not try to domesticate you and circumscribe you, O Lord, in my petty understanding of you. Rather, let my limited image of you be shattered by your majesty, your pounding waves and blasting wind. Let me know you—and worship you—in your power and strength, glory and holiness!

Awesome God
That morning I was caught up by the awesomeness of our God. Coloring my whole day, these reflections have remained with me all week. Let me close with the words of Psalm 29:5-9:

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
     the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon….
The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
     the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
     and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, "Glory!"

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers