Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cultivating Contentment

Lake Superior

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can to all this through him who gives me strength."
-Philippians 4:12-13 (TNIV)

Secret of Contentment
Contentment is a secret that must be discovered. On our own, we will always crave more; our fallen faculty of desire will never be satisfied for long. Genuine contentment, to the contrary, enables us to be as happy with little as with much. It transcends our given situation so that we are fulfilled whether we eat our fill or go hungry.

To be satisfied with much or little, we must look past our outward circumstances, desires and even our needs, in order to see through it to a greater reality. Contentment peers into the unseen dimensions of the spiritual world. There it places its hopes and satisfaction on God’s provision and rests in the Divine who is good, wise and always in control. Our Creator’s goodness always seeks our best. The Eternal’s wisdom often seems to go the wrong way but somehow inevitable ends up at the right place. The Almighty’s power overcomes all obstacles and always accomplishes his plans.

Cultivating
Once discovered, contentment must be cultivated. Just like a garden, it calls for our attention from time to time if it is to bloom long term. Cultivation takes regular stock of our blessings, not allowing small graces to slip by unnoticed. To cultivate contentment, we lay aside restless wants that always crave more. We celebrate the little things in life. We enjoy simple pleasures, savor time with people and always give thanks.

Contentment finds something to appreciate even in difficult days, uncovering the hidden benefits of circumstances which, on the surface, appear as anything but a gift. Refusing to be harried and panicked, we nurture contentment by stepping back from demanding voices and spinning schedules in order to regain an eternal perspective. Much of what disquiets our hearts is not much more than a swirling wind that we simply allow to blow away. If we wait to the whirlwind passes, we will find that gentle quiet breeze of contentment.

What Contentment Does
Contentment celebrates rainy days as well as sunny ones, knowing that its garden grows from both water and sunshine. Contentment releases thoughts of “I deserve,” and refuses to make demands. While recognizing that it may lack, contentment gives a knowing smile as it taps into deep reservoirs of unseen provision.

Closely related to agape love, contentment “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:7 TNIV). In fact, contentment springs from the soil of genuine love. It is able to be at peace even life is difficult because it knows it is loved. It need not fear, for “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 TNIV).

When contentment is in bloom, we are transformed on the inside. Selfish demands turn into the freedom of utter self-forgetfulness. Sadness and self-pity blow away win the fresh breeze, replaced by gratitude and appreciation. Heaviness lifts like the morning mist, and rays of hope burst into the gray corners of our hearts.

When the scent of contentment fills the air, ordinary days radiate a brightness that we could hardly anticipate. Chores around the house or responsibilities at work are accompanied by a song of praise in our hearts. Mundane tasks fulfill our deepest longings in unexpected ways. Satisfaction nourishes rest in our souls.

Inner Rest
“Return to your rest, my soul,” commands Psalm 116:7 (TNIV), “for the Lord has been good to you.” Contentment ultimately blossoms into inner rest and savors all of life as pure gift!  

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, June 23, 2014

Invitation to the Garden


You care for the land and water it;
  you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
  to provide the people with grain,
  for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
  you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
  and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
  the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
  and the valleys are mantled with grain;
  they shout for you and sing.
-Psalm 64: 9-13 (TNIV)

Every morning the Almighty welcomes to each of us, inviting us to a place of stillness, an inner sanctuary, a garden. “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7); here the unfathomable depths of God call to the deepest possibilities and most profound longings within us. That inner place in our spirit is a walled garden where, alone with God, we find ourselves secure and loved. That inner space flows with abundance.

Such an inner garden awaits us as a refuge from our storm-tossed world where temporal things come and go, and their promised happiness disappoints us time and again. The busyness of the day leaves us panting for breath, and the contingencies of life, health, career and relationship, all too often make us empty and vulnerable.

Yet in the midst of uncertainty, loss and turmoil, we can pull our focus within to a place of peace. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3 KJV), promises God’s word. Such inner calm does not deny the reality of life’s challenges nor ignore the pain we suffer. Rather, that hidden refuge gives us a respite of peace where we can be strengthen and restored. It provides an anchor amid the pounding waves, so that—battered and storm-tossed, though we may be—we hold firm with a profound trust and calm that surpasses understanding.

From that secret garden within, the voice of God’s Spirit comes again and again, inviting us to enter stillness and rest. Sometimes we ignore the divine offer, contenting ourselves with temporal satisfaction or distracting ourselves with frenetic activity. Other times we disbelieve that offer, thinking it too good to be true, and we seek to fend for ourselves. Yet, if we dare to believe, the Spirit invites us to a hidden place more real than earthly reality. This is the “hiding place” described by the Psalmist; it is the rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:2).

We must begin the morning with stillness; otherwise, we have little hope of finding to it. However, having located our inner garden in the quietness of the new day, we can return throughout the busyness of the day, whatever contingencies of life we might face.

I come to the garden alone
    while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
    the Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
    and He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
    none other has ever known. –C. Austin Miles, “In the Garden”  

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, May 19, 2014

Let My Whole Life Today be a Prayer

Redbud Tree

“Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
-I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRS)

How are we to pray without ceasing, as we are commanded to do in Scripture? Some view this verse in 1 Thessalonians as a poetic ideal, a nice idea but impractical. Others simply dismiss this verse as hyperbole. Paul, however, undoubtedly saw this as an imperative: he indeed exhorts us all to rejoice at all times and to give thanks in all circumstances—just as he did in prison—and he calls us to pray without stopping. How are we to respond?

Instead of seeing this verse as an impossible task, we can begin to recognize it as a wonderful invitation! God welcomes us to stay connected with him the whole way through the day!

Prayer in Action
One way that we can begin to realize this kind of unbroken prayer in our lives is by dedicating each and every task of the day to the Lord, allowing everything we do to become prayer in action. As I wash the dishes in the morning, I can consciously serve my wife and offer my work as a prayer to the Lord. While I labor at various responsibilities at school or work, I intentionally fulfill my duty as an act of worship and prayer. As I mow the lawn in the evening, I serve God in every step of my activity.

“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,” states Colossians 3:23-24, “since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ” ( NRS).

By committing each activity to God, I consciously give myself to the Lord and invite him in. By doing so, I also subconsciously keep the Lord in mind as I continue with that chore, knowing that I serve Christ in all that I am doing.

Not a Replacement
I never want this kind of ongoing prayer in action to replace solitude with God in my life, any more than I want texting my wife through the day to replace quality time with her. Rather, such ongoing prayer is an extension of that quality time and personal relationship. It “puts legs” on my love for the Lord, as I serve him in all that I do.

As I pray in action, my whole day becomes prayer—a communication, a communion—with the Lord. Sometimes consciously, other times in the back of my mind, I am aware of God’s love for me and my service as an act of love in return.

What a wonderful way to connect with the Lord throughout the day—a genuine way to pray without ceasing! The more I do this, the more my whole life becomes an unceasing prayer!

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers















Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ongoing Easter

Easter Joy!

So often we think of Easter as a one-day event. We celebrate it, like the 4th of July, and then move on with life. As a result, although we enjoy the day, Easter has little lasting impact on our daily existence, our thoughts, our attitudes and our deeds.

Easter as Participation
Two key concepts can help us integrate Easter into our lives in a more profound and long-lasting way. First, we need to celebrate the resurrection by entering into Easter as Participation more than just Remembrance. Yes, on Easter morning we remember the very real events nearly 2000 years ago when Christ was literally raised from the dead.

More than that, however, we enter into those events to experience resurrection in our own lives. “If we have been united with him like this [by baptism] in his death,” states the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:5, “we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

The whole of the Christian life is about joining with Christ—being “in Christ.” In him, we die to Satan, sin and a self-focused existence. And in him we are raised to newness of life. That is what baptism is all about, as Romans 6 explains. Further, in Christ we are adopted into the family of God. And in him we are already seated at God’s right hand in the heavens (Ephesians 1:3-2:6)!

Therefore, we can celebrate Easter as a time of Participation in the cosmic events of salvation. We enter into the divine mysteries that we can only understand in part—the Son of God dying for our sinfulness and being raised from the dead for our salvation! In one sense, those mysteries are simple enough for children to grasp. Yet, on a deeper level, we will spend our whole lives—and eternity—coming to realize God’s fathomless love that brought this to pass.

Season of Easter
Second, resurrection becomes more a part of our lives when we celebrate the whole season of Easter rather than the one day. Historically the church has celebrated Easter as the 50 days stretching from Easter morning until Pentecost. It is a season of the church calendar focused on our Lord’s resurrection and his weekly appearances to his disciples.

Just as Lent is a 40 day fast in preparation for Holy Week and the resurrection, so the Easter season is a 50 day feast celebrating that resurrection. We need both for healthy Christian growth. We need the season of fasting and cleansing, allowing God to search our hearts to see if there is any sinful way in us (Ps 139:23-24). But we also need celebration and joy, for “the joy of the Lord is [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)!

Most of us know that we need to live the whole year in light of Easter—celebrating the Lord’s resurrection and our salvation in light of that resurrection. But “living every day as Easter” is much easier said than done.

Celebrating the Easter season over seven weeks helps us do just that. It helps us to renew our minds in light of the resurrection and make the ongoing presence of the savior in our lives a reality. It helps to make Easter part of our very lifestyle so that we can indeed continue to live in the light of Easter all year long.

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

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.

Fasting
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
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.

Invitation
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.

Reassess
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.

Repent
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