Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I am not sure this post is part of my key spiritual concepts series, although maybe it is. Nevertheless it is what I have been learning lately and I think the key insight is worth thinking about.

Working from rest is at the heart of honoring the Sabbath. It means that we rest, work then as we swing back to rest we prune so that we can abide in Christ. This is an essential rhythm on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Living on Kwaj I have learned the consequences of not being able to fully swing back to rest due to our location and the cost of travel off island. It has been very powerful experience in teaching me the value of this pattern.
One area I am noticing the impact of not working from rest is preaching. It is something I feel deeply called to do and really enjoy doing but by the time I go on vacation I will have preached something like 50 out of 51 Sundays. Frankly I can feel it. I don’t feel like I am at my best the last few weeks and it bothers me. I am thankful God is strengthening me for the task but I feel him teaching me that this isn’t the way to live.  In addition to the creativity needed to preach the Word this past year, I also have had to be creative as I lead over 35 bible studies in that same time frame. This isn’t the pattern we are called to live.
Living in a place with no restaurants and only three fast food places means that the meal preparation and clean up is intense to say the least. My wife has had very few breaks which means by the end cooking for her is largely a chore and burnout is on the horizon.  There are other examples of this pattern but I don’t want to turn this post into whining session. The examples are there to help illustrate the point that God has been teaching me from this experience.
The point is that when we ignore rest we lessen our ability to love God and love our neighbor. We get dull and find ourselves not really wanting to do anything now that they daily stuff has become such a chore. Rest reinvigorates us and gives us the renewal and space that we need to enter more fully into our calling to love God and love our neighbor. Without the time of abiding in Christ and being renewed we will never bear the fruit we are called to bear because we will be too burdened. Without rest loving our neighbor becomes unmanageable because we are simply trying to survive our own lives, let alone enter into neighbor's pain and struggles. Without rest being involved in the ministry of our congregation becomes too difficult because we just don't have the energy to invest. The consequences of not pruning and abiding in Christ are significant. I can see why honoring the Sabbath is in the top ten.
While my location might be unique I don't my struggle to honor the Sabbath is unique. I think many of us are challenged to live the rhythm of: rest-work-prune-abide then start working again.  If I am right that a lack of rest impacts our ability to love God and our neighbor then it becomes imperative for Christians to learn to live this pattern since love is at the heart of who we are.
How is the rhythm of your life?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Key Spiritual Concept

A few weeks ago I set forth the idea that perhaps only a few key ideas are necessary for our spiritual growth. I have wanted to write more on those but I have been out of town so it has been hard to sit and have some time to write. I am back at my desk and in a place to give my theory a go.
So often we begin the spiritual journey focused on the self and what God can do for us. We wonder what can a relationship with God add to my life and how does it help me get ahead. That is natural since the American way of life is about getting ahead and gaining more. After all that is the sign of success in our culture. We come to Christ and realize that we now have “gained” forgiveness of sins and we realize that Christ has “given” us salvation; we have added an important element into our life. This isn’t a bad starting place; rather it is a natural part of our spiritual development. However, if we stay at this place of “me + God” then our Christian maturity will stall out and we will miss so much.
God longs for us to move from self focus (me + God), both focus (God + me) to God focus (God). In other words we move into learning that “it’s not about me” and our primary focus moves away from us.  Life becomes about Christ’s will instead of our will. The word for this is surrender.  The heart of all growth in Christian spirituality is an ever deepening surrender to Christ and his will. We can do all the spiritual practices and disciplines but if we don’t do them with an attitude of humility and surrender to Christ then we are simply practicing religion and missing the relationship we have been called into. Jesus is clear when he says that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34b-35 NIV)
The Apostle Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” (Phil 1:1) and he also says that he considers everything “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). 
I think that most of us if we are honest with ourselves bristle at the idea of surrender. We have been taught to be strong, get more, achieve more, be in control and be the master of your own destiny.  To be asked to give up control (which is really an illusion), go where we may or may not want to go and embrace a servant’s attitude is hard.  It may mean embracing values and practices that aren’t consistent with our culture and frankly may at times be significantly at odds with it.
Practicing surrender forces us to examine if we really want God to answer our prayer “thy will be done and thy kingdom come”. Intuitively we know that sometimes God’s will and our will might not be the same thing and if push came to shove would be like Christ and yield our will to the Lord’s.
Despite the struggles we might have with learning to surrender and yes, it is something we learn little by little over time we shouldn’t fail to see the promise in Christ’s words. He says that those who give their life to Him will save it. Elsewhere he says that we should “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus shows us and teaches us that surrendering our lives to him is the way of life. When the focus of our lives becomes seeking the kingdom those things that we need will added unto us. Right after that Jesus tells us not to worry since he knows that when our lives are yielded to him and focused on the kingdom we grow in our freedom from worry. One of the fruits of surrender is a life marked with less worry, greater peace and deeper contentment.
I find that one of the first steps in surrender to Christ is to just begin to desire surrender. We need to start somewhere and our desires are a good place. We can journal and pray about the areas we feel like we are holding onto and can’t yield to Christ. It makes sense to reflect on what is holding us back and what we are afraid of. At this point meditating on the cross makes sense because there we see so clearly Christ’s love for us, his complete surrender so that we could have life. The God who gave himself so completely on the cross is a God we can trust more than we can trust ourselves or anything else. Christ wants us to live life fully and so has shown us that way through surrender and kingdom living.
Eventually praying a prayer of surrender on a regular basis makes sense, it will help connect our desire to give ourselves with the action necessary. It will shape our heart on change the focus of our spirituality from getting things from God to giving ourselves to God and wanting to follow his way.
Below is one of the classic prayers of surrender also known as a prayer of abandonment. It a beautiful description of what I have haphazardly tried to write about.
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucald