Sunday, June 29, 2014

how to ensure your words endure {June lessons in listening}

{My one word for 2014 is "listen"... Each month I'm posting the lessons I'm learning - find the rest of my posts on listening here!}

As a writer and an artist, I want to be heard.  I long for none of my words to fall to the ground.  

But as a human, I know that’s impossible.  The limitations of my sin nature, my personality, my background and my experiences ensure that at least some, possibly all, of my own words will eventually disappear. 

I’m still mulling over Mark Buchanan’s thoughtful and refreshing book The Rest of God.  He describes his life as an author, pastor, and speaker, and admits his own similar desire for his words to endure.  

“Either God, God alone, keeps our words from falling and scatters them wide,” observes Buchanan, “or else there is nothing in them worth keeping and scattering in the first place.  Our concern, our responsibility, is simply to hear and heed God…”

John’s gospel begins, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory…full of grace and truth” (emphasis mine).

The only Person whose words are sure to endure is the Living Word Himself.  So, it follows that the only way for me to ensure what I say endures is to make my words the words of God.   

“Our speaking comes out of our listening,” Buchanan continues.  “What we say comes out of what we hear. We have to be people who listen, day and night, to God.  Our utterances ought to be as Jesus’s were: an echoing of the Father, an imitation of him….”

That’s a tall order.  When I read those words for the first time, my heart sank.  Given that I am not Jesus, that feels pretty much impossible!

But the word “echo” stood out to me: I might not be Jesus, but I can surely echo Him.  I can repeat back - pass on - the words I hear from Him in my own heart, the words I read from Him in the Bible, the things He shows me through experience and circumstance.  And if hearing God happens best when I am still, then the practices of Sabbath and listening are essentially connected. 

God is always speaking.

The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God… Day to day pours out speech… Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

God is always speaking, but we’re not always listening.  

“There are so many voices,” says Buchanan.  “And there is such little time to listen, to truly listen: to winnow and test it all, to heed and reflect and respond...

“Sabbath is when we stop.  We slow down.  We play, we rest, we dream, we wonder.  We cease from that which is necessary and turn to that which gives life.  And in the hush that descends, we listen.”

The times when I can hear most clearly are times of stillness and quietness: in other words, when I’m cultivating a Sabbath heart. 

“God isn’t more likely to speak on your Sabbath than on any other day,” says Buchanan, “but you are more likely to listen.”

On the day the apostle John saw the Voice and the vision which became the book of Revelation, there are two key contextual details which Buchanan highlights: 

“One, he was in exile on Patmos.  He was, in other words, under an enforced silence and aloneness, a season of inactivity.  Two, it was Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  It was his Sabbath.  These conditions - the silence, the aloneness, the stillness, the Sabbath - might be beside the point.  Then again, they might just be the point.  It’s possible that they are mentioned because they form the necessary backdrop for true listening.”

~Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, ch 12 "Listen: Stopping to Hear God"

It is only when we’ve first heard from God ourselves that we have something worth hearing to offer to our listeners.  

In one of Ann Voskamp’s recent posts, she urges her readers to take time every day.  She says, 

“Daily disciplines are doors to full freedom.

“Everyday take time. Everyday take time to feel the sun and the wind and the rain and feel that you are loved — and then let your life overflow with that love so that a thousand others feel that love. 

“Everyday take time to live loved — and live so others feel loved. 

“Everyday take time. Time is there for the taking. For the unwrapping.”

This daily unwrapping of the gift of time, the gift of Sabbath rest, frees us to truly listen, first to God and then to others.  

Ann continues, “Give someone the gift of listening… linger and look into their eyes and really listen and this is free and nobody can buy it and what is better than paying attention to someone with all of you fully present?”

Give yourself permission to receive God’s gift of Sabbath rest - not just the 24 hours once a week when you stop and play and revive your soul - but every day.  

photo credit: I. Winsley
Take time every day to rest, to still your soul and listen.  

In learning to be still enough to hear God, we will learn how to be still enough to listen, truly listen, to others.

photo credits: I. Winsley

Saturday, June 7, 2014

of Bill Murray and keeping Sabbath {an unsolicited book review}

I recently finished reading one of the most restful books I’ve ever read.  It is, coincidentally, a book on the spiritual discipline of Sabbath; but whereas many “Christian” books leave my recovering-perfectionist-self feeling guilty and depressed about all the spiritual disciplines I’m not practicing or the good, Biblical things I’m not doing, this book left me feeling refreshed.  Life-filled.  Invited.  Excited about unwrapping the gift of Sabbath in my own life.  

Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God is a beautiful and, for me, timely invitation to explore the Biblical command to keep Sabbath rest.  His pithy, insightful writing opened my spiritual eyes to see how keeping Sabbath and developing a Sabbath heart enables us to discover not just actual rest, but the rest of God - the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.

“In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth,” Buchanan muses.  

“But without rest,” he continues, “we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply.  ‘Be still and know that I am God.’  Some knowing is never pursued, only received.  And for that, you need to be still” (p3).

Being still has never been easy for me.  I like to be doing, getting things done.  I tend to measure the “success” of my day by how many items I’ve ticked off my to-do list.  I struggle to live in the moment and I often resent interruptions.  I find it difficult to lay down my task and look the person full in the face.  

So this book was a much-needed breath of fresh air (and a kick in the pants) to show me how crucial Sabbath is to healthy, Biblical living.  And how much more expansive our potential for true productivity becomes when we joyfully keep Sabbath.  

One of the things that struck me was Buchanan’s differentiation between drivenness and purposefulness.  

He noticed that “the truly purposeful have an ironic secret: they manage time less and pay attention more” (78).  

He follows this up with an invitation to live generously.  Buchanan says that you actually generate “more” time by extravagantly giving your whole self, and all of “your” time, first to God and then to others.  

I wonder... is this really true?

Can I really generate “more” time by extravagantly giving time away?

Giving my time away definitely doesn’t come naturally to me.  I like to hang on to my time, count the seconds, hoard the minutes, and frugally dole out my hours.  The trouble with that approach is (hoarse stage whisper) - “It’s not really mine!”

If my time is not really mine, why do I hang on to it so tightly?  

Sabbath is about trust, Buchanan points out.  “[It] is turning over to God all those things—our money, our work, our status, our reputations, our plans, our projects—that we’re otherwise tempted to hold tight in our own closed fists, hold on to for dear life.” 

Oh yes.  I like hanging on for dear life.  It feels comforting to me.  Secure.  The trouble is, it’s exhausting! 

Buchanan continues, “[Sabbath] is letting go, for one day out of seven, all those parts of our identities and abilities in which we are constantly tempted to find our security, and discovering afresh that we are his children and that he is our Father and shield and defender” (98).

Is any of this hitting home for you like it did for me?  Doesn’t the idea of Sabbath sound delightful?  Just imagine: we’re offered - by God - 24 hours out of each week to take a break from our worries, our insecurities, and our drivenness, and just bounce joyously on the trampoline of the Everlasting Arms for a while?

In one of my favorite movies, “What About Bob”, Bill Murray plays a neurotic hypochondriac who relies on his psychologist for sanity and reassurance.  After Bob compulsively follows his psychologist and his family on vacation, turning up unexpectedly at the door of their cabin getaway, the irritated psychologist finally comes up with a way to get Bob to leave him alone: he tells Bob to take a vacation from his problems.  

“A vacation?” Bob is incredulous.  “From my… problems?”  A look of sheer joy spreads over his face, as the suggestion sinks in.  “Hah!  A vacation!  From my - problems!!”  He backs away happily, hands in pockets, and strolls off whistling. 

Dr. Marvin is overjoyed that his brainstorm worked so well and settles in to enjoy his family vacation - until Bob shows up bright and early at his screen door the next morning wearing a local t-shirt, and announces, “Good morning, Doctor!”  The speechless psychologist quickly pulls him around the corner and demands in a frantic whisper, “What are you doing here?”

Bob happily replies, “I’m on vacation! I’m just dropping by!  How are you, Doctor?”  

Flabbergasted at how his plan has backfired, Dr. Marvin proceeds to concoct a series of elaborate plans for getting rid of Bob, while his family gradually falls in love with Bob - who, on vacation from his problems, turns out to be a normal, likable guy.  

That’s what I want to do, once a week.  (Or every day?)  Take a vacation from my problems, and live in the realization that I am free from the power of sin over my life, and I have been invited into the rest of God.  

What about you?  Do you need a vacation from your problems?  Aren't you curious about the rest of God?

Stay tuned for more thoughts on Sabbath rest, coming soon…