Good grief, how do numbers work again? I published #2 and then #4, and I guess forgot I missed 3… sorry, folks. What can I say, this isn’t my full-time job. No danger of that happening, apparently.
Let me be clear about a very important point from the outset, as you read the title: I’m not implying that I’m wise.
Now that we got that out out of the way, It ought to reframe the rest of this in a much better light.
Back in my intro, I was still unclear about the exact title and direction of this post. I called it, “(something about the importance of learning)” and that was about as much clarity as I had at the moment. I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes from the Book of Common Prayer, and it finally dawned on me: wisdom.
Where I was in the story: nowhere. I decided that I needed to do things which were denied, declined, and ignored. So I found myself doing nothing. Amazing how God uses our doing nothing, and how it’s not actually “nothing” that is happening.
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
8 Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm. — Psalm 37
Psalm 37 (above) was in the Book of Common Prayer during this writing, and it was timely. Writing this particular post and thinking about what led to it, there is a pivotal phrase: “Be still.” Everything up to this point was leading to that. Being blocked by church leadership, leaving several ministries we were involved in, my wife and I suddenly finding ourselves without a specific place to serve; all of that left me with free time. I won’t say quiet time, because I was filling it with angry words in my head. Psalm 37 addressed that too.
The wise pastors I was listening to often brought up books that they used in forming their sermons. In the midst of my hard-hearted stubbornness, cracks started to form. Truth was getting in. God had not left me. I started to read books because I thought the preachers I was hearing had something going that I wanted. I hoped that by reading more about God, I could forget I was angry.
Eugene Peterson, in “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” says that worship is often perceived backwards. Whereas we believe that we must feel love for God first and then act on that to worship him, Peterson presents a different route: acting in order to feel. We realize we should love God, so we willfully act in worship and are filled with the love of him. I only recently read that piece of wisdom, but it correctly describes me at this point of the story. I was reading about God (in books) and hearing from God (in the Bible) for my own purposes, but God was busy in the background. I was slowly brought into the vivid awareness that he was close by me. In the stillness accidentally created by the absence of the activities I though so important, I found him afresh. In acting, I found myself brought to worship. I didn’t set out to do it, but maybe God was just waiting for me to quit being an petulant child so he could show up.
I had prayed to see the truth, and God honored me with an answer. Not the one I wanted, but the one that could heal. He wanted to show me Jesus. He wanted to re-introduce me to the Holy Spirit. I was convinced that I already knew them both, but as Dallas Willard said in the opening words of, “The Divine Conspiracy,” I had a “presumed familiarity that has led to unfamiliarity, unfamiliarity that has led to contempt, and contempt that has led to profound ignorance.” I knew God, he has been introducing himself to me for three decades. My mistake was thinking I had learned enough. When I realized my ignorance, I started to get hungry to know more. God responded by introducing me to some new material.
Books like, “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert showed me that my entitled middle-class views of the poor were not the same view Jesus took of them. Drew Dyck’s, “Yawning at Tigers” reminded me of the sovereignty of God. And David Platt… his book, “Radical” absolutely wrecked my life. It destroyed my whole idea that I was doing God a favor by being a Christian. I came back with, “A Glimpse of Jesus,” by Brennan Manning, which reminded me that I didn’t have to hate myself to be who God wanted. I started on N.T. Wright’s, “Surprised by Hope,” a masterpiece about resurrection that I’m still trying to chew on, a view of the Kingdom of God which was even further expanded by Dallas Willard.
The means but not the end
Those were great books, but they were not God. Bible study was something that I became much more serious about too, and that is always the way to hear from God. Duh. Let me be clear, though: the Bible is not God. Books are not God, no matter who they’re written by. They can pave the way to God, but they are the means, not the end.
Prayer is also something I’ve found as vital. I won’t try to relay all of that here, because I imagine it deserves its own space, but I can say this: one of the greatest things I’ve found is praying liturgy. I grew up in a tradition where prayer was always your own words to God, and reading prayers was weird. I don’t know if I had ever seen someone do it unless at some special occasion. Did you know that, up until 100 years ago or so, reading prayers was the most common? Those of you from a Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal background probably are used to this. I was not. I released my view that reading prayers was for losers with no good ideas. I do still use my own words as well, but I find that also praying the Psalms, St. Patrick’s breastplate, Julian of Norwich and many others has had a radical effect on my own spiritual life. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” it says in James 5. It is arrogance to think that we are ever the righteous person, but we have great access to the prayers of the righteous if we only remove our heads from our posterior.
I cannot strongly enough emphasize the importance of stillness. I mentioned it before, but let me give it more space here: stillness is critical. Solitude and silence are often-ignored jewels which, once found, present value far above what we could imagine. God does not force his voice to overpower the others which surround us, because in all cases he wants us to choose him. He will approach, and he wants to. But he is not rude. He does not insist on his own way. He is patient and kind. Meeting God in patience and kindness, away from the rudeness which is our nature, requires initiative on our part. I find that it takes a lot of solitude on the front end, but I was woefully out of practice.
Turn off the TV, stop ingesting information. Sit still. Read a prayer if you don’t know what to say. Assume you hardly ever do know what to say. Sit still some more. He will show up.