Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #4

My spiritual journey seems to circle back through familiar terrain from time to time. I enter a spiritual landscape that feels strangely familiar--a sort of spiritual dejavu--and it makes me stop and think, "When have I been here before?" and "What do I remember about this place?" Another "good question" that promotes spiritual movement.

Remembering where we've been is a an important spiritual practice if we are to navigate the circuitous landscapes of our spiritual lives and one we are reminded to do throughout Scripture. Psalm 42, for example, says, "My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be (Psalm 42:4)." "Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you... (Psalm 42: 6)."

Especially when we find ourselves in a time of disorientation with God, it's helpful to reflect on how this time reminds us of other times in our life and journey. Often, as we reflect back, we recall who God was for us and how God was with us. As we recall, we are strengthened to look for God and hope in God in the midst of our present darkness.

It's the "songs we learn" in those times of confusion that help us through the nights of our present and future sojourn. (Psalm 42: 8) They help us know where to look for God in the midst of the fog and how to posture ourselves for God's work and redemption.

As you consider the spiritual terrain of your life right now, does it remind you of a time in the past? If so, what do you remember about it? How was God with you and for you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good question! #3

"What are you learning right now about the ways of God?"

This question came to me this morning as I mulled over a passage of Scripture in James 3:13 - 18. I was struck with how James compared knowing wisdom with knowing the ways of God. "If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13)." It's like being wise and understanding God's ways are one in the same.

One of the most important things we need to attend to in our lives is noticing the ways of God. How does God interact with us and others? How does God accomplish his work in the world? How does God engage me and transform me? If we are to respond and cooperate with the ways and work of God in our lives, then we need to notice his ways. 

Often I hear people describe God and his ways very differently from how I observe God working in my life and the world around me. They describe God as someone with heavy-handed, iron-clad power and control; someone who always gets his way. They use big words life "omnipotent" and "sovereign" to describe a kingly God who demands and commands subservience. I experience God very differently. I notice God working in much subtler ways with a much more humble demeanor.

If knowing wisdom is synonymous with knowing God's ways, then here's a description from James 3:17, 18 of the way we can look for God to interact with us and accomplish his purposes. See if it describes what you are learning about the ways of God.

God's ways are pure.
God's ways are peace loving.
God's ways are gentle at all times.
God's ways are willing to yield to others.
God's ways are full of mercy and good deeds.
God's ways show no favoritism.
God's ways are always sincere. 

As you reflect on this description, how is God involved in your life right now? How is he inviting you to respond?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good Question! #2: When have you been real with God?

In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that "right thinking is a prerequisite to right living." It's a statement that has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It sounds like it should work. Iron out your wrong ideas about God and life, replace them with the truth, and--presto--you will start living life the way you are intended.

The problem with this statement is it doesn't work.

Merely replacing wrong ideas with right ones doesn't necessarily change us or the way we live. What changes us is when we bring our real selves before God and experience his profound love and acceptance.

Being loved by God in an "undefended state," as David Benner puts it, is the aim of prayer and the catalyst for transformation--for "right living." When we gather ourselves before God, our real selves, and experience God's acceptance of us in our naked brokenness and beauty, we are changed. We are healed by God's love and acceptance; strengthened by God's comfort; empowered by God's grace to live more whole/holy lives.

As a spiritual director, I often listen to individuals who work feverishly to know God and find their way to a better life with God. I also notice them avoiding God. They live in their heads, in their frenetic thoughts, and don't know how to gather themselves before God in an undefended state. They want to change, to be free, and they continue to try to change by changing the way they think. It doesn't seem to work.

My best direction for them is to help them learn how to be real with God and to pray and engage with God in their real condition. I've come to believe that if I can help them quit playing "dress up" before God, and come as they are, expressing their true emotions, questions and motivations to God, they are more likely to experience God.

The obstacle most face, myself included, is turning off their anxious minds and churning thoughts; getting out of their frenetic thinking and into their deeper thoughts and real prayers. And there's no simple step or two that anyone, myself included, can offer. Realistically, pain and heartache are often the impetus that drive us beyond our superficial thinking toward a desperate seeking of God. ("You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13)

So, I'd rather not conclude with some antidote in the form of an exercise or spiritual practice that will help you find your way to a real encounter with God. I'd rather simply say that the question, "When have you been real with God?" is a good place to start. Once you identify a time when you felt like you truly connected with God from your true self, then retrace your steps. What led you to this place of raw and honest encounter? Pay attention to what led you and then return to this place again, engaging with God in an undefended state. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good question! #1: How is God inviting you to know Him right now?

Have you ever noticed the pleasure of asking or being asked a good question? A zinger question? The kind of question that takes you right to where you or the person you're talking to need to go. As a spiritual director, I'm a collector of questions; forever in search of the best questions to ask my clients to help them pay attention to the movement of God in their lives.So this blog is the first in a series entitled: Good question!

This morning, I came upon one of those "good" questions. At least it felt that way to me. It had the penetrating, spot-on quality I know can be of great use when I'm probing the interior landscape of some one's relationship with God: How is God inviting you to know Him right now?

When I asked the question of my client, simultaneously, I had the awareness that it was a question I needed to ask myself. I felt curiously drawn to it, as though the idea hadn't originated with me, but came from elsewhere--beyond me--and was for me.

As I ponder the question, I recognize something I know from experience and have come to assume--that God is too much for me to know all at once. And so often God has shown me one of his "faces" or facets, an aspect of God's self that he wants me to know. How is God inviting me to know him-- right now?

Right now....means after a busy few weeks of travel and numerous plates spinning in my head. I sense that God wants me to know him as my rest, my Sabbath, not a means to resolve or accomplish something else. This morning, as I prayed, I felt God encouraging me to seek him period; not to ask for something but to simply be with him and rest in him. I sensed his pleasure as I sought his company.

I recognize something else implied in the question; the belief that God invites us to know him. I think many of us might agree with that assumption, but I notice in myself and others a subtle (or not so subtle) avoidance of God. That's right. A way that we keep ourselves so busy for God or with our work and responsibilities that we resist or ignore God's invitation to know him; to experience and encounter him. 

So, what about you? How does this question sit with you? How is God inviting you to know him right now? That may seem like a really hard question. Here are a few things that helped me think about it: 

  1. Pay attention to anything that you've heard or read recently about God that keeps "haunting" you. What about it seems to speak truth or resonate with your life and what you know or want to know about God?
  2. When you do pray, what do you pray for? How is God responding to your prayers? What do you wonder or learn about God related to the way he is or isn't responding?