Friday, April 15, 2011

The Long Road Home

If you are like me, you have some form of commute to your place of work. You likely take the same roadway or combination of roadways to and from work each weekday. When traveling to work, have you ever been so completely on “automatic pilot” that you are unaware whether you stopped at traffic lights, you know your commute must go through? Do you find your self double-checking whether you have accomplished simple tasks, like locking the front door? Have you ever turned your car around, so you could return home because you wonder whether you lowered your garage door? Have you ever tried to start your car, when it was already running? Sure, you can blame it on age, we’re all getting older. But, perhaps it is just the mundane nature of these mindless tasks in life. Lets face it; nothing is very exciting about closing our garage doors.

How much does this “Automatic Pilot” mode affect our spiritual life and walk with the Lord? Has going to church become another such task? Has our worship become as ordinary as shutting our garage? What must we do to make sure our spiritual journey does not fall victim to this “rut routine” and our complacency spread to infect this, our most intimate relationship of our soul? Actively searching out the presence of God is, of course, the most obvious answer. If we are always with Him and our work is accomplished on His behalf, even our most mundane tasks become worship and communion with the creator of the universe. My friends and I refer to this as being ALL IN.

The process is well described in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God. In this work, maintaining a close relationship with God is modeled for us by Brother Lawrence (1614-1691), a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery. Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman in the region of Lorraine, located in modern day eastern France. He entered the priory in Paris as a lay brother, not having the educational background to become a cleric. He spent most of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen and later repairing sandals. His character attracted many to him, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his lowly position, He was know for his profound peace and many sought guidance from him.

The wisdom he shared was assembled for us after his death by one of those he inspired, Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris. For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, was opportunity for praising our Lord. The important issue was not the task at hand, but the motivation behind its accomplishment.

We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for the love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.

He admitted that his path to this level of communion with God was not easy. He spent years disciplining his heart and mind to constantly search for Gods presence.

As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before Him, fixing my mind upon His holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from Him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through the difficulties.

Only after he reconciled himself to the thought that this long struggle was his destiny did he find peace, his soul finally had come home and found a place of rest. He spent the rest of his 80 years in relative obscurity, pain and yet perfect joy. Brother Lawrence paints a picture of the sancification process not unlike that of Paul of Tarsus. Paul too understood that this process was a long difficult one. In his farwell address to the Ephesian Elders (Acts 20:24) Paul had this to say:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

And (likely Paul) in Hebrews (12:1):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Also consider: God has given us clear testimony in His Word concerning the reasons why He humbled Himself and "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philipians 2:7)

Are we being asked too much? Perhaps you feel we are. Too many of us have lost the ability to focus our attention for very long on anything, let a lone anything worthwhile. Consider the words of the song “Always on My mind”, made famous by Willie Nelson:

Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time
You are always on my mind, you are always on my mind

Sadly this attitude is all too common in this day and age. It is unfortunate that such self-absorption has kept most of us from investing ourselves in things we claim to be important. Priorities have been shuffled and far too often we are merely in response mode to the “tyranny of the urgent”. We keep all the plates spinning as best we can without ever even asking whether the plates are worthy of our attention at all. How do we turn this around? How can we begin anew with a sharper focus on what is truly important?

It starts, I believe, with an understanding of what should qualify as important. An understanding of this can always be found in God's word (His specific revelation). Daily reading His word, reveals His character and nature to us each and everyday. Daily communing in prayer, helps in maintaining that all important personal relationship. Our days can fill-up rather fast with the world coming at us full bore. Beginning the day with the proper focus, provides the all important reminder, that we are here for His purpose. We can't expect to finish strong, if we have not started strong.

Next time you find yourself muddled in the mundane or spinning the wrong plates, ask yourself how you got there. Tracing your steps back to the path may help you identify what caused you to leave it. Such an excercise may help clarify future hurdles or landmines to be cautious of next time. The best part of taking an active look at your mistakes and mis-steps is that you can start all over right then and there. God promises His grace to the repentant believer with a contrite heart. You do not have to become a cleric or the next Paul of Tarsus to make a difference for His Kingdom. Find ways to be in His presence in your daily chores, when your day is lived for Him, you are worshiping Him. It is a Long Road Home, take it one step at a time, focused on Him. (Note:This post is an updated version of my 6/10/2008 posting of the same title)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Making Lemonade

“Make lemonade,” That’s what they say. When God gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s certainly a cute phrase, usually accompanied with a knowing grin and a nod of the head. Both motions are designed to convey to you that the speaker is familiar with your pain. On the surface it seems simple enough, just take that hardship or burden and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Get every bit of goodness you can out of it and then sit back and enjoy a nice refreshing cold beverage. Delicious right? 
        We have a dwarf lemon tree in our back yard, heavy and absolutely bursting with fruit. This is true almost every year, but with all the rain we’ve had this year, we’re experiencing a bumper crop of lemons. My wife has been giving bags and bags of lemons away all year and cannot keep up with the tree’s production. Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed the sour taste of a nice tart lemon, that kind that makes you shake your head and make that strangled pucker face, where your lips want to crawl down your throat. As fun as that can be, lemonade is not really satisfying until you doctor it up to your taste with something sweet.
        Pretty simple solution for lemons, but where does one find the sweetness when the topic takes on a more serious tone? How do you sweeten a financial crisis, a job loss or a serious diagnosis of a loved one or a young child? These are the lemons that really make us pucker and look about for answers. These sour moments can be devastating if we are ill prepared. God has gifted us with the sweetest ingredient ever made. He has promised to shelter us beneath His wing and carry us though our sour sorrow-filled journeys, lifting our spirits as He shoulders our burdens. We need to remember that He who makes the lemons also makes the honey and our ultimate satisfaction is more than guaranteed.
        "And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." Exodus 3:17