Friday, May 13, 2011

Just to Sit in God's Presence

It's estimated that 47 million adults in the United States--and as many as 40 percent of children--suffer from sleep deprivation. Overcrowded schedules that get people up early and keep them up late are usually blamed, but that's only part of the story. It's quite possible to spend eight or even nine hours in bed every night and still be sleep-deprived, and it's also possible to have only a few hours of literal sleep and still be adequately rested. A body that never rests, physically or emotionally, while conscious will have a harder time falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting the most out of sleep.

Many people's idea of "rest" is blacking out from utter exhaustion. That's not a Biblical definition. When God gave the command to rest from work one day a week, He didn't say that the day was to be spent in bed. It's quite likely He hoped His people would keep the same number of actual waking hours as on work days, which is what modern medical experts recommend for optimal health, despite the tradition of "sleeping late on Sundays." The sort of rest that was to be observed on the Sabbath involved learning to love God and others better: worshiping, enjoying nature, watching the world go by, light meals and pleasant talk with friends.

It's sad that Judeo-Christian history has repeatedly twisted God's rest time into a long list of "don't do this, don't do that." It's even sadder that we fail to do any resting of the above kind except on our days off, if then. Like Martha, we try so hard to please the Lord through what we do for Him that we can't hear Him urging us to just sit and talk with Him for a while--and we even scold our sisters and brothers for being "lazy" when they decide to take in a little quiet time while there's still work to be done.

It's wonderful if we go to church every Sunday (and to bed every night); but if we have no personal time with God during the week, chances are we'll be in no condition to give Him our attention during the service. It takes considerably less than "seven days without God" to make "one weak."

There's time in this world for labor,
And time in this world for fun:
But just to sit in God's presence
Is a gift like no other one.

Make space in your heart for Scripture,
Make space in your heart for creeds:
But just to savor God's presence
Will supply a great host of needs.

To go to your prayer in duty
Is better than not at all:
But oh, how endlessly sweeter
To respond in love to His call!

Friday, May 6, 2011

On Toward the Goal

St. Paul wrote, "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12b-14).

Paul knew something of ancient sporting events, which included distance races from which our modern marathon is descended. Every marathon has its share of dropouts. Some fall due to injury. Some tire prematurely because they try to run all out rather than pacing themselves. A few get called out to tend to emergencies. Some just quit because they decide it's too hard. And some, sad to say, turn aside to more attractive things on the sidelines.

They all have their counterparts in the spiritual race of life. Many a Christian has burnt out from ignoring God's command to rest regularly, or has fallen prey to the lures of this world. Then there are those who drag their feet and grumble, "No one told me it would be this much work." As Jerry Bridges noted (in Trusting God Even When Life Hurts), the marathon isn't really an adequate metaphor: "The Christian life could better be described as an obstacle course of marathon length." At least real-life marathons are run over smooth ground, without continued training after the race starts, without an enemy constantly waiting the chance to trip us.

Nonetheless, those who persevere in the Christian race will finish. A clue for those seeking encouragement when the going gets tough is found in Paul's words above: "Straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal." In other words, keep your eyes on the Heavenly vision.

Those who have the reward in clear focus waste little time bemoaning the distance between.

We are not yet made perfect, though growing;
We are not yet completely made whole;
But, as Christ made us His and works in us,
Let us press ever on toward the goal.

We have things in our past that are shameful,
But Christ’s blood cleans the filthiest soul:
So, forgetting what now lies behind us,
Let us press ever on toward the goal.

We grow tired time to time, and discouraged,
But all things still are in God’s control:
So, renewed in our faith and thus strengthened,
Let us press ever on toward the goal.

Our reward will be waiting in Heaven,
Where all things are completely made whole:
So, with eyes on the One Who has called us,
Let us press ever on toward the goal!