And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Joy is a state of inner satisfaction and contentment and is the best antidote for the inward depletion we call weariness. The classic Bible song declares, “I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul!” and everyone who belongs to Christ has such a living fountain within. But like any natural spring, the fountain of joy will flow more purely and freely when it’s looked after. Here’s a reminder of some of the ways God has ordained to keep joy bubbling within us each day.
Spend time with those who calm, encourage and inspire. Listen and share, openly and honestly. Hold hands or hug. Engage your relationship with the Lord, receiving, dialoging, and exchanging with the One who is always with you and within you.
Defy the ever-serious world by choosing to smile, laugh and play. Cultivate your sense of humor. Do something creative just for the fun of it. Feast and celebrate as part of the rhythm of your Christian life. Go ahead and rejoice, dance, and sing.
Tend to your heart
Pause often to come back to your true center. Conscious prayers like “Another lives in me,” and the Jesus prayer are a powerful reset for the harried soul. Simple activities like breathing and enjoyable exercise settle our hearts in well-being. We’ve posted a guided-prayer video below to help you quiet your heart as you practice God’s presence.
Take the time you need for each activity, setting a reasonable pace. When shifting from one thing to the next, take a still, quiet moment. Thank God for what has just happened, listen for His guidance, and dedicate what comes next to Him.
“Not everything is useless which cannot be brought under the definition of the useful.”  Spend time doing nothing. Value contemplation, giving your true imagination space to receive whatever God may want to impart.
Live at the Cross
Much of what makes us weary is the result of sin. Looking to Christ’s cross gives us grace to accept ourselves as He accepts us. Remembering His mercy moves us to bear with others in their weaknesses. The clarity of His cross delivers us from the temptation to dialog with the old man and gives us divine objectivity. And the might of His cross shelters us in unassailable spiritual protection.
Abide in God’s love by nurturing your bodily self. Eat wholesome food and engage in life-giving exercise. Honor your body’s rhythm in your sleep habits and schedule. Take weekly Sabbath rest. Savor the wonder and beauty of creation.
Do just one thing at a time. Keep sensory input at a healthy level and be present, whether you’re eating, reading, or whatever you may be doing. Practice God’s presence as you perform each simple activity in Him and with Him.
We were created for fulfillment. Paul reminds us that those who don’t give up will reap in due season, implying that it’s right to desire a harvest. When gratification is delayed, borrow some joy from the future. Imagine that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, “Jesus is Lord!” Meditate on the promise of the consummated Kingdom. Let the goodness of that coming reality cheer your heart today.
 Pieper, Josef, Leisure: The basis of culture (Ignatius Press, 2016), p. 10.
We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
To acknowledge the Unseen Real requires a concerted effort of the will at first. We might think of it as actually practicing the Presence. The practice of the Presence then, is simply the discipline of calling to mind the truth that God is with us….Brother Lawrence, writing to a friend who is in great pain and suffering, tells her what it means to see the “sovereign Physician who is the healer of both body and soul,” with the eyes of the heart: 
I can feel that which faith teaches; I can sense what faith sees. This, of course works great assurance in me….So continue always with God. To be with Him is really your only support and your only comfort during affliction. 
Practicing the presence requires discipline but it gives us great assurance that God is with us and within us. We often do not remember, especially when we suffer, to acknowledge the Unseen and practice His Presence. We are often tempted by digital distractions or other hindrances instead of practicing His Presence. When we practice His Presence, He comes quickly to help us, encourage us, strengthen us and comfort us. In our time of affliction let us persist in practicing His Presence.
Gracious Lord, forgive us for not acknowledging the Unseen and practicing Your Presence. Enlarge our hearts so that we may enter into Your Unseen and Ultimate Reality and YourHeavenly kingdom. Nudge us gently back into Your Presence when we stray or are tempted by digital distractions and other hindrances. Like a good shepherd, lead us beside the still waters to refresh, encourage, and strengthen us in Your Presence. Thank you for the assurance that You are our Father and You are always with us.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 25, 26, 31.  Practicing His Presence: Frank Laubach, Brother Lawrence, Library of Spiritual Classics , vol. 1(Portland, ME: Christian Books, 1981), p. 6, 7. Painting/Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946, photo:Toby Hudson St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales The Good Shepherd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.
What is my vocation? For what purpose was I sent into the world? These may be questions you will want to journal, because the obedience that comes out of listening to God puts us securely in our truest vocation. It is a radical place to be — a place of freedom from the words of the world, the flesh, and the devil. No longer slaves to sin, but alive to God’s voice, we are brought into that spacious place of genuine creativity. We are makers, ourselves made in the image of our Creator God. We learn to collaborate with what we hear the Lord command, and He in turn loves His world through us. 
Creativity is no frivolous extra, nor is it a gift given to just a few of us, but is essential both for personal wholeness and the welfare of this world. Our Creator God broods over the potentiality He’s knit into each one of us. No spiritual gifts inventory or career guidance can take the place of persevering responsiveness to His voice. By simply obeying His daily counsel — often without seeing the big picture of His awesome plans — we allow Him to place us on creative mission. Our collaborations with God will often be hidden and ordinary, may sometimes win admiration, and may also provoke persecution. But in every case we will find joy. It’s what we were made for: to simultaneously create and be created by having our very own hands in God’s good work.
Gracious God, thank you for this gift of a life so rich with meaning and eternal purpose. Thank you for the awesome glory of being in Your image, the privilege of being a maker in Your kingdom. Open my ears to Your instruction, open my eyes to Your handiwork, open my heart to the joy of union with You. Take all that I am — my desires and sensitivities, my energy and strength, my flawed and finite being — and love Your world through me.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 124.
Painting: Arcangelo di Cola, 1425, The Calling of Simon Peter and Andrew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
… Vital to every soul that needs healing (all of us) is the knowledge that God is absolutely good, and that He loves us with the kind of love capable of radically changing us. 
It is an awesome thing to be the object of God’s love. His love is active and skillful, consuming and mighty. He discloses Himself, and in the process breaks up our misrepresentations and heals our fears. Wonderful freedom comes to those who place themselves utterly in His hands. Yet the enemy prowls about, conjuring up dark illusions in a relentless effort to dissuade us from our God. Too often we hold back, wary of what God might do with us if we abandoned all else and yielded to Him fully. Still, He is good. To every seeker who opens the scriptures, to every needy soul who lifts their eyes to Him, our loving God imparts true symbols, true knowledge of His character, His ways, even His name. It is His holy desire that all would confess, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Gracious Father, we thank you for pursuing us in Your love. We thank you for desiring relationship with us, and for giving Your Son that we might know you truly and wholly. Thank You that Your Spirit is already at work within us. Release in us greater courage and trust that we might lay down every reservation and be cleansed of every confusion. Increase our desire to know You in Your absolute goodness. You are worthy of all honor and glory and praise, now and forever.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 132.
Painting: Václav Mánes, 1832, Healing the Blind Man, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained,
separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins
and then for those of the people,
since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath,
which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest,
one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.
It is wonderful to meditate on the fact that Christ’s intercession for us did not end with His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven and the “right hand of the Father.” For He is the ultimate Mediator-Priest, and as such “ever lives to intercede” for us. “Jesus, intercede to the Father for me!” is always my cry when I am most desperate. I often wonder why I waited so long to turn to Him as Intercessor. What an immense privilege we have. What an infinite conduit of mercy opens to us when we remember to invoke Him in His office of divine Mediator. 
Incarnational Reality continually takes us higher and deeper. Our Lord doesn’t leave us; rather He becomes all the more available even as He is lifted to the highest place. Let us practice His presence as our very real and present help. Truly He is perfectly attentive, perfectly faithful, perfectly merciful, the Yes and Amen to every promise of our Father!
Lord Jesus I thank you that you have not only died for me, but also live to intercede for me. Help me to practice Your presence so that I may rely more and more on this truth. Grant my heart to see You rightly, that I might more readily turn to You as my intercessor. You are worthy of my absolute trust, utter confidence, and wholehearted praise, now and forever.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), p. 70.
Painting: Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino, 1572-1645, The Ascension, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The oldest liturgical prayer that we know about is a command prayer, or prayer of invocation…
“Come, Lord Jesus!”
The early Christians must have shouted this prayer aloud with great fervor, knowing that He, their risen Lord, would by His Spirit be present to them in a most special way again…
Where the Presence of the Lord is truly invoked, there is little difficulty in believing on Him or moving in the spiritual power and authority He brings.
How do we truly invoke His presence? In faith, yes, but not a whipped-up confidence in one’s enthusiasm or certainty. We invoke Him in humility, small ones welcoming the great I AM. Our call is born of hunger and dependence. Our prayer is worshipful, moved by awe and adoration. It is a loving reach in relationship, a bid toward Him who is with us. In this invocation we engage the mystery of ultimate reality, passing from explanation to Incarnation. We call on the One we have seen, touched and leaned against. And, we call on the One we apprehend only by belief, thanking Him for the inexplicable gift of faith. We learn this prayer by praying it, and just like His first disciples, we become as we look to Him, enabling those around us to do the same.
Come, Lord Jesus!
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1989), 49.
Painting: James Tissot, 1886, The Appearance of Christ at the Cenacle, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and he relents over disaster.
That we might be more fully present to God is the very reason for fasting. By a physical fast we seek to quiet the demands of the body, thereby humbling it so that we can hear and be obedient to that word the Lord is speaking to us. It is then we can repent aright, and make the necessary prayers of intercession and atonement for others.
The Lenten fast is a special means of practicing God’s presence. By abstaining from some good but finite nourishment, we affirm that God Himself is both ultimately and immanently our sustenance, energy, and enjoyment. Each pang of hunger or want is a prompting to return to God with all our hearts. This season of repentance is an invaluable gift, most needful and fruitful. Let us keep the fast, then, with joy, knowing that our gracious God intends to fill our deepest hunger: to live in familiar communion with Him.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Psalm 139:1-3 ESV
“The prayer preceding all prayer is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.'” (C. S. Lewis)
The fallen self cannot know itself. As we have seen, we do not know who we are and will search for our identity in someone or something other than God until we find ourselves in Him. And it is only in Him that we become persons. In the Presence, conversing with Him, we find that the ‘old man’ – the sinful, the neurotic, the sickly compulsive, the seedy old actor within – is not the Real, but that these are simply the false selves that can never be rooted in God. We find that God is the Real and that He calls the real ‘I’ forward, separating us from our sicknesses and sins. We then no longer define ourselves by our sins, neuroses, and deprivations, but by Him whose healing life cleanses and indwells us. 
You needn’t know yourself in order to pray; it is through prayer that you will come to know yourself. Sadly, shame makes us afraid to be seen, even to ourselves. Yet those who dialog with God, resting in Him and listening for His voice, receive something astonishingly wonderful: the real, and continuously more good, beautiful, and true self.
Gracious Father, I turn toward You now. I lift my face to You, confessing that only You see me and know me fully. I ask life of You, Creator God, Redeemer God. Bring me into my true self, the one who can abide in You forever. Let the old fall away, let the false disintegrate like the hard shell of a wheat grain in fertile soil. I believe You can make me real, for You are making all things new.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live,
you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
John 14:18-20 ESV
Christ is risen, and is not only at the right hand of God the Father, but is also, by virtue of what began at Pentecost, risen in us. 
We who have often recited the Apostles’ Creed may have a heart-picture of Jesus with the Father in heaven. Unfortunately, our hearts may therefore see Him as being far from us, for we are certainly aware that we are not in heaven. The awesome secret of the Christian life is that He is so very near, nearer than we are to ourselves. I am not orphaned; you are not orphaned. “Another lives in me.” We need to continually speak this truth to our souls, and to other needy souls we meet. The full, resurrection power of Almighty God is available right here in the core of my being. The One who has been to the grave and rose from it uncorrupted is present to share His all with us. We know it’s true, but we need to know it more deeply and more of the time. Christ is risen! He is risen in me, He is risen in you!
Thank You Jesus. Thank You for Your perfect obedience, even unto death on a cross. Thank you for keeping Your promise to come to us. Thank You for being so near, even risen in me. I ask You now for an increasing gift of faith to lay hold of this wonderful truth and to live it ever more fully. You are the center of my life. You are the center of my being. I praise Your holy name.
Healing prayer is not the ‘instant fix,’ nor the bypassing of slow and steady growth. It is that which clears the path and makes such progress possible. It is the appropriation of the power given us at Pentecost… The message of Pentecost is that God centers Himself in His people; we are a people of the Presence. Every soul coming out of the world’s lifestyle needs to pray for a personal Pentecost – and receive it. He is then centered in God, and God is centered in him.
He can then hear God while standing and walking with Him in the vertical position.
This is a most suitable time to seek the Lord for a personal Pentecost! Our need is great, and our God is ready. We make this prayer in faith, speaking to our souls this certain assurance: my God in His steadfast love will meet me. He meets us with miraculous touches of His healing power, often not immediately perceptible to our senses. And He shows us His steadfast love as we go on to walk with Him in new ways. God, who truly is our strength, initiates radical change in the trajectories of our lives, changes that we humans may see only with years of hindsight. Ask Him today to clear the path of your becoming, for He is the God who will meet you.
With hand on heart: Holy God, You are the center of my life. Lord Jesus, You are the center of my being. Pour out Your Spirit on me. I ask You, strong and loving God, for my own personal Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, center me in Your life. Come Holy Spirit, be centered in me. I receive You Lord and I receive Your healing power at work in me.
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9 NRSV
O Lord, it was You
It is You, Lord
I heard You in the midst of my extreme need;
I heard You say, “You have not because you ask not.”
And I asked of largely of You,
and You gave…
O Lord, long ago I trusted in You, and You saved me utterly.
You took me up from the ash heap,
a place of powerlessness and death
And made me fruitful.
You made me as a tree whose branches reach out in every direction,
Bearing Your rich fruits of all kinds and dripping healing waters,
resins, and oils.
You caused my roots to grow down deep
To tap into hidden reserves of goodness, beauty, and life.
I put you on anew, O Lord
I cry out to you anew…
This joy of fruitfulness is for all who are willing to “put on Christ” and imitate Him in His poverty. It is merely what the good news of the gospel promises. It is merely answered prayer. It is for all who hear him say, “Put Me on, receive Me into your deepest selves, walk with Me in obedience.” 
Taking time to reflect on the blessings of the closing year is a powerful and healing ritual for those who walk with Christ. As we pause to reflect, His Spirit enables us to recognize more clearly how His grace has manifested in the real stuff of our daily lives. Let us end this year rejoicing in His goodness and calling on His name for what lies ahead!
Holy Spirit, come and open our eyes. Grant us to see as You do, to remember Your goodness, even to receive new insight into Your grace deep within us and around us. Grant us the quiet space we need for this reflection, and impart Your joy that glorifies the Father and His Son. We do rejoice in You, Holy God, for You do all things well. And as we turn to receive the gift of the new year, we put You on anew, Lord Jesus Christ. Reign on the throne of our hearts and have Your way with us!
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 ESV
Conflict and struggle are important elements in our metamorphosis as persons. We must learn as ministers never to interrupt, through misplaced sympathy or empathy, the painful process whereby a soul is being raised from its stupor and deadness. This is most often done in Christian circles by encouraging the person to “bend” toward ourselves. But we can never take another’s loneliness away. Henri Nouwen speaks powerfully to this current delusion:
There is much mental suffering in our world. But some of it is suffering for the wrong reason because it is born out of the false expectation that we are called to take each other’s loneliness away. When our loneliness drives us away from ourselves into the arms of our companions in life, we are, in fact, driving ourselves into excruciating relationships, tiring friendships and suffocating embraces.
… Every one of us, not just the ones who are the most visibly wounded by the darkness in man and in the world, has to face the inner loneliness and separation from God and then begin the rigorous but sternly magnificent work of converting the “desert of loneliness” within into the spaciously beautiful “garden of solitude” where the true self comes forward. This is the self capable of friendship, capable of Christian fellowship.
Becoming a radiant, whole human being is the most glorious privilege in the world. The Holy One is whispering even now into the heart of every man, woman, and child, “Become!” To answer Him is sternly magnificent, rigorous indeed. Somewhere inside, each one of us knows we were made for such greatness. Yet facing the desert between who we are now and who God is making us to be takes great courage, so let us cheer one another on! Let us renounce unbelieving sympathy that would excuse any child of God from confronting his or her own crisis in separation. Let us provoke one another with confidence in the One who does all things well: my God in His steadfast love will meet me; your God in His steadfast love will meet you.
PRAYER: Gracious Father, open our eyes to the unseen real, to the springs that are welling up under the surface of every life’s desert. Forgive of any trespass into another’s loneliness – we entrust these dear ones to You now and ask You to cleanse them from our sin in Jesus’ name. Stir in us the longing to become, and to embolden others to become true, solid, and vibrant. Pour out Your gifts within and among us, quickening faith, hope and love, and put Your words of blessing and encouragement in our mouths. We thank you in advance for the lavish, fruitful gardens You are growing in our hearts. To You be all honor, glory, and praise. Amen.
Reaching Out, p. 22
ibid The Broken Image, p. 155-156 Painting: August Macke, 1887-1914, Vegetable fields [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil –
and free those who all their lives
were held in slavery by their fear of death.
For surely it is not angels he helps,
but Abraham’s descendants.
For this reason he had to be made like them,
fully human in every way,
in order that he might become
a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God,
and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted,
he is able to help those who are being tempted.
– Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV
Saints of all ages have made it their business to be present to God, and out of this has sprung their truest vocations. They become, therefore, the ones who blaze spiritual trails for others. Every generation of Christians must courageously face dark wildernesses, peculiar to the time in which they live. These ‘perilous woods’ through which a path must be hewn are made up of the choking undergrowth and dark flowering of the sins and blindnesses of generations past, and they always stand as formidable roadblocks to the next generation of Christians. The saints who make it their full intention, therefore, to practice the Presence (however they term this) become the courageous pathfinders, whether for the many or the few. And in the doing of this, no matter how much they suffer, they are to be accounted doubly blessed, for they have discovered what they were born to do. 
As dark as our days may be, we needn’t face our generation’s stunning challenges alone. The enemy of our souls provokes all manner of gloom – life is ruined because I’m so defective; finding goodness is impossible because of how others have failed me; I shouldn’t bother because no one cares anyway. Listen as the Spirit of Christ rises up in you to rebuke despair and release His courage within your soul! Whether today’s trailblazing is through the private tangle of sexuality and relationships or the public wilderness of Christian leadership, you have just one task: Make it your business to be present to God.
Set your heart on the truth that Another is with you and within you. Lift up the lantern in your hand and plant your next footstep where His gifts of faith, hope and love illuminate the path. Hack away at the tangle of weeds around your feet, faithfully exercising dominion over your days and hours, your habits and practices, your relationships and spheres of influence. Stumble forward with flashlight in one hand and machete in the other, pressing on in no strength but Christ’s. Far from shameful, to be a struggler on the Way is truly noble and puts you in the finest company. Your Father is offering you this one true way to find out who you are, and what’s more, become that real you. As you say yes to Him, who knows how many you’ll bring along to His glory!
Come Holy Spirit, form Christ’s character within me. Father, even as I look to you in my need, I pray also for the others, my brothers and sisters who are practicing Your Presence, determined to progress. Pour Your life into us and empower us to find the Way through all manner of tangles. Thank you for freeing us through the offering of Your Son, and thank you for the great mystery that we follow Him even as He lives within us. May You be glorified as we stand in You. Amen.
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For Talking Beasts: Begin with Silence
by Sarah Colyn
In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis tells how Narnia began. At the climax of Aslan’s creative work he makes the talking beasts:
And now, for the first time, the Lion was quite silent. He was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his . . . The pairs which he had touched instantly left their own kind and followed him. At last he stood still and all the creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him . . . The chosen beasts who remained were now utterly silent, all with their eyes fixed intently upon the Lion. . . For the first time that day there was complete silence, except for the noise of running water. . .
The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones – the rabbits, moles, and such-like, grew a good deal larger. The very big ones – you noticed it most with the elephants – grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:
‘Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.’ (p. 48)
With this article I begin a series of reflections on what it means for us to be ‘talking beasts’ in our world. I pray that the Lord will breathe His long, warm breath through these words that they might be a rich blessing to you.
What does it mean to be a talking beast? Aslan’s words to these chosen ones in Narnia call them to a dignified, soul-stirring great commission: “Awake. Love. Think. Speak.” He is calling them to be creatures with a magnanimity more fundamental and all-encompassing than mere talkativeness. I love Lewis’s imagining of the talking beasts of Narnia. He is pointing to what an awesome responsibility it is to be human, and what a defining quality it is to be able to talk. Our capacity to talk reflects a singularly meaningful facet of the imago dei. By being talking beasts, we participate in the divine Logos, Word become flesh.
Maybe you’ve heard someone described as “quite a talker.” We know instinctively that to awaken, love, think, and speak is not about having a lot to say or being “quite a talker.” To become fully and beautifully human we must indeed learn to talk. But silence is where we must begin our quest to be and become talking beasts.
If we want to speak—truly speak—as awake, loving, thinking creatures, we begin in silence. This is true on every level of reality. Each of our lives begins in the secret silence of the womb; our first vocalization comes months after our first heartbeat. Each word that we speak requires an intake of breath and a moment of thought. Existentially, our doing proceeds from our being. First God created us, formed our beings, and gave us His own ruach, His very breath. As the “All Sons and Daughters” worship song expresses, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only” (Leonard, Ingram and Jordan, 2012). It is as human beings, in-breathed by His being, that we are able to speak.
In Kallistos Ware’s book The Inner Kingdom, he points to silence as the genesis of true speech:
In an age when language has been shamefully trivialized, it is vital to rediscover the power of the word; and this means rediscovering the nature of silence, not just as a pause in the midst of our talk, but as one of the primary realities of existence (p. 136).
It is good for us to recognize silence as a primary reality. Silence is not merely an absence of talk but is something in itself. Silence is created, a given in our lives, made by God. We’d do well to consider what silence is and what it does for our talking-ness.
Silence is a blessed given of existence, a real thing that proceeds from God’s own being. Our holy God reveals Himself as I AM, the Existent One. In His being, in His presence, we encounter His existing-ness, and we enter silence as a given reality. In Scripture the prophets call God’s people to attend His presence:
But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; For the day of the Lord is at hand,
For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!
(Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13 NKJV)
In these texts we are called to be receptive, for God is coming. He is the Lord, He is on the move, and He has something for us. To silence ourselves is to become dynamically receptive to God, to practice His presence, to quiet ourselves, to hold our peace, to wait and rest. In silence He gathers up the fullness of our beings in His presence. Silence in its truest sense is a substantial and active state of being.
To be clear about silence, I will say a bit about what it is not. We may at times be mute in resignation, acedia, or passivity, and we may also sometimes encounter interpersonal voids, empty spaces where no one is engaging in real dialog. But these non-being absences are not what is meant by this powerful given of silence. Most mothers I know do not permit their children to say “Shut up” to one another. This colloquial phrase that tells another to stop talking has a rough edge to it. To order someone to shut his mouth is indeed a form of violence, although such violence may at times be protective and just. Even when we discipline someone by urging him or her to hush, our aim is to keep the door open for constructive talking. Coming back to speaking is still the goal of such correction. As we’re considering here, silence is a beginning and a centering place for talking beasts. But talking is still our commission, and God gives silence as a gift to aid us in being awake, thoughtful, and loving when we do speak.
To shut a person up is to cause her to stop talking, not as a call into silence, but as a damning up, a closing down, a pivot away from being and toward nothingness. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Silence does not mean dumbness, as speech does not mean chatter,” and goes on to quote Ernest Hello, “Dumbness is unholy, like a thing only maimed, not cleanly sacrificed” (p. 78). Dumbness is not silence as we’re considering it. We are looking for the silence that is a creative space, a hopeful space, and in this holy silence a person is not shut in, shut up, or shut down, but rather is ushered into the presence of God.
Silence then is a real thing, not merely an absence but an active and living entity. We experience silence as a contrast and complement to speech, as reception is to expression, inhale to exhale. Silence is a given in the rhythms of life as the writer of Ecclesiastes declares: there is “a time to keep silence, And a time to speak” (3:7 KJV). In Life Together Bonhoeffer writes, “Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech” (p. 79). Receptivity to the divine Word, to God Himself with us and within us, occurs in and through silence.
We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his father’s room. We are silent after hearing the Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us. . . . There is a wonderful power of clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing in being quiet (pp. 79, 80).
Silence precedes speech and in this sense is a gathering-up space. The spiritual womb of silence enabled Mary to treasure in her heart the words of God’s messenger. The very incarnation of God was accomplished in silence, through silence, and the Word became flesh to dwell among us. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is an ancient hymn that evokes the awe-filled quiet that falls upon us at the coming of the Word:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
Silence also comes to us naturally after we speak. When we express something meaningful and true, we go through words into the life of God, and therefore again into silence. In The Soul of Prayer P. T. Forsyth describes how prayer can bring us into a region beyond speech:
Words fail us in prayer oftener than anywhere else; and the Spirit must come in aid of our infirmity, set out our case to God, and give to us an unspoken freedom in prayer, the possession of our central soul, the reality of our inmost personality in organic contact with His. We are taken up from human speech to the region of the divine Word, where Word is deed . . . We discover how poor a use of words it is to work them into argument and pursue their dialectic consequences. There is a deeper movement of speech than that, and a more inward mystery, wherein the Word does not spread out to wisdom, nor broods in dream, but gathers to power and condenses to action. The Word becomes Flesh, Soul, Life, the active conquering kingdom of God (p. 16).
How we need this deeper movement of speech that draws us into the life of God. Christian tradition has used the term recollection to describe our movement toward this unspoken freedom, this possession of the central soul. By actively settling the soul in silence before God, we are granted personal integration. St. Augustine described recollection as a state in which God “brings together what is scattered” within us (Confessions, 10.40). In the holiness of silence we turn ourselves fully over to God’s presence and providence. A quieted soul is the home within, a resting place within an active life. It is in the womb of silence that we come to know the inmost reality of our being in living contact with His being. Leanne describes our true center: “that place of quiet strength and solid being, that center from which we know and see ourselves to be white-robed in the very righteousness of Christ Himself” (Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 26).
The Hebrew root Has, which means “to be silent,” expresses this gathering-up quality, the home within, as in these texts:
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
(Psalm 131:2a; Psalm 37:7a; Psalm 62:5a ESV)
This silence is relational and integrating because it is towards Someone. There is an implicit trust in real silence, a hopeful expectation in the only One we wait for, look to, trust in and rely upon. Here we see how the silence of Christian reality differs from the nothingness and dissolving sense of being pursued in Eastern meditation. In the book of Acts we find the word hésuchazó, meaning “to be still, be silent, to lead a quiet life.” In chapter 11, after Peter has given the believers a clear and blessed teaching, we get the sense that teaching has “gone in:” “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God” (Acts 11:18a NKJV, italics mine).
In this becoming silent, reason and conscience are satisfied so that the people are at rest and moved to glorify God. This silence indicates consolation and satisfaction, like a hunger sated, a storm quieted, or even a war zone in which peace has been won. In silence we can hope to encounter ultimate reality where the veil thins between eternity and us, and we know, as Julian of Norwich expressed, that “all manner of things shall be well.” While silence is often consoling, we will also consider later how silence can be disturbing and painful. But whether comforting or provoking, we recognize that God moves in the quiet spaces to heal and mature us.
Silence keeps us grounded
As a given of existence, silence serves us in critically important ways. We’ll turn now to consider silence as a spiritual discipline, a means that God has provided to protect and empower us so that we might become glorious talking beasts. The discipline of silence is a powerful weapon against the threats of the world, the flesh, and the devil. God has provided us with the power to tune out these opposing voices and listen instead to His other, larger, quieter voice.
Silencing the world
Let’s begin by considering how silence can be a shield from the noise of this fallen world. The world today is anything but quiet, and we suffer when silence is stolen from us. The secularism that grips much of the developed world debases and demeans man and woman, deconstructs truth, and fills the airwaves with coarse and cynical chatter. A trip to the shopping mall reveals the wasteland we’re left with when we strip life of meaning and try to fill the emptiness with consumption and distraction. This world is an overwhelming generator of sights and sounds designed only to manipulate our bodily senses. Rather than encountering one another as living people sharing words together that build meaning, we’re inundated with infotainment and mood-altering soundtracks. The world’s noise bounces around in the void and fails to feed us. While our sin nature would keep us busy generating and consuming stimulation, Christ offers all a soul-saving alternative: we can use silence as a strong tower, wielding our authority to turn off the noise and listen instead for His voice. In silence we stop the noise and refuse distraction and stimulation for its own sake.
Dallas Willard describes spiritual disciplines as activities we undertake “to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His kingdom” (Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 158; an excellent read that Leanne strongly recommended). I find it notable that many believers call their daily time of Scripture reading and prayer their “quiet time.” In this set-apart time and place, the voices of the world are literally not allowed to enter—email, social media, television, phone and radio are shut down. The family devotional we use at home includes a moment of stillness with the instruction, “In the silence, ask the Holy Spirit to help you pay attention to God” (Copley and Vander Haagen, Teach Us to Pray, p. 14). Even small moments of silence can shift our posture and outlook, and when we practice these regularly, our capacity to be quiet grows. By intentionally and routinely putting ourselves in a place of quiet, we are strengthening our ability to hear God’s voice and to tune out the inundation of sounds, words, and stimulation of the world. Those who practice the discipline of silence will steadily find themselves quieter inside even in the noisiest circumstances. Leanne writes that we must learn to quiet ourselves in listening prayer, to pause from “Martha work” and exercise our “Mary” capacity to be in the silence of his presence:
The literal translation of Psalm 62:1 is: ”My soul is silence in God alone, my salvation comes from Him.” In this silence we hear Him speak. . . . Within this silence our spiritual ears are attuned to receive the word He may need to speak throughout the noisier, more hectic times of the day (Listening Prayer, p. 151).
By viewing silence as a discipline, we are recognizing it as something we can practice in order to transform our minds into Christlikeness.
Silencing the flesh
The discipline of silence is also strategic in subduing the flesh, our sin nature. Without silence, we readily use our capacity to talk to serve self-serving and self-protective impulses. Silence slows those urges and reminds us of our freedom to choose Christ’s way and trust the Father to guide and defend us. In Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster makes a strong case for silence as an essential discipline in quieting the flesh:
The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. . . . Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. One of the first fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier (p. 101).
This therapeutic and narcissistic age encourages self-expression to a point of absurdity, urging the flesh to speak continuously. The idea of choosing silence, of resting in quiet and treasuring things in our hearts is suspect, and instead we are encouraged to expose every thought and “vent” our feelings. Agnes Sanford highlights a wise contrast here between the world’s guidance and the deeper wisdom of the Christ-life: “If one desires only to get something off his chest, well and good. But if one desires to develop spiritual powers, let him get something into his chest instead: namely, the love of Christ” (Behold Your God, p. 21). As Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out,
There is a false form of honesty that suggests that nothing should remain hidden and that everything should be said, expressed and communicated. . . . Just as words lose their power when they are not born out of silence, so openness loses its meaning when there is no ability to be closed (p. 32).
The book of Proverbs emphasizes the wisdom of being able to be closed, to contain ourselves and hold some of our thoughts and feelings for the Lord’s ears only:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
but he who restrains his lips is wise.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
(Proverbs 10:19; 29:11; 17:27 ESV)
Sometimes we use the phrase, “I’m just being real,” to justify the spewing of immature and emotionally reactive words. In doing so we are often deepening the grooves of old sins and injuries rather than finding true comfort and healing. God deeply desires to make us real and has a better way. Silence is a discipline that can check our preoccupation with the injured and immature self. Often it is in quiet with Him that we finally notice how very tired we are of the old complaints and our sick ways of reacting to them. Then we are able to receive from Him the healing word that will open new ways of being and relating.
The discipline of silence reminds us of the value of verbal restraint, what the epistle of St. James calls a bridle on the tongue. Perhaps the most obvious use of silence is in simply staying quiet when what we’re inclined to say would be destructive. Here too the book of Proverbs points to the better way:
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. (Proverbs 11:12-13 ESV)
Earlier I suggested that silence is the place to begin for talking beasts, and the book of Proverbs upholds silence as a beginning strategy for those who would become wise.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28 ESV)
The discipline of silence is a tremendously valuable gift that gives us the upper hand over sinful and unhealed impulses. Silence opens up the opportunity for us to change, to grow, and to leave foolishness behind in exchange for the wisdom of Christ.
Silencing the devil
The discipline of silence can also deliver us from evil and help us stop listening to the words of the devil. The evil one hates all of God’s creative achievements, including the beauty of silence, and relentlessly works to destroy this good. Lewis included this reality in his clever exposure of the works of evil, Screwtape Letters. Letters between a senior demon and his nephew reveal their strategy: “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end” (p. 103).
When we are plagued with accusations, condemnations, and harassing words, listening prayer lets us run into God’s protective presence. By yielding to Him the ugly things we’re hearing, we can enter into holy silence and listen for His voice. In quiet the Holy Spirit will give us His healing word, speaking truth to banish lies and giving words of life that defeat death. A dear friend and prayer partner of mine recently shared how the Holy Spirit has been ministering to her in this regard. When a chorus of accusing inner voices starts clamoring, she sees herself as defendant in a courtroom with Jesus sitting beside as her public defender. As the noisy witnesses for the prosecution voice their words of criticism and condemnation, Jesus invites her to bury her head in His shoulder, or He quietly writes a note to her on His yellow legal pad, “Don’t worry about it, I’ve never lost a case.” What a gift, what a release, to let Him have those hateful words while we rest quietly and press into Him as our defender, advocate, and Lord.
What we must do: choose silence
Clearly we have an essential and unalterable need for quiet, but it is not often readily on offer in our daily lives. The reflective space afforded by silence has disappeared from this world, and our hearts cry out for quiet. So as with any good gift of God that is opposed and obscured by this world, we find that we must exercise that powerful and even godlike capacity we call the will. Dallas Willard gives this fatherly exhortation to choose silence:
God will, generally speaking, not compete for our attention. If we will not withdraw from the things that obsess and exhaust us into solitude and silence, he will usually leave us to our own devices. He calls us to “be still and know.” To the soul disciplined to wait quietly before him, to lavish time upon this practice, he will make himself known in ways that will redirect our every thought, feeling and choice. The body itself will enter a different world of rest and strength (Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul, p. 106).
John Gaynor Banks also urges us to choose silence:
Your daily life is too crowded with noise, activity and vibrations for Divine Love to reach and cure your frustrations. . . . Your conscious faculties must reach upwards and inwards. With your volition you must “seek the Lord and be silent towards Him” (Master and Disciple, p. 125).
As Willard and Banks both teach, we must actively choose to make friends with silence through the action of our will, practicing, and spending the time that it takes to increase our capacity for quiet.
Quieting ourselves toward God is the only way to come to know what is really in our own hearts. We cannot be talking beasts unless our words come from a foundation of truth and reality. And we cannot speak words of truth if we are continually running, noisy, and disconnected. Let’s remember that our topic here is how to be talking beasts—to be awake, to think, to love, and to speak. Quiet is not an end in itself, but an essential foundation from which we can speak words of reality and life. Kallistos Ware too urges us to learn to be quiet:
Each must learn to be alone, and so in the stillness of their own heart they will begin to hear the wordless speech of the Spirit, thus discovering the truth about themselves and about God. Then their word to others will be a word of power, because it is a word out of silence (Inner Kingdom, p. 133).
Because we are fallen beasts living in a fallen creation, we don’t readily pursue the gift of silence. It is true that quiet offers a gathering-up place for the soul, but quiet also makes room for us to remember the trouble we are in and feel the pain of conviction. If we’ve been running, wrapping our raw selves in noise, then pausing in silence will disturb us. Nighttime can be especially challenging as fear, guilt, and shame that we’d avoided during the noisy day speak loudly. Some of us avoid silence because of what surfaces when we quiet down. The inner wounds that make silence painful are the very places where we need healing and union with Christ. In Crisis in Masculinity, Leanne shares David’s story, a gifted pastor whose life and ministry were jeopardized by sin generated by his deep inner wounds. When he and Leanne first met, “he could not spend ten quiet minutes alone in prayer. . . . When he was still for even a moment, he ran the danger of hearing the accusing voices of self-hatred within” (p. 52). He needed help so the Lord could get to the root memory. After healing prayer, he shared this: “I literally ran almost day and night for almost forty years, trying to find peace. But it never happened until we prayed and I became somebody. My whole life has changed” (p. 63).
Although quiet is closely linked to solitude, we often need help from one another to find it. Interestingly, the fellowship of believers helps us get alone with the Lord and His quiet. As Leanne writes in Heaven’s Calling:
As Western Christendom continues to decline, I meet people all over the world who are desperately searching for those places of deepest quiet, those permeated with the holy because hallowed by the presence of God. There, coming in out of the clamor of the modern world, we can indeed gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and our prayers as inquiry are quickened. This I found with Fr. Winkler. There was always a quiet in the Sanctuary. One could go in at any time, kneel and feel the hallowedness of all the prayers of the people, all the sacramental blessings over the elements, the anointings for healing and deliverance from oppression and depression, the ever deepening forgiveness of sins. The simplicity and quiet were healing. No noise, no technology apart from lighting and heating, only symbols of the Holy, the sacred, of redemption and resurrection (p. 154).
Faithful believers make places of quiet that bless others. A friend of mine was resting quietly in God’s presence at a chapel service, and a colleague slipped into the pew next to her. As they got up to leave at the conclusion of the service, her colleague turned and said, “Thank you for letting me sit with you. You have such a peace about you, and your quiet really affected me.” Each of us who practices the discipline of silence will be indwelt by God’s own peace, and in turn will carry a contagious quiet to those around us. If we wish to grow in this capacity we need to spend time with others who’ve learned to be quiet, following their lead and drawing on God’s serenity in them.
We help one another practice silence by remaining close enough to lend our support while urging each other to be alone with the Lord. Our God-given need and capacity for quiet isn’t a personality trait that some have and others don’t. We collaborate with the Holy Spirit when we affirm in one another, “Yes, you can rest in God’s presence. Yes, you can wait and listen for His voice.” We interfere with the Lord’s work if we allow anyone to depend on us for solace or calm. As an example, read Lana’s story in chapter four of The Broken Image. Leanne ministered to her by insisting on and leading her into the work of facing what emerged in the quiet and of learning to be in solitude with God.
Silence gives God opportunities to reach the deeper self. He leads us into quiet places in order to mercifully reveal to us what must be known, confessed and healed. At times our encounters with Him are profoundly comforting, and at others He touches on pain or shame for the sake of transforming it. For many of us increasing our contact with quiet requires fortitude. Silence and solitude are closely linked, and our resistance to quiet is often paired with a fear of being alone. But our God is waiting for us in the quiet places, and Henri Nouwen encourages us to enter:
Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent effort into a garden of solitude. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play (Reaching Out, p. 34-35).
I’ll close here with one final assurance, the most hopeful encouragement I know. Our God took on our flesh and knows intimately the threats and fears we face in the quiet. Recall of the time when an angry crowd brought our Lord a woman they’d caught in sin. Amidst all the clamor and strife, waves of quieting power radiated from Jesus as He silently wrote on the ground. Utterly sure of His Father’s love, He hushed the accusers and set the woman free. This is the One who lives in us, who goes before and behind us. We can call on Him to silence the wind and the waves. As we ask, He will impart to us the gift of divine serenity. Come, Lord Jesus, and reveal our unknown beauty, grant to us the restful spirit, gather us up in Your awesome presence and give us Your peace.
We would love to hear your testimony of how the discipline of silence has yielded fruit in your life. Write to us at email@example.com.
Augustine, St. Confessions. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Trans. Edward B. Pusey. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
Banks, John Gaynor, and Williston Merrick Ford. The Master and the Disciple. Saint Paul, Minn.: Macalester Park Pub., 1954. Print.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper, 1954. Print.
Forsyth, Peter Taylor. The Soul of Prayer. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1949. Print.
Copley, Lora A., and Elizabeth Vander Haagen. Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-centered Family Worship Through the Year. Grand Rapids, Mich.: CICW, an imprint of Calvin College Press, 2016. Print.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008. Print.
Leonard, D., Ingram, J. and Jordan, L. (2012) Great are you Lord. New York: Open Hands Music.
Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: HarperTrophy, 1994. Print.
_____. The Screwtape Letters: With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975. Print.
Payne, Leanne. Crisis in Masculinity. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1985. Print.
_____. Heaven’s Calling: A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008. Print.
_____. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal. Paperback ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1999. Print.
_____. Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer: Overcoming the Three Great Barriers to Personal and Spiritual Completion in Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991. Print.
Sanford, Agnes Mary White. Behold Your God. 4th ed. Saint Paul, Minn.: Macalester Park Pub., 1964. Print.
Ware, Kallistos. The Inner Kingdom. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2001. Print.
Willard, Dallas. “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 26.1 (1998): 101-09. Web.
_____. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
Comments Off on On Desire: The slum or the seaside?
by Barbara Byers
“May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.” Ps. 20:4 (ESV)
Desire is a well of energy within us, the great capacity to dream, hope, yearn and aspire to that for which we long. Leanne Payne, drawing from both C. S. Lewis and Fr. John Gaynor Banks, writes of desire as a “radiant thing,” the “mighty force” that is “part of the atomic energy of the soul.” If desire is indeed beautiful, radiant, and explosively powerful why then do we not live alert and fully alive to our deep hearts’ desires? Are we perhaps afraid to desire so deeply because the possibility of disappointment and failure loom greater than bright expectation? In that fear, do we anticipate nonfulfillment more than fulfillment, and thus live against true hope and desire?
C. S. Lewis, grappling with this in The Weight of Glory wrote: “Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of reward promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea, we are far too easily pleased.” We choose to stay in the slums, playing in the mud puddles instead of bringing our longings, indeed our whole capacity for desire, trembling before the Lord. We haven’t truly taken in the profound generosity of our God. It is His good pleasure to grant us the desires of our hearts! We may be like Tolstoy’s character in A Confession–if a fairy were to come and offer to fulfill our desires, we should not even know what to ask, or how to hope and ask greatly.
Yet God, who intricately designed our souls for His glory, gifted us with the capacity for deep desire. This divine attribute, this creative vitality, seeks expression through our choices. Indeed, the person we are becoming is directed by desire. Our true becoming depends on it! A. W. Tozer framed it thus: “Every Christian will become at last what his desires have made him. … The great saints have all had thirsting hearts.” The psalmist echoed this thirst in Psalm 42:1 (NIV): “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” As Christ Himself becomes our first and greatest desire, then our desire for all things can become defined, ordered into its proper place, well-directed and whole.
Sometimes our desires arise from deceit or illusion, and thus trap or entice us amiss. When that happens, we may find ourselves in a place of exploiting or manipulating others in order to fulfill those desires. At this place God’s refining fires are a needed mercy. We see this embodied in Scripture when God journeyed with men and women through years of maturing until their desires could be fulfilled. How great our need for maturity is as we contend with the power of desire. Because we have a tendency toward impatience or giving up too easily, we may repress, hide or even kill real desire and give our hearts to the false, to the idolatrous. Even more common, I think, people seek fulfillment in the false and idolatrous because they don’t understand that only God can fulfill that real desire. One of the most chilling verses in Scripture is the indictment against Israel in Psalm 106:15 (CJB): “He gave them what they wanted but sent meagerness into their soul.” There is a demanding, carnal part of us that does not desire purely and our souls suffer leanness because of it. It is the Spirit’s work of sanctification that cleanses and purifies this carnality, differentiating between demand and desire. It is the Spirit who helps us to desire good things, to desire them in good ways, and to wait on the Lord. It is critical to our maturity to die to the false, self-demanding and allow Him to burn away false, carnal desires. Some desires then simply blow away as ash, but some come out purer, more tempered, but also larger and stronger. This too is His mercy.
What happens when we need to find or even to recapture our desires? We may have repressed desires out of self-protective fear or from shame. Fearing our desires will never be fulfilled, that an ache will remain, we may avoid laying out before the Lord our deepest desires. We may even fear that our desires are not in line with God’s will. Often instead of contending with the real content of our hearts in His presence, we cover our desires, retreating into a self-imposed safe, silent zone. But safety cannot be found by retreating into the false self that only subverts the emergence of true desire. Our quest must be to boldly name our desires, trusting He will hold them safely. In The Broken Image Leanne Payne assured: “We can safely desire even those things we’ve been so fearful to acknowledge before, because they are wholly offered to Him. … He will remove the chaff from the wheat, He will transmute the desire when and where necessary, He will elevate it to higher planes when our perception of His will for us is too low.”
What happens if we substitute our own solutions, demanding that our desires be fulfilled in the way and time we expect? In Genesis16 we see this happen when Sarah, who had been waiting many years for a son, interposed her own idea and convinced Abraham to have a child, Ishmael, through her maid. God had promised a son but she would not wait. God had promised a son and indeed Isaac was born in Sarah’s and Abraham’s old age. God was faithful “at the appointed time” (Gen. 21:2), but the consequences of her demand remain today as the people of Israel and those of the Arab nations are at enmity.
In His presence, we must repent of self-willed, self-timed demands. We offer Him our disappointment of waiting; we offer Him our grieving and our double-mindedness over thwarted or quenched desires; we offer Him our mistaken counterfeits and shaky attempts at self-fulfillment, and we open all the hidden places of our hearts to His light. Then repentant, we return to hope and invite Him to bring up and restore buried desires. Job expressed this well: “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow. …My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near” (Job 17:7, 11-12 NIV). As light is near we sense anew the Holy Spirit’s creative indwelling presence “brimming with endless possibility” and willing to restore all within us, including deep desires (Guardini, The Lord).
When the well of energy of desire has diminished, it is by prayer that the flow of living water radiantly comes again to fill the well, awaken creative dreams, and infuse us with forward impetus to pursue those desires aright. In the true self, when we are quiet before Him in listening prayer, He draws up the deep desires of our hearts, those we may have quenched or set aside prematurely. As we acknowledge these desires, offering them to God so that our wills become His, we can then listen to His word of healing and direction that sustains us until the time of fulfillment. Faith, united with enduring patience, remains the key to pleasing God and receiving our promised desires (Heb. 6:12).
In faith we trust deeply that we can wait for that good thing we are asking because He is a good God, full of grace and lovingkindness toward us. He will be faithful to every “staggering” promise. We turn again to that place of abiding in His presence, offering our desires in joy, inviting His purification, uniting with Christ who is greater than all our desires and has the power to open His hand and fulfill every good desire (Ps. 145:16). With the psalmist we also cry: “All my longings lie open before You” (38:9 NIV). Thus we are enabled to pray with surrender: “Keep alive within us, Oh Christ, your most precious gift to us which is our burning, longing, wordless yearning for you” (Gerald May). Alleluia!
Photo courtesy of num_skyman at freedigitalphotos.net
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matt. 5:39
Such a “hard” saying as this one of our Lord’s chases many of us to a full study (time and again) of the Sermon on the Mount. In that discourse Jesus makes statement after statement like this one, and in doing so, contradicts and overturns the best Jewish wisdom of the day. You may want to take Barclay’s (or some other fine commentator’s) paper-back commentary on the gospel of Matthew along with you on your late summer vacation and study anew these words of our Lord. They reveal, as Oswald Chambers says, “the humiliation of being a Christian. Naturally, if a man does not hit back, it is because he is a coward; but spiritually if a man does not hit back, it is a manifestation of the Son of God in him. When you are insulted, you must not only not resent it, but make it an occasion to exhibit the Son of God. You cannot imitate the disposition of Jesus; it is either there or it is not. To the saint personal insult becomes the occasion of revealing the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.” (July 14, My Utmost for His Highest)
This is a wonderful lesson in Incarnational Reality: Another lives in me and He is love. And there is nothing that will bring us back to this most basic of Christian truths like a skirmish with those who hate and malign us. We soon find out if we are battling in our own strength.
In Donald Bloesch’s book Crumbling Foundations, published by Zondervan, he writes of our need to pray for the gift of battle. In a section titled “Rediscovering the Spiritual Gifts,” he reminds us that “Christians can only live out their vocation by discovering and exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And he mentions this additional gift which is alluded to in both Testaments, one that he believes has crucial significance for our time: “Christians who are under the cross of persecution need to pray for the gift of battle, the ability to endure under trial, the boldness to challenge immorality and heresy in high places. The gift of battle is properly included in the gift of might or power (Isa. 11:2). It is the power to enter into conflict and the stamina not to grow weary. It must be accompanied by and fulfilled in the gift of love, since we cannot wage war against sin successfully unless we love the sinner. We must speak the truth, but we must speak the truth in love.”
Once again we are face to face with the essentials. We are either practicing the Presence of Another, or we are striving in our own strength and are growing weary in this day of “crumbling foundations” and spiritual battle. Recently in a Greek Orthodox liturgy this wonderful prayer “leaped up” from the page and now has a permanent and prominent place in my prayer journal. Just in case some of you might feel the need of such a prayer, here it is:
Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those that envy and affront me, and do me mischief, and let them not perish through me, a sinner.
In vital connection with the need for this gift, “Christians who enter the battle against the powers of darkness cannot persevere without a life-support system, without a supportive fellowship that continually holds up its members in intercession to the living God.” Those of us who have these support systems are deeply grateful for them, but those who do not have them must pray earnestly for them.
Besides the book mentioned, Dr. Bloesch has written other important theological works, and I cannot recommend them too highly to you who are looking for theological answers to the problems facing us at this time. I especially appreciate the fact that he is building bridges between the sacramental and evangelical worlds―a crucial theological task at this time in history―and Catholics and Protestants alike will be edified by his works. For starters, for Catholic as well as evangelical, I would recommend The Future of Evangelical Christianity: A Call for Unity Amid Diversity (Doubleday). And for one of the finest studies on gender language in the Scriptures, Is the Bible Sexist? (Crossway).
Comments Off on Known by Heart: On the value of memorizing Scripture
by Sarah Groen-Colyn
You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul. Deuteronomy 11:18
Many of you keep a prayer journal as taught by Leanne in Listening Prayer. As she writes, “The Bible – the revealed word of God – is a vital part of prayer.” Committing a verse, passage, or chapter to memory is a wonderful way to pray the words of scripture. Allow me to highlight some of the wonderful fruit of memorizing scripture, and suggest some practical strategies for learning scripture by heart.
Integration of head and heart. Becoming whole in Christ includes healing of the split between head and heart that, left untouched, would diminish our ability to listen to God and obey His word. Many of us come from traditions in Christendom that study scripture intellectually, filling us with head knowledge about the Bible. By contrast, memorizing scripture passages that have gripped us in a special way helps God’s living Word move from our head into our heart, deepening the healing of that schism that has afflicted us all. Memorization is a potent way to “eat the scroll” so that it feeds every fiber of our being.
Deeper immersion in His word. Memorizing scripture takes time and repetition. As we repeatedly recite a passage, the Holy Spirit breathes life into us. The time we spend memorizing soaks our soul in the goodness and truth of our Lord. Spending the time it takes to memorize allows us to become more deeply acquainted with the passage, its symbols and images, and its resonance with the whole of scripture. As I commit the words to memory, Christ addresses me personally, and my heart responds to Him. Lately I’ve been learning Psalm 71. One short phrase, “My song shall always be of you,” brings a smile to my lips every time I speak it out. This smile originates from the depths of my being as this phrase proclaims a profound truth of who I am in Christ.
Membership in the Church. When we learn a piece of scripture by heart, we take the divinely inspired, humanly expressed words and we make them our own. We take our place in the fellowship of believers, saying, “Yes, these are my words too.” These words come to life when we recite them as our own and we are united in the communion of saints in a special way. When I speak out David’s words from Psalm 71 and tell my own story through them, I am lifted up into the great cloud of witnesses. I receive a vital antidote to the lie that I am alone. And I take my rightful place in both receiving the words of life, and adding my own voice to the eternal proclamation.
Strategies to help us in this practice. I believe that the process of memorizing scripture is prayer itself, and that the Holy Spirit is at work within our minds and hearts, engraving the words deep within us. But it is also a good example of the role of moral effort in the ongoing process of becoming in Him. I can’t just go to sleep with my Bible under my pillow and let God decide which passage to record in my memory. I’d encourage you to watch for a verse, passage, or chapter that shimmers in a special way for you, and commit yourself to learning it by heart. Explicitly ask God to empower you to memorize the words, and to minister to you through the process. You may find it helpful to write out the passage on index cards, one sentence or phrase at a time. You might like to record your own voice reciting the passage. Engaging your whole body by standing, gesturing, and letting your face show what the words mean to you will deepen your grasp of the scripture.