How many times in my life have I been envious of those who get up an hour early each morning for devotional/scripture reading and prayer time? I imagine them in a comfy chair in a clean room with a cup of coffee or tea and a candle lit. These people always seem to have an extra bit of peacefulness surrounding them.
I so badly want to be one of these people – but I am not. I love being up early before everyone else, but I HATE getting out of bed. And, let’s be honest, to beat my child up and have some time, I would have to be up at 5 A.M. – and then really, what’s the point? I would probably just fall back asleep in that comfy chair in the candlelight and then be rushed and late when I eventually woke up. I have come to accept this is not who I am at this point in my life.
I have always struggled with my intentional time with God. Perhaps because this is the image I have of what it takes to have a strong relationship with God. I have discovered that my intentional time with God comes in multiple 10-15 minute snippets throughout the day – times of prayer as I get out of bed, in the shower, in the car, at my desk, with my child, before I go to sleep; scripture and sacred reading when I get to the office and pondering it throughout the day. If I’m really enjoying the book, I will open it whenever I can find a few minutes. I journal; not as much as I used to, but especially when I have things I need to work out with God. When these things are going strong, along with worship and Sabbath, I usually feel like God and I are doing pretty good. But, if I’m honest – and I think I need to be with you – even as a pastor, I struggle with keeping this routine regular.
This week I finished reading Stranger God by Richard Beck. (Full disclosure – I started it weeks ago and then lost it. Found it again yesterday buried on my desk. This is my life!). Rev. Matt Ybañez mentioned this book in a sermon about a year ago and I was intrigued. Minor spoiler alert for those in the Wednesday morning study group reading this book now!)
It is a fairly “easy” read about hospitality and understanding it as a spiritual discipline, but don’t be fooled – it packs a punch. (And punched I was yesterday as I read the following:
When we think of “working on our relationship with God,” we tend to think about spiritual things that take place between God and ourselves: prayer, Bible study, regular church attendance, fasting, silence, Sabbath. God and me alone together, working on our relationship. . . We’d much rather pray than apologize. Yet over and over in the Bible, we’re told that how we treat people is how we treat God. . . We are working on our relationship with God when we are working to widen the circle of our affections. Yet, when it comes to getting closer to God, we rarely start with opening our hearts to each other. (p. 165)
“We’d much rather pray than apologize.” It’s underlined in the book with the word “OUCH” written in the margin. It’s a phrase that has stuck with me. And it’s not just about apologizing – it’s the practice of seeing, stopping and approaching those we would rather not.
I was reminded of another image I was introduced to a number of years ago. One of the ancient desert fathers (I forget who) used the image of a circle with a point in the middle and lines extended from the inner point to the outer circle (imagine a bicycle wheel with spokes). At the center is God and each of us is one of those spokes. As we move closer to God, we move closer to one another AND as we move closer to one another, we move closer to God.
We were not created to be solitary, but rather to live in community. While, yes, that time of solitude with God is important; so is being in relationship with others. And to take it even a step further, it is in the relationships that make us a little uncomfortable that we often meet and draw nearer to God.
I leave on Sunday to be with our senior high students on mission trip in Indianapolis to work with ministries that serve the homeless. There will be little time for quiet and solitude and I will be way too tired to get up earlier than I have to! However, there will be many opportunities to practice the spiritual disciplines of seeing, stopping, approaching and being in relationship with others. Will you not only pray for us, but also practice this WITH us in your own interactions this week? Then, give me a call or shoot me an email. I would LOVE to sit down over a cup of coffee, chat and dig deeper into our experiences together.