A Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God’s presence through the Holy Spirit

Thursday February 23 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God’s presence through the Holy Spirit

Lent this year starts next week, on 1 March. You may be interested in the Lenten devotional I wrote two years ago, using a psalm for each day of Lent. The devotional is illustrated with beautiful paintings by Dave Baab. You can download the devotional in pdf form here: Draw Near.

In the interviews for my midlife books, many people told of their new appreciation for the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit. They have grown, they tell me, in their ability to hear the nudging and prompting of the Spirit, and they have grown in their willingness to follow what they hear. They have come to realize that God knows much better than we do what needs to be done in the world. Anyone of any age who wants to draw near to God with the heart needs to do some pondering of the role of the Holy Spirit in everyday life.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). After the resurrection, Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem “until you have been clothed with power from on high” by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The work of the Spirit in us, leading into truth and giving us the power to obey, helps us feel a heart awareness of God’s companionship, guidance and empowering.

For me, most of the Holy Spirit’s promptings involve people I need to contact or to pray for. “Make that call now,” I seem to hear quite often, and I will find the person at home, needing to talk or wanting to share a prayer request. Often I am right in the middle of something else when I feel nudged to act. Often it’s an interruption in my life. But time after time good fruit results from my obedience. I believe that each time I hear the voice of the Spirit and obey, I am training my soul and spirit in a kind of responsive living that can only result in good things for me and for others.

This responsiveness to the Spirit can bring about a spirit of rest and peace, as we realize more deeply that our lives are in God’s hands and that God is guiding us each moment. We don’t have to strain to obey a set of distant and stringent rules. God calls us gently to obedience as a part of a tender relationship with him. We don’t have to rush around, frantically filling our lives with meaningless possessions and thrilling experiences. There is nothing as thrilling as being in the right place at the right time to help someone, and to know that we are there because we listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking into our daily lives.

We often feel we should be working extremely hard, straining to serve God and make a difference in the world. Iin contrast, this dependence on the Holy Spirit can lead us into a very different style of service and ministry. Instead of feeling like we have to dream up ways to serve God and then execute our ideas with our own energy and perseverance, we can trust that God, through his Spirit, will show us where he is working and where he wants us to be a part of what he is already doing. This view of ministry can free us from pressure to perform and enable us to rest in God as we try to serve him.

This reliance on the Holy Spirit plays a significant part in our desire to bring our hearts before God and know God deep in our souls. It is the Spirit who illuminates our hearts with God’s wisdom and values, guiding us “into all the truth” as Jesus promised (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit brings the love of God to our inner being. The Spirit guides us in our inner journey, and the Spirit calls us to intimacy and community. Without the Spirit, we cannot experience the passionate wooing of God, and we cannot know how tenderly God longs for us to bring our whole selves to him in integrity and genuineness.

This is the fifth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms         

(The series continues next week with “Facing the inner darkness.” Illustration: St Clair Beach Dunedin at high tide by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Praying the Psalms

Friday February 17 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Praying the Psalms

Lent starts this year on 1 March. You may be interested in the Lenten devotional I wrote two years ago, using a psalm for each day of Lent. The devotional is illustrated with beautiful paintings by Dave Baab. You can download the devotional in pdf form here: Draw Near.

Throughout the ages, the psalms have been the prayer book of the Bible, used by Jews and Christians for individual prayer and for prayer in congregations. As we learn to face with increased honestly the wide variety of emotions inside us, praying the psalms can be both comforting and challenging. During my years of psalm reading, described in last week’s post, I often found that my reading turned into prayer, and I came to love the psalms as prayers. They voice for me so many parts of myself, and they bring those aspects of my personality and emotions into God’s presence in prayer.

When I pray the psalms, I receive several gifts from God. I feel connected to people throughout the ages who have prayed these same words. Because so many of my unsettling emotions are expressed in the psalms, I feel that God must accept my volatile and passionate feelings because the psalm writers and so many people down through the years have brought those very same emotions to God in prayer. When I pray the psalms, I receive peace and acceptance from God.

If you want to begin a pattern of praying the psalms, here are some suggestions. If you want to pray a psalm that is completely new to you, or only somewhat familiar, it helps to read the psalm through first to get an idea of what it is about. Then pray it. You may feel most comfortable reading the words very slowly as you pray. I find that when I pray a psalm, I read the words more slowly than usual, but only slightly more slowly. The pace is up to you. Experiment with what seems most comfortable.

You may wonder where to start if you want to begin to pray the psalms. One suggestion is to start with psalms you have read or heard before. Find those familiar psalms in your Bible and, instead of reading them, pray them. Often I start with a well-loved psalm and then continue praying the ones that come next. You can also start at the beginning, with the first psalm, and pray one or more each day. A wide variety of emotions and styles of prayer can be found in almost any set of consecutive psalms.

Often when praying a psalm, I find that the emotions being expressed are not anywhere close to what I am feeling at the time. In those instances, I often find myself remembering other times when I’ve felt those emotions. I also remember that others all around the world must be feeling those emotions right at the moment I am praying. I try to pray the words on behalf of the people who God loves who are feeling those emotions right now. In that way, praying the psalms is a prayer form that connects me with people all over the world.

Praying psalms in a group setting is also very rewarding. Invite the group to begin by reading the psalm aloud as a group, either in unison or having one half read the odd numbered verses and the other half read the even numbered verses. Then give the group enough time to pray the psalm individually in silence. After a nice leisurely amount of time, read the psalm aloud again, using the same method as you used the first time. You may want to end with a time of sharing, allowing participants to describe what the experience was like for them. Or you may want to encourage participants to write in a journal after the prayer time.

These days, my most common form of praying the Psalms is to hum along with the Sons of Korah, an Australian band that sings the psalms. They've got many CDs, and many of their songs have been posted on YouTube, which you can find here.

This is the fourth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           

(The series continues next week with “God’s presence through the Holy Spirit.” Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: A journey with the Psalms

Thursday February 9 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: A journey with the Psalms

Soon after my fortieth birthday, I found I couldn’t read the Bible. All the ethical and theological truths of the Bible, which I had been studying consistently for the twenty years I had been a Christian, seemed dry and lifeless. It was as if my soul couldn’t bear to take in one more piece of truth. It seemed as though my soul was longing for something to touch my whole being, not just my mind.

As I look back, I can see that it wasn’t really a time of spiritual dryness; it was more a time to integrate what I already knew and to bring my whole self to God. At the time, though, it was disconcerting and occasionally scary.

I don’t really know how it happened, but one day I read a psalm and found that I could connect with the emotions expressed in it. Maybe I heard a psalm in Sunday worship, and I realized the Psalms could help me find the integration I was longing for. Maybe I picked up a Bible and by a random choice (and God’s grace), I read a psalm. However it happened, I read one psalm and felt a connection with the Bible for the first time in months. A few days later, I read another psalm. For the next two or three years, the Psalms were my constant companions, even though I still couldn’t connect with anything else in the Bible.

The psalm writers came to feel like friends. I was amazed at the variety of emotions portrayed in the Psalms. The integration of my whole being before God, for which I had been longing, came true for me through the Psalms. The Psalms modeled for me the radical truth that every part of me – the loving, peaceful and devoted self, along with the discouraged, irritable, and vindictive self – can be brought to God in prayer. The Psalms nudged me into a new kind of prayer involving my whole self and all my emotions.

The sheer overwhelming praises in so many psalms helps us capture that joy and exuberance in God’s presence with us. “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (Ps 95:1). “Praise him with trumpet sound, praise him with the lute and harp!” (Ps 150:3). Psalm 107 reminds us of a variety of ways that God acts in human history. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, and for his wonderful works to humankind” (Ps 107:31).

Emotions that we consider negative are portrayed just as vividly. Discouragement and depression were very real to the psalm writers. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire. . . . I am weary with my crying: my throat is parched” (Ps 69:1-3). The psalmist feels distant from God: “My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Ps 69:3).

Self-pity, anger, irritation, and desire for vengeance all appear in the Psalms. Here is just one example: “One who secretly slanders a neighbor I will destroy” (Ps 101:5). This profound honesty about the vicissitudes of human emotion can be very helpful in these challenging times, when life often seems more confusing than ever before. These kind of words help us grow in facing the inner darkness inside us so we can bring it honestly before God.

Longing and thirsting for God are woven throughout the Psalms, and the psalm writers move rapidly from longing to praise and thanks and confession and back to longing. The Psalms validate our spiritual experience in a way that no other literature can do, and they give us hope that our painful longings and uncomfortable yearnings may give way to praise any moment.

In my years with the Psalms, I read them, prayed them, memorized them, sang them, wrote bits of them in my calendar, and allowed them to shape my own prayers. I was aware in my mid-forties that I was not the same person I was in my thirties, and part of that change was brought about by my immersion for several years in the Psalms. The Psalms have allowed me to face my own inner turmoil more honestly and they have helped me bring more parts of myself to God in prayer. They have called me to praise and thanks in a powerfully transforming way. They have given me the kind of hope that resides deep in the heart and illuminates daily life.

(Next week: Praying the Psalms. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab: Organist in All Saints, Dunedin, responding to the common call in the Psalms to praise God using music. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

You may be interested in the Lenten devotional I wrote two years ago, using a psalm for each day of Lent. The devotional is illustrated with beautiful paintings by Dave Baab. You can download the devotional in pdf form by clicking here: Draw Near.

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God Woos Us

Thursday February 2 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God Woos Us

Brent Curtis and John Eldredge wrote a fascinating book that develops the idea that God calls us to draw near to him with our hearts. The book’s title, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, expresses their conviction that God tenderly woos us and romances us. They believe that if we are not responding to God with our hearts, we are missing something central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

In the end, it doesn’t matter how well we have performed or what we have accomplished – a life without heart is not worth living. For out of this wellspring of our soul flows all true caring and all meaningful work, all real worship and all sacrifice. Our faith, hope, and love issue from this fount, as well. Because it is in our heart that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know him and learn to live in his love. [1]

Curtis and Eldredge believe that we easily become preoccupied with “shoulds” and “oughts” and with external concerns like good works, and thus we often center our lives around activity for God rather than focusing on communion with God. We so easily spend energy on the management of our lives rather than addressing questions of meaning and values. They state, “Busyness substitutes for meaning, efficiency substitutes for creativity, and functional relationships substitute for love.” [2]

In this fast paced world, many experience a drive to turn inward and discover, or rediscover, the riches of the inner life. Curtis and Eldredge write, “The inner life, the story of our heart, is the life of the deep places within us, our passions and dreams, our fears and our deepest wounds. . . . The heart does not respond to principles and programs; it seeks not efficiency but passion. Art, poetry, beauty, mystery, ecstasy: These are what rouse the heart.” [3]

If we want to communicate with our hearts, we must adopt this language of “art, poetry, beauty, mystery and ecstasy.” We simply cannot continue to focus only on the outer life of tasks that need to be done and plans that need to be made. We have to devote time and energy to nurturing the things that inflame our souls with passion and lift our hearts to God.

The praise singing that has become so common in many congregations provides a way for people to open themselves to God and bring their whole being into God’s presence. Recently I read an article in a Christian magazine by someone who loves hymns and classical music. She dislikes the simplicity, even banality, of many praise songs, but she has reluctantly come to acknowledge that during the praise singing at church she is able to pray in a way that is integrated and very profound. There is something about repeating simple words and a simple tune that frees our heart and soul to enter into God’s presence.

Curtis and Eldredge discuss the power of stories to help us access our hearts. Jesus was the ultimate story-teller. The parables and incidents recounted in the Gospels contain immense challenge for people who want to develop their inner lives. The Gospel stories are not simple and easy to understand. Instead they are enigmatic and subtle, just the right kind of literature to help us engage our hearts and souls in order to explore what we really value and what is really important to us, in the light of Jesus’ priorities and values. The Gospel stories engage the heart as well as the mind.

Rediscovery of old friendships can play a part in unifying our past with our present. Honesty in facing powerful negative emotions and searing, painful memories can help us unify our public persona with our inner self. All of the emotions expressed in the Psalms seem more real and more immediate, and the Psalms are a wonderful place to find deeper heart connections with God.

(Next week: A journey with the Psalms. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

[1] Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 3.
[2] Ibid., 6.
[3] Ibid.