Draw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabA 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 SpiritualityFriending

Lynne's Blog

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Tears

Wednesday March 8 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Tears

Some years ago I attended a session of a class on the Desert Fathers, those monks of the fourth and fifth centuries who lived in the deserts of Syria and Egypt and who dispensed wisdom to those who came to visit them. I was blessed indeed that this one particular class covered the topic of the Desert Fathers and their attitude toward tears.

The Desert Fathers advocated weeping. They experienced tears as an excellent way to express sadness and sorrow at our own sin. They believed that at the same time that we are crying for our sins, we will find that our tears are also about the joy and wonder of God’s grace and forgiveness. These two components of tears, sorrow for sin and joy in God’s grace, will not be separate, they believed, but we will switch from one to the other almost instantaneously.

When I became a mother in my late twenties, I was surprised to find how much more easily I cried than ever before. Tears have been closer to the surface for me for since then, but in my forties my tears somehow changed. I couldn’t put my finger on the change until I sat in on that class on the Desert Fathers.

The tears I experience now really are about both sorrow and joy. I do cry about my own sin. These are seldom tears about one-time sins. My tears seem to center on the sins I can’t stop doing: recurring negative thoughts about specific people, my tendency to hate myself because of being overweight, and longings and attractions I have for things I don’t have. As I wrote last week, part of maturity for me has been facing my inner darkness.

Just like the Desert Fathers predicted, mingled in with my tears of sorrow for sin, I find tears of joy and wonder that God’s love is so great and that he has shown that love to me. In fact, it’s in the face of the God’s abundant love and grace that I feel such sorrow, because I can’t seem to receive his overflowing love in some parts of my life. Some parts of my life are so broken. I am so blessed, yet I continue to turn away from God’s blessings and seek my own way. Not all the time, but more often than I want to. I cry about that.

I also cry about sin in the world. I cry about the 21,000 people who die each day from hunger-related causes, mostly children,[1] and I cry at the hugeness of evil that keeps the rich and poor so separate and living such different lives. I cry about the hugeness of evil that would motivate people to give their lives so innocent people would die in terrorist attacks. I cry about the people I know and love who are experiencing pain from so many different awful things in their lives. And simultaneously I am crying because God’s grace and love are much more immense than evil. His love and grace are so real and significant and tangible in so many ways, yet there are so many places in human life that seem immune to his love. How can this be? It makes me cry.

I cry because of my longing for heaven. I long for the place and time where everything will be made right, where evil will no longer exist, and where my love for God will be able to flower into the kind of joyous obedience and peaceful acceptance that I long for now. I cry because my moments of emptiness now are so painful in the light of the reality that heaven is coming one day.

Sometimes I find myself getting tears in my eyes in public setting where it is embarrassing to cry. I’m trying to learn to let those tears be there, as an expression of a deep heart and soul reality that I believe mostly pleases God. As I have accepted my tears more fully, I am finding I can identify more clearly the emotions that lie behind the tears. Mixed in with the tears that please God – sorrow for sin, the awareness of God’s grace, and the longing that everything will be put right – are also tears of self-pity and self-aggrandizement. Even in my tears I find the bizarre mix of faithfulness and selfishness that characterizes all of human life – this mix that got me started crying in the first place!

I commend to you tears as a way of expressing deep longings and heart realities. Our tears can be a tutor to help us understand what we are truly feeling and what we truly value. In our tears the Holy Spirit brings out heart realities too deep for words. When we are consumed by embarrassment at our tears, we lose the opportunity to let our tears teach us and express inner realities without words.

This is the sixth 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       
God's presence through the Holy Spirit          
Facing the inner darkness         

(The series continues next week with "All will be well." 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.)

[1] http://www.poverty.com/

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Wednesday March 1 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. If you'd like to look over my Lenten devotional using a psalm for each day of Lent, you can download the pdf here.

As we grow in maturity, many of us experience increasing honesty about the powerful and dark forces at work inside of us that draw us away from God and from what we know to be good. In our early adulthood, we can often fool ourselves into the illusion that we are pretty good people, free of irrational anger, vindictiveness, all-encompassing fear, and petty desires. Many of us find that as we age, we experience all sorts of ugly emotions, and it is no longer possible to hide the truth from ourselves. We truly do have a lot of ugliness inside us. We realize the complexity of our inner emotions: rejoicing and content in God’s grace one moment, irritable and unpleasant the next.

With maturity many of us face our addictive behavior with new honesty. We begin to see more clearly the various counter-productive ways we have tried to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside us. We know our deepest longing is for God, yet over and over we choose food or shopping or pornography or alcohol or something else to try to satisfy that longing. Common to maturity on the journey of faith are honesty and humility in acknowledging the incredibly inappropriate ways we strive to fill our emptiness.

How can we change? How can we learn to live with our emptiness and longing, when all the cultural voices around us are telling us to hurry up and fill up that hole? Gerald May believes that we need to change the way we view life and come to understand that emptiness is a part of the earthly journey, a part that our culture will do nothing to affirm and everything to negate. As I expressed in the blog posts in this series about the Psalms, praying and pondering the Psalms has been a significant source of help, comfort and re-orientation in addressing this issue for me.

Gerald May, in his book The Awakened Heart, discusses the seeking and longing that characterize our lives.

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in these seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves – qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny – that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love. This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. [1]

Gerald May writes that we are able to fall in love with life and enjoy each day when we learn to befriend our yearning rather than try to avoid it, when we enter into the “spaciousness of our emptiness” [2] rather than trying constantly to fill it up. This is easier said than done, but many Christians have described a kind of contentedness and peace that comes in accepting life as it is and looking for God’s presence in daily life, rather than constantly expecting God to make everything easy and nice.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we are encouraged to fill our longing for freedom, wholeness, and joy with countless material objects and endless thrilling experiences: clothing, cars, home furnishings, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, vacations, sports, and so forth. Our culture tells us that if we are experiencing desire of any kind, the most important thing to do is fill that desire with something – anything! – immediately. Thus we rush to satisfying our yearnings and cravings without sitting with them long enough to learn from them and to allow them to draw us towards God.

Seminary professor David Rensberger writes,

Although our hunger and thirst are for God, we are always trying to satisfy them with other things. . . . Indeed, our consumer society energetically organizes these means of avoiding the quest for God, offering us a false quest that is sustained with enormous force and skill by the engines of economy, media, and government.[3]

Rensberger believes that it requires an equal force and determination to resist our culture and cling to the truth of the Gospel that only in God can we find what we long for. How do we find in God what we long for? By facing our inner darkness, accepting it, bringing it to God (perhaps by praying the Psalms), relying on God’s grace and forgiveness, and resting in God’s love and presence with us through the Holy Spirit. These are all part of drawing near to God with the heart.

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        
God's presence through the Holy Spirit

(The series continues next week with "Tears."  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.)

[1] Gerald May, “Entering the Emptiness,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), 48. (An excerpt from The Awakened Heart.)
[2] Ibid.
[3] David Rensberger, “Thirsty for God,” Weavings, July/August 2000, p. 23.

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.

<< Newer | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | Older >>