Slow Down . . . See God

In the faith community where I serve as pastor, the forty-day period called Lent is a very important time. Lent, as a season, precedes the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday, a day on which we consider our sin and our mortality. The remainder of the forty days has been observed in a variety of ways. You may know people who observe Lent by experiencing sacrifice – giving up something that is enjoyable or important to them. Others mark the days of Lent by taking on a commitment to serving others. These are both spiritual practices, that can deepen a person’s awareness of their need for God and their God-ordained purpose.
Our congregation often shares a focus during the Lenten season. This year, we are exploring God’s gift of the Sabbath. Sabbath is God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest. It is given for our delight and communion with God. Time for being in the midst of a life of doing particularly characterizes the Sabbath. This definition is found in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook – Practices That Transform Us (InterVarsity Press, 2005).
Because so many of us live fast-paced lives and feel the pressure of many demands, a step away from all of these things for this regular and repetitive rest can feel like an impossible task or a burden. But as those who are created in the image of God, we were created for a rhythm of work and rest. Or perhaps I should say, a rhythm of rest and work. God created humans on the sixth day. And then God rested on the seventh day. That means that humanity’s first full day of life was the seventh day, the Sabbath day.
We are using the following scripture to explore God’s gift of Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. Exodus 20:8-10

If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
If you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
If you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
Then you shall delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights. Isaiah 58:13-14

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. Luke 4:16

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it…There remain, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:1, 9-11

We are also pursuing practical ways to claim God’s gift of the Sabbath in our lives during the season of Lent. Some of us will dip a toe in the water of observing a day of rest – stepping away from our work for a few hours. Others of us may dare to try a Sabbath plunge – putting away our “smartphones” for a 24-hour period. Some may not even try it at all. But together we will explore one more spiritual practice – one specifically intended to help us SLOW DOWN the busy, blurred pace of our lives, so that we can SEE GOD.

Do you observe Lent?
What spiritual practices shape your observation of the season?
Can you share any Sabbath stories?

May you live in God’s amazing grace+

Cross-posted at http://www.churchdoctor.org/blog

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One-to-One

He was so passionate about what he was sharing that he could barely get the words out.

In a meeting of 12 members focused on strengthening our congregation’s stewardship, this 40-something man testified to the spiritual growth he has been experiencing over the past f[ive years.  Service to others was a strong impetus to his deepening discipleship to Jesus.

“Your sermons are beautiful…but sometimes they are just  too hard for me…” he said.

I listened for a bit longer, but probably not long enough.

When I did speak, it was to confess my struggle to bring the transforming Gospel of Jesus to over 350 people who are all in different stages in their discipleship to Jesus.  We talked about messages that challenge and messages that comfort.  My friend was definitely in favor of erring on the side of comfort.

After a while I asked, “How then do I challenge you, so that you continue to grow spiritually, if not in the sermon?”

“One to one,” he said.

And he is right about that.  It will be a one-to-one conversation where I remind him that the the hard stuff in sermons and teachings confronts us with our need for Jesus. drives us to trust in Jesus, through and with whom all things are possible.  The impossible becomes possible for us as we learn to trust in and live out of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The more I have reflected on this conversation, the more I realize that many of those in our congregation who are growing the most are men and women, children, teens, and adults who are in one-to-one conversations with their pastors and spiritual friends.  Sometimes the conversations are centered on God’s Word, and sometimes they are devoted to discussions about the joys and struggles in our lives.

It is becoming clear to me that more and more of my time needs to be dedicated to discipling people one-to-one. Today being a pastor means helping people discover the deep love God has for them and how they can access that love through spiritual practices like prayer and service and study.  They didn’t teach this in seminary 30 years ago.  So I am learning along with the people whom I am discipling.

I am learning to listen deeply so that I can suggest the spiritual practices that will transform peoples’ lives.  I am trying some of these practices myself for a season, to understand how they can guide us into discipleship with Jesus.  And I am praying for guidance as to who may be waiting for the invitation to a one-to-one conversation about life in Christ.

Starting with my friend who struggles with the hard words.

 

May you live in God’s amazing grace+

cross-posted at the Church Doctor Ministries blog