Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent: Active Waiting

King's House Retreat Center

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”
-Psalm 27:14 (NASB)

Advent is a season of waiting. On the surface, it is the period of time preceding the fun, family and gifts of Christmas day. On a communal level, it is the church universal anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth. On a personal level, it is a season to get in touch with our profound spiritual hunger and the needs in our lives.

We are all waiting for God to move in one way or another in our lives. For each of us, that need may be different. However, we each have situations that will not be resolved unless God intervenes, hurts that cannot be healed unless the Great Physician reaches our broken hearts, and answers that shall never come apart from a divine response.

The season of advent puts us in touch with our ongoing need for God. In reality, however, we do not always want to realize those empty chasms inside. It is much easier to live life on a surface level or to allow our hearts to go numb. But such shallow, anesthetized existence is not the life we are called to in Christ.

Active Waiting
Instead, as Christians, we are called to live a life in light of the Incarnation—God crashing into the difficulties of this world by taking on human flesh. Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel—God with us in the midst of all of life’s contingencies.

Therefore we are invited to an active waiting in which our eyes are fixed on God as our hope, and our hearts are riveted to his promises.

When Scripture describes waiting for God, it is not a passive, “ho hum” waiting. It is not an apathetic waiting of indifference. Rather, we are invited to wait actively, with our heart engaged and our energies focused on God. Psalm 84:1-2 resounds with such anticipatory yearning for the Lord’s presence:

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.”

This is advent waiting! As we recognize the deep needs in our lives and the profound yearning in our spirits, we must do something about it. We do so by intentionally seeking the Lord. Seeking “puts legs,” as it were, on our waiting.

If we seek him with our whole heart, God promises that we will indeed find him. As he promised to his people in Jeremiah 19:13-14: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”

Rather than ignoring our hearts’ longing or numbing it with endless activity and shopping for more “stuff,” let us set aside extra time for waiting on God this advent. That could be through following an advent calendar and reading its daily Scripture passages. It could consist of going on an advent retreat. Or it could take the form of sitting quietly by candlelight in the evening, waiting and listening in silence.

This Advent
Longing is spiritual atmosphere of advent. This season is the time to stir afresh the inner yearning for the Lord. Whatever means it might be, let us not rush through the season of advent on our way to the celebration of Christmas. If we do, Christmas will seem superficial and we will miss most of its spiritual significance.

Rather, let us wait for the Lord this advent and allow our hearts to ache for a more profound encounter with him. Let us seek him with our whole heart. If we do so, we will experience his coming afresh and come to know him on a deeper level than ever before.

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanksgiving: Moving from Distraction to Gratefulness

Mississippi River

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

A Million Miles Away
How often we are distracted! Although physically we may be present in one location, mentally we can be a million miles away. We live in an unsettled society where everyone is preoccupied and anxious. Driver all around us swerve and nearly veer off the road—they are distracted with sending a text message or talking on the phone. They are preoccupied with everything but driving!

It is not only the “other guy,” however, who is not present to the moment. We too are engrossed with reviewing our to-do list, arguing with someone in our mind, or worrying about the future. In the midst of all this distraction, we are so often anything but present. And—if we are honest with ourselves—in our preoccupation, we are anything but grateful.

Practice of Place
That is why it is so important to continually come back to the present. Only in the present can I truly appreciate all that God has given me. Only in the here and now do I see his goodness. Only in the present moment will I take time to thank God.

One practice that I have observed the past couple of months is the “Practice of Place.” Throughout the day I ask myself the simple question: Where are you? That question breaks into my day and interrupts my preoccupation. Drawing me back from my mental wanderings, it locates my attention right here right now.

Once I’m in the present, I begin to notice what is around me: the rolling hills of the farmland on my drive home from work, beautiful flowers or colored leaves, our warm home. In the present moment I remember family and friends who are a blessing in my life. It is in the reality of place that I am able to let go of my anxious thoughts of tomorrow in order to appreciate the blessings of today.

In that fresh realization of the many blessings that surround me, I find that gratefulness rises in my heart. Gratitude replaces anxiety and any number of other preoccupied thoughts in my mind.

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I am making the Practice of Place a part of my daily rhythm. Breaking into all the business and activity of the day, I am asking myself: Where am I? What do I see? During meals, I ask myself: What do I smell and what do I taste? Instead of rushing through the food set before me, I take time to enjoy it, appreciate it and express thanks for it.

Each time I come back to the present, I find something to be ever so thankful for. In this way I also hope to make thanksgiving more than simply one day focused on expressing thanks to the Lord, but rather to cultivate a grateful heart through the other 364 days of the year.

© 2013 Glenn E. Myers