(As I noted in my last blog, in lieu of New Year’s resolutions each year, I focus on a theme the Spirit leads me into. For 2017, my theme is “Abiding.” This is the first of a series of posts on my journey).
Ducking out of the rain into Marshall’s, I closed my rarely used umbrella and set out to find some warm jogging pants that I could work from home in. As I perused the vast array of choices, a typical conversation went on in my mind that sounded something like this:
You know you have one pair of jogging pants at home—why can’t you just wear those? Just because they aren’t the latest “jogger” style, why should you spend that money? You could give it to the poor. Think of all the people who can’t even come out of the rain because they don’t have a home like you—what are they wearing?
Slightly irritated, I argued back that I had every reason to buy a new pair of joggers and besides, other people would buy several pairs without even thinking about it and I would never buy those expensive ones—twenty bucks would be my limit. Conscience cleared, I found what I was looking for and went on my way.
The next morning, I asked the two questions I usually begin my prayer time with: Lord, where did I see you working yesterday? and Where did I miss you Lord? Immediately that shopping experience came to mind, but before I could tell God all the good reasons I bought those joggers, I sensed his gentle voice asking: “Why is it that you would rather talk to yourself instead of me about things like that?”
Taken aback, I began to think of how often I do that, interacting with what I will call my inner Pharisee, a term I think I first read in a book by Brennan Manning. You probably have one too—that voice in your mind that tells you what you should or shouldn’t do, shutting down arguments like a row of falling dominos. Through the years I've learned well how to argue right back, and often win, getting my way in the end.
As someone who longs to live like Jesus and become more like him, there are two huge problems with this:
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
The reality is that whether I bought those joggers or walked out empty-handed, the evil desires of my heart—things like greed or independence or selfishness or pride—would have stayed buried. I might have felt wise in my devotion and discipline, but remained in bondage to a god that cannot make me who I really want to be.
What does this have to do with abiding? Abiding means to live with my heart toward heaven, ever sensitive to the gentle whispers of the Spirit as I go about my day. That’s how I experience rest and peace and joy in God’s presence, things my inner Pharisee can never provide.
Does this mean I am supposed to check in with God every time I want to buy something? That’s probably a question only an inner Pharisee would ask. What really matters is; how connected with Jesus do I want to be, day in and out? I really do long to live as he lived, in close communion with my heavenly Father. This desire alone has the power to silence that inner Pharisee because it creates space for God to speak, should he choose to.
He doesn't always speak, but when he does, God often surprises me. That morning after my shopping experience, as I repented of listening to my own voice and serving my inner Pharisee, I pondered what would have happened had I asked God for guidance when I stepped into Marshall’s. In the silence, I sensed him saying: “I would have said, ‘yes, let’s find some joggers.’ I’m pretty sure if I’d listened, I would have enjoyed myself a lot more, and probably found a better deal.
How do I go about doing this? George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, once wrote an epistle in which he charged his followers to “Let your life preach.” While Fox was addressing the need for our lives to match our beliefs, Parker Palmer, a popular educator wrote a book suggesting that we first need to let our lives speak to us, to tell us what we might need to know about who we are, and what we are called to do in this world. He writes:
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
If you’d like a simple focus for 2017—why not let the life you lived in 2016 speak to you? For the full exercise, click here, but here’s the quick version: First, you look back over the year and jot down things like your most significant experiences, your most painful struggles, any life-changing events etc. Then, as you read the list, you prayerfully consider a couple of questions like: What do you want me to know, Father? Where do you want me to grow? As answers come, journal what you are sensing, and then distill your notes into one word or phrase that might be your focus as you begin the new year.
I was totally surprised by what God led me to for 2017. There were so many big events for me—a book launch, teaching my first seminary classes, Joe’s major accident etc. but the event the Lord kept bringing me back to was our unplanned kitchen remodel. Gently, God called me to relive that experience, reminding me of how I had no control, that the entire thing was a gift I couldn’t manage, and could only wait and be grateful as it unfolded. As I sat with the Spirit in this place, I heard the word abide, and knew that was to be my focus for 2017. I am not sure what this is going to entail, but I will share with you as we go.
Meanwhile, have a blessed New Year, and if you’d like to trade in your resolutions for a spiritual exercise that might just make a real difference, click here.
Contact Tricia here.
Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and a professor for Fuller Theological Seminary, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.