READ: LUKE 1:13-16, 39-43, 57, 80, JOHN 3:25-30 (CLICK ON VERSES TO READ)
In 1623 a young woman in France gave birth to one of the greatest mathematical minds in history. From early on he demonstrated amazing genius; discovering at the age of 12 that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles – a fact now taught in every basic geometry class. As an adult, Blaise Paschal devoted himself to mathematical experiments, traveling about to lecture on his findings. Then one night something happened that changed everything.
He was driving a coach home when the lead horses took fright and fled wildly across a bridge, railing into the dark waters below. Had the reins not snapped, Paschal would have plunged to his death, a reality that deeply affected him. Later that night as he pondered his near-death experience, the presence of God descended in a dramatic way. He wrote of it on a piece of parchment and secured it in an amulet that he kept next to his heart. Giving up mathematical pursuits, he went on to devote himself completely to the study of Christ. Upon his death they found the amulet around his neck, with the paper he’d written that night. It contained these words: . . . O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, But I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. . .
Joy, joy, tears of joy...
Joy is the birthright for all of us who follow Jesus, for it flows from the heart of God and resonates on page after page of Scripture. The Christmas story is peppered with whispers of joy. One of the lesser known ones is found in the story of Jesus' forerunner and cousin, John the Baptist. Though we often see John as some kind of odd prophet, eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, the truth is that his life made him a courier of joy from the very start. First, the angel Gabriel promised John's father Zechariah that his birth would bring him great delight. Then the infant John leapt for joy in his mother's womb when Mary came to visit. And the entire village celebrated John's entrance into the world with one big party.
As a young man, John's joy was wrapped up in wonder at being chosen to announce the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. We see this in a conversation he had with his disciples one day when they were worried that he was losing his standing to a newcomer named Jesus of Nazareth. Though he’d told them many times that he was only there to prepare the way, they lost sight of that as the crowds thinned around them and people flocked to hear Jesus.
John patiently explained to his disciples that he was like a best man in a wedding, waiting with everyone else for the bridegroom to arrive. Once he heard the bridegroom’s voice, he realized that the wedding was imminent and he was filled with joy. John's happiness flourished as he saw his ministry fading into the background, even as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world gained in popularity. This, even though Jesus’ appearance on the scene was the beginning of a terrible end for John; one that he may very well have anticipated even while speaking of his own fullness of joy.
So with every Christmas carol we sing in the coming days, let us remember that we are made for joy...
As we practice joy, we too prepare the way for Christ this Christmas--in our hearts and lives and families and workplaces and neighborhoods. As we listen carefully for the Bridegroom’s voice and open our hearts to the wonder of His coming, we are blessed to be His couriers of joy.
Although joy is our birthright as children of God, we can easily forget in the busyness of the season. Pause for a few minutes and just sit with the joy of having been chosen by Christ to know Him and walk with Him and celebrate His goodness. See everything about this season--from the shopping to the partying to the gifting and receiving--as an invitation to joy. How will you respond?
John the Baptist rejoiced to hear the Bridegroom’s voice. Ask Jesus to speak to your heart today by giving you a revelation of who He is and His presence with you, as you read the following verses. Spend some time worshiping by rejoicing in Him.
1 Chronicles 16:32-34
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Make the Christmas Carol, JOY TO THE WORLD your song of the day. Go to online hymnal and read/sing all the verses. Or watch this joyful rendition of the hymn: Chris Tomlin with Watoto Children's Choir. As you watch or sing it to yourself, think of joy as the greatest gift of all in Christ. Celebrate!
READ: LUKE 1:24, 39-45, 57-66 (CLICK ON VERSES TO READ)
There are people like Elizabeth in each of our lives – those unsung heroes who walk quietly and faithfully before God. They are the ones we want to run to when we struggle, as well as when we soar. Knowing that they are there and will give us just what we need when we come to call, is like an old, familiar song that plays somewhere comfortably in the back of our minds.
What made Elizabeth the kind of person her teenage niece would want to stay with during her first months of pregnancy? Scripture tells us Elizabeth was six months along herself, but would that have been enough to make Mary journey all that way alone to see her? What else do we know of this woman who played such a significant role in preparing for the coming of the Messiah?
First, Elizabeth was a righteous woman who walked honorably before God. This means that she had really tried to keep His commandments diligently all the days of her long life, no small feat under the best of circumstances. But in her case, it meant trusting God even as the one thing that defined her identity as a Hebrew woman -- having a child of her own – eluded her, year after year after year, into old age.
What I love about Elizabeth is that there is simply no trace of bitterness in her story.
What I love about Elizabeth is that there is simply no trace of bitterness in her story. Though others around her probably believed she was deficient in some way, there's no evidence that she took offense, nor does she seem to waste time with self-recrimination or second guessing God about how this could have happened in light of her faithfulness before Him. This, I believe, is more than anything, what made Mary want to be in her presence during the most trying time of her life. The young girl needed someone who would do exactly what Elizabeth did – rejoice with her and give God glory over an outrageous situation that would cause countless others to question or condemn her outright.
Those three months must have been a special time for the two women, with Elizabeth encouraging and instructing Mary in everything from a proper diet to handling false contractions. I suspect they had many conversations about what it would mean to raise children who belonged wholly to God and His purposes. I can just see them pondering, praying together and preparing their hearts for the days to come. In the end, there is no doubt that Elizabeth’s gentle strength was a gift Mary would treasure her whole life, as the mother of the incarnate Christ.
On these days before Christmas, let us consider what it means to trust God in every circumstance, to walk before Him with honor, even when we cannot see His hand.
On these days before Christmas, let us consider what it means to trust God in every circumstance, to walk before Him with honor, even when we cannot see His hand. Above all, let us remember the spiritual strength of this amazing woman, and choose daily as she did, to refuse to be offended at how God orders the course of our lives. This is the greatest preparation we can make for the miracles that have yet to unfold and the call to God’s purposes that await us in the days to come. REFLECTWhat situation might you face today that makes it harder to walk honorably with God? What might be His heart for you in this? Pause and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, asking Him questions such as: Lord, how do you want to encourage me with Elizabeth's life? What do You want to show me of Yourself through this? Jot the things you sense Him saying down in your journal.
Read the following passage prayerfully, asking God to impart its truths to your heart and life. Then re-write it in your own words, as it relates to your personal situation. Make it a psalm of praise and worship to the Lord.
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Call, write, text or send and email to someone who has been there for you spiritually in the past, and thank them for their faithfulness and witness in your life.
GOD'S EXTRAORDINARY SURPRISES
READ: Luke 1:1-22, 56-66 (click on verses to read)
I love surprises. To my poor husband's chagrin, I have refused for years to participate in the shabby tradition of telling him what to get me for Christmas. I know it's a practical way to exchange gifts, and one that lots of people prefer, but to me, Christmas without surprises is like a cupcake without the frosting. I still eat it, but feel like I've somehow missed out on the best part.
I know I'm in good company here, because when you read the stories of Christ's birth, it is easy to see that God loves surprises too. Take the first narrative Luke unfolds for us, where an unknown priest shows up for his annual ministry at the Temple and gets waylaid by an angel as he burns incense on the altar. When Gabriel announces Zachariah's role in the grand Gospel story, Scripture says he became paralyzed with fear. Terror soon gave way to cynicism, however, as the angel promised him the surprise of his life--a chance to father a son in his very old age.
The thing about God's surprises is that so often they come when hope is gone and dreams have died. Not only had Zechariah given up on having a son, but he was one of millions of Israelites who had heard nothing from God for over 400 years. Think of it. For ten generations there had been no angel visitations, no angry prophets, no clouds by day or fires by night, no temples filling with smoke or Mount Sinai's quaking with the glory of the Lord. It would be safe to say that most of God's children were living with little anticipation of the promised Messiah showing up to free them from the tyranny of Rome.
But the blessed truth about God's surprises is that so often, just when we feel as if time has run out, God breaks in and we realize He had a plan all along. In His sovereign wisdom, our heavenly Father has been carefully lining things up, preparing the way for break-through, even though we are oblivious to His ways and at times have given up completely. Yet as we look back, we see how every detail of of God's plan was perfectly chosen with our best interests at heart.
Another thing about God's surprises is that so often, just when we feel as if time has run out, God breaks in and we realize he had a plan all along.
In this story, for example, Zachariah had left the hills of Judea to come to the busy metropolis of Jerusalem. He was not ministering at the temple alone in the early morning or late at night, but at mid-day, when the crowds came to offer prayers and hundreds would see him come out and know that something supernatural had occurred. And though Zachariah came as a priest to perform his temple duties once a year, this was the only time in his life when the lot fell for him to enter into the holy of holies. Surely this was no coincidence. What better place to be ambushed by God?
All in all, when you consider what would soon unfold, God had a pretty novel idea to kick the whole thing off. Not only did an old man get a wish that he'd long ago given up on, but his miracle baby would prepare the way for the fulfillment of the greatest promise ever given, the coming of the Messiah.
All in all, when you consider what would soon unfold, God had a pretty novel idea to kick the whole thing off.
So as we enter the final stretch before Christmas, let us ponder deeply the story of a faithful priest and the people of God who endured 400 years of Sovereign silence. May we hold onto hope and take delight in the reality that we have a heavenly Father who, when least expected, loves to come crashing into our world with glorious surprises.
Are there areas of your life where you have given up hope of God breaking in? Do you long for some fulfillment of a promise, some sign that God is here for you? If so, reflect on this story and offer these things to the Lord, asking Him to give you fresh hope in Him. Be as honest as you can with the Lord, but end with an affirmation that He will accomplish His purposes in His time, just as he did with Zechariah. Write your thoughts to the Lord in a journal.
Zechariah burst out in praise as soon as God loosened his lips. Read his words below aloud, personalizing them as your own prayer of praise to God.
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Plan a way to surprise someone who might least expect it today. As you experience the joy of doing so, reflect on how God takes pleasure in bestowing surprises upon you, his child.
It was the call you never want to get, the kind you never forget. I was rehearsing with our church Christmas choir on a Sunday afternoon, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and whispered: “Your mom called and needs you to come to the hospital right away. It’s your dad.” I dropped everything and drove as fast as I could, a sinking feeling in my stomach. The ER staff smiled sadly and pointed me to a room somewhere downstairs. As I walked down a long, intimidating hallway, mom came out of a room. When she saw me she whispered through tears, “He’s gone Tricia. Dad’s gone.” In that moment, my world was irrevocably changed. Because I was uncommonly blessed with a loving, doting, very hands-on father, his passing left a huge whole in my heart and life.
It’s been over a quarter century now, yet Christmas always evokes that sadness of losing my dad. Memories tend to come flooding back, at times making the season bitter, yet ever more sweet. One came a few days ago as I pondered one of my favorite passages for the Advent season--Isaiah 9:6.
Dad bought me a Hershey bar (my favorite comfort food), and as we waited in the courtroom, I discovered that the paperwork proving my innocence had gone into the trash with the candy wrapper. Dad patted me on the knee, whispered that I could handle this, and left to try and retrieve it. I’ve often looked back on that experience and my sense of safety and security because of dad's presence, rare commodities in our world today.
This week as I’ve spent hours helping my brother in the hospital, shared emotionally at my dear friend’s Memorial service, and tried to manage all the pieces of life made more complex by the Christmas holidays, I’ve clung to these things, resting in their profound reality. This is the precious impact of Advent—to not only remember that Jesus has come, but that in His presence is everything I will ever need to live in this broken world.
MAKING ADVENT MEANINGFUL
It was supposed to be the surprise of the century! My sister Sue was hitting a landmark year on Thanksgiving Day (I won’t say which year, but she’s old enough to get social security and young enough to enjoy it!). Mom had planned to spend a few weeks visiting her in Hawaii, and unbeknownst to Sue, I was going to show up and surprise her so we could celebrate in style. Teaming up with her sons and close friends, we’d made all sorts of fun plans. Joe was coming a few days after me, and we were all going to whisk her away to spend Thanksgiving in a lovely hideaway at the beach--a birthday she'd never forget.
This is the way our family rolls. Last year, mom, Sue and I traveled to Lithuania to do the same for my older sister Carol, who ministers to graduated orphans there. Loving and supporting family is a value my parents deeply ingrained in all five of us kids, which is why what happened next threw us into a tailspin of epic proportions.
Early one Sunday morning we received a call that my younger brother, Chris, had suffered a large stroke and was in the hospital. Over the next few days it would become clear that he was completely paralyzed on his left side, and would be hospitalized for some time. Within a few days mom knew she could not travel to Hawaii, and to be honest, I felt I couldn’t either. But after lots of conversation and prayer, we all agreed that celebrating with Sue for this birthday was more important than ever. And so I went, bearing gifts and greetings from all the family I had to leave behind. It was truly bittersweet.
The trip is now a memory and we celebrated well. I know Sue felt loved, honored and treasured, and being a part of that was a great joy for me.
When I got home a few days ago I jumped right back in at the hospital—working with caregivers and family to help my brother get what he needs, to shower him with love, and help plan for the future, a somewhat daunting task.
As I pondered the season of Advent that begins tomorrow, I was struck by the juxtaposition of my experiences over the past few weeks—celebrating and struggling, grieving and giving, laughing and crying, planning and waiting—the list goes on. I can’t help but think that in the end, this is what advent is all about. The word itself means “arrival” or “coming” and so we celebrate Jesus’ coming in three ways—as a baby in a manger, as our future king, and, most importantly for me—as the Presence that sustains and carries and makes life not only bearable, but immensely joy-filled, even through pain.
Advent reminds us to celebrate, indeed gives us permission to rejoice, even when, or especially when the circumstances of our lives are fraught with struggle or suffering. When we don’t know what the next day is going to hold, we celebrate the reality that our Lord came as a babe in a manger, setting himself up to experience every struggle humankind could ever know. When we feel like our dreams have been dashed or our hopes fragmented, we celebrate the truth that we serve a King who is good and powerful, and will one day make all that is wrong, right. And when we feel like it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other, we celebrate the very real presence of Christ who lives within our souls and loves us with infinite passion.
Making advent meaningful
Here are a few ways to make this Advent season especially meaningful:
One of Jesus' most beloved passages on prayer has a rather odd twist to it:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Why did Jesus use the metaphors of snakes and scorpions? Of course he is making a dramatic point that we have a good heavenly Father who only gives good gifts, but I suspect there is something more here. I shared this message last Sunday at New Hope Church--titled: When God's Answers Look Like Scorpions and Snakes. You can listen below.
It's hard to believe my last post was Easter. In case you wondered where I went, I've been teaching two classes for Fuller, plus rewriting my first book The Soul at Rest (to be released in 2018!). I've had so many moments when I wanted to blog about things that deeply matter to me, but it just hasn't been possible.
Today I am writing to share something very special. Joe and I have had the privilege of working with a Syrian refugee family for several months now, and I want to tell you their story and ask you to consider being a part of it. I've never used this blog or website for anything other than resources for your spiritual journey, but just this once I felt compelled to share my heart! Here then is their story.
When the war between rebel forces and the Syrian government made this family's home of Aleppo what can only be described as a living hell, Saleh, along with his pregnant wife Alia and their two small children packed what they could carry and began a trek across the desert, trying to reach Jordan. They walked for some 30 days, occasionally hitching a ride in trucks with goats and sheep, and every night they slept out under the open stars. As they drew near to Jordan, the danger increased, so they found an abandoned house, where they hid in darkness for 11 days, terrified they'd be found and killed by ISIS. Finally, braving the terrain and imminent risks, they worked their way to a camp on the border of Jordan that had become the home of some 83,000 other refugees like them. For the next three years they went through the incredibly extensive vetting process hoping to immigrate as refugees to the United States. Last October they made it to San Diego.
Joe and I met this beautiful family through a refugee sponsorship program and we have been getting to know them for several months now. When we visit, they always insist on laying out a beautiful meal for us, even during Ramadan when they weren't eating. They show immense gratitude for our friendship and any help we offer. A couple of weeks ago we took school supplies to the two older children and watching little Esraa's delight in a simple pencil box brought tears to my eyes. Their life is not easy. They do not speak English and Saleh, who once had a successful business as a builder, now drives an ice cream truck and waits daily at a car-wash, hoping they will need him. The U.S. government offers minimal help with food stamps and welfare, but also requires that they begin to repay the money that was spent in bringing them to the United States within six months.
While we have been very thankful for a dear Syrian friend at church who usually goes with us and translates, and also helps support this family, over the past few months we have begun to see that we need to bring others along with us on this journey. We hope some local folks can get to know our Syrian friends, but beyond that, there are financial needs we cannot meet by ourselves.
If you live in San Diego and want to join our team, please email me--we'd love to have you! For the rest of you, if you would like to give towards helping this family get established, you can do so through New Hope Church as a tax-deductible donation. Right now this family is about four hundred dollars a month short in income just to meet the bare minimum bills, and our goal is to set up a one year plan that will move them gradually on their own. They are working very hard to be independent, but the hurdles are immense.
Finally, we would ask you to pray for these precious people, and indeed all the refugees that are in the same situation. If you would like regular updates on how things are going, please email me--this is the only time I will post this on the blog. You can give through New Hope in any way you wish--a one time gift or some regular amount.
Here is how you can give:
Click here first. Once there, click on the "online giving link." Choose "Syrian Refugees" under the Ministry Donation link and complete the form.
You can also mail checks to:
New Hope Church
10330 Carmel Mountain Road
San Diego, CA 92129
It is quiet here this morning. Joe has taken the grandboys fishing and I am getting ready to rev up the preparations for our big celebration—26 plus friends and family—for Easter brunch after church tomorrow. But for now, I sit in the quiet, pondering those hours inbetween, that drawn-out day when no one quite knew what was to come, when Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but had not yet shown up to shock the world with His presence and shower humanity with resurrection hope.
I feel like I know these inbetween seasons so well… these times when one thing has ended, but something else hasn’t yet begun, when the old has been sucked away, but the new has not yet dawned with its expectant promise.
The inbetween is, for me, the hardest of all—when a hole in my heart waits to be filled, when an empty tomb reminds me that my future hangs in the balance. I’m living in the vortex of one right now, and not a day goes by that I don’t wait in silence before the Lord, wondering what will unfold…and when…and how. Anxiety threatens my peace, fear assaults my steadfast resolve.
I read a story once of a trapeze artist who said that the most agonizing moment in every show is when they have let go of one bar, but haven’t yet taken hold of the next. There, suspended in midair, they know nothing but the beating of their own hearts.
This, I think, is what this Sabbatum Sanctum, this suspension between crucifixion and resurrection represents for us. The inbetween...hanging midair with only the sound of our own heartbeat. Through the centuries, the church has labeled this day many things—Holy Saturday, Black Saturday, and the Great Sabbath. My personal favorite is just Easter Eve, the reminder that the inbetween I am living, though it can feel as if it will never end, will one day face the dawning of resurrection light. It always has. This is my hope.
In case you missed it: kandi pfieffer and i talk about what we love about jesus in our final lent live conversation.
Last year an old friend dropped me a line via email, connecting me with another friend of hers, because in her words, we "had some common threads." Her friend was Alicia Britt Chole. Since then the two of us have had some email and book exchanges and let me tell you, this woman inspires and challenges me. I love her deep humility and love for Jesus and the beautiful way she puts words together. As I started going through her book, Forty Days of Decrease for Lent, I wanted to get a little more from her--even an inside scoop on her own Lenten journey, so I asked her a couple of questions, and she readily acquiesced. I know you will be blessed by this guest blog. A little heads up--this woman will make you think! Oh, and she was once an atheist and now runs a spiritual retreat center with her husband!
You say in your book that God is more interested in what we are becoming than what we are giving up for Lent. Often it seems we can't tell what God is doing when we are engaged in various Lenten practices. How can we know we are "becoming" as a result of our fasts and not just giving things up?
What a great question! Becoming is, on one level, a function of sheer existence. The direction and depth of becoming, however, is a function of our focus. If the focus of our fasting is relational, I think our "becoming" -- i.e., coming into greater be-ing -- is assured. The good news is that our understanding is not the author nor the great assessor of that becoming. In other words, our becoming isn't on pause, awaiting the emergence of accurate vocabulary in our minds.
My comment: I think she's telling us that if we are focused on our relationships with God and others during Lent, we can be confident we are "becoming" or "coming into greater be-ing." That is such encouraging news. No matter how you think your Lenten journey has gone, cling to this lovely morsel!
How would you recommend we take the gains of Lent and invest them into the future? (People say they'd like to continue Lent practices, but we often don't).
I talk a lot more about this in my next book (The Sacred Slow: A Holy Departure from Fast Faith). As a spiritual mentor, I encourage leaders to live heaven-down. Earth-up living starts with what we can see and measure; with what we like and dislike. Many self-improvement lists and New Year's resolutions are created earth-up. Earth-up living gifts us with realism, but rarely with grace.
My comment: I can't wait to get her new book--coming out in September--preorder or read about it here!
To take the gains of Lent into the future, consider adding heaven-down living to such realism. Heaven-down living begins with listening prayer and responds with intentionality. A simple prayer, "God, what would please You in this season?" can guide us to focus upon components of Lent not for the sake of the components but because that's where Jesus' companionship is leading us.
My comment: The simplicity of that--listening prayer and intentionality--is captivating. My takeaway is that Lent is not a side road in our spiritual journey, but a continuation of what God has been doing in and through us--or where Jesus has been and is now leading us.
Love is what turns disciplines into offerings. With love, fasting is relational just as feasting is relational. After Lent, I will ask Jesus what would please Him as I head into our Spring/Summer. Though I probably will not hear anything audible or see anything tangible, I will have a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Whether that looks more like the fasting of Lent or more like the feasting of Pentecost, if I do it with Jesus and in Jesus, I'm pretty sure that He smiles.
My comment: ...a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Consider what this might be for you and press into it as Lent comes to an end. Then sit back and feast on the smile of Jesus! Thanks Alicia for some words that we can feed on for a long while.
IF THIS SHORT INTERVIEW LEFT YOU WANTING MORE:
Watch a video of Alicia talking about how to process pain in light of the cross here.
Visit her website and take a look around--great resources here!
As we enter Holy Week, I pray you will experience the wonder of redeeming love like never before!
Join me for my final Lent Live on facebook this Wednesday at 6pm. Click here.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET CHRISTIANS DON'T TALK MUCH ABOUT: If you missed last week, Kandi Pfeiffer joined me and I know you'll be blessed as you listen. It includes some great and practical teaching and I promise it will make you laugh!
The ancient Celts used to say that there are only a few feet between heaven and earth and at times, that distance can be even smaller. When this happened, they called it a "thin place." A thin place is that Kairos moment, that holy instance where God breaks in and we experience him in ways that are precious and transformative and impossible to describe.
Thin places can be our experience during majestic moments of communal worship, or in the sleepy solitude of morning prayer. Thin places often emerge through our encounters with nature; The roar of the ocean arrests our heart or the sound of birdsong captivates our soul or the wind in the trees immerses us in a holy hush.
While we cannot control how or when the space between heaven and earth becomes thin—that is the work of God’s Spirit—we can learn to be available and aware so that we do not miss these rare treasures. This has become harder and harder to do as we try to navigate lives entrenched in digital noise, immersed in the incessant chatter of our devices.
STEP ONE: list the ways you invite noise into daily life
You might be surprised at how immersed you are in noise-creating technologies. Walk through your day—what are your digital practices? How do you handle pings, beeps, and other notifications? How often is the radio droning on the background when you are driving? When is the TV playing? Make a simple list--don't judge yourself, just make the list.
step two: ask, 'what do i gain, what do i lose?'
Take a couple of minutes to assess how beneficial or how detrimental each noise-inducing practice is. Use a scale with -10 being extremely detrimental and +10 being extremely beneficial. Again—you aren’t judging yourself, but simply trying to make an honest evaluation.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE ONE THING FOR A NOISE FAST
Look at your list and choose one thing you will fast from for one day or more. Will you turn off smartphone notifications? Eliminate the radio in the car? Leave the TV off?
step four: listen to the silence
Don’t fill those quiet places with other kinds of noise or busyness, but seek to be still and simply listen. Hear your own heartbeat and the sounds of the world going on around you. Listen to the Spirit of God—does he have something to say?
step five: ask again, 'what did i gain or lose?'
At the end of the day, take a few minutes to evaluate how the fasting from that noise inducer helped or hindered you in your overall well-being and spiritual journey.
step six: CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE AND DO IT AGAIN
If you have seen the real benefit of a noise fast, determine to make this a habit of life. Choosing to eliminate one source of noise every day will open up space for Kairos, for that place between you and heaven to grow very thin. These are the moments that make life the awesome adventure and holy wonder that God intends for it to be.
JUST JESUS: Click below to listen to my personal story of falling in love with Jesus (audio only)
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.