Category: Prayer

Steadfast Love

Steadfast Love

Steadfast love. Not just the love of God but the steadfast love of God. Steadfast, loyal, committed, reliable, devoted, constant, trustworthy.

Last summer I took 30 days away from my pastoral role for a time of renewal leave. It was vital to renewing my spirit and enabling me to ensure that my spiritual vessel is full as I try to help others. During that 30 days I decided to read through the Psalms in their entirety—5 Psalms a day for the month. The impact that practice had on me is a longer story, but the specific takeaway for this post rests in the way that it was an opportunity to see overarching themes of the whole book when read in chunks over a shorter period of time.

“Steadfast love” was a phrase in the ESV that came up over and over and over. 

Steadfast love. Not just the love of God but the steadfast love of God. Steadfast, loyal, committed, reliable, devoted, constant, trustworthy. It’s really covenantal language—language of covenant and commitment between God and us. The phrase is aimed at conveying that nothing about the love of God will fail. Ever.  It was at the end of Psalms, nestled in the middle of Psalms, or a repeated refrain, as in Psalm 136:

Psalm 136 
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

It continues for 23 more verses to recount the reasons that illustrate why the writer believes that God’s steadfast love endures forever. It includes aspects of creation and nature that speak to God’s steadfast love. It includes a recounting of significant actions of God in the history of Israel that speak to God’s steadfast love, and that phrase is repeated in every verse.    

As I read that Psalm, it got me to thinking about my own perspectives and experiences that illustrate God’s steadfast love. So I decided to rewrite Psalm 136 as a personal act of testimony to God’s steadfast love. 

I took time to assess my own life as I looked for the instances of God’s steadfast love. I combed through past evidence in my life of God’s activity and goodness as evidence of God’s steadfast love. It was a great way to personalize the Psalm which sometimes can feel distant or sterile. For me, this personalized it as an act of praise on my part. I’d highly recommend that you give it a try!

Take some time to read Psalm 136 for yourself. Grab a journal, or your computer, and consider rewriting the Psalm for you today. What evidence of God’s goodness might you include? What picture of nature and life helps point you to God’s steadfast love?

Allow this to be an act of worship and a strengthening of your voice in connection with God.

Personal Retreat

Luke 5:16 (CEV) “But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.”

I remember reading some commentary notes on the Gospel of Luke, and the author mentioned how Luke gives a greater insight into the personal prayer life of Jesus than the other gospel accounts. In numerous places early in Luke (4:42, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 11:1), the scriptures point to the practice of Jesus getting away from the crowds, most often in the morning, and taking time to pray. For Jesus that often happened in the context of something important (picking the disciples, the Transfiguration) but not always. Sometimes it appeared to simply be for the purpose of prayer and retreat.

It seems like an obvious thing to us. Of course, Jesus got away from the crowds, demands, busy schedules, speaking, and travel to recharge and connect with God. He was Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God. Why wouldn’t he? 

Perhaps a better question for us is “why wouldn’t we?”

It seems to be a no-brainer that Jesus needed to get away on retreat, and yet we don’t give it the same consideration for our own busy lives. We have relational demands, busy schedules, job/school demands, etc. In spite of all of that, we disregard the need that we have in our own lives for the purpose of prayer and retreat.

Did you just mentally run through the list of commitments on your time and arrive at the conclusion that “personal retreat” just isn’t realistic right now? Do you find yourself saying over and over, “This is just a season. If I can just get past this ______ I’ll be able to rest soon.”  

If you’ve been telling yourself that for a while now, what are the chances that anything is going to be different without you intentionally making a change?

Just as our physical bodies get tired, so do our spirits. Spiritual exhaustion is unhealthy, and so is spiritual starvation. The pace that we often keep in life doesn’t allow for much downtime, and our spirits are calling out to us to stop and take a break. If Jesus needed retreat, how much more do we need that same retreat to remain connected with God?! We know this, but we often don’t give ourselves permission.

How can you give yourself permission for personal retreat and prayer? How will you plan to make that happen sometime in the next 30 days? Even if it’s simply an afternoon “just for you” and no one else, how can you make that happen? Can you get away for 24 hours of retreat?

Take the next 15 minutes to make a plan.

Would Spiritual Direction be helpful to you in this process? Let’s book a session together to work through some of your spiritual needs as a way of making rest, retreat, and time with God a greater priority in your life.


Personal Retreat
I’m Off to Make Space

I’m Off to Make Space

Beginning Sunday, July 14, I will be off to make some space for a month. As a pastor, I am blessed to be given time away from my church roles for a 30-day spiritual renewal leave (sabbatical). I will be shutting down my lines of commuications, suspending my blogging, and walking away from social media for that time.

During my month away I will be reading the Psalms in their entirety, reading “The Interior Castle” by St. Therese of Avila, as well as “Chasing Francis” by Ian Cron. I will be journaling, reading fiction, finding some space near water, and enjoying family time. There is likely to be a new tattoo to commemorate my time away.

When I return in the middle of August I will be booking September appointments for Spiritual Direction, both in person and via Skype/Facetime for those who are at a distance. If you are interested in more information on what that looks like and how it works, just reply to this email and in August we will schedule for September.

I’m also working on a lead for a physical location for my practice, so stayed tuned for more information on that. 

Enjoy the next 30 days. Make some space of your own. I will talk to you soon.

Last Words?

…if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be?

I was dreaming deeply about some negative event. I don’t even know what that event was, or what happened, but this mysterious event caused me to run and hide in a closet for safety. On the inside of the closet door was a large pad of paper, and somehow I felt that I needed to write a message on that pad that I knew others would see. I fumbled with a handful of pencils, most of which were worn down, and I tried to find one with enough lead. 

I finally grabbed one while thinking of what I might write as this message to whoever might read it. Was this a “last words” sort of message? Was I going to make it out of this alive? Was this something that people needed to hear regardless of what happened to me? I’m not sure.  And I don’t know what I ultimately would have written. I woke up to my alarm beeping having never written a single letter.

I don’t know what the “me” in the dream would have written, but it gave me pause to consider if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be? I’m sure I would write a message of love and goodbyes to the people in my life, but what else?

As a pastor, when I baptize anyone at our church, these are the words of truth and identity that I speak over people:

“You are beloved. Precious child of God. Beautiful to behold. This name given to you by God can never be taken away.”

I think that would be my message. I would be pleased to share this message as my final words to others. This would bring great joy to have these be my parting words to others.

What might yours be? 

Do you embody that in the way that you live your life?

That’s the interesting part for me to think about. If these are the final words that I might like to have as a lasting legacy, do I live in such a way that that message is true in life just as it would be with my last breath. Do I embody that message in my life interactions with other? I sure hope so.

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Last Words?
There Are Always Blue Skies

There Are Always Blue Skies

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I stood on the deck looking across the lake, cup of coffee in hand, as the birds sang in the crisp morning air. Typically the other side of the lake was dotted with little houses, mostly summer homes and getaways from some other life that the owners were escaping. This particular morning, though, the fog obscured my view. I could make out some faint shapes, but no colors, and only my memory could fill the gap of what was over there.  

It was a different story just a couple days earlier. I had been standing in the same spot, a different cup of coffee in hand, looking across the lake and awestruck by the beauty of the water, blue skies, and cute little cottages across the way. What a difference a day or two, along with an overnight storm, had made on my ability to see clearly.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I knew the lovely little cottages were still over there. In spite of not being able to see them well, I could know with certainty that they stood solidly in their place. The little A-frame cottage, my favorite of the houses across the way, assuredly remained in its place in all of its cute little glory. I could trust my memory in spite of not being able to see it.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

That’s similar to flying in an airplane when a storm is brewing. The skies look ominous, but the captain says over the speaker, “We’re going to quickly get up to cruising altitude above the storm.” It’s a bit bumpy getting there. It can feel touch and go, and your stomach flips and flops as you eye the airsick bag just in case. But as you clear the storm clouds and turbulence you find that the sky is still blue above it all.

It didn’t seem possible in the midst of the storm, but the blue skies were always present in spite of not seeing them. There are always blue skies.

Life can throw a lot at us, and sometimes it feels awfully dim, but the God who is with us in the times of blue skies is also present when it seems that God can’t be found. Sometimes our view can be obscured, but that doesn’t change what’s on the other side. 

Storms, turbulence, or silence are real, but so are the blue skies. Lean into the uncomfortable faith that the same God IS present.

 

Lament on a Trampoline

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God.

Recently I spent time at a weekend training where we were given an “exercise on lament.” That’s kind of a strange activity isn’t it—to practice the process of lament? I don’t know about you, but it seems that in our culture we don’t always have the opportunity, or permission even, to properly process grief through the act of lament. We are told to guard our emotions, stifle tears, and in some ways not process our feelings. That’s the opposite of what we see in the scriptures.

If you’ve ever spent any length of time reading the Psalms, they are filled with lament, both individual and communal songs of grief or pain. Most times we tend toward Psalms which are upbeat and full of praise or thanks, but there are just as many (or more) that focus on lament, grief, and crying out to God. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to lament just turn to the Psalms.

Anyway, I was given an opportunity to spend about 45 minutes contemplating something in my life which I might not have fully lamented to that point. Something sprang to mind immediately so I grabbed my journal and headed outside the house to the lovely backyard on a warm summer day. There, in the corner of the yard, I saw a trampoline.

Why not lament on a trampoline? 

I crawled up onto the warm, black trampoline surface and sprawled out on my stomach, journal before me, and began to contemplate a life situation which I had processed only partially and needed some good lament. I journaled and thought and journaled some more. I wrote my confession of grief and pain, lamented an area of brokenness in my life, and read through several Psalms of lament to better express myself when words seemed to be missing.

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God. Even in the dark moments of the Psalm writers’ life, and when enemies were closing in or chaos surrounded them, those songs of lament inevitably turned to the goodness of God in the midst of the bad. Even in lament there can be found a glimmer of hope and an opportunity to praise.

As my time with this lament exercise came toward a close, my words seemed to be used up. I had journaled and thought and journaled some more. I had written my confession of grief and pain, and in many ways I had given over that area of brokenness to God. It was still broken, but I had fully lamented. 

Still lying on my stomach in the middle of the trampoline, I looked at the many springs surrounding the outside. It occurred to me that even if a couple of those springs were broken the rest of the springs would still provide the support and “bounce” needed to enjoy the trampoline. Even if one area of my life included some brokenness, the rest of my circle was still healthy and supportive. In the midst of lament there was still space for doxology. 

With my last five minutes of the exercise, I got up and jumped on the trampoline. Why not lament on a trampoline? In that time I offered a doxology of praise to God who was, is, and will continue to be with me in the midst of the brokenness and darkness and lament.

(If you have been unable to lament, consider the Psalms as a tool for moving forward through grief toward doxology. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25-28 are just some of the many many Psalms to read. Sitting with a Spiritual Director can also help you work through the process of lament. I’d be honored to walk with you in that process.)

 

Lament on a Trampoline
God Is In the Fizzle, Too

God Is In the Fizzle, Too

For 239 days I made space in my daily routine for this spiritual practice that tens of thousands of people have journeyed over the centuries. And this weekend it came to a less-than-exciting-fizzling end.

This morning was a big day for me. This morning I concluded something called The Ignatian Exercises. The Exercises were developed by St. Ignatius in the 1500’s as a practice for those considering entering the priesthood though his order, the Jesuits. No, I’m not looking to become a priest, but the Exercises continue on as a spiritual practice in the journey of faith.

There are numerous versions of the Exercises from a week-long retreat, 40 day journey, and more, and all versions are a rigorous walk through the birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This morning I concluded with day 239 of this daily practice. For 8 months I have been walking in this practice.

For 239 days I spent time in Ignatius’ guide for reading scripture, prayer, and journaling. For 239 days I made space in my daily routine for this spiritual practice that tens of thousands of people have journeyed over the centuries. And this weekend it came to a less-than-exciting-fizzling end.

My time with the Ignatian Exercises fizzled rather than finishing with a bang. In the midst of a chaotic weekend of activity, house guests, concerts for my daughter and irregular schedule, my time with the Exercises whimpered to a close. Instead of feeling a mountaintop ending of victory and celebration, instead I closed my journal entry with a tired moment of pause.

I think that’s a metaphor of our faith journey to be honest. 

Life is chaotic and busy no matter what you may try to do to make it something different. These Ignatian Exercises were designed originally for those entering the priesthood who had dedicated their entire daily lives to prayer and scripture. Not many find themselves at that place today. And yet we can still make the space to pause and be present to God.

Regardless of the highs and lows of faith, and independent of any emotion (or lack of it), it’s important to consistently present ourselves to God; to be present to God in prayer, silence, listening, or rest. It’s important to do that daily, moment by moment. There may be days of that which are mountaintop sorts of moments, and there may be days that are far more valley lows. Top, bottom, or somewhere in the middle of our journey doesn’t matter as long as we have made the space for the moments.

God is in the fizzle, too.

My 239 days of the Exercises fizzled to an end, but every day of that chaos included space for God, and I offered my time as a gift to God. Even if it was fizzle and not a bang, I think that gift was received by God. I think that’s important to remember each day of our journey.

 

Help Me Be Present

God doesn’t need to be summoned, as though God is off somewhere lounging until called upon.  God is already present, at work, and aware of our situations and needs, and it’s us who need to be present and aware of that.

I’ve been thinking about how we pray, or more accurately how I pray I guess I should say. Sometimes I mindlessly pray something like, “God, be with me while I…” whatever the activity or event might be. Sometimes I ask God to be with someone else during a tough time, a sickness, or some other situation. It occurs to me that that’s kind of a ridiculous prayer.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ridiculous to pray, and it’s not ridiculous to ask God to help me, or others, in a time of need.

It’s kind of a ridiculous prayer, because we don’t ever have to ask God to be present. That’s what God does—or more accurately that’s who God is. God is omnipresent we say. Always present, always aware, always caring and looking upon us with love. God is fully vested in our lives, aware of what we are going through, and God is already with us and seeking connection with us. So why on earth would I pray that God would suddenly be present when that is already who God is in the first place?

The real prayer ought to be, “God, help me be present to You. Help me to be aware of your presence. Help me to consciously be with you.”

It’s easy to become self-absorbed in my own stuff and forget that there is a life and world outside of mine. It’s easy to become so consumed in my own stuff that I am unaware of God’s presence with me in all situations. God doesn’t need to be summoned, as though God is off somewhere lounging until called upon.  God is already present, at work, and aware of our situations and needs. It’s actually ME who needs to be present to, and with, God.

So my prayer has changed recently, and perhaps that’s a helpful shift for you.

“God, help me be present to You.”

How does this change of perspective affect the way you envision God, and perhaps the way you might pray?

 

Help Me Be Present
Just Settle

Just Settle

It took me a while to accept that this too is prayer: to settle, rest, and be still in God’s loving attention upon me.

I was sitting on the couch with my dog in my arms. She was trying to get comfy for a nap while I was spending some time praying in the early morning. She kept shifting and moving and getting distracted by every little sound in the house. She kept looking up at me as though I had said something, or maybe it was somehow to be reassured that I was still right there. Her nap wasn’t happening and neither was my praying.

“Just settle,” I said to her with a calming whisper. “I’m right here, just settle. Rest.”

While trying to pray, I was struck by the irony. I was convicted by the metaphor. 

I so easily get distracted in prayer, sidetracked by the noises of my busy mind racing and trying to figure out what’s next and where I need to be. I circle and circle the latest agitation in my life as I feel like I can’t dare let go. I pause in the midst of broken prayers wondering if God is still there and if God is actually listening.

Sometimes it’s just noise.

Sometimes I can just barely hear God whisper, “Just settle, Trevor. Rest. I’m right here.”

It took me a while to accept that this too is prayer: to settle, rest, and be still in God’s loving attention upon me. I don’t have to perform, say flowery and fancy words to impress God, or come with any agenda whatsoever. I don’t need to talk and talk and talk as though the length of my prayer will carry more weight. 

It can be as easy as just settling into God’s loving presence.

My dog’s favorite place to be is on my lap as she rests in our presence to each other. That’s prayer. I need to learn from my dog I guess.

Just settle. Rest. God is right here.