Recently, I was reading a book called The Sacred Year by Mike Yankoski.  It is a book filled with spiritual wisdom and insight.  It was hard-earned though through a rediscovering of his faith and reigniting the passion that had seemingly fizzled by the demands of being a sought-after Christian author and speaker.  Yankoski quoted Tolkien to try and put words to it by saying that he felt like he was butter scrapped across too much bread.  Anytime someone quotes Lord of the Rings they  are speaking my love language.  Isn’t that the truth though?  The dryness that he felt in his faith was something that I could resonate with and I have a suspicion I’m not alone.  It may only last a day where the endless tasks just seem to pile up and you just go through the motions.  Other times it lasts for a season or a season of life.  You realize intellectually that you want your faith to be at the center of your life, but there is just this dryness that you can’t seem to shake.  Been there, done that.  Yet isn’t there something that stirs in us that says that it’s not supposed to be this way?  That a life of faith is supposed to be vibrant and filled with joy and anticipation.  What are we do with Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly?    Are we missing something?

There was a meme that floated around the internet a while ago that I think captures an important point here.

zombie apocaplypse

The truth is that for many of us, it is relatively accurate.  We have spent so much of our time invested in social media and in technology that we have detached from the rest of the world.  I find it interesting, however, that the image on the right immediately makes people think about the walking dead.  Let that sink in.  Our obsession with technology and our compulsion to be on our phones has caused us to lose that abundant life that Jesus wants for us and instead we have traded it in for a life that feels like, “butter scrapped across too much bread” or, in the case of this meme,  like the walking dead.  So what do we do?  How do we change our lives to feel that passion again?

Yankoski offers this word: Selah.  It is a Hebrew word we find in the Psalms that Yankoski translates as, “Shut up! And pay attention!”  The meaning is clear regardless, we are called to stop what we’re doing and to truly pay attention.  In other words, we need to savor that moment.  We need to slow down and to practice the spiritual discipline of attentiveness.  For many of us this is a hard thing to do. We are so busy and so rushed that we become task oriented and seek to cross things off our to-do lists as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Yet perhaps if we slowed down to truly savor moments we might begin to have a clearer view of what God is doing.  Think of it like drinking a nice glass of wine.  To truly appreciate the glass of wine, you need to let it swirl around in your mouth and allow the tongue to taste all that is there.  In other words you need to selah.  

The spiritual practice of attentiveness goes back through the centuries.  It is the practice of slowing down for the purpose of seeing what God is doing.  Those of us who are always doing something may feel guilty for slowing down because it feels lazy but there is a purpose behind it.  It is to see what God wants to do in your life and where he may be leading you.  This can be done in any number of ways.  Inspired by the book, I decided to engage in this practice of attentiveness in a slightly unconventional way.  Each week, I am now baking a loaf of bread from scratch.  It forces me to slow down.  Instead of simply buying a loaf from the grocery story I have to mix the ingredients thoroughly.  It teaches me patience because the dough requires hours to rise and then again more patience as the smell of baking bread wafts through the house as it bakes in the oven.  Yet the finished product is worth savoring.  It is far better than the typical loaves of bread that I buy from the grocery store and I even just enjoy it by itself.  Yet more than all of that, when I allow that time to be filled with prayer, I’m again humbled by God.  The dryness lifts and God’s refreshing spirit fills my heart.

So maybe you’re feeling like you’re in a dry place right now.  Maybe you have been going a mile a minute and you feel like you’re missing out on that abundant life.  Perhaps like Yankoski and Bilbo, you feel like butter scrapped across too much bread.  Consider the practice of attentiveness, begin to savor life.  Selah.



Who do you want to be?

Who do you want to be?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  That was a popular question  when I was younger.  It always came from a well-intentioned adult in their attempts to make polite conversation with the young kid they had before them.  As I got older the question remained generally the same, but my responses began to mature from Orioles baseball player to things like doctor, chemist, math professor,  camp director.  Each big decision that I made would often prompt a new iteration of the question.  The question itself began to bear more curiosity than before.  Now, people truly wanted to know why I was majoring in math, or why I was at graduate school, or why I left graduate school, or why I entered Seminary.  Honestly, the question isn’t a bad one.  In fact, having a vision for where you want to go is vital to knowing what steps you need to take to get there.  Every leadership book out there and even every  business book stresses the importance of having this kind of vision.  It sets the trajectory for where you want to take the organization and of the kind of leader you need to be.  The other day, however, I was reading a book called Building Below the Waterline, by Gordon MacDonald, which asks a similar yet profoundly different question. Gordon asked  essentially, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”  This is not an occupational question like before, this one is about character.  It makes you think about the kind of person you want to be, about how you will be remembered.  It gets into the inner workings of  your life and makes you wrestle with how you want your life to be no matter your circumstances.

Last week, I talked about labels and how these influence our behavior in a rather powerful yet often detrimental way.  The answer to the question, “Who do you want to be?” has an equal ability to influence our lives and impact the decisions we make.  This was reinforced for me this past weekend during the bible study following our church service.  We were discussing the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who occupies the main narrative at the end of Genesis.  It is a powerful story of perseverance and faith.  I remember my former Old Testament professor once described it as the most beautiful and moving narratives he had ever read.  I see his point.  The man Joseph is favored by his father and one day he receives this dream where it appears that all of his brothers will eventually bow to him.  Now I won’t recount the entire narrative here (I encourage you to read it in Genesis 37-50), but needless to say, Joseph encounters incredible opposition following this dream including slavery and imprisonment.  Despite these circumstances and awful tribulations, Joseph remains faithful to God throughout and everywhere he goes he is given authority and responsibility because of the life he lives, because of the strength of character that dwells inside him.

I think the reason for this is because Joseph knew the answer to the question, “Who do you want to be?”  He was well-versed with it and had a vision of what God wanted for him.  I think in the low points of his life he clung to the dreams that he had as a young man.  He took comfort in the promises of God and that his task was to be the man that God needed him to be when those dreams were realized. Here is the reality:  we too have been given a dream and a vision.  We are called to be imitators of Christ and as such God wants us to live a certain way.  Essentially, he has given us a vision statement for our lives.  It is founded in grace and truth and is meant to influence every aspect of our behavior.  We are called coheirs with Christ and Beloved.  This vision of being a coheir with Christ should seep into our character and form us spiritually.  Once we have captured this vision, our actions need to be filtered through that lens.  Gordon MacDonald actually recommends making a vision statement for your life and putting it in the front of a journal, then every day you take some time to journal about your day and how you’re working towards that vision.  It’s a bit of a time commitment clearly, and yet just the thought of doing that stirs my heart.  To live a focused life, a life determined to follow God is perhaps one of the keys to the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.  So I ask you this, “Who do you want to be?  How do you want to be remembered?”  The answers to these questions are the initial steps to living a grace-filled life.  Let us take them boldly and live abundantly.