When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less

For long years, I have ridden the bucking bronco of calling, leaning into the tension of being a fairly ambitious woman in a life that leaves little room for goals beyond laundry management and remembering to thaw something for dinner. Anyone with a Facebook account or a presence on Instagram knows that there are people out there doing huge things for Jesus that bring income sources to third-world women, put shoes on the feet of trash-picking children in hidden corners of the lands to our south, and shine the light of biblical truth into thousands of shadowed lives with the click of a well-read blog post.

Shannan Martin thought she had figured out her path toward impact when the bottom fell out of her well-ordered life-plan and the balance of her carefully curated bank account began nose-diving its way toward zero. Her writing ministry as the “Flower Patch Farmgirl” seemed incongruous alongside a new calling that God was sending through shock waves of vivid detour messages:  a new vocation in a startling urban zip code alongside people with messy lives and unimpressive resumes who would ultimately become family instead of just neighbors.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You is Martin’s anthem to God’s goodness in shrinking her world and her calling “down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light.” (16) She learned that although the problems that come to us in our news feed are large and insoluble, there are people just around the corner who need a glimpse of hope and maybe a ride to visit their dentist–or their parole officer.

The Ministry of Paying Attention

When my eyes are focused far ahead or high above my life here on a country hill in Maine, I’m likely to miss God’s calling in the present moment. When Shannan remembered that Jesus admonished us to “pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given,” she became serious about forging relationships with the people who stood outside her church smoking between services. She also knew she would need deeper and wider wisdom to respond in meaningful ways to the voices of her multi-racial, adopted children when they posed questions about skin color.

Even though the truth of the Gospel puts tools in our hands for managing the complexity of life on this planet, it turns out that complexity is an acquired taste. I’d much rather trumpet the goodness of God against a backdrop of success and answered prayer than to cling to the knowledge of His goodness in the context of cancer diagnoses and stories of wayward teens and heartbroken parents, and yet Jesus entered time and space to rescue us “from the things we think we want by giving a face to the heart of God.” (39) He alone is equal to this ministry.

The Ministry of Flattening Divisions

Shannan shares a story from her neighborhood about a woman whose power was about to be shut off in error, but she had no phone to make the necessary calls. With no option but to ask for help, she showed up at the Martin family door asking to use a phone, but finding friendship in the long run. Of course, things could have been very different with Shannan in the “have” seat and her neighbor firmly fixed in the “have nots,” but Shannan’s goal was to defuse this dynamic. By allowing this shy and lonely woman to be the giver at times, she models a redemptive and counter-cultural approach to helping that is sadly lacking in existing welfare systems and charitable efforts.

“Most of us want the kind of friendship that is defined by mutuality, where we’re too busy enjoying each other to watch for pecking orders or power rankings. We don’t need more colleagues or service providers. We want two-way streets paved with the truth that life is more bearable when we walk in the same direction.”

The Ministry of Sticking Around

Five  years into their urban neighborhood commitment, the Martin family makes very modest claims for impact or outcome. This rings true for me, a practitioner of mundane faithfulness that looks like showing up with a mediocre casserole for a friend who’s had surgery or opening the Bible in a corner rocking chair in someone’s cozy living room. When God calls us to “the ministry of ordinary places,” we give up the luxury of life from a safe distance in exchange for a discipleship that Eugene Peterson famously defined as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Sticking around in faithfulness to the call of God may look like “less,” but if it is the “more” that God is calling you toward, He has made strong promises that look like abundance to carry us into and through those ordinary places:

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. 

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.  (Isaiah 58:11, 12)

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for my own “ordinary places,”

Michele Morin

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You ,simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Practical Help for Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline

Among the assorted ranks of those who practice journaling, you can record me in the column labeled “intimidated.” Observation, application, and interpretation of my reading primes the pump, but never are my entries particularly stirring or insightful. My pages are scattered with partial outlines, first and second drafts of biblically-inspired poetry, and lists of questions alongside scribbled notes from podcasts and commentaries. Add to these the assortment of written prayers and rants (what Madeleine L’Engle would have called “tirages”), and it’s clear that my journals are not a great example of why anyone should start journaling as a spiritual discipline.

Or maybe they are?

Author Deborah Haddix decided a long time ago that “formulating thoughts, getting them into words, and putting pen to paper simply required more energy than [she] wanted to expend,” and so journaling was just not for her. However, when friends began to share their experiences of deep spiritual growth and communication with God through the discipline of journal keeping, she began to listen and decided to give it a try.

She learned that journaling is not nearly as narrow as she had thought. Rather than staring at a blank page, she found freedom to use drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes. The result of her discovery and the fruit of her learning process is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God.

Soul care is a crucial (and over looked) element of self care, and it takes time and a level of commitment to focus on engaging with God in relationship. Investing the time to cultivate that interaction is an invitation to slow down, to replenish, and to exhale.

Slow Down

“Slow me down, Lord,” is the prayer I bring to the table almost every day when I open the sacred pages and begin to seek the “wonderful things” promised there.  For a successful and satisfying experience with a spiritual journal, Haddix recommends baby steps in the beginning. Give yourself permission to try new methods and also freedom to discard any that do not help. For example, since crafting is something I do with my grandson these days, it would get in my way during my quiet time. I’m not likely to try vision boards or mapping, because for me, the words themselves are what speak to my heart. For me, dealing in images feels like work, but I have creative friends who thrive in that medium. With that in mind, there is freedom to work within our God-designed personalities and preferences.

Replenish

The last thing we need when we come before the Lord is a sense of panic that we’re already behind or that we have failed. Keeping a journal is terrific for accountability, but even this can get in the way of meeting with God. Deborah’s advice is to move forward without giving up or being weighed down with the idea of catching up. While consistency is always the goal, failure should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the new day and the new mercies God is offering.

When you open your journal, send the art critic and the editor out of the room! Perfectionism will trip you up every time, no matter what method of expression you’re using. God will not deduct points from your journal-score for each coffee stain or misplaced scribble.

Exhale

One of my favorite parts of journaling is looking back at the lessons and insights from the past, and Deborah has made the excellent suggestion that, going forward, I should leave space on each page for writing an “insight line” when I return to an entry, an opportunity to record fresh thoughts on the same topic, new lessons, or ways that old reflection is still working its way out in my following life.

While I have tended to connect journaling with the discipline of Scripture reading, it is also a tremendous help in the disciplines of prayer, Bible memorization, and meditation. Several pages of fun lettering and decorating ideas prime the idea pump while lists of questions get the ball rolling for self-reflection.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

When God meets us over True Words and makes good on His promise to reveal “wonderful things” to us when we open our eyes, a spiritual journal is a record of that miracle.

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul) simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

More on Spiritual Disciplines

If this post has piqued your curiosity about the journaling life and ways to deepen your walk with God, be sure to check out these related posts:

David Mathis refers to the spiritual disciplines as “Habits of Grace,” and that is the title of his book which organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. Belonging to His Body.

Then, Enjoying the Truth by Keith Ferrin offers tips for becoming a more consistent and effective student of the Word.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List

As one who lives by a list, I have come to appreciate the satisfaction of a neat column of check marks at the end of a day, the faithful reminder to pray or to do or to go, and the convenience of a resource close at hand:
“Didn’t we buy slippers for her last Christmas?”
“Yes, I think so, but let me check the list . . . “

List making is a utilitarian practice that keeps me (mostly) on the rails. However, in Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts, Marilyn McEntyre has elevated list writing to a creative endeavor, a writing exercise that is partly spiritual formation, partly imaginative play, and partly a recording of the music of one’s own soul. Putting the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard, the list maker asks questions, poses possibilities, and frames her desires.

In Word by Word, McEntyre chose fifteen words and challenged readers to discover them anew as “little fountains of grace.” In Make a List, she argues for the life-changing benefits of gathering our words into lists that inspire and challenge.

A List Is a Beginning

When McEntyre began making a list entitled “What Love Looks Like,” she found that the practice opened  her understanding of the monumental definition of love found in I Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

She remembered her grandfather reading to her and her husband brewing coffee.
She pictured a volunteer chopping carrots in a soup kitchen.
Making a list is the beginning of a wider understanding of an idea that may have become tired or hackneyed, so obvious that you have stopped “seeing” it.

A Mental Exercise Turned Outward

Throughout the book, there are “Lists to Try,” a concept I appreciate, for perhaps every list would not be meaningful to every list maker, but it’s okay to try–in the same way we might try the New York Times crossword puzzle or try juggling three tennis balls in the living room.

A list can solidify a nagging sense of unrest into a concrete “diagnosis.”

  • What are my concerns in this season?
  • What can I let go of?
  • What am I afraid of?

A list of possibilities is the first step toward meaningful change.

Disturbing the Smooth Surface of the Obvious

For six years I have been maintaining a gratitude list, pondering and then scribbling three gifts each day into a small journal. I’m pleased to note that the practice has changed the way I look at the world, but later this year, after I have recorded my 7,000th gift, I want to let that practice rest for a time so I can “try” some new lists. Maybe I will argue with myself in list form or begin compiling a collection of reasons why my faith matters to me. It may be that I will make a case for continuing some of the things I am already doing while at the same time listing some things I want to try.

When a do-list becomes a collection of intentions and hopes, the world becomes larger and the heart opens wider. In a busy life in which action so often precedes thought, the practice of making a list rearranges what we think we know and invites us into a life beyond the obvious. 

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts or Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Trusting for Grace to Live Beyond the To-Do List,

michele signature rose[1]

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The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

Last summer, sitting on a rocky beach with family all around, I noticed a small white shell among the scramble of stones and shards of driftwood. Soon I had collected a handful, all pure white and perfectly whorled, the former dwelling place for some diminutive, absentee mollusk. For a few days, I carried them around in my pocket, reaching in to finger their smooth contours, already wondering what practical use I could devise for them, and their story would have ended in a dark kitchen cupboard if Paraclete Press had not sent me a copy of Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New.

I am Protestant to the bone, and it would never have occurred to me that ten small white shells in my hand could represent ten members of my family and serve as a tactile reminder to pray for each, one by one. Author and jewelry designer Suzanne Henley reminds readers that ancient practices of prayer were very tactile. Bead by bead, fingers remembered what the heart cherished, and words would spring to mind.

As a glass artist, Henley has the unique privilege of crafting customized prayer beads, and her creative view of the world lends a gritty practicality to the business of prayer that so many of us talk about — but so few of us practice in the way we want to.

“Praying is not just an arcane, dusty practice that a group of humorless, self-righteous old men sat down and made up a long time ago. It is not just words in a prayer book. It’s not a milquetoast, rehearsed exhortation delivered in a faux-devout voice to begin a citywide prayer breakfast with cold scrambled eggs. We carry this need for connection in our guts . . .”  (xi)

The History of Prayer Beads

So, as Suzanne scoops handfuls of Mongolian sand beads from the Gobi Desert and beads crafted from ancient Roman glass fragments, she invites us to look with new eyes at a tradition that, by the time of the Reformation, had deteriorated into an empty piling of slippery words upon which the praying saint hoped to ascend to heaven. Fast forward to 1987, however, and to the statisticians’s great surprise, as church affiliation begins a decline, the use of Protestant prayer beads is in an upswing.

Madeleine L’Engle described prayer beads as a tool to “enflesh the words, make thought tangible.” Maybe our distracted, squirrel-chasing, social-media-saturated brains are seeking an analog anchor. Apparently, the earliest known example of tactile prayer reminders were used by the Desert Fathers who committed to praying the 150 Psalms twice a day. In order to keep track of the number, they carried 300 pebbles in their cloaks, tossing one out after each prayer. Because I am unfamiliar with the historic prayers associated with the rosary, I appreciated a charming child-drawn diagram, as well as the road map for Protestant prayer beads which proscribes no set words or prayers.

Prayer and Work

Suzanne and I are kindred spirits in our numbering of the tedious steps of grocery shopping:  “Into the basket, out of the basket onto the checkout stand, into the bags, into the car, into the house, and into the fridge and cabinets . . .” (43) However, instead of an occasion for grumpiness, Suzanne sees grocery shopping as a “weekly prayer-bead adventure” in which she meditates on the fruit of the Spirit in the produce section, wordlessly blesses fellow shoppers, and quiets her heart while pushing her cart.

Cracking 360 eggs to make breakfast for a gathering of homeless people, Suzanne also practices a ministry of prayer with each thwack against the rim of the bowl, reminding me of prayers I lifted while pinning small socks to a clothesline (Thank you for the gift of this small life . . .), or, more recently, over sports uniforms and tattered work pants (Bless this boy with safety and success . . . ).

Whether we use beads or seashells, the events of our life, or the fingers of both hands to mark the practice of our prayers, the prayers are offered, word-by-word, thought-by-thought. This is also the nature of a life poured out, not in a great gush, once and for all, but drop-by-drop as we pay attention to the voice of the Spirit and open our hands as well as our hearts in gratitude, thanksgiving, and love.


Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Joining you in thanksgiving for a God who hears and answers prayer,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Leadership Lessons from the Soul of Moses

Encased in a body that you recognize in the mirror, your soul is the “you” that’s always been there peering back from your reflection. It’s the part of you that infuses all the roles you play (parent, spouse, friend, leader, employee), and it’s what makes those roles uniquely yours. Your soul is the place where you and God meet–or where the empty spot resides when you are sensing God’s absence and wishing things could be different.

Chances are if you live in the crucible of ministry, you’ve given some thought to your soul-ish self, and maybe you’ve even felt the danger of losing touch with your real self in the course of a day’s work. Jesus is the One who introduces the idea that a soul is something we can misplace:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Matthew 16:26)

This is more than just an academic concern, for the spiritual leader leads from the soul, but it’s easy to lose track of one’s own soul in the care and feeding of the souls of others. Ruth Haley Barton felt the insidious slippage in her own ministry and gathered lessons from the life of Moses as a lifeline back to herself and a vibrant relationship with God. Her gleanings have been re-released in the expanded edition of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources).

The training of Moses’ soul for leadership did not begin on the day he and 600,000 former slaves departed from Egypt, or even in the harrowing days of appearing before Pharaoh. Moses’ journey began much earlier when he fled his familiar surroundings, took himself out of the action, and landed in Midian to escape the murder charges he would have faced back in his home town. The forging of a life-giving connection with God was a lifelong process for Moses, and it will be also for present-day leaders who are willing to ask the probing question, “How is it with your soul?” and to live their way into a meaningful answer.

Leaders Are Refined by the Word of God in Solitude and Silence.

Barton describes Moses’ childhood as “convoluted” (36) and his unrefined, pre-Midian leadership style as “reactive and out of control.” (38) Fleeing was Moses’ first step into a solitude in which God used the days and years to “deepen [his] wounds into wisdom.” (58) God employed the burning bush to get Moses’ attention, modeling the necessity of “turning aside to look.” (58) In the silence and solitude, God spoke, and it was the Word of God that gave direction.

Today, as we take His Word with us into our silence, He will reveal insights we would miss in a hurried and distracted reading. Just as Moses caught sight of the bush out of the corner of his eye on an ordinary day and had the good sense to turn toward it, our own great sightings of God are likely to come because we’ve taken the time to turn in His direction and then to hear His Word when it comes.

Your Calling May Emerge from the Uniqueness of Your Life Story

Moses was initially derailed by his anger, but, ultimately, it was this passion for his people and his strong sense of justice that allowed him to transcend the person he had been on his way to becoming a leader God could use. Rather than fighting against or undoing your authentic self, you may find that, like Moses, in your leadership role you become even more of what God created you to be.

A Leader Learns Wisdom and Restraint by Waiting

Lesson by excruciating lesson, Moses learned to wait for God’s next word. Barton refers to the spiritual disciplines with the engaging term “spiritual rhythms,” noting how each is balanced by an opposite: work and rest; silence and word; engagement and retreat; stillness and action. The stressors of leadership drew Moses deeper into relationship with God. When a leader has learned to wait for God in the darkness, she is on her way to learning the wisdom of restraint that waits for God’s next directive when the way is not clear.

Wise Leaders Operate within Limits

As satisfying as it is to feel indispensable, it’s an expensive luxury. Moses’ father-in-law set him straight on this, advising him in the wisdom of delegation and exposing his responsibility to train other spiritual leaders. If you are experiencing irritability, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, or are feeling disconnected from your soul and unable to tend to normal human needs, examine your life for signs that you are exceeding your own limits.

Sustenance for Ministry is Found in Prayer

Just as Moses stood between God and his fractious people, so the praying leader lifts the concerns of others before God, and contrary to popular Christian culture, this intercessory ministry is the greatest gift we bring to our fellow believers. Barton offers helpful insights that address my own tendency to pray prescriptively, as if it were my duty to advise God of all the possible outcomes, and then to help Him in choosing the best one. As we pray, we are reminded over and over again of our own inadequacy to be for our much- loved colleagues in ministry all that the Lord can be for them.

Leadership Is Often Characterized by Loneliness

Because a leader often sees what others do not see and is called to persevere in the face of criticism and discouragement, the life of a leader is characterized by seasons of loneliness. Moses found companionship in God, and refused to take one step in the direction of the Promised Land without the presence of God. Sustained for the long haul of leadership by a vision of God’s goodness, Moses found too that the loneliness of leadership keeps the leader always seeking.

Whether leadership for you involves guiding a half dozen women in a friend’s living room or standing at the helm of a multinational non-profit, for the believer, leadership is spiritual, and it is soulful work. God invites leaders into the crucible of ministry as a soul-strengthening experience, and then He meets us there in the deep and tender places. True spiritual leadership originates in a soul that is making its home in Christ.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources), simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your soul-strengthening encouragement,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Reclaiming Our Pilgrim Identity

I did not set out to live at the same address for 25 years, and, technically, I suppose my deep roots in this country hill may disqualify me from reviewing a book entitled Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity.  At the outset, I actually thought I had been born to wander, having purchased my first one way plane ticket at age 17 with no intention of ever returning to Maine.

Life does have a way of handing us gifts we didn’t expect, and for me, the gift has been rootedness. For the past 25 years, the only time I’ve changed mail boxes is when the snow plow has wiped ours out and sent it flying into the ditch. However, having read Michelle Van Loon’s thoughts on the pilgrim life, I have found that there are those who “pilgrim in place.” (135) This is good news to me, because I know from experience that it is possible to choose to stay in one church for two decades because staying put is more difficult than cutting and running. I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.

Looking for Me in All the Wrong Places

Even when staying put, the pilgrim at heart acknowledges that the Christian life is one of exile. Post-Eden, humanity has lived uprooted. The people of Israel in Old Testament times were formed by wandering and displacement. The New Testament church grew because the hot breath of persecution blew them like milkweed over the field of the world. Contrary by nature, Christians have become experts at finding ways to live opposed to this part of our history, either by leaning into safer narratives and getting stuck or by turning the pilgrimage into a self-centered pleasure jaunt.

Van Loon describes a tourist mentality as a “slogan-based approach to faith.” (39) When we fold aspects of the American Dream in with a pinch of entitlement and a dab of self-focused ambition, we have dropped our pilgrim’s staff and re-defined the following life.

The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape described the safest path to hell as a gradual one with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings,” and perhaps this is also the best description of how easy it is to fall into the life of the “Settler” —  without even realizing it. While we crave contentment and were created with a longing to live in safety and security, the Apostle Paul describes a form of contentment alien to most of us in 2018 with our desires continually spurred on by affluence and Amazon Prime. This godly contentment says “enough”  regarding material things, while also keeping the believer in a state of discontentment that will not be assuaged on this planet.

“Godly contentment makes pilgrims out of us.”  (55)

The pilgrim life is lived in moment-by-moment obedience, praying like breathing, and assiduously avoiding the diversions offered by formulaic living. This is best done in community, but with the caveat that “formulas may work in math class, but real life in a rebel world is rarely that simple.” (152)

From the moment of new birth, the believer is drawn into the wandering life that is imprinted upon our spiritual DNA. As we follow the invitation to come and be loved by the God who promises to meet us at every point until the end of our following road, we find that the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person, and can be captured by this question:  “Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?” (26)


Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

One more thought:  Author Michelle Van Loon has teamed up with Amanda Cleary Eastep to curate a lovely gathering place called The Perennial Gen. In a community of Christian women and men in the second half of life, they tackle issues pertinent to midlife via the wise, curious voices of thoughtful Christian writers in their second adulthood. If this sounds like you, be sure to hop on over for an encouraging read.

Thanks for reading, and may you find yourself wandering in all the best ways,

Mailbox photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

The insistent tone of my cell phone’s timer carried through floorboards to our basement schoolroom–another call to prayer unanswered.

I sighed, turned the page, and continued with my sixth-grader in a lesson on fractions.

I had been reading about the historical practice of praying the hours, setting aside intentional moments throughout the day at specific times to stop everything and pray.

Believers long ago listened to the sounding of bells to remind them to pray.

My solution?

Setting a cell phone timer.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a more intentional prayer life..

Why, then, did my timer always seem to sound when I was in the middle of an un-interruptible task?

  • Dinner preparation on a ball game night.
  • A fervent untangling of numerators and denominators.
  • An intense disciplinary moment.

The reminder was impractical for that season, but it was an important step on my journey toward a more mindful use of my minutes in building my relationship with God.

I began to realize that regular prayer, immersion in the Words of Scripture, meditating on its truth, and the constant recognition that God is part of the entire day are not unattainable goals set aside for “advanced” Christians.

These practices can be woven into ordinary moments of our daily lives, helping us build a meaningful relationship with God.

Here are five things I’ve learned on my own journey of inviting holiness into my everyday habits; I hope these simple strategies will encourage your faith and help you to grow.

Holiness is Breathing our Prayers

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. – Isaiah 30:18

Isaiah 30:18 portrays God’s longing for communion with His children, although not from any lack on His part. Purely out of grace, He “waits on high” to have compassion on us, to lavish us with His unwavering attention.

Normal conversation involves a comfortable back and forth between two people, and talking with God is no different.

But we must be willing to start the conversation!

Hanging laundry on the clothesline, waiting in the parking lot for my kids, standing at the kitchen sink – all of these moments are an opportunity for prayer.

Just as the next breath that keeps me alive requires a release of the air in my lungs, prayer, like breathing, requires a release.

Focused attention on God through moments of prayer helps release us from our position at the center of the universe.

It reminds me who is in control, and how much I need to commune with my Savior.

Holiness is Taking Small Daily Doses of Truth

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” – Psalm 119:18

When the psalmist prayed for focused attention and a receptive heart, he was not preparing for a legalistic, mechanical quiet time.

He was coming to the Bible in recognition of his need and reaching out to the Great Physician for a prescription to fill that emptiness.

Scripture is our daily dose of Truth.

When I fail to consult with biblical wisdom, my judgment and emotions inevitably go off the rails.

I’ve learned that a small daily dose of God’s Word, read with focused attention, is better than a huge gulp, quickly forgotten.

I’ve learned that a small daily dose of God’s Word, read with focused attention, is better than a huge gulp, quickly forgotten.CLICK TO TWEET

When my brain is especially tired, I read aloud, allowing the truth to reach my ears and to linger on my tongue.

Holiness is Viewing Everything As a Gift

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – I Thessalonians 5:18

We are immersed in a culture that encourages us to inflate our wants until they take on the dimensions of a need.

Reading about the Church fathers and their vows of poverty and humility challenges my sense of entitlement to convenience and comfort.

Viewing my snug and secure surroundings, I know in my heart that everything is a gift from God.

Lingering on this truth changes the way I see everything:

The turkey in my freezer is best used to serve the missionary family with three kids who are visiting in my church and need a place to relax and enjoy Sunday dinner.

The hour on Tuesday morning when I’d usually be “accomplishing something” becomes a gift, offered to a friend who needs a listening ear.

The heartbreaking loss that catches me off guard is also a gift that God uses to break me open to dazzling grace in the midst of disappointment.

Holiness is Learning to Seize the Quiet

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” – Psalm 131:2

The practice of Lectio Divina dates back to the 5th century as one of the primary ways for Christians to meditate on Scripture.

It begins with reading (Lectio in Latin) followed by silence (Silencio) and reflection (Meditatio).

Looking for tiny pockets of quiet in my day reminds me that the listening life has a place even in my noisy world.

Looking for tiny pockets of quiet in my day reminds me that the listening life has a place even in my noisy world.CLICK TO TWEET

Phone calls, emails, schedules, and the endless chatter inside my own skull are all noise.

Silence interrupts the noise for a brief time of focus on eternal truth.

One of the best times I’ve learned to practice this is right after I turn out the lamp on my nightstand.

Closing my eyes, I begin to review the day, consciously rehearsing the fact of God’s presence within each event and saying “thank you” when I become aware of a gift of His grace.

Then, if I’m still awake, I practice handing over the details of the next day to the God who listens.

Holiness is Ensuring God Is Glorified in Everything

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10

When my crew gathers around the dining room table for tacos and birthday cake, the chaos does not lend itself to monastic style contemplation of the goodness of God—and yet, God is there, too.

In his book “Life Together”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer also reminded his readers that “without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer, work is not work.”

Our times of prayer remind us that life is not simply about work, while our work reminds us that life is not simply about prayer.

Our times of prayer remind us that life is not simply about work, while our work reminds us that life is not simply about prayer.CLICK TO TWEET

To our great surprise, we see that God who waits on high to have compassion on us and longs to be gracious to us. He made our bodies and our spirits with a need for all these things.

Thus, when I honor my body by getting sufficient rest and by planning healthful menus for my family, God is there.

When I walk the dog and give thanks for the vast blue sky and the bracing wind in my face, God is there.

When I am ironing the collar of a shirt and folding my son’s jeans still warm from the dryer, God is there.

By turning our attention purposefully toward God in the midst of our ordinary days, we demolish the wall between sacred and secular.

By turning our attention purposefully toward God in the midst of our ordinary days, we demolish the wall between sacred and secular.CLICK TO TWEET

What Does Holiness Look Like for You?

In the framework of a living and vibrant relationship, spiritual disciplines are not impersonal.

You can be an active participant in your own spiritual formation and follow hard after Jesus while firmly embedded in 21st-century life.

Consider the following:

  • How would your prayer life be changed if you began to view it as a breathing-out of words to the One who knows you fully and loves you extravagantly?
  • What if your Bible reading were transformed from a dreary discipline to a daily infusion of Truth, the completion of a circle of communication that your spiritual life depends upon?
  • Can you envision your heart set free to receive whatever comes to you each day as a gift, with peace and the firm conviction that God is the Giver?

Show up every day in the quiet of God’s unwavering attention and remember and rejoice that God is present.

He longs to meet you in the ordinary moments of your life.

 

This post first appeared at Living By Design.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

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