So I was reading some Meister Eckhart yesterday morning. If you’re not familiar with him, he lived 1260-1328, and was a German theologian, philosopher, professor, and mystic. He became professor of theology at the University of Paris and took a leading pastoral and organizational role in the Dominican Order. I came across a section of a sermon that has been kind of haunting me, in a holy way. A Holy Spirit haunting, if you will. Here’s the section from his sermon entitled Nothing Above The Soul with Proverbs 31:27 as the text:
“I have said often that those who fast much, and watch much and do great things, but fail to correct their faults or improve their ways–which alone is true progress–deceive themselves and are the devil’s laughingstock. A man once had a hedgehog by which he got rich. He lived by the sea. When the hedgehog sensed a change of wind, he tapped his hide and turned his back to that direction. Then the man went to the sea and said to them [i.e., the people who lived there]: ‘What will you give me to show you how the wind is going to turn?’ And he sold them [the means of foretelling changes of] wind and got rich on it. Thus too a person may grow rich in virtue by discovering the point at which he is weakest and correcting it, and by turning his chief care to overcoming his weakness.”
I’ve heard it said that if you just eliminate one bad habit (be it a physical one or a habit of thought) per year, then you are growing at a very fine rate. The same goes for obtaining a good habit every year. I do believe we are designed to grow, to mature as human beings throughout our short time here. To stagnate and flounder in the same old habits does not ring of abundant life.
I hope this gives you something meaningful to ponder as it did for me!
What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of you’re minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. ~Romans 12:2 [NTE]
“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.”
This quote by Dallas Willard is one of my favorites of all time.
We can choose what we dwell on in our thought life. God would not have told us to “set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” if it were not possible to do so. No mere human has the authority to dictate what I should think about. No entity of this world has the God-given right to command my direction of thoughts, let alone my allegiance. Rather, we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and lean not on our own understanding. We must in all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6). He will direct your neural pathways. He has every right and every good intention to do this.
Now God may use people, organizations, or even the news media, to bring your awareness to an issue, or to where He would like you to direct your thought, but just because something is making headlines does not automatically make it worthy of my attention.
Oh it is the magician’s trick, so often employed by the evil one, to draw your focus to one hand while the other is doing what he doesn’t want you to see.
I am convinced that the devil’s number one strategy is to keep us away from constant conversation and contemplation with God. For in spiritual warfare, just as in physical warfare, your enemy will always try to cut off your supply lines so that you run out of energy and can no longer put up a fight.
The thing is, our enemy can’t cut off our supply line–only distract us from connecting to it. You always have a choice of where to direct your thoughts and energy. Even if something is in your face everyday, you can still pray, though it may not be as easy as, say, when you’re sitting by a beautiful lake all alone.
“Conformity to this age is to be wrapped up in the things that are temporal, to have all our thought oriented to that which is seen and temporal…If all our calculations, plans, ambitions are determined by what falls within life here, then we are children of this age.” says commentator John Murray on our verse Romans 12:2.
It can sometimes feel like that lonely daffodil up there–everyone around you might be doom and gloom, worrying constantly about getting sick or who’s in office, and you just try to continue to shine. And that gets lonely, but don’t give in and succumb to directing your precious focus where others try to steer you just because you think you should. Guard your immensely valuable attention that it is not given away, at great cost, to the magicians always selling something. Keep your focus where God would have it be–on Him. Seek God first, and He will direct your thoughts, which may or may not be what everybody else is screaming about.
As three of you know, I’m a huge Rambo fan. I really love what Sylvester Stallone did with the fourth installment in 2008. He researched all over the world for the greatest atrocities with the least amount of media coverage. This he found to be the genocide in Burma, or what is now called Myanmar. And he made his movie in order to bring awareness to that devastation. He did not simply go with what was most popular, or what everyone was talking about. He shed light on what was mostly hidden.
Verse 2 may be translated: “Do not let yourselves be shaped by what everyone else does, but rather let yourselves be transformed by a whole new way of thinking, so you can discern what conforms to God’s will, namely what is good, and pleasing, and perfect.” ~Paul Achtemeier
Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. ~Ephesians 5:18
I remember reading the above comic strip when I was about ten years old. Someone had bought several of the Garfield books for me, and this one in particular has always remained memorable for some reason. Perhaps it’s the vivid spiritual lesson that has drawn my mind back to this little strip again and again.
The more we fill ourselves with God, the less we want of anything else.
It’s a very wise diet.
I find that when my priority is to first ingest Christ, that there is automatically significantly less room for other much less meaningful thoughts and activities. Not only less room, but less desire. For example, this past week I’ve made a commitment to begin each day with 45 minutes of silent waiting upon, and listening to, God. I cannot adequately convey just how peacefully tone-setting this one simple non-negotiable practice has been for me. Another aspect of my “5 lbs. of carrots” is making sure to pray thoughtfully and specifically every day for about a dozen people close to me. Also writing down the three things I’m most thankful for. Making sure I eat these carrots first, or at least as soon as possible, I find that my perspective is shaped in a more appreciative, open, and clear-headed manner.
I really like how Matthew McConaughey said it in a podcast recently about the first thing you do in the morning:
“Check in with yourself before you check in with the world.”
Upon waking, check in with Jesus, with yourself, eat your 5 lbs. of carrots, whatever that is for you, and go to bed (hopefully after going over your day with God) giving so little room for anxious thoughts, cares of this life, and the worries of 2020, that you drift off quickly in heavenly peace.
Now I must confess that I’m not exactly sure of the spiritual significance of that third frame up there, other than maybe that’s how we treat God or holy messengers of divine wisdom.
A couple of those “Tions” to shun, which I believe our adversary employs quite vigorously to throw us of course, are: classifications and speculations.
Today, we’ll discuss classifications. Or we might say categorizing. We can easily become entrenched in categorizing people, can’t we? When you take some time to critically think about this though, it’s rather ridiculous. We human beings are exquisitely complex creations. It hit me a couple of months ago how no one can possibly know 98.7% of the thoughts that go through my mind in the course of a single day, nor would you likely want to as they are so darn weird and awkward many of them. And it’s simply impossible to know any significant percentage of the memories and experiences I’ve accumulated in my forty-seven years and eight months.
I’ve always thought our culture conditions us to be judgmental and categorizing. With social media more than ever. Hey, here’s one sentence about one thing this person did/said, now start judging their entire life, GO! And we’re led to believe we can do this because we classify and categorize people so much that it then seems easy to know everything we need to know about them, right? I mean, we see somebody driving an old pickup truck with one bumper sticker and suddenly think we know half their life story.
Now there’s something in the meditation world called “Beginner’s Mind”. Have you heard of this? It’s quite lovely. It’s the idea of purposefully encountering everything and everyone you meet each day as if for the first time, because in reality, you are. For example, I saw my friend Jon on Labor Day. A week and a half later he stopped by my house. He was not the same person he was on Labor Day because he had experiences, learning, growth, and change since then. So I truly was encountering him as he was on that day for the very first time.
It is so good to be lovingly curious about who the person is in front of you right now. Think of the great gift this kind of presence can be for someone. Bringing no judgement of their past and no prediction for their future with you, only loving attentiveness to who they are right now this moment. This is most difficult of course with those closest to you, who you’ve known the longest, especially family. This is why we pray–for help doing that which we cannot do on our own. It also takes training, typically in the form of meditative prayer, which I believe God is more than happy to honor. I believe Jesus loves to heal and reverse our subconscious sinful tendencies, but first asks that we grant Him access.
One other thought my friend Jon brought up at the end of our walk: “What if I treated myself this way??”
One of the greatest gifts we can give or receive as human beings is listening without judgment.
“I can’t do anything on my own authority,” Jesus went on. “I judge on the basis of what I hear. And my judgment is just, because I’m not trying to carry out my own wishes, but the wishes of the one who sent me.” ~John 5:30 [KNT]
…there was no place for them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7
Looking for a place for the Son of God to be birthed. Would you believe there were no rooms available? Joseph and Mary don’t yell at anyone, or force their way in. They simply move on to wherever there was room for them.
And this is still how it is for Jesus today. It’s been said that we can have as much of His Spirit as we want or will allow. It depends on how much space we make available. Jesus typically doesn’t barge in and start moving your stuff out of the way. He politely asks and waits. Do we make space for Him? A mind filled with worry or what’s next or what people think leaves no room for the Son of God to come in, let alone have a place to sit and actually stay a while. He doesn’t yell, or force His way in. He simply lodges where He’s welcomed, where there is a vacancy.
The room we allow for the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to tap into the spiritual power and energy of Jesus, thus the “Divine Taproom”. Without divine power, this world will crush you. Do you have any vacancies? Or are all your rooms booked up with human ideas and influences? It is imperative, and extremely challenging today, to make space for Jesus to fill us with His mind, with Himself. To do this, we must have times of evacuation. Some people call this a “brain dump”. The only way I have found to do this is to be still and silent, to let all thoughts settle and drift away, then simply listen to what the Lord may want to say to me or show me. This can be done with Scripture of course (lectio divina), a prayer word (centering prayer), while taking a walk, staring at a tree, or just sitting in a silent room. It’s difficult to overstate the peace, refreshment, guidance, and energy I gain from this oh so simple practice that anyone can do. To clear out a space for Jesus to come in and sit and talk–there’s nothing better, for there is no better house guest.
“…you are troubled and concerned about many things.”~Luke 10:41
One of the very basic lies of the world is this:
You should really care about, and give lots of energy to, all these things that don’t have much, if any, relevance with your actual day to day life.
Now of course the lie isn’t packaged like that–all telegraphed and easy to sidestep, but that is the core of what’s going on.
We live in an age and culture of readily available information overload to a degree which we probably cannot even fathom. With this sensory assault tends to come a nonsensical pressure to care about more than we could ever have the capacity for in twenty lifetimes, let alone this one that we’re living now.
There’s only a relatively small amount of causes I can genuinely care about, indeed only a few I should care for, yea perhaps just one–according to Jesus–that I need to tend to, for it will take care of all the others.
When someone tells me, “Hey, three people were shot in Chicago!”, you know what the first thought I have is?
I need to go to Kroger today.
Because that’s my life and where I actually live. It’s not that I don’t care about the people up in Illinois, it’s just that I have quite a limited capacity, and most all of it, relationally speaking , is taken up already.
Funny, I was thinking through all of this at the laundromat about a week ago (story for another day), and I glance down at the newspaper beside me to see this headline: INDIANA BATS NEED SUMMER SAFE SPOT with the subheading of: GROWTH AROUND AIRPORT REDUCES ROOSTING SITES. Now, again, it’s not that I don’t care at all about the bats God made, but it just made me chuckle and wonder where I could possibly find the space to devote care to Indiana bats’ roosting sites.
For me, the priority every day is time with God, sitting at Jesus’s feet, listening to His Spirit. Then, I needs must work to be a decent husband, then a present father while our daughters are still in our home. After that, there’s a couple people we help who can’t help themselves. Also, a good practice I have found, is to pray for five or six of my closest people everyday, as well as a rotation of a few others. And of course there’s those many necessities like going to Kroger and doing laundry…All that to say, there’s not really quality space left over to devote to the plethora of things the world would have me devote myself to. My neurological reall estate is way too valuable to allow the world to manage it for me.
My encouragement to you today is to not allow the world to dictate what you devote your energy, especially your precious thought life, to. Always give God that wonderful privilege. If you listen, our Lord will direct your path, and it will always be in the way of righteousness.
Several Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of what the woman said in evidence about him: “He told me everything I did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them. And he stayed there two days.
Many more believed because of what he said.
“We believe, too,” they said to the woman, “but it’s no longer because of what you told us. We’ve heard him ourselves! We know that he really is the one! He’s the Savior of the world!”
This is the “aftermath” of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well. I love this. There’s a lot going on here.
It is one thing to believe. A very, very important thing that we do indeed believe. Yet it must be followed up with going directly to Jesus.
the Samaritans came to him
Many people believe in Jesus, but rarely if ever go to him with reckless intention.
To not only go, but to stay. To ask Jesus to hang out.
they asked him to stay with them
Stay. Abide. Remain. This Greek word (meno) has the connotation to lodge. To stay overnight. To shack up for a bit. To continue, dwell, endure, be present. To stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy. Stay in one’s company.
There’s no sense of hurry here. No rush. No checklist mentality. It’s more like what Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs sang long ago: “STAY! Just a little bit longer.”
And he stayed there two days.
I bet that was an incredible two days.
Because there’s something powerful about hearing of God’s work through someone’s story, but it’s a whole other deeper level when you hear directly from God yourself, amen?
We’ve heard him ourselves!
And this is what can so beautifully happen in the distraction-free, unobstructed time given unhurriedly to simply abiding in Christ for a while. When you take your overnight bag and stay, as opposed to doing a drive-by wave.
I believe Jesus loves it when we do this, and rewards us a hundredfold in it. And I have come to believe recently that the enemy’s number one goal, for us who believe, is to do whatever it takes to keep us from constant communion with our Father. Disrupt that, and you disrupt our supply line for spiritual Life.
One way I describe this “meno” is to have some amount of time everyday in which the only thing on your mind is God. This could be 4 minutes, or 40. Think about it though, just 4 minutes straight of nothing within your attention but God alone—that’s no small thing. So much competes for our awareness, that a relatively small amount of intensive focus can go a very long way throughout the day.
Remember, Christianity is not merely a topic to be discussed, but a Life to be experienced and lived.
I have found that if I confess every single frustration and each judgmental thought, and give them over to Jesus in real time—as in, immediately when they arise—no matter how many I may have per hour, that my day is about two hundred times more peaceful than if I just let those frustrations and judgments stew inside of me like a toxin marinating in my bloodstream.