Friday, October 21, 2016

"I Have Stilled My Soul"

     "Wait in silent expectancy for God alone, O my soul, for my hope is from Him. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. My salvation and my honor rest on God. My mighty rock, my refuge, is God!" (Psalm 62:5-7, TW paraphrase).
     "My heart is not proud, O Yahweh. My eyes aren't prideful. I don't concern myself with lofty matters or try to figure out things that are too complicated for me. Instead, I have stilled and quieted my soul. Like a young and trusting child is my soul within me. Yes, my soul is like a young and trusting child." (Psalm 131:1-2, TW paraphrase).
     These are troubled/troubling times that we are living in, aren't they? It's times like these that make us more aware of the importance of living with inner stillness. It's always important, of course, to live with a "quiet soul," but we become more motivated to find peace and stillness when noisy storms are all around us.
     One of the most important things Papa God has taught me over the past several years is how to "still my soul." My ability to maintain inner stillness has had some major interruptions along the way, as many of you know, but lately, more than ever, Papa has been restoring to me the grace to live in inner stillness (most of the time, at least).
     So how does someone still her/his soul and reach that place of inner stillness? The psalms quoted above not only show us the importance of it but also a substantial part of the process. So how do you do it? I can't take time today to write out everything I have learned, but here are a few thoughts that may help you.
  • Believe that it's possible and extremely valuable to learn to "still one's soul." My journey into the quiet place was launched because of a desperate longing for God's life, love and power to flow through me to others. He surprised me, though, by inviting me first into intimacy with Him instead of bestowing on me the power I was seeking. It was my subsequent hunger for intimacy with Him that moved me to pursue inner stillness because I couldn't hear His voice due to all the internal noise in me! But I did eventually reach a place of consistent inner stillness in the midst of a very busy and highly driven life. The fact that I did so tells me that this is possible for anyone. It is possible for any and every follower of Jesus to learn how to still his/her soul. And the value, of course, is obvious to anyone who longs to hear God's voice and know Him intimately.
  • Remember that it's a journey, not a project. Learning to quiet your inner world doesn't happen overnight. It requires time in at least two ways. First, it takes a long period of time to learn the discipline itself. You don't learn to still your soul in seven easy, 5-minute lessons. Second, it takes lots of time, each time, (especially at first) to get our minds to stop spinning and whirling enough to get quiet. It used to take me far more than an hour to still my soul (quiet my mind).
  • As Psalm 131 clearly indicates, it begins with humility and the perspective that humility brings. The psalmist obviously has no problem acknowledging his smallness, his weakness, his limitations. His approach to God begins with that humble perspective. How does this help us reach inner quietness? It helps, first, by reminding us to surrender things that were never meant to be in our domain or under our control. It helps as well by affirming to God and ourselves that we are dependent on Him. And it helps by reminding us let go of our need to "understand" things that are beyond us or at least currently hidden from us. I think you get my drift here: humility opens the door into the quiet place of the soul.
  • We rest and surrender our way into stillness. This is seen clearly in many of the various translations of Psalm 62 (especially meaning-for-meaning translations). The HCSB, for example, translates Psalm 62:5 "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him." And the NIV is similar: "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him." Both of these translations show us that quieting our souls is more about relaxing our way into stillness rather than fighting our way into it. This is obvious once we "say it out loud," of course, but I am amazed at how many people try to "make themselves be still." Yes, the psalmist says "I have stilled my soul," but he did so by relaxing into an awareness of God as His Abba and by picturing himself as a little child. Stilling one's soul is about making a decision, not making an effort. For me, quieting my soul always involves a decision to relax and surrender and re-surrender various things into God's hands. This surrender is often accompanied with truths from Scripture that speak to the anxiety that is creating or adding to the inner noise, so Scripture also helps us find our way into stillness. (see the next point for more on this).
  • Yes, Scripture helps us find our way into stillness. Another way that Scripture helps me still my soul is that it gives language and power to my desire and decision to enter into God's embrace (where stillness is found). In addition to the psalms quoted above, other passages also help me to picture myself approaching Abba or lifting my life/soul up to Him. Psalm 25:1 often finds its way into my heart and onto my lips as I quiet my soul: "To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. In you I trust, O my God." I am sure you will find your own collection of passages that help you express desire and decision to approach our loving Father with a surrendered heart. 
  • We trust our way into stillness. I think it's important to mention trust specifically, rather than just assume it, because inner stillness for a follower of Jesus is about relationship, not some kind of mind control or new age meditation. I quiet my soul because of my relationship with my totally trustworthy Abba. I quiet my soul in order to hear my Abba's voice, experience His embrace, honor Him with my attention, etc., and it's my confident trust in Him that enables me to surrender my way into that place of stillness. 
     And when stillness comes, my soul delights to find Him there waiting for me in the stillness. And when I find Him there in the stillness, it's beyond wonderful and really indescribable. But let me at least say that it's utterly peaceful and that I am wonderfully aware of Him when I have quieted and stilled my soul. That's as close as I can get right now. But I really can't find words to express how good it is to live with Him in the quiet place, nor do I have words that adequately explain how deep my longing is for everyone to live in inner stillness with Papa! For now, the words I have written today will have to do. I welcome your comments and thoughts. 

Tom, one of Abba's learning-to-be-still children

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Living as The Fourth Soil

     "As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground — these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit." (Luke 8:14-15 HCSB)
     In my last post I promised to write more about believers and money, and that I will do, but not like I first thought because I found a very good book about the subject that is far superior to anything I could quickly throw together. That book is Randy Alcorn's Managing God's Money (under $5.00 on Amazon Kindle), and I highly recommend its careful and thorough exploration of this topic (while also disagreeing with its view of healing!).
     But I do want to write some about this and give my thoughts in a set of statements that may prove useful to you as you think about you and your money. So here goes. Living simply and generously is...
  • A matter of wisdom, not salvation. We are always and only saved by grace through faith (trust), so any discussion about believers and our money is not about our eternal destiny but about how much treasure is waiting for us in Heaven. Living generously is about living from an eternal perspective and storing up treasure in the right location. That's Jesus' point when He speaks of the wisdom of putting our treasure in Heaven (see, for example, Matthew 6:19-21).
  • A matter of maturity and fruit-bearing, not religious obligation. The words of Jesus quoted at the beginning of this article clearly warn us that riches and possessions can hinder the maturity and fruitfulness of His followers. To the extent that we invest our thoughts, time, energy and other resources in this present age, to that extent we remain stunted, immature and limited in Kingdom significance. Anyone who owns anything knows how hard it is to keep that thing from owning you! It is painfully easy to be distracted from Kingdom things by earthly things.
  • A matter of well-placed trust. After his strong warning not to make getting rich a life focus, Paul, in 1 Timothy 6, writes, "Instruct them (the wealthy) not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real." 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (HCSB) italics are mine--TW This passage, along with many others, reminds us that living generously is ultimately a matter of what and whom we trust. Those who deeply trust God and His love find it easy to live generously. 
  • A matter of joyful compassion and compassionate joy, not guilt-ridden obligation. Paul makes it clear in his instructions to the Corinthians about giving that giving is a matter of joyfully expressed love, not compulsion. "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver."  2 Corinthians 9:7 (HCSB) And elsewhere Paul states that even outrageously extravagant giving apart from love has no reward (1 Corinthians 13:3). Note well how this provides a huge clue as to how to learn to live generously: Getting to know God intimately as a loving Father, who freely gives us all things, will allow joy and compassion to lead us to live simply and give extravagantly. And our greatest joy will be to bring joy to our infinitely generous Father! The love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 is first of all God's love for us and then secondly our love for Him and others that flows from our being dearly loved. Living more and more aware of His love will inevitably lead us to joyful, compassionate generosity. On the other hand, even sacrificial giving apart from our experience of His love won't move us even one tiny little bit closer to His heart.
  • A matter of paradigm. Only our holding to an eternal paradigm will move us to relax our grip on this present age, dear ones. If we really believe what the Bible says about treasure in Heaven and the importance of living for eternity, we will find it increasingly easy to give freely and sacrificially with great joy and great peace! Randy Alcorn gives a very clear illustration of this paradigm that I dearly love: "Imagine you’re alive at the end of the Civil War. You’re living in the South, but you’re a Northerner. You plan to move home as soon as the war’s over. While in the South you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now, suppose you know for a fact the North’s going to win the war, and the end is imminent. What will you do with your Confederate money?   If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You should immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency—the only money that will have value once the war’s over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs. Managing God's Money: A Biblical Guide (pp. 86-87).  
  • A matter of perspective. What do I mean by perspective? First, as Americans we tend to view our world only on the basis of what's immediately around us. This tends to blind us to the fact that even lower middle class Americans are enormously wealthy compared to much of the rest of the world and most of the people who have ever lived on this planet. Does that mean we should feel guilty or deny ourselves to the point of lack? Of course not! That would violate the principles stated above as well as missing the heart of our Father. But what it does mean is that we can hear God's voice much more clearly if we remember how truly wealthy we are. Holding to that perspective will lead us to a change of actions. Maybe it would mean buying less than the top of the line so that I can give the difference to someone who can't even see the next day's provision, eh? That kind of generosity is something I am more likely to consider if I remember how the world really looks in terms of wealth. Second, even within the American church we need to shift our perspective so that we notice the single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and therefore choose to joyfully forego buying that new "whatever" in order to help her make it through a rough time. Note that these are just illustrations. All I am asking is that you "notice" and then listen to Papa God. The point is to allow Holy Spirit to shift your perspective to a larger and more accurate view of things regarding "things."
     I could go on, but this is enough for now, I think. See Randy Alcorn's book for more.

      And above all else, my friends, remember that change in our lives is something that God initiates, guides and empowers. When we live from the center of His loving embrace, it's quite easy to hear Him ask us where our trust really lies, hear Him when He highlights the struggling brother or sister here or overseas, hear His reminder to invest in eternity instead of this very temporary season. As one who is still very much learning to live generously and for eternity, I would be truly dismayed if my words led to sorrowful obligation rather than joyful liberation! Live joyfully in His love without fearing or shrinking back from His constant stretching and healing!

From His Embrace,