08 Sep

Remembering the Present

(http://i.imgur.com/6Uec1.jpg)

Do you exercise? If so, what do your prefer? Jogging? Lifting weights? Lounging on tree branches? Lots of options!

Do you keep a record of your workouts? My routine includes calisthenics like deep knee bends, push-ups, and planks. But to keep track of sets and reps, I have to write them down. Otherwise, I won’t recall what I’ve accomplished. A log also helps me to review progress (or the lack thereof!).

I record my exercises because of a simple principle: it’s easier to read than it is to remember.

But there’s a potential problem–forgetting to write down my workouts!

Recently I was doing some pull-ups, and I took a breather between sets. During the break, I glanced at my notepad and saw that I hadn’t jotted down the sets I’d done. No problem, I told myself, I’ll repIay them in my mind and then count the total. Except that I had no recollection of what I’d been doing!

Always primed for a spiritual lesson, a thought struck me as clear as a bell while I was reflecting on this situation: I forget things because my mind isn’t in what I’m doing.

Why is that? Well, I like to listen to podcasts during my workouts. I get twice the benefits in the same amount of time: exercise for my body and my soul. I’m trying to follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:16 to “redeem the time.” Who can argue with that?

However, as Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs, observes, “Most of us, when we are praying, think of the pancake on the stove which might burn. While making pancakes, we think how nice it would be to pass our time in prayer. While speaking with one man, we think how useful it would be to pass our time with another. We never do anything well. Only one thing can be done well at a time.”

What’s my real problem: memory or multitasking?

And what’s the solution?

Mindfulness.

Kevin Tupper defines mindfulness as “paying attention . . . noticing what you are doing, feeling and thinking at the time you are actually doing, feeling and thinking it.” Or in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s succinct phrase, it’s “being here, now!”

How do you develop mindfulness?

Surrender yourself to God.

The Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote a book that has been printed with two different titles: Abandonment to Divine Providence and The Sacrament of the Present Moment. They’re two ways of saying the same thing. Holding nothing back from Jesus frees you to focus with Him on what’s right before you.

Here’s how he describes believers who’ve yielded themselves to Christ: “in the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment . . . they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it. The more assiduously do they apply themselves to their little work, so simple, so hidden, so secret, and outwardly contemptible, the more does God embroider and embellish it with brilliant colors” (59).

When you give yourself up to God, His will becomes clear to you.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)

And with God’s guidance, you can appreciate the value of His work in the present moment.

“The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” – Psalm 118:24

“God deals out joy in the present, the now.” – Ecclesiastes 5:20 (MSG)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:18-19

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

Reducing distractions will help your memory because you’ll have less to remember. But doing the right things matters more than mere efficiency.

Ask Jesus what God’s will is for you today and abandon yourself to Him. Then you’ll accomplish something worth remembering.

06 May

Pay Attention!

(http://www.mindful.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/salzberg_starthere.jpg)

“Do as I say, not as I do!”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”

“Yes, but . . .”

I’m pretty good at generating excuses; after all, they’re easier than explanations or apologies! But if I take the time to slow down, ask myself basic questions, talk to the Lord, and listen, I can learn something.

My blog post last week described how years ago I had preached a two-part sermon series on the book of Ruth. Each message lasted more than an hour, so even though the audience seemed interested in the subject, I might have tired them out. A lady pointing to her watch was a clue!

Since then, I’ve learned to pare down my talks. My goal is to serve people, not sap their strength, so I’ve tried to streamline my communication. The positive feedback I’ve gotten indicates that listeners appreciate brevity.

But rules have exceptions. Just this past Sunday, I guest spoke at Shalom Ministries, a missional community supported by Victory International Fellowship. I’d prepared a 30 minute message, but Pastor Tony Vento texted me a few times that I ought to go longer. He wanted me to take as much time as the Holy Spirit required. No predetermined limits!

So I preached for about an hour, maybe a little longer. And I felt torn. On the one hand, I enjoyed the opportunity to encourage the church with God’s Word. But I wondered if I was being hypocritical by going against a personal standard–“Short and sweet!”

The message seemed to fit where Shalom was at spiritually and what the Lord wanted to foster in the church. That’s all good, so maybe I should drop my guideline. Perhaps being concise all the time is unnecessary, too restrictive.

Have you noticed that the ways of the Lord can be difficult to figure out (see Romans 11:33)? You gain insight from His Word one day only to have life challenge it the next. Jesus is unpredictable! When you think you’ve comprehended the mind of Christ, He surprises you. God isn’t erratic; to the contrary, He never changes. He’s just too big for you to contain.

After contemplating my preaching experience, I realized that the Lord was building up my sense of awareness, my capacity to recognize what’s going on within me and around me.

Becoming aware of something doesn’t mean that you let it control you. Rather, mindfulness sets you up to be able to make a good decision about your next step.

My guideline of speaking no more than 30 minutes, although a good principle, didn’t square with Shalom’s circumstances. Disciples of Jesus learn how to align God’s wisdom with the flow of life’s vicissitudes.

It starts with awareness. Pay attention to what’s going on in your heart and in your environment. As God grants discernment to your soul, you’ll grow sensitive to these matters and His Spirit will help you to respond appropriately.

Enjoy the view!