I have welcomed this weekly opportunity to arrange letters into words, words into sentences and sentences into thoughts. I’ve tried to target those thoughts towards the path walked by faith pilgrims. I could have typed about the weather or the latest current events, but I can think of nothing more vital than the journey of our soul Godward. If these paragraphs have nudged your hearts towards courageous faith, persistent love or a deeper hope, then God has been kind to us all. The calendar is screaming at me. There is a deadline to these weekly conversations. So, I will try to squeeze a few more words from my heart to yours.
It is something we all know but rarely talk about. We might as well say it out loud. God is a mystery! He is not like anyone or anything we have ever known. As Isaiah points out – “His ways are not our ways”. It’s not that He is a mystery that can be figured out given enough time and clues. He is beyond us figuring Him out. Since infinity applies to every aspect of Him, He is an infinite mystery. But there is good news. Trying to know God is not like staring into a black hole. He has chosen to show Himself. He is seen in the things He has made, in the Words He speaks, in the actions of His Hand and in the image of His Son and the leading of His Spirit. So we can know Him intimately, personally, up close and very personal. In fact that is His invitation to all of us. As we hold on to that with one hand, we can’t let go of the other truth. He is a mystery.
To get and to receive. These are the two modes of living which sustain us. Both of these paths provide for us, but there is a marked difference between them, In one I am the subject; in the other the object.
“My soul is greatly troubled. But You O Lord - how long?” Ps.6:3
Prayer is hard. While it is within the grasp of a child, it will still stretch, challenge, test and confound our souls. We often attribute the struggle of prayer to some shortfall within us. There may be truth to that. We are inconsistent, apathetic, easily distracted and struggle with sin. If we want to grow in prayer, these are matters to address with His Spirit,. But let me say what is rarely said out loud in Church. Even if the frailty of our souls was replaced with fortified spiritual fibre, prayer would still be hard. Why? Because the greatest difficulty in prayer doesn’t stem from what we do, but from what God does.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people… 1 Tim 2:1
When Paul points to prayer as a first priority, he lists a variety of prayers. As light has a spectrum, so too, prayer has different colours or forms. Prayer can be asking for daily concerns, an expression of thanks or advocating for others in need. There is more than one type of prayer and these are not in competition. It would be hard to argue that one is more spiritual than the other since God has chosen to bless them all! Each mode of praying meets a need within our spiritual life. Different types of prayer may fit our varied place of pilgrimage. Young faith is often a time to focus on God’s provision and protection. We do a lot of asking in prayer and discover early that God is faithful to care for His children. We don't abandon prayer petitions as we mature, but there may be other dimensions of faith that prayer is leading us to explore.
You have said, “Seek My Face.” My heart says to You, “Your Face Lord do I seek.” Ps.27:8
David reveals an intimate conversation with God. God started it with an invitation, “Seek My Face.” The heart of the King heard the whisper of the Lord and it resonated with his deepest longings. David answered with a commitment, “Your Face Lord, I do seek!” It is not presumption to say that God’s grace extends the invitation beyond David. God’s welcome is whispered to every one of us.
My prayer life took a turn for the better about 15 years ago. That doesn’t mean that it became all that it should or could be. Answered prayers did not rain from the sky nor was I unfailing in my commitment to pray. But there was a seismic shift. My perspective about prayer was rattled to rubble. I had to rebuild both my understanding and practice. I had been taught to see prayer as a tool – a means to an end. Prayer was an instrument for change. If there were health problems, financial insecurity, hard choices, frailty of soul or spiritual battles – you prayed to effect improvement. I recall the preacher proclaiming to an amen chorus, “I pray because prayer works!” And of course it does! There are too many Biblical examples, promises and commands to deny the efficacy of prayer. Of course prayer is a tool and weapon for global blessings. But it is more, and in understanding the larger dimension of prayer, my life was transformed.
There's not a Scrooge bone in my body, so don't take this as an attack upon this festive season. I get Christmas goose bumps in early November and love to celebrate the holiday to the max. Still, there's a nagging concern about how we celebrate it. I am increasingly aware that Christmas is too much, too many, too fast, and too harried. We wind up spending money we don't have, to buy things we don't need, to impress people we don't like. As I get older and hopefully wiser, not grumpier, I've concluded that less is more. I like pepper, but too much makes the stew hard to swallow. I'm a fan of Christmas, but more doesn't mean better.
Allow me to reach into the top of the closet and pull down a Christmas memory. It's without tinsel and you won't hear the sound of any carols but it's been a worthy reflection for me. One Christmas, when my children's age fell between the “can't sleep” goosebumps and the teenage morning coma, I assigned them a shopping trip. I stuffed their fists full of cash and pointed them towards the mall. They had one name on their list—mine! So I made sure the currency was more abundant than normal.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon… waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Lu.12:25
Many assume that Advent and Christmas are the same thing - but you know better. Christmas is the story of Christ’s birth. Advent is the story of waiting. When we talk about Christmas, our hearts and minds turn to an angelic choir, a guiding star, a manger and magi - all part of a specific event. Christ is born! But when we talk about Advent, we have to expand our attention to the months, years and centuries of waiting for that event. Christmas proclaims God is with us. Advent whispers that God is coming. It’s easy for us to rush over Advent and celebrate Christmas. We’re prone to jump over the waiting and embrace the good news. But, our rush robs us of the wisdom and riches found in waiting. Advent has something to give.
Every living thing moves. If it’s healthy, that motion will be towards growth. The Christian life is no different. Our maturity is marked by progress in God’s direction. To that degree, we all are Pilgrims.