Friday, December 28, 2012

Practicing the Presence of God

 
 


Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” One morning as I was reading Psalm 32 and meditating on this verse, I felt the Lord’s prodding – be God-oriented and direction-oriented instead of being merely activity-oriented and result-oriented. What does it mean to be God-oriented? Perhaps, it is simply avoiding being overwhelmed by our to-do list and daily pace of life so that we do not overlook encountering God in the minutes of our daily life.
 
In ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, Brother Lawrence said, “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence which I keep myself by a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God. This often causes me joys and raptures inwardly.” He desired a lifestyle where he intentionally and consciously cultivated a deeper awareness of God’s activity in his lives. This is a good desire and I have asked the Lord to help us live this spiritual discipline out in 2013.
 
It involves habitually building in small pauses and breaks in our daily routines to turn and re-tune out hearts back to God. Before we pick up the phone, we breathe a prayer to the Lord to help us listen. As concerns pop up, we place those concerns in God’s hands before moving on to handle them. As we fulfil our daily tasks and responsibilities, we talk it over with God and dedicate each task to Him before we begin and after we complete it. When interruptions happen, we ask Jesus to help us be like him, who always had time for people who questioned and interrupted him. We set our mobile devices to alert us several times throughout the day so that we intentionally pay attention to God and live in his presence. It can just be for five minutes reading a short Psalm, praying or even simply revelling in his goodness. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can add more practices to these suggestions.
 
Ultimately, the desire to develop this awareness of Christ’s presence is to see God grow spiritual fruit in our lives. The fruit could be keeping company with Jesus through the day, receiving each daily moment as a God-given moment. It could be learning a new lifestyle of letting go of our need to control and compete and growing in awareness of our constant need of God. We learn to rest in his presence so that we see him even in those who needlessly sap our energy, irritate and anger us. We will reap the promise of Ps 32:8; that he will instruct us on the direction we ought to go as we orient our lives with Christ at the center. I am very sure God will grow even more fruit other than these as we continue to intentionally set time aside regular time for him daily.
 
However, it is important that we remember that the spiritual discipline is about personal relationship. It is not just an activity embedded with ritual and strategy. It arises out of a love for God that desires to live in a deeper union with Christ. Ultimately, it is about our life being a love letter to Christ, an expression that we love him and desire to remain wired to him alone throughout the day.
 
May our Lord Jesus be your great reward in 2013 as you remain in him and may you see the fruit of his tender care as you walk with him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tragedy at Newtown

 
 
The tragedy that shook Newtown, Connecticut, and indeed the entire nation, defies analysis. What must have gone on in the mind of this young man for him to walk into a school of little children and wreak such devastating carnage numbs the soul. At the same time this was happening, I was under the surgeon’s blade for minor surgery. When I left the recovery room and returned home, among the first pieces of news on my phone was the news of this mass killing. Something within me hoped that I was still not clear-headed, but I knew deep inside that I was reading an unfolding story of horror and tragedy. What does one say? What is even appropriate without violating somebody’s sacred space and their right to scream in protest?

I am a father and a grandfather. I simply cannot fathom the unbearable weight within a parent’s or grandparent’s heart at such a personal loss. It has often been said that the loss of a child is the heaviest loss to bear. I have no doubt that those parents and grandparents must wonder if this is real or simply a terrifying nightmare. My heart and my prayers are for them and, indeed, for the family of the assassin. How his father will navigate through this will be a lifelong journey.
 
When a mass-killer like this ends by taking his own life, there is an even deeper sense of loss. Everyone wants to know, “Why?” Not that the answer would soften the blow but it would at least give some clue, some release to speak, to hear, to try to work through. But all we are left with is twenty-eight funerals and lifelong grief. To all of those who have suffered such loss, may the Lord carry you in His strength and bear you in your grief. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.
 
My own attempt at saying something here is feeble but carries a hope that somebody listening will make this world a better place. My heart goes back to Angola Prison in Baton Rouge where I met such people whose savagery took them to that destination. It was interesting to see a Bible in every cell and to hear many talk of how it had become their only means of life and hope. Someone with me said, “If we had more Bibles in our schools maybe we would need less of them here.” To the skeptic and the despiser of belief in God, I know what they will respond. I am quite convinced that the one who argues against this ends up playing God and is ultimately unable to defend any absolutes. Hate is the opposite of love and while one breathes death, the other breathes life. That is what we need to be addressing here. The seeds of hate sooner or later bear fruit in murder and destruction. Killers are not born in a moment. Deep beneath brews thinking and the animus that in a moment is uncorked. We are living in a society that nurtures hate on many sides with the result that lawlessness triumphs.

Even in ideal settings, killing can take place. Murder began in the first family when a brother could not stand the success of his sibling. The entire history of the Middle East–five millennia–is a tale of two brothers. Centuries of killing has not settled the score. Maybe in Adam Lanza’s case we will find a deep psychological reason behind what he did. But that does not diminish the reality that there lurks many a killer whose moment will come and the nation will be brought to tears again. We can almost be certain of that. Yes, we can discuss all the symptomatic issues—security, gun control, early detection signs, and so on. These are all worthy of discussion. But it’s always easier to deal with the symptoms rather than with the cause.

I wish to share what I think we must address or we head down the slope to a precipitous edge of brutality. The fiscal cliff is tame by comparison to the moral devastation ahead if we do not recognize the malady for what it is. Hate is the precursor to murder. Jesus made that very clear. Playing God is the dangerous second step where we feel we are the ultimate judge of all things and that we have the right to level the score.

Here, I would like to address our political leaders and media elite: You may personally have the moral strength to restrict your ideas to mere words but many who listen to you do not. To take the most sacred privilege of democracy and transform it into the language of aggression plays right into the hands of hate-mongers. This is not the language of a civil society or of wise leadership. It is not the ethos of a culture of co-existence. It is not the verbal coinage with which we can spend our way into the future. Our political rhetoric is fraught with division, hate, blame, and verbal murder. Our young are listening. Remember that what you win them with is what you win them to.

As for the entertainment world, what does one even say at a time like this? Calling for gun control and then entertaining the masses with bloodshed is only shifting the locus from law to entertainment. Do our entertainers ever pause to ask what debased values emerge from their stories? The death of decency is audible and visible in what passes as movie entertainment and political speech. This is the same culture that wishes to take away Nativity scenes and Christmas carols from our children. God is evicted from our culture and then He is blamed for our carnages. America is lost on the high seas of time, without chart or compass. The storms that await us will sink this nation beyond recognition if we do not awaken to the rapid repudiation of the values that shaped this nation. The handwriting is on the wall. Freedom is not just destroyed by its retraction. It is destroyed even more painfully by its abuse.

There is one more thing. It is so obvious but is seldom ever addressed. All these recent mass murders have been done by men. Many of them young men, yes, even mere boys. Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech, now Newtown. Is there something within our culture that doesn’t know how to raise strength with dignity and respect? Is this how boys are meant to be? From bloodletting in hockey games while thousands cheer to savagery in school shootings while thousands weep, we must ask ourselves what has gone wrong with us men? Where are the role models in the home? Is knocking somebody down the only test left for strength? Is there no demonstration now of kindness, gentleness, courtesy, and respect for our fellow human beings? One young man on death row in Angola Prison told me that he started his carnage as a teenager. Now in his thirties with the end of the road in sight, he reached his hand out to me and asked me to pray with him. Life was lost at the altar of power and strength.

The Bible only speaks of one remedy for this: the transformation of the heart by making Christ the center. Those who mock the simplicity of the remedy have made evil more complex and unexplainable. Every heart has the potential for murder. Every heart needs a redeemer. That is the message of Christmas. The world took that child and crucified Him. But by his triumph over death He brings life to our dead souls and begins the transformation within. Unto us a child is born and He shall save us from our sins.

Before the first murder was committed, the Lord said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” To gain mastery over sin there is only one way. Just as Victoria Soto put herself in the way so that the children in her class might live, Jesus Christ put himself in the way that we all might live. That is the beginning of the cure for us as individuals and as a nation. All the laws in the world will never change the heart. Only God is big enough for that.

By Ravi Zacharias