Thoughts from an Alum
Annie graduated in May, 2017, and is now an apprentice with Paradosi Ballet Company in Tacoma, WA
I like being busy. Summer break is very hard for me. I enjoy feeling productive, like I am giving out, like I am achieving something. But I have recently realized that this desire to be busy goes beyond a desire to achieve. I like to be busy so that I do not have to be still. I have also recently realized that I combined my Western perspective on the value of productivity with my theology and then acted like God was honored by this hurry. Spoiler alert: He’s not. In the fall, the Lord got my attention on this area of my life and absolutely broke me with His perspective on what I was doing. I was striving. Thankfully, my morning quiet time has been an essential part of my routine for years now, and the Lord is sweet to call me on the carpet in the space of my own heart before I am successful in ruining my life in the name of ministry. I have been learning that He calls us to not just live, but to live abundantly, and an essential part of this abundance is in waiting on Him. Resting in Him. Meditating on His heart, as revealed in His Word.
Ironically, the Lord got my attention on my skewed perspective of what He wanted from me through many periods of waiting on Him. It is not that I don’t often seek Him through His word, but there is a difference between reading scripture and reading scripture and waiting to hear from Him. I often think about Psalm 62:5, “Let all that I am…” work for the Lord? Strive in his presence? Do good works? No. “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him,” (ESV). Every time I read this, I feel like I’m hurtling through the first half of the sentence, only to be stopped short at the end, with words much deeper than I could have imagined. What does it mean to wait quietly with your whole being? And why is David so obsessed with it? Why does Jesus insist on it? Perhaps it is because our Creator, the one who designed us for relationship with Him, knows exactly what we need to truly live. Meditation on God’s word is not meant to be something we check off our to do list to prove our devotion; God’s instruction to meditate on His word is evidence of His heart for us, His knowledge of our needs, and His desire to change us from the inside out.
I was listening to a sermon the other day, and the speaker mentioned that whether we like it or not, our spirits are continually being transformed towards something – either we are being formed to the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God. There is no middle ground. So how do we ensure that we are continuing to walk in a way that strengthens the ability of the Holy Spirit in us to continue to transform our entire being? Meditation and obedience. I firmly believe that consistent, God-honoring obedience can only come from meditation. We must be fully gripped by who God is, who He has called us to be, and how He sees the people around us before we can boldly act in a way that displays this perspective that is so counter to our current culture. Furthermore, Paul’s teaching on the fruits of the Spirit leaves out something interesting that I think many of us subconsciously insert, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5: 22). What is missing? A command. While earlier, Paul commands us to walk in the Spirit, these attributes that we so often forcefully attempt to produce in ourselves are not listed as commands. They are listed as fruits. The natural production of a life filled with the Spirit. How refreshing. How different. How hopeful.
A tree does not produce fruit by trying to. It produces fruit by being fed with sun and water. Every once in a while, when I realize that I have slipped into my idolization of productivity and find myself tired and burned out, I laugh at the image of a little personified daisy, squinting its “eyes” and clenching its “fists”, attempting to grow by trying harder. This is not the life He has called us to live. Hallelujah. Instead, Jesus came with a radically different message, an easier and yet harder yoke. It is easy because it is the only way. It is easy because now, instead of trying to fill the hole and be righteous of our own strength, we must rest in Him and watch Him change us. However, it is also harder for this very reason. It means we have to give up control. It means we have to seek a God we cannot directly see. It means we must wait and listen even when we do not want to, even when we think we could do a decent job on our own. It means that we have no reason to boast, because we are not the ones who have accomplished this good work in us. By waiting and meditating on His word, we recognize our own inability to create lasting change in ourselves of our own strength, which is difficult for our prideful humanity. This wait, however, creates in us a gentle spirit. One that is not troubled by changing circumstances, one that does not seek its own way, sing its own praises, or fight its own battles.
I took a break before continuing, and just had a conversation over the phone with someone that is crippled with anxiety, checked my Facebook and saw at least 3 posts about what it means to live with anxiety and depression, and unintentionally eavesdropped on the conversation at the table next to me (it is very close and my headphones are not very good, in my defense), in which the topic of conversation was, you guessed it, anxiety. It seems this is the human condition. When a problem is this invasive and common, it must be assumed that we are doing something wrong. When I am doing something wrong, I look to the only example I have of someone who did everything right - Jesus, “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray,” (Luke 5:15-16), “In these days he (Jesus) went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God,” (Luke 6:12). Jesus Himself did not speak from His own authority, but in some glorious mystery He set aside time to seek the words of His Father, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak,” (John 12:49). This discipline created in Jesus something so different that people were magnetically drawn to him. In perhaps one of my favorite accounts from the gospels, Jesus displays remarkable peace, power, and a little bit of sass, all in one miracle,
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41, emphasis added)
Not only could he sleep so soundly on that small boat in the middle of the storm, He did not even get up from where he was sitting until after the disciples were out of their mind, yelling at their master to do something. The inclusion of the description, “He got up,” in Mark’s succinct account of the life of Jesus is not superfluous. Jesus lives a hard, dangerous life, and He is not always happy or calm, but He never loses sight of His Father’s will and authority. I am confident that the time He spends alone with His Father in dedicated prayer, not in a one-way monologue, but in a patient dialogue, is crucial to His peace.
Psalm 119 is a beautiful acrostic expounding on the gift we have been given in His word, and it contains sentiments that have become more beautiful to me as I discover the truth of them, “I lie in the dust; revive me by your word!” (Psalm 119:25) I love David’s drama, but even more the acknowledgement that God’s word brings life to our souls when we have our backs to the floor. “Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds. I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions,” (v. 28-29). The phrase “keep me from lying to myself” speaks to another important role that meditation plays in the life of a believer. We must meditate on God’s character, what He has done in our lives, and what He has said to be true. Remembrance is a key part of resisting temptation and keeping our head above the waves. When Satan first tempted Eve, he distorted God’s word to cause her to doubt God’s character and His goodness toward her. There is so much in the account of the garden that if we look closely, will reveal a pattern that repeats every time the Enemy comes for the believer. “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV) NO! He did not! And Satan knows this. But this is just step one of Satan’s plan. Eve could have told Satan what God had actually said and taken off running through the abundance of trees God had created for them to eat from. But she instead continues the deception, “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die,” (Genesis 3:2-4) Deception complete. Eve rebuts the first deception but still twists God’s words (adding in “neither shall you touch it”) and the rest is literally history. Satan has not changed his tactics, and if Adam and Eve had the privilege of walking with God in the garden, and yet still managed to be deceived about God’s word and heart for them, how much more important is it for us to meditate on the truth of God’s word. His word to us is more truthful than our own. If believing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and confessing with our mouths that God raised Him from the dead brings life, what does believing and confessing the lies of the Enemy bring? Nothing good, that’s for sure. As often as David meditated on God’s character and His deeds, so must we meditate, in order to guard our hearts against the schemes of the one who wants us dead.
I have seen the effects of this kind of meditation in my own life. In some ways I feel that I am understanding Paul’s ability to “be content in every situation.” I have experienced real joy with my face to my kitchen floor, pouring out my heart to the Lord when I am absolutely at a loss for what to do. In His presence there is fullness of joy. I hypothesize that we as believers can build up peace in a similar way that athletes build muscle: by training. This sounds rather like work, but it is fruitful, blessed work, and it is an essential part of abiding in the vine. Meditation, especially in dry seasons when I feel like God is far away, has created in me an endurance and such trust that regardless of my circumstances, He will come through. This past year has been challenging in ways that I could not have expected, but through the practice of meditation on His word, I have gained perspective that keeps my heart hopeful, even joyful when it should not be. When we focus our hearts on His face instead of the waves, God creates in us a gentle spirit. Godly gentleness should not be confused with weakness; no, gentleness as a result of spiritual transformation means we are gentle towards ourselves and those around us because we have surrendered our plans, worries, and battles up to the only One that can see the whole picture. Meditation on God’s word brings wisdom, rest, peace, steadfast joy, and inevitably obedience. Because there is no way that we can become consumed with God’s character and not respond in faithful worship and obedience to who He is. This is the life of freedom God has prepared for those who trust Him. We have only to walk in it. Hallelujah!