Hearing God in Reflection

Many years ago, I lived in London with a bunch of friends, working in campus ministry. One of my friends spent a couple hours with Dr. John Stott, an internationally-known pastor with a church that also ministered to university students.

Rodin-The Thinker

Dr. Stott and my friend discussed prayer. Dr. Stott confessed that his best prayer time is spent in thinking with God, reflecting on scripture passages, and meditating on eternal truths.

My friend argued that the best prayer is found in corporate worship, enthusiastic singing, exalting in the presence of God, shouting his praises, singing, dancing, kneeling, and bowing before the throne of God. We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection too intellectual, too shallow, too unenlightened, and perhaps unspiritual. We chuckled.

In fact, I’d say we snickered.

By the end of his life, Time Magazine identified Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the world; he had written over 50 books; and he had helped hundreds of thousands of people —probably millions. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.

Thirty-five years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection—actually practicing it—and it is rich beyond belief. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I was oh-so-very wrong. Spiritual reflection is one of the deepest ways to connect with God that I’ve ever experienced.

I love to brainstorm, whiteboard, and creatively go after innovative ideas. I love doing this with friends when considering anything, so I am trying it with God. And I love it.

Spiritual reflection is connecting me to God, and I’m hearing his voice.

It’s All My Mother’s Fault

Two months ago I got pneumonia. It took me three weeks before I thought to ask for prayer. For twenty-one days I asked not a soul: not my family, friends, church, or wife. I didn’t even ask me to pray for me. Finally, in a burst of spiritual spontaneity, I asked a friend in a PS tacked onto an email, and he asked my church. In less than a week, I was feeling considerably better.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

Coincidence? After all, I had also finally visited my doctor, then taken a course of antibiotics, and I had rested for three and a half weeks. That’s probably all it takes anyway.

Yet it left me convicted about my lack of prayer. I seldom initiate intercession. If someone else asks me to pray for them, I usually do so (often, though, with just a hasty word or two). Rarely do I have the idea to pray for someone else, as in, “Hey, let’s pray for your work situation that’s causing such angst.” The idea of intercession doesn’t cross my mind.

Last Wednesday, my email reader Outlook stopped syncing with my Gmail accounts. When I woke up, I noticed synchronization errors and tried to fix them. I spent the next ninety minutes googling the error message, and changing port numbers and encryption methods. Nothing worked. I restored all my original settings, and the same error message mocked me once more.

I chatted with my wife for a bit (mostly about my morning’s irritations) and headed back to my synchronization headache. On the way, I remembered that I’m trying to remember to pray for help. So I dashed off a quick prayer, God, I’m frustrated; please fix Outlook for me.

When I got to my desk, Outlook and Gmail were syncing great once again. Coincidence? Maybe.

The Self-Love Trap

I had a high school friend who was insecure, socially awkward, and overweight. He envied the skills (and good looks) of classmates; he vilified himself for his frequent social blunders; and he castigated himself for his shortcomings.

Sad student r2

My friend, however, was in the top five percent of the honors class of a magnet, honors high school; he just never reached the top one percent. And he was the second chair trumpet of a nationally recognized orchestra; he just never made first chair.

Despite his many successes, he saw others do better and it discouraged him. My heart went out to him. We became friends, and in the lunchroom I listened as he told story after story of how students, teachers, and his parents misunderstood him.

His discouragement deepened into depression, and he finally sought a counselor. The counselor said his problem was self-hatred, and that he needed to grow his self-love.

I thought he loved himself too much.

And I still think so

What Is The Essence of Worship?

Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.

Contemporary Worship

At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than fiction.) By the end of the evening, every face was aglow with expectation; and two weeks later, everybody needed another face-lift.

I also found their teachings to be less substance and more selling. Instead of nourishing tips on handling angry clients, I received frothy, double-shot lattes of motivational, positive thinking. The talks were inspiring but insubstantial; caffeine without fruit or vegetables. Or protein.

Then I began to wonder how close my worship-music experience paralleled that seminar jingle feeling; maybe a boost to my spirits to face another week, but mostly just a jolt of java.

Bear with me. Worshipful music is wonderful. But I began to examine the nature of worship. I asked myself, “What is the essence of worship? Does worship require music?”

I tried an experiment: I took a six month sabbatical from any form of worship music—personal prayer time, worship CD’s, and even singing during a church service—and I found I love it.

Song-free worship taught me how to worship better.

Hearing God in Conversation

When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes. So we could ride the wind every day.

Father son sailing

I probably sailed with him for a hundred hours before I faced the wind on my own. During those hours, my dad would have me either manage the sail or handle the rudder. Of the hundred hours sailing, I bet his actual instruction time totaled one hour. Two at the most.

He might say, “Pull in the sail a bit,” or, “Turn a little more to the left” (yeah, I know, starboard and port, but my dad didn’t care much about proper terminology). Those short comments took mere moments to say, and he didn’t make them often. Mostly we just sailed together. For hours and hours. And bit by bit, gust by gust, wave by wave, I learned seamanship.

Instead of lessons, we mostly just chatted.

He would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say, “Be a pirate” (of course) and he’d heartily agree (“Yo, ho, ho”). He’d ask why I had yelled at my sister, and I’d ask why he got angry at my mom. We’d talk about books we were reading, sermons he was preparing, what girls I was interested in, and what it would be like to sail across the ocean.

Our relationship with God can be like that. Conversational.

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Several years ago I met with a woman distraught over her son’s rejection of Christianity.

Heroes of the faith r1

She said, “I did everything I could to raise him right. I taught him to be like the ‘heroes of faith,’ with the faithfulness of Abraham, the goodness of Joseph, the pure heart of David, and the obedience of Esther.”

She wondered why he had rejected Christianity.

I wondered why it took him so long.

Imagination and Hearing God

I’m discovering that meditation is the most powerful way to hear God. Actually, “powerful” isn’t a strong enough word. Meditation may be the most profound, deep, life-changing, heart-enriching way to hear God I’ve ever experienced.

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But there is a problem. I picture meditation—maybe you do too— as something kind of weird. It’s someone dressed in leotards, sitting in an awkward position, humming nonsensical syllables, emptying the mind, and thinking of “one hand clapping.” It’s the mystic monk escaping the world. It seems totally disconnected from real life.

But everyone is a meditation expert. We meditate all the time. We don’t know it because we call it something else, and we slip into it accidentally.

Transforming our everyday meditations into prayerful imagination will change your life.