Encouragement and Prayers

COME…The Lord’s invitation to us.

LEARN…Our response to the Lord.

REST…The Lord’s freedom for us. 

 

Today, if your hear his voice…

Today, if you hear his voice…~Psalm 95

Has one line of Scripture ever stopped you from reading any further? 

Is “today” truly this day or the day the psalm was written?

What are the implications for “if you hear his voice”?

As a spiritual director, I am forever encouraging others to pay attention to what God is saying and doing in their lives. Listening to the Lord is not easy. And new each day you and I face the challenge of both hearing and responding well to God’s voice.

Our prayers often echo the psalmist’s pleas for help in recognizing God’s leading. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples what to expect when listening for the Lord’s voice.

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.  ~John 10:1-5a (MSG)

First there is an awareness of Jesus walking along the spiritual landscape of our lives with us. With patience and perseverance, a distant hope becomes a gateway for God’s goodness and mercy. As Jesus walks us right up to that hope, we will know its a place of beginning again because the opening is named “_your name’s__ way out.” 

I have no idea if today will be the day Jesus, our Shepherd, calls your name or mine. However, I do know today is a good day to begin again paying more attention to our Shepherd’s leading than the rustling of doubts and dilemmas. 

They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. ~John 10:5b (MSG)

Slowly and evermore surely, I recognize God’s voice as a benediction of familiar words of hope!
I pray you do as well.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. ~Romans 15:13


If you are a spiritual director, how can recognizing Jesus voice in your own life equip you to listen well to others?

If you have a monthly spiritual direction practice, how can your spiritual director help you face the challenge of listening to and responding well to God’s voice? 

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Matters of the Soul

Souls who follow their hearts thrive;

    fools bent on evil despise matters of soul.

~Proverbs 13:19 (MSG)

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared to death. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”  ~Matthew 14:24-33 (MSG)

While reflecting on and journaling about Proverbs 13:19 for weeks, I heard a devotion on this passage from Matthew 14. As I listened, I wondered about the matters within the disciples’ souls. How desperate were their longings for a calm sea? How deep was their desire for comfort? How did Peter really feel when he got back into the boat? How did he hear Jesus words, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” Based on my own desperations and insecurities, I would have felt foolish.  

There was no foolishness or evil in Peter, who followed his heart out of the boat and seemingly jumped at the chance to feel the churning waves beneath his feet. There is no denying that Peter’s heart fainted for a split second. But for me Peter will now always be the one disciple wise enough to know that it is not everyday one gets invited to walk on water with God’s Son.

And there is no doubting, Peter denied Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. However, Peter is also the disciple who payed attention to his soul’s desire and in return experienced God in a very unique way. The book of Proverbs offers practical wisdom about life and relationships, including relationship with God.  Paying attention to matters of the soul, brings clarity to our experience of God so that our hearts can thrive. 

PS. I wrote this May 2nd. On May 3rd my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and on May 7th passed away. In helping to plan his graveside and memorial services, I learned that this verse in Proverbs was both his and his father’s favorite verse. I wonder now how often it was quoted in his childhood home on Liberty Street in Holyoke, Massachusetts. 

PPS. And so it is, these words have had to wait for a postscript to be added while I tended to the matters of my own soul and other details. Those other details included writing an article about spiritual direction and preaching a sermon on The Cross. It was impossible for my experiences of God during these past two months to not be part of my writing and speaking. Below are links to both.

I pray they deepen your understanding of spiritual direction and the Cross’s invitation to lament our losses with humility and hope. 

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Keep Vigilant Watch…

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;

    that’s where life starts.

~Proverbs 4:23

Day by day, I have been praying this proverb. If you walked into my house, you would eventually notice all the hearts and surmise correctly I was initially drawn to the word heart in this verse. In their own way, these decorative reminders help me pay attention to the stirrings of my heart. However, by the middle of the month I found myself pondering the phrase “keep vigilant watch.”

How do we keep vigilant watch over our hearts on a consistent basis? When I realized how many times a day I glance at my Apple watch, I decided to replace the message app with the heart monitor app. Now the little heart icon on the face of my watch keeps me more attentive to my feelings than to the number of text messages I have.

When I made this switch it never dawned on me I might really need the heart monitor. But just last week before the start of a meeting, I thought I was getting a phone call. However, the vibration on my wrist was so intense I immediately looked down to see my heart rate was 130 beats per minute. My anticipation of what might transpire was affecting my heart, mind and body more than I knew. I was so relieved when the words of this old familiar hymn came to mind:

Be Thou my vision / O Lord of my heart / Naught be all else to me / Save that Thou art / Thou my best thought / By day or by night / Waking or sleeping / Thy presence my light*

The health of our physical bodies, the quality of our emotional lives and the spiritual state of our souls begin and end with how well we pay attention to the beats and stirrings of our hearts. 

All spiritual practices start with being keenly aware of how God is at work in our lives. This awareness equips and enables us to live authentically and lovingly with God, ourselves and others. It takes courage to keep vigilant watch over our hearts. Madeleine L’Engle writes the following:

We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.**

To that end, may the Lord of our hearts help us to always keep vigilant watch over our hearts. 

If you are a spiritual director, how are you keeping watch over your heart so that you can help others do so also?

If you have spiritual direction practice, what are you keenly aware of that you can bring to your director to process?

*Mary Elizabeth Byrne, translator. Be Thou My Vision. (Public Domain, 1905)

** Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 58.

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Wholehearted Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and do not rely on your own insight.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

~Proverbs 3:5-6 

I began February reflecting on these seemingly straightforward verses from the book of Proverbs. However, my times of reflection soon began to feel like a wrestling match. As March begins, I will continue to wonder what wholehearted trust in the Lord really looks and feels like. For now, I am grateful that I can share a few things I have learned.

Wrestling with God offers the space to authentically assess the fullness of our trust in the Lord. How much of “all your heart” is really trusting in the Lord…a quarter…a third…a half? With greater self-awareness, trust untangles our seemingly good intentions and insights so that the Lord’s straight path is recognizable.

Trust invites us to acknowledge that wrestling is part of our everyday life with God. And within that trust there is faith that at just the right moments, the Lord will lovingly come and lift us up off the proverbial mat of doubt and discouragement.

Love…always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. ~1Corinthians 13:7

Finally, trusting in the Lord’s deep and abiding love is an each-new-day endeavor that offers us renewed hope to share with others.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

If you are a spiritual director, how is your trust in the Lord helping you listen lovingly and hopefully to others. 

If you are in spiritual direction, how can your practice of spiritual direction help you trust in the Lord’s love for you?

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Fresh Relational Wisdom and an Article

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,

    David’s son, Israel’s king—

Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,

    to understand what life means and where it’s going;

A manual for living,

    for learning what’s right and just and fair;

To teach the inexperienced the ropes

    and give our young people a grasp on reality.

There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,

    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—

Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,

    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.

Proverbs 1:1-6 (MSG)

At the end of last year, I was asked to write an article about how to heal broken relationships. This request led me to consider the health of my own relationships, past and present, and to wonder if I had any wisdom to share.

These first verses of Proverbs were a reminder that we all have experiences with God that move us beyond our own knowledge and understanding to living wisely with a firmer grasp on reality. Moreover, I recognized that to write this article I needed fresh relational wisdom to probe and penetrate the rhymes and reasons of my heart and soul. 

Every generation from the time of the Exodus has needed God’s fresh wisdom to resolve the conflicts before them. Irv Cross, a professional football player who went on to be the first black sport analyst on national television, wrote in his biography, There hasn’t been one problem I’ve ever had that wasn’t addressed in the Bible. To me, to solve any issue, you turn to Jesus Christ1

So I turned to the scriptures and the experiences with God that I and others have had to write the following article. It was and is my hope that it offers you relational insight and inspiration. 

1 Irv Cross with Clifton Brown, Bearing the Cross: My Inspiring Journey from Poverty to the NFL and Sports Television (New York: Sports Publishing, 2017), 45, Kindle. 

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Simply Begin Again

As always, a new year begins again. And I am still reflecting on one particular Christmas letter. Initially, I was caught off guard by the authenticity of the young woman I met several years ago and spent time with before she moved to another state. Moreover, I am inclined to keep her letter at the ready to receive the gift of inspiration for my own practice of what the apostle Paul’s encourages in three short verses of 1st Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. vs.16-18

The following is a portion of the letter (I left out their names and the place). I invite you to consider how you would adjust to unfamiliar living circumstances.

We are entering our 4th year of living here! I still rely way too much on GPS to get around, and I am constantly surprised when I make it to my intended destination! (Honestly, this happened in California too! HaHa!) The weather still keeps us guessing daily, but the predictability of the season changes is just so magical to us. The crisp winters, the awakening of spring, lush green summers, and my favorite – the colors of fall! Seriously, it looks like the most amazing confetti when the leaves hit the ground! I sound just like a travel brochure don’t I!!?!…We do miss everyone in California, but I guess you can say we really have hit our stride this past year. Isn’t it amazing how life can surprise you like that? In 2020 we actually didn’t think we would last another year here. We realized that our original vision of what our life would be like here did not match reality. This was a hard realization, but we both decided we were going to change our thinking and adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for our space and surroundings. Well, here we are Happier!

I am amazed by this couple’s year long adoption of an “attitude of gratitude.” Most often I create a long list for whom and what I have deep gratitude. But this couple was grateful for one thing all year: the space and surroundings of their new home. It was intentional. It was life-giving. And like any spiritual practice, I am sure they had to do as Benedict of Nursia reminds us:

Always we begin again. 

This is a new way to begin again. Simplifying the practice of gratitude by giving thanks for one “thing” at a time be it a person, place, thing or even a pandemic can be life-giving. And I am convinced it includes being generous and gracious with ourselves to “always begin again” with the hope that we will be happier and even rejoicing always!

If you are a spiritual director or in spiritual direction, consider how simplifying gratitude might be incorporated into your spiritual directions sessions?

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Light: The Ending of Advent

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. ~Isaiah 9:2

O Lord, send out your light and your truth…

May your light guide us toward the truth our souls long to know when uncertainty is ever so elusive.

May your truth lead us toward the faith our souls need to have and to hold when reality is again overwhelming.

May your light and your truth bring us to the hope our souls find in your Son’s true light with joy alas exceeding.*

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 

And so Christmas comes to us all…Amen and amen!

*(based on Psalm 43:3-5)

Practice: Saying “Thank You”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

~Matthew 11:25-30

It is Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, and this month I relied on Jesus’s example to deepen my practice of gratitude. By reading daily both Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts of Jesus giving thanks to the Father, I sought to be more intentional about actually saying “thank you.”

If you are like me, perhaps you have overlooked the verses in Matthew before the Lord’s “Come to me…” invitation. I have often wondered about the connection between this invitation and giving thanks to the Father, so I finally spent time reflecting on it.

It seems to me, Jesus is able to invite us to be yoked to him because all things have been revealed and handed over to him by the Father. Moreover, the rest we long for is ours because Christ chooses to reveal the Kingdom of God to us. And for that we can give thanks!

What can we learn from these verses about the practice of gratitude? Can weariness be a reminder to remain yoked to Christ’s eternal perspective rather than worry? Can responding to others with gentleness and humility be evidence of our thanksgiving for the Father’s tenderness toward us.

I am grateful for the monthly practice of spiritual direction in which what is hidden is brought to light through the mutual reflection on how God has been at work in my life and the lives of those who come to me for spiritual direction. These moments create a deeper connection with God and bring forth thanksgiving and praise to Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  

Jesus said “thank you” to the Father. In the next few days, what detail(s) can we leave undone in order to reflect on how the Lord has been at work in our lives this past year, month, week, day, hour?  As a result, to whom are we being invited to say “thank you“?

May I suggest, if you are in spiritual direction, take time to give thanks for your spiritual director. And if you are a spiritual director, take time to give thanks for those who come to you for direction. 

Practice: The Serenity Prayer

I love Psalm 133 which paints a picture of precious oil running down one’s face and refers to the joy of covenantal unity. I am not enamored with the idea of greasy hair and the unity I need is of heart, soul, mind and strength to love well, but I can anoint my body with small amounts of oil as a reminder that I am blessed to be a blessing.

About a year ago, I spontaneously began the practice of prayerfully anointing my body with oil* as I say the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can 

and the wisdom to know the difference!

My routine flows something like this:

  • Put a little oil on the inside of each elbow and recite the first line of the prayer as a reminder that serenity and acceptance include embracing what cannot be changed. 
  • Contemplate the next line of the prayer and touch the back of each knee with a little oil, knowing courage requires the humility to bend the knees in prayer seeking ways to change what can be changed.
  • And finally dab the top of each foot with oil asking God for a discerning heart and the strength to walk in wisdom. 

Healthy spiritual practices and prayer bring greater freedom to our lives. The gift of the Serenity Prayer is the hope of living a life of surrender, courage, and discernment. The practice of anointing the body encourages the joy of freely rising up to bless the Lord and be a blessing each new day.

*A roller ball of oil or even lotion are recommended. 

Prayer: An Upright Heart

February is my favorite month of the year because I love hearts and enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day. Apart from the commercial emphasis on hearts, I find value in dwelling on and living in the light of God’s love.

The following last four lines of Psalm 32 have formed my reflections for this month:

…but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, 

O righteous, and shout for joy,

all you upright in heart. (vs. 10b, 11, NRSV)

Today is also Ash Wednesday. As the journey of Lent begins for this year, I am reminded of the forgiveness, protection and guidance that come with right living before God.

The following has been my prayer this month:

Lord, help me to have an upright heart by conversing with you freely and trusting you explicitly. May your sustaining love help me to love patiently, tenderly and without envy, boasting, arrogance or rudeness. Keep me from insisting my way is best and from being irritable or rude in times of conflict. Lord, may I be found bearing with, believing in, hoping for and enduring always so that goodness is the well-spring of my heart. And when hopelessness besets my soul, may God’s unending love create in me a heart that is happy and rejoices in the greatness of God’s love for myself and others. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ~Amen and amen.