Automatic Faith

Do you drive to work everyday? This “every single day procedure” typically becomes so routine that our brains turn it into automatic thinking. We’ve all experienced it. You arrive at your destination and can’t really remember the trip. That’s what automatic thinking is – our brains can’t process all the information and decisions that we face all day long, so what it does is it takes routine activities out of the “deliberate” and conscious part of the brain and sinks them into the semi-conscious and “automatic” part. In this way, we can accomplish so much more in our busy lives each day.

What I worry about is when my faith drifts into automatic thinking and I’m not really as spiritually conscious as I should be.

Automatic thinking works when it comes to driving to work and other routine activities, I get there every day AND I’m able to think about all sorts of other important items. But I miss everything all along the way. Not that there’s much to see on this same route day after day. But when it comes to my walk of faith – I don’t want to miss ANYTHING.

How to start having a more deliberate walk of faith…

Bring Your Faith Into Present Consciousness

  1. Get up each day and think about all your taken-for-granted blessings FIRST. Let these thoughts fill your mind before everything else crowds in. Letting a blessed life guide your thinking can make you more conscious of everything else.
  2. Watch your speech. How are you framing, defining, declaring the world around you? We develop patterns early on and they become unconscious routes we travel in our interactions. This is usually an automatic activity. It prevents conscious faith. Instead – stop, drop and roll. Wake up and STOP talking like that, DROP all those tired talking points from your speech and then ROLL out a new and conscious perspective each time you open your mouth (maybe you should keep it shut more often?).
  3. Each time a problem, situation, or person crosses your mind – needing to be dealt with somehow – don’t revert back to past patterns (automatically). Instead really think about these situations and apply your faith; how would you want to be treated, what could you give instead of take, what needs some grace for a change?

Instead of Automatic Faith – Deliberate Faith

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

How do the people around you think about your life?

When we are unconscious of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our own transformation, we run the risk of living with automatic faith – not really using our faith to live a new life, but keeping it shelved away for a rainy day. It’s there, ready for when the fire alarm sounds or when someone close to us falls into a disaster. But isn’t faith supposed to be a WALK and not a RUN?

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  (Philippians 4:8)

Fixing your thoughts sounds like a deliberate practice doesn’t it. When was the last time you (and your faith) fixed your thinking rather than having your situation determine how you thought about things?

“Miracles… seem to me to rest not so much upon… healing power coming suddenly near us from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there around us always.” ― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Transformation takes time. Learning to put our faith into practice takes one step at a time. One certain step in the right direction is to be more deliberate about this part of our life and less automatic (and unaware). 

 

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It Doesn’t Matter Where You Are

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” ― William Shakespeare

I’m living in a world where I have so much more control over things. All the technology at my fingertips allows me to find the quickest route, the best deal, and the latest news. Information and knowledge is everywhere. From all over the world and in just a few minutes, I am able to find answers to almost any kind of question. How much easier it has become to stay in touch with people. We can locate long lost friends and relatives with just a few taps on our keyboard. Searching was never so easy. When you stop and think about it for just a minute or two, we have made a wonderful life for ourselves haven’t we?

Then why am I feeling so awful about how things are going? Why is it that too often my day to day seems like an out of control roller coaster ride? When I reflect, how did I end up where I am, not where I was so certain to be heading?

If you are a follower of Christ, there’s always going to be a disconnect in your experience of life. There will be an external situation that you wake up and find all around you every single day. “The weatherman said it was going to be clear and sunny today! Why all the claps of thunder?” Then there will be the internal/eternal reality that you carry around within and use like a gyroscope to keep a sense of balance and orientation.

“The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.” ― Max Lucado

I am so disappointed at days and months, even years, spent praying and stewing about my life’s direction. Then one day I’m spiritually awoken to realize I’ve been hunting around in a bookstore trying to purchase a box of Cheerios. How could I have been so confused for so long?

What’s the big lesson that I’m learning again and again? So much wasted energy being unhappy with circumstances or the actions of others. So much all around me that I will never be able to change. All I can change is myself. Let God manage the rest. After all, the unhappy and unplanned situations I step into are wonderful opportunities to let faith spill out and be seen for what it really is and how it really works.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”                                                                                                               ― Wayne W. Dyer

It doesn’t matter where you are. God knows where you are. The work of God, the deep purpose of your life can be accomplished where you are. Use that “gyroscope” and get some balance back into your life. You just have today, make it count:

  • Be present in each moment, chaos or calm, and find that truth that you need to live out in front of others. You don’t need to jump into that argument, you need to turn the other cheek.
  • Replace frustration, anger and fear with a happy demonstration of hope. Do this all the time until it becomes your nature and reputation.
  • Turn so that the eternal situation within you can be seen more clearly. Sometimes this means to turn away from what you desire. Sometimes it means to turn toward the need of another. It can mean to not look so closely at the faults of others. At other times it might mean to turn back upon yourself and reflect on your own weak habits before becoming critical of others. Turning can be a very healthy practice.
  • Stop searching for your own benefits like happiness, fulfillment, success, or acceptance. Instead work hard to find ways that provide these same gifts to people who cross your path each day; friends, acquaintances and strangers alike.

The works of God are waiting for you and I every single day, waiting for YES. 

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Kicking and Screaming All the Way Home

This is a strange title for a post about choosing to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. But when I think about it, so often I’m not all lined up, packed and ready to start the journey (each day). Instead, I am often pulled into the next stage of my own spiritual development kicking and screaming. In the end, I’m glad I got there but always wish I had not fought so much. I’d rather have been more awake spiritually and realized each step of the path before me was leading in the right direction, taking me right where I needed to go. Less kicking and screaming and more surrender and sacrifice is what I want to characterize my life as a follower of the Son of Man.

“However high be your endeavors, unless you renounce and subjugate your own will — unless you forget yourself and all that pertains to yourself — not one step will you advance on the road to perfection.” — John of the Cross

Back in the 1500’s when Saint John of the Cross was living, “perfection” was his way of expressing the desire to be transformed into the image of Christ. What he was writing about was what we now call discipleship. It’s almost impossible to be a disciple of Christ and still want to do things my own way. My prayer here is to ask for forgetfulness about so much that plagues my daily stride, so much that doesn’t really matter.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

What is it about myself that I have to forget? How do I become invisible? It’s easy to put all my bad habits and nasty qualities on that list. But I’ve also got to put down each one of my hopes and dreams on that list. This is where it gets really difficult. It becomes easier when I turn my gaze away from my own itching fear and list of grievances and toward “the Lord’s glory.” My prayer here is to turn my eyes toward the maker of heaven and earth and to see with the eyes of my spirit.

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  – Matthew 16:24-25

This doesn’t mean “make sacrifices”, this means to put yourself to death, a humiliating execution, not a quiet suicide in the dark. Withdrawing from the world and all it’s attachments is painful and can be agonizing. We never go quietly.

  • Step out of the boat, then you can walk on water in the right direction.
  • Give what little you have, watch thousands of needs be met.
  • Come back home, see who’s waiting at the gate.
  • Listen to the song of that bird, know that you are loved beyond measure.

I can’t seem to get past all the disappointment, all the lost days. But I’m looking in the wrong direction. Following in my Master’s steps is the only directions to take. It’s grievous because it costs everything. John the Baptist had his own followers before Jesus began His ministry. They asked John who this Jesus was, why he seemed to be taking over (John 3:26-36). Among other things, John said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” That’s the whole thing in a sentence. My prayer is John’s declaration. He would soon be imprisoned and beheaded. Literally put to death. All I have to do is surrender each day and listen to His command, “Come, follow me…”

 

Where Have You Buried Your Hopes?

Christians must learn again what Christians have always known – how to live without immediate hopes in the world. – T. R. Milford

Where is your hope…really?

I don’t think we ever know the answer to this sort of question until the rug has been thoroughly yanked out from under us. When we lose all of our self-support, those wires that have been holding us up for so long, when they come unhooked, that’s when we begin to face that question, where is my hope? What is it really built upon?

First of all, when you use the word HOPE, what do you mean?

I hope I make it to the end of the day, I’m so tired!

I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.

I hope that I’m going to be able to make all “A’s”.

That’s not the same kind of hope that God provides us with. That’s wishing. For the believer, hope is an unseen assurance that we cling to in order to sustain us while we travel through the good times and bad times. Hope is something certain.

Remember the classic hymn?

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When you use the word hope, from now on, use it as a spiritual truth not as a wishful thought. Think about the word hope as a noun. Build your life, each personal decision and interaction with others on the reality of your hope. Decide to let eternal truth drive your expectations.

Use it like a wedding ring of promise. Hang on to it like a banister on a dark staircase. Trust it like the look of your child asking for help.

So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Voice)

The next time your rug gets yanked, set your eyes on something certain. The hope that your God will never fail you, will never abandon you (Hebrews 13:5). It’s a promise that’s certain.

Asking “What?” Instead of “Why?”

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” ― John Kenneth Galbraith

Sometimes we can get stuck in a very frustrating loop, trying to understand our situation. Usually because our life isn’t going the way we had hoped. What can make these experiences so much more frustrating is not knowing WHY everything has gone wrong. Our search for the answers to these kinds of questions can’t be found and in our frustration, anger and sorrow, we just keeping asking – like a broken record.

I’ve been asking a lot of why questions over the past five years…I sound like a broken record

I assigned one of my classes a TED Talk to watch this week. I wanted students to learn about their level of self-awareness. The psychologist giving the talk has done research on self-awareness and published a best selling book on the subject. She offered a remarkable strategy to raise self-awareness and success at solving many of own difficulties.

Her advice, based on careful research, is to stop asking WHY when we are faced with obstacles and set-backs. Instead, rephrase our frustrations and ask instead, WHAT questions.

  • Why did my career end like this…becomes
    What are the next steps I need to take to start over?
  • Why was my spouse unfaithful to me…becomes
    What can I do to rebuild my marriage, step by step?
  • Why do I feel so alone in the world…becomes
    What should I do each day to be a better friend to others?

Asking these kinds of WHAT questions starts us on a more constructive path. We stop blaming everyone and everything else for our particular situations and instead find ways to take responsibility (when we can) for our own life. I think it’s a very healthy strategy for changing direction and getting out of the rut that we sometimes get stuck in. I’m going to try it. In so doing, I stand a better chance of expanding my own self-awareness.

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”  ― Meister Eckhart

The reason I have my class working on this assignment is because I want them to think about their own spiritual selves. This can be tough for young people who are just now starting to try their wings as adults. Many are not very self-aware, yet. I think that’s a crucial first step to spiritual awakening.

As seasoned adults, we may not be that different from first year college students when it comes to being self-aware and ready to be spiritually awake. I make many of the same kinds of mistakes. I’m not always as wise and mature as I thought I’d be at this point in my journey.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  – James 3:17

When I spend more time and effort reflecting, I’m certain that this is NOT the consistent kind of wisdom that rules my life.  The first step to making a change is to start thinking about the way I’m thinking.

What sets us apart (older adults) is our experience – trips around the block. Once we learn our lesson, it’s typically easier to figure our way out because we have more resources (both people and wisdom) to work with. Despite these resources, even older adults (like me) need some prodding when it comes to self-awareness.

That’s why I offer this bit of wisdom to you today – something I’m trying to learn myself. Start thinking more clearly about the kinds of questions you are asking yourself when you find yourself stuck in a bad situation. It really is possible to ask your way out of misery.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

 

 

Why Do We Pray, Part 4

We pray out of persistence.

“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” – Luke 11:5-8

Because we have no where else to go…

Because we have absolute trust in God…

Because we have developed a habit of knocking on that door…

Because we know where the real answers lie…

Jesus uses this story to teach us all that when we pray, the one thing we must never do is give up. Faith will never grow in an environment of disbelief, always afraid to stick it’s neck out. Persistence works wonders, even on frustrated neighbors. How effective it must be with God who awaits our searching hearts.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  – Luke 11:9-10

The answers that we seek are to be found at the end of a very persistent journey. Giving up quickly communicates all sorts of messages to others, to me and to God.

  • I’m not really counting on this
  • I can probably take of this myself
  • Who knows what might happen, but I’ll give this a shot
  • Does God really care about what happens to me?

Jesus doesn’t seem to focus much on the answers in his lesson. Developing the habit of prayer. Sticking with it. All the spiritual character that gets built by this practice. This is what enables us to receive a gift larger than any we could ever pray to receive. Praying persistently transforms us.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”  – Luke 11:11-13

Notice the two big lessons here?  God loves us like a parent. How often do you think about God in this way? This was a new kind of idea to Jesus’ audience who had God all figured out as a distant and stern figure. Prayer isn’t about getting something. At its heart, it’s about a relationship. You can’t have a very meaningful relationship with anyone built only on tweets.

The second lesson is that in answer to your prayers He wants to give you a gift you didn’t even know you needed. A bigger gift than you could imagine. He wants to give you Himself. His very Spirit to reside within you to guide, comfort and empower you.

The path to God’s ear is not a difficult or hidden quest. He is awaiting the persistent children who will come knocking, but with certainty.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ― Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933, 30th President of the United States)

Why Do We Pray? Part 3

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:2-3

One of the best ways to know someone’s heart and mind is to spend time praying for them. Once you make that kind of commitment, to invest yourself into someone’s life, you begin to fulfill the law of Christ. Instead of just talking about love, praying for someone “puts your money where your mouth is.”

Why is intercessory prayer so important?

When someone asks me how they can pray for me it takes away a part of the burden. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a friendly exchange, like “what can I do to help?” or “we’re here if you ever need anything.” But other times I can see (by someone’s persistence) that they mean it, they want to pray and help share in the burden I’m hauling around. And it works.

When you tell someone you want to help by praying for them, take a hold of their arm, look him/her in the eye closely and say in a determined voice – I am going to pray for you, tell me how. Why not stop right then and there and just pray?

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.  -Ephesians 6:18

When others are praying for me, it’s a constant reminder that when I’m going through the storm I know I’m not alone. Maybe that’s most of the terror – the darkness of being alone while suffering. Practicing our faith means being faithful to pray for others AND to go public with this practice. Being faithful means being accountable. When I promise to pray, I’m also making a commitment to stand with someone through their storm.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.  – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

God involves more of his church in his will for our lives when we participate in intercessory prayer. When the church received the Holy Spirit the first report was that they were of one heart and one mind. The more they prayed for one another, the stronger their bonds of love grew. They began to sell their possessions and give to those in need. When we pray for others, when our bonds of love grow our actions become shaped by God’s will. It becomes more normal for us to love God and to love others.

When we pray for each other – we are making the work of God here on earth that much more real. We are participating in heaven on earth.

I don’t know how people survive some of the disasters that come in life. I have said so many times that having this cloud of witnesses all around who are praying for me and with me every step of the way have kept me alive through thick and thin.

For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. – Philippians 1:19

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

What should you do right now?

  1. Find people to pray for, tell them and make sure they know you mean it
  2. Check in regularly to find out how your prayers have been answered
  3. Be persistent in your praying – keep the burden in front of everyone’s eyes and in front of God
  4. Make praying an integral part of your daily routine – talk to God about all the people in your life – consider it a sacred duty.

“Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.” – E.M. Bounds