I caught myself doing it the other day. Something I had told myself I wasn't going to do anymore. A habit I thought I had kicked. I was looking down at my feet. Now, I could absolve myself by saying that I was deep in thought or that the sharp January wind made it difficult to look up, but we all know that those would just be excuses. I had once engaged in the practice of holding my head up while walking from place to place, with the intent of paying more attention to my environment and especially the people in it, but the habit of that practice had slipped. It was time to re-engage that practice and rediscover its value.
I've met quite a few people in my travels who could be considered "nominal Christians," in-name-only Christians. They do "Christian things" (sometimes). They would lightly express their fealty to the Christian church, if asked. But when their lives are examined, there is little to no evidence of their travels with Jesus, or that His life has had much impact on theirs.
It would be far too easy to contrast "nominal Christians" with "practicing Christians" and place ourselves comfortably on the "right" side of that line. But even those of us who are heavily involved in the life and operations of the church can be shown at times to present evidence that our priorities don't line up with God's. That's a pretty good definition of sin. Or idolatry. "I want what I want" versus "I want what God wants." We all have the propensity to pay God lip service. Thank God that He doesn't just talk about things...He does something about our sin, by bearing it all on the cross. The Word made flesh shows us what a life with the Father looks like (John 1). The Word sacrifices Himself so that we can live, and He challenges us to give our lives each day, just like He did.
How do we live like Jesus? Well, it takes practice. You never get good at something overnight. It takes some experience. It often takes some failure...sometimes a lot. But it takes practice. So what kinds of things should we be practicing? What kind of spiritual practices should we engage in to walk more closely with God?
Two that come immediately to mind are the two "sides" of a conversation with God: Word and Prayer. Reading God's Word and insights into it through devotional books or other resources is a way that God can speak into our lives. And one of the most important responses we can give is simply to respond through language, spoken or thought. Prayer. While God knows us intimately, through- and-through, and knows all the words in our hearts before any of them leave our lips (Ps. 139:4), He still invites us to approach Him in prayer as a dearly-loved child (Luther's Small Catechism - Lord's Prayer Introduction).
During the season of Lent, I'd like to invite you to take a journey with me into a deeper life with God through a new practice of prayer. We'll be using the book, Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by author, songwriter, and pastor Justin McRoberts and illustrator Scott Erickson, to excavate what God is doing in our hearts and lives. We'll learn to convert those thoughts, feelings, and impulses into prayers that honor God and grow His Kingdom in our hearts and lives. We'll learn to convert those thoughts, feelings, and impulses into prayers that honor God and grow His Kingdom in our hearts and lives. I'll be inviting you all to join me for a brief, 5-minute foray into this conversation each day of Lent at 10 AM online (FaceBook Live & YouTube), and these brief conversations with some of you and other guests will also be available afterward to guide you in your engagement with the book.
I really appreciate the perspective that Justin and Scott present at the beginning of the book, that the illustrations and short prayers are not "content," but that our lives and God's Word connected to it are the real content. "They are excavation tools that help dig toward and into the real content: the ongoing, ever-present conversation between us and the Divine." The words on the page and the simple but poignant pictures are meant to open us up to recognize how God is at work in our lives, "messing with us," gently nudging us (sometimes not so gently!), trying to get attention that He is living and active inside us, shaping us for love and service. This approach follow beautifully in line with how John presents Jesus at the beginning of his Gospel: "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us" (John 1:14a). Indeed, if God had only remained in words on a page, His power would have never been expressed through all the powerful miracles in Scripture, especially the matchless miracle of our God dying and rising again. God invites us to walk with Him, to allow His Word and His Spirit to spur us into godly action, to love and forgive like Him. We participate in the Word made flesh when we live like our Savior did.
I'm still working on my walk with Jesus. I'm still learning to pray. I practice everyday, but I still have much to learn. I'm grateful for fellow travelers on the road, and I'm thankful to count you as one of them. I pray that our individual and congregation-wide practice of prayer will lead us all into deeper relationship with God and shape our hearts to be more eager to follow where He leads.
So, I'll plan to see you out there on the "road." And hey, if you ever happen to catch me looking down as I walk by, please feel free to flag me down with a gentle, "Hey! I'm up here!" I'm still learning to enjoy and embrace the gift of the people that God puts in my path. And I'm often delighted to be reminded that...
Adventure is out there!