Surrender is Underrated (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge Part VII)

Years ago I had a dream. I was carrying someone up a mountain, struggling under the weight to keep my footing on a narrow rocky path – a rock wall to my right, a cliff edge to my left. I fell, in terror as sheer as the cliff. Then, a big invisible hand caught both me and my burden before we hit the ground. We fell into a soft, enveloping safety and I woke, relief flooding my heart.

I  had the same dream three times on the same night, each carrying a different person. God was trying to get through to my wildly codependent subconscious that He was responsible for me and the people I was trying to rescue, that we were safe with him. Best of all, those people weighing me down were caught in God’s other hand. I had nothing to do with their rescue, having dropped them when I fell – just to avoid any confusion about who is and isn’t capable of rescue.

Image result for surrender to God

Not all of us are rescue rangers but we all have stuff or people or issues we cling to, even idolize. And we won’t be at peace until we let God have them.

That’s where prayers of surrender come in. In this way of praying, we slowly learn to open our hearts to God, like a fist that has clenched too long being gradually pried open. First it hurts, but then we are free.

Surrendering control is against our nature, so it will not happen all at once. Like sandpaper on hardwood, we hand ourselves over to God to be worked on. It goes something like this:

  1. We get alone and calm and aware of God, to be best of our ability. (See the earlier blogs in this series, 1, 2 and 3.)
  2. We dwell on the thing we are clinging to, telling God why we want/need it so much, and all our fears about losing it.
  3. We acknowledge that God, our creator, knows more than we do, and has loves us more than we know. So we say, “Your will be done.”
  4. We put the matter in God’s hands. Try actually lifting the person, habit, situation, whatever, up to Him in your imagination, and actually lift up your arms.
  5. We let go. We say, “I give up. If you don’t want me to have this, take it away.”

Sometimes we’ll get what we want; the job, the relationship, the house – whatever, along with clarity that we need God more. Other times, God takes it away for good. We don’t always get to know why, either.

Surrendering our big issues is key, but surrender also needs to happen in our everyday lives. I knew a missionary in Austria who took every Sunday afternoon to review each family relationship, his work issues, and his life in the community. He asked God to show him what was best in all of these, surrendering his own agenda to listen.

Some people are systematic, and a daily or weekly prayer of surrender really helps them. Others feel trapped by that, and it’s better to just deal with things as they come up. Either way, we have to surrender if we want peace, and the joy of seeing God doing good things in our lives.

Chunks of the Bible that can help us with surrender include: praying the Lord’s prayer, imagining Jesus’ ultimate surrender at Gethsemane, meditating on the poem in Philippians 2, or memorizing Galatians 2:20.            

 

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Repeat (How to Spiritually Recharge Part III)

 I wish someone had taught me to meditate when I was, say, two. It’s one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done, but as a highly distractable, late starter, it took me ages to realize how key it is to spiritual sanity.

Gobs has already been written about meditation, including the differences between eastern meditation (which focuses on emptying the mind) and Christian meditation (which focuses the mind on God.)  This blog will cut to a few simple steps for getting started with Christian meditation. (You don’t have to be Christian, just willing to give God the benefit of the doubt!)

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you can be alone and uninterrupted.
  2. Relax into solitude and become aware of yourself, shutting out distractions. The blog just before this one helps with this.
  3. Get physically comfortable. For most of us this does not involve twisting our legs into the shape of a pretzel. It’s nice to have your head at rest.
  4. Start with a prayer, asking God to lead you into peace and truth and protect you from spiritual darkness.
  5. Focus on your breathing, and inhale deeply and slowly. Exhale slowly. This will help you calm down and slow your thoughts.

Next, try one of the following ways of meditating:

1 .Center on what feeling or thought is dominating right now, and come up with a simple prayer related to it. For example, if you’re obsessed with a deadline and having trouble relaxing, pray, “God of peace, help me to rest.” Or if you’re angry and can’t forgive someone, pray, “Please God, take this anger!” If you’re grieving, “Father God – comfort me.” Notice these examples are really short, and in two parts. That’s so you can sync it with your breathing. As you inhale, breathe in the truth about God that you need to focus on; as you breathe out, breathe out the request for what you need. As you exhale, try to let go of tension, try to let go of anything negative and surrender it to God. You can say the words, but it may be more helpful  just to think them.

2. Instead of coming up with your own prayer, you can pick a short Bible verse, to sync with your breathing. Psalms are a good place to look. A few of my favorites: Be still and know that I am God”,  “You are my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear,” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Pick a verse that addresses a current need, that drills a truth you want to live into. Meditating on one important thought at a time drives it deep into your being. What you want to believe becomes what you do believe.

3. Take a chunk of the Bible and read it slowly, letting it speak to you personally.      Don’t hurry. Don’t analyze. This isn’t study. Meditating is like eating good chocolate. You take it in small bites and savor it. Try reading the passage three times. Maybe a short psalm, maybe an incident from one of the gospels. The first time, read for understanding. The second time, imagine the scene – make a movie of it in your head. The third time, you can put yourself into the scene as one of the characters.

It may not click right away, but if we keep at it, meditation becomes a powerful way of stepping out of the craziness of everyday life, to let God heal, guide and renew us.

Finding a Thin Place or Two (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge)

There are a few habits, like, say brushing your teeth or checking texts, that you don’t think about. Life just would not work without them. I’ve come to feel that way about spending time with God. I have several habits, some involving seconds, some whole days, that draw me into awareness of God’s presence and give me spiritual strength. There’s lots of advice out there about how to stay physically well, and Americans are good at playing, which helps us recharge emotionally, but how to stay spiritually healthy is not such a hot topic. So the next ten posts will be about staying spiritually well.  But first, a few words about location:

A ‘thin’ place is a Celtic term for a location where it’s easier to connect with God, a natural place of beauty where the barrier between heaven and earth is somehow more permeable. I won’t debate whether these places exist in the objective sense, but what I know is that when I find an undisturbed place that delights me and I repeatedly use it as a base for praying and reflecting, it becomes a thin place for me. Just being there makes it easier to calm down, focus and become receptive to God’s presence.

Some of us don’t even know we need these places until we find them, and then it feels like we’ve been living on a fast train, and only by accident stepped off to still, solid ground. Then we don’t want to leave.
church garden outside 2 light outside gardenMy closest thin place is a lovely garden on a church property up the hill from my house. On a winding path of memorial stones, you pass under a bell tower,  flowerbeds and shady trees with stone benches, to a tiered fish pond. When I have less than an hour, I go there to think, pray or maybe just rest. If I have a little more time, I drive to Spring Grove Cemetery, one of the most wonderful properties I have ever seen – acres of towering trees, stunning monuments and endless flowers. The beauty of the place never fails to work its magic. Even without the effort to think or pray, you just feel better in a place like that.

When I can schedule a whole day off, I go to a retreat center an hour away, off the highway, past streams and farms and into the back country of southern Indiana. There are cabins there for people who need to get away. There are walking trails, a labyrinth and a lake with a spring that keeps bubbling up to its center. That spring is a metaphor for what happens to me whenever I go there. I experience the energy of God freshly, and realize it will always be there for me, if only I sit down and shut up long enough to drink it in.

We desperately need to find these quiet places, where our heart rates can slow and the silence helps us remember who we are.

Not everyone has access to beautiful quiet places, but even in a city there are little parks with hidden benches. There are churches open to the public. If all else fails, we may have to hide in a closet. Somehow, some way, wherever we are on the journey, we need to set aside time and place to be with God, or, if we are unsure there is a God – to seek truth.

So, this week – find a thin place or two.