Welcome to week 4 of our Lenten journey as we take a journey each week to the cross we are looking at a different aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry during His time here on earth. Each week we are getting a glimpse into the abundant life possible in and through Christ.
We have learned about Jesus’ temptations, we tackled Christ’s humility and what it means for us. This week we take a look at one of Jesus’ most powerful habits; contemplation, or being still and quiet with God.
We have several scripture readings this morning, let’s start with:
Prayer: “God, there are times when we feel distant from you. Help us to carve out the time necessary in our lives to develop a deep and abiding relationship with you. Give us a focused desire to know you and to make you known to others around us. Please help us to add a regular time of prayer to what we do every day.”
Most everyone I know wishes they had a more devoted, more powerful, and purposeful prayer life. One of the major issues we all share is the busy pace of life and constant stimulation we experience. All of this seriously impedes our ability to slow down.
To be honest, it just feels awkward to be still.
It’s hard to be still even for 1 minute. A minute of stillness can feel like a half hour. I want to challenge you to try it at home during the week. Set a timer and just sit for one minute with your eyes closed and see how you feel.
On some level, trying to sit still for one minute can draw our attention to the challenge of stillness, contemplation, and prayer generally. And specifically, that we are uncomfortable with being still and silent which is a sermon I preached many months ago. Our lives are so loud, busy, and frantic, that many of us have grown accustomed to the noise and we feel out of place when it all stops.
But it will come as no surprise that the Bible has a different way for us. A more fulfilling way, and there are several principles we can put into immediate action that I can’t wait to share with you.
Let’s get started.
Before we get too deep today, I want to first draw attention to one of the terms I’m using. I’m using the word contemplation to describe a behavior we see modeled in the Bible. I’m using it to describe a peaceful, silent, calm place of prayer in the life of a believer.
For example, I think about Mark 1:35, where we see Jesus walk off into the desert early in the morning to be alone in prayer. (In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.) Did Jesus sit in silence? Did He sing? Did He bring a laundry list of items with Him? Did He pray through His favorite Psalms? We don’t know, but when I think about contemplation, stillness, and connecting with God I think about this verse, and it moves me.
Honestly, who doesn’t want a powerful and purposeful prayer life? Who doesn’t want all the fullness and adventure a life of discipleship offers? Listen to the way Richard Foster describes prayer in his book “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home”
“When we pray, genuinely pray, the real condition of our heart is revealed. This is as it should be. This is when God truly begins to work with us. The adventure is just beginning.”
Prayer is an essential part of the adventure. Prayer is our most amazing avenue for connecting with the Lord. Think about this for a moment; you are invited to speak -- on a regular basis -- with the divine creator of the universe. Let that sink in…
Some of you are thinking, “But I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to start, it seems so weird, etc.…” In the words of Richard Foster again he says
“I urge you: carry on an ongoing conversation with God about the daily stuff of life… For now, don’t worry about ‘proper’ praying, just talk to God. Share your hurts, share your sorrows, share your joys --freely and openly. God listens in compassion and love, just like we do when our children come to us. He delights in our presence. When we do this, we will discover something of inestimable value. We will discover that by praying we learn to pray.”
We learn by doing, and you’ve got to start somewhere!
Here are a couple of principles that I think will help you develop a more fulfilling and devoted life of contemplation, prayer, and stillness.
Lift your eyes up
Psalm 121:1-2 says; “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The principle here is that there are times, each and every day, when we need to stop what we’re doing and look up. We can get so laser focused on the thing in front of us, or the thing monopolizing our attention, and we forget about our relationship with the maker of heaven and earth. We can forget about His compassionate care over every detail of our lives.
“Looking up” causes us to change our perspective and focus on something else. Or in this case someone else…
As you take time to stop what you’re doing and look to God, you’re reminded He cares for you, He is watching over you, and as Psalm 121:7-8 says:
“7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this reality to be incredibly comforting. Here are a couple simple ideas most anyone can do to practice looking up;
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, or if you need a little space to process a difficult situation, just simply take a walk. Get up, get out, and get moving. As you’re walking tell the Lord about the situation, pray over it, and invite Him into it.
Schedule a daily time to stop whatever you’re doing, put away distractions, and sit in silent prayer. Put it on your calendar or add an alarm to your phone just to make sure you follow through.
These are just my ideas, but where do you feel at peace? Are there spaces in your life where you regularly get yourself refocused? Are there people in your life who can help you stay accountable to this principle?
Regular times of stillness and quiet are incredibly powerful for our overall health. This makes sense as most of us live very busy, very full lives.
Let’s look at a couple verses from the Psalms on this point;
Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
And Psalm 62:1 says “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.”
What is it about stillness and silence that helps us get reacquainted with the Lord?
Why does our soul… our inmost being… feel at rest there in the quiet?
Why is silence sacred?
I could ask a dozen more questions like this, but instead let’s look at the story of Elijah and his encounter with the Lord in the book of 1 Kings 19:11-13
11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The Lord wasn’t in the wind.
The Lord wasn’t in the earthquake,
The Lord couldn’t be found in the fire.
The Lord was there, in the gentle whisper.
Many of us lead such tumultuous and chaotic lives that it’s few and far between when we actually have the space to entertain the “gentle whisper” of the Lord. But this is exactly why it’s so important to make time for silence, prayer, and contemplation. We may think that all the millions of things we’re doing everyday are what’s most important and valuable, but stillness tells a different story.
The Lord is there waiting, are you willing?
As we finish up today, let’s take a moment to be brutally honest about something.
And please take a moment to honestly consider what I’m about to ask you;
Is all your striving and all your hustle, all your appointments, activities, and action… Are they making you a more peaceful person?
Is the grind life giving you the kind of grounded faith you long for?
Are you sitting in an ash heap of unmet expectations, broken resolutions, and message notifications that you never have time to answer?
As you think about those questions I want to read you one of the most powerful and important passages in the New Testament; Matthew 11:28-30
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It takes intentional effort in our culture to carve out sacred time and space to connect with the Lord. But wow, when you hear the words of Christ from Matthew 11:28-30 and you realize there is a space for your burdens, your exhaustion, and your chaos. What an amazing feeling, what a savior.
So set a reminder on your phone.
Carve out a weekend in the mountains or somewhere else where you can unplug.
Turn off all the electronic devices at a certain time every night and spend time in prayer.
Do whatever you need to do every day to make space for contemplation.
It’s worth it, He’s there in the stillness - in the gentle whisper. Amen