Upgrade Your Spirit: Fashioning Our Own Desert

Anyone who follows any of the three blogs I write for knows that I am   a HUGE fan of Henri Nouwen. I believe he is one great of the spiritual   writers of our time.  I’ve read several of his writings and am currently   enjoying a fantastic compilation of his works on prayer called The          Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.

God has really laid this message of solitude on my heart in a big way    lately.  It is a difficult one for me to accept and practice because I  am by nature an extrovert- I know, who knew, right? I need people  and community to stay charged up and keep my naturally sunny disposition, well, sunny :). But more and more, God is filling me with a yearning to meet Him in a quiet place, with no agenda, to simply listen and be present with Him.

I am reading things like this:

We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with God and God alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on the One who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God.

What does all of this mean for us in our daily life? Even when we are not called to the monastic life, or do not have the physical constitution to survive the rigors of the desert we are still responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.” -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

We need to fashion our own deserts- times of solitude, of quiet, of gentle reflection with our Lord.  My immediate question when I read this was ‘how’?  How do I carve out solitude in a house bustling with activity? What should I do when I am practicing solitude? How do I do it right?

This is the quintessential question for me. How?  How do I do it RIGHT?

Just me, he whispers.

Solitude. Just God. Nothing else.  I don’t need to DO anything.  I just need to BE with God. Listening. Present.  It seems easy enough.  But I have struggled with just this.  I have been experimenting with this practice of daily retreat to solitude. It has not come easily, and I have almost given up on several occasions. I thank God that he has created such a driving desire in me to seek quiet time with him.

This practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer except my undivided attention seems so counter intuitive.  No prayer requests (supplication comes after presence- we’ll talk about that later in this series), no Bible study, no agenda- just presence.  But, as a messenger, I find myself seeking a message- something to share with the masses. Instead of seeking Jesus. I spent a lot of time agreeing that I wasn’t good at this spiritual practice of solitude, until I read from Nouwen this passage:

“This week all I am reading and writing about is prayer. I am so busy with it and often so excited about it that I have no time left to pray, and when I pray, I feel more drawn to my ideas on prayer than to praying…It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not fall into a long inner discussion with myself. Every time some kind of insight comes to me, I find myself wondering how I can use it in a lecture, a sermon, or an article, and very soon I am far away from God and all wrapped up in my own preoccupations. Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayer so good for me. Simply saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance.” – The Genesee Diary

Thank you so much, Henri, for writing my thoughts down so beautifully for me.  The Jesus Prayer was exactly what I needed to satisfy my need to DO something…and to quiet my mind enough to just.sit.still. Waiting and watching and listening for Jesus.

There are so many ways to find solitude.  Rising early before all the family is awake works best for me, but I find that I can steal away for moments here and there throughout my day as well.  I also find music a distraction from the quiet of my soul.  So it’s just me, the Jesus Prayer, and my Heavenly Father every morning. Thirty minutes of still- of quiet- of solitude and I have found a paradise in my heart within that silence. Will you join me? Make a date with Jesus today? Write him in ink in your calendar…everyday…before work, or exercise, or chores, or even before family– give him thirty minutes to quiet your heart.

CJS Hayward says “One facet of holiness is a life and a heart that is silent within, that surrenders layer after layer of internal noise, and is simply present to eternity in the here and now that God has given. And silent people carry Paradise with and around them. Indeed Paradise is where God’s people are present.”

Let’s be Paradise this year.

Here’s the challenge: For the month of December, commit to spending 10 minutes a day in silent reflection. No supplication (requests), just seeking God.

How do you quiet the distractions around you when you are spending time with God?

An excerpt from the much anticipated new book, Living Life with Strings Attached

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42:10

I love this quote from Job. Let me refresh your memory about the story.  This particular verse actually takes place within the Epilogue of the story of Job. Job has been through (literally) Hell on Earth; he has been faithful, but prideful; he has questioned God; and he has seen the error of his questions and repented before the Lord.  The Lord is angry with Job’s friends for speaking out against Him. He tells them to offer burnt sacrifices and Job will pray for them and that Job’s intercessory prayer will be heard. It is heard and Job’s friends are restored in the eyes of God. Job also, by praying for his friends, is restored.

How many times have you said to someone going through a tough time, or needing a little encouragement, “I’ll pray for you.”

I do it, often multiple times a day. It’s the standard Christian good bye.  “Hi, how are you today?”

“I’m fine, thanks!”

“Oh great…I’ll pray for you!”

That’s wonderful! But the real question is: how often do you REALLY do it? Do you REALLY pray for them?

I will be totally honest – I am preaching to the choir here! I have been really convicted of late to change this part of my Christian walk.

Here’s my challenge to you (and to me, too):

The next time you are confronted with an opportunity to pray for someone…STOP RIGHT THERE and do it! Right then! There are a couple of ways to do this:

First, you could simply say to the person you are talking to, “I would love to pray with you about that. May I pray with you right now?” If the answer is yes, well, then you know what to do.

Sometimes, however, the answer will be no. Prayer is a very intimate experience and some people are simply not ready to share that with you. They may covet your intercessory prayers on their behalf, but they are not ready to be privy to them.  This is ok, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t pray RIGHT THEN.  Just take a moment alone, and lift that person up in prayer. Your moment doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be intentional. I find that not only does praying for others encourage a life of “praying without ceasing it also helps me to remember the prayer requests of the people who I run across in my daily life.

Thinking of the Book of Job, I often wonder at Job’s friends. They showed great loyalty by sitting with him.  They sat for 7 days and watched their friend suffer. They debated and thought and tried to coach Job through a solution to the problem.  Sometimes, perhaps they were not far from striking the theological truth. Sometimes, they were just plain ole wrong. But never once did they offer to do the one thing that all good friends should do. They never once offered to pray for Job. I wonder what would have happened if they had?