Abiding

If you listen closely enough across the Christian traditions, every one of them have a language for that ‘slowing down to be with God’ necessity.  This is the phrase Peter Scezzaro uses in his book ‘Health Emotional Leadership’ that I’m currently working through.

The new charismatic Christian terminology is ‘soaking.’  A good evangelical or reformed word for it is ‘abiding’, using biblical language that John’s gospel uses.  The contemplative tradition would call it contemplation or meditation.  You might say ‘waiting on God’ or taking care of your ‘devotional life’.  This is what Paul was talking about, I believe, when he said ‘Pray continually’.

Whatever the language, here is the crux:  relationship with God is foundational.  No, not just squeezing in a bit of prayer and a reading…that is perhaps a modern day convenient reduction, important as it is.  The kind of thing I’m talking about here is the development of that continual sense of being in God’s presence, knowing that he is closer to you than you are to yourself.

I fundemantally believe this is where much of the transformation of our Christian experience comes in.  When we live out of that sense of being fundamentally and radically being known and loved.

Like everyone else, I battle the diary to make sure I get my reading in, my sabbath in, my journaling, my intercessory prayer in…but one thing I don’t struggle with is that sense of abiding, of keeping and cultivating an open door to God.  Much as I’d like to be more disciplined with all the other stuff, I know that if the door is closed then the ministry doesn’t flow.

If I’m living out of what Scezzaro calls ‘deeper union’ I know it.  If I’m not, I definetely feel the pinch.  Life becomes unsustainable.  Ministry becomes dry and that’s no good to anyone.

Be like Jesus.  Climb the mountain.  Slip away early.  Take yourself out of the way.  Avoid the crowd.  When you have the chance to cultivate and keep that union flowing, then the other things will come and find their rightful place.

Abide in him.

‘Jesus may be in your heart, but Grandpa is in your bones’

I smiled when I read the title quote in the book ‘The Emotionally Healthy Leader’ by Peter Scazerro.  What he’s saying is that the amazing work of salvation is both instant and a journey.  We transfer Kingdoms, but we are formed and hardwired is so many different ways due to our upbringing, early influences and life’s experiences.

I’ve spent a good ten years now seeking to be aware of the ‘Grandpa in my bones’ – all the ways in which my ‘shadow’ displays itself in the day to day exchanges of life.  Scazerro’s book has to be one of the most helpful I’ve read recently, and his arguments are not only very helpful, but profoundly challenging.

I think of myself 20 years ago as a ‘leader’ and I raise my eyebrows at myself.  Most of us probably would.  There are countless things I wish I’d have done differently, things I’d have said differently.  There are people I treated in a certain way because of how I am, not because of who there were.  And to be honest, it still happens…but thank God I am almost always immediately aware of it…and most of the time, on reflection, I have the grace to say sorry.

Thing is, the amount of years in ministry or discipleship doesn’t always guarantee maturity or even a developing ‘getting better at it.’  It is perfectly possible to do 18 years in ministry but to do the same year again and again 18 times, learning nothing.  A much greater challenge is to grow through your leadership.  Stay humble.  Remain teachable.  Stick your hands up to getting it wrong.  Not only is this just the most honest way to be, it is also the healthiest.  Some of the worst examples of leadership are in those who haven’t received the gift of Robert Burns’ hopeful prayer:

‘O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, tae see oursels as ithers see us.  It wid fae mony a blunder free us, an foolish notion!’

I quote that little line to myself more often that I’d like!

The ‘Grandpa in our bones’ is not good or bad.  It just is.  Our life has shaped us.  Our emotional and mental set up at this moment is the result of all the places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced.  Most important is the execise in becoming aware of the internal movements of our heart and make them the focus of our prayer.

Why?  Because that’s where the leader grows, develops, and where the gift within him/her is refreshed for the blessing of the body.  Let me leave you with another quite from Scazerro:

“Leading a church, an organisation, or a ministry that transforms the world requires more than the latest leadership strategies and techniques. Lasting change in churches and organisations requires men and women committed to leading from a deep and transformed inner life. We lead more out of who we are than out of what we do, strategic or otherwise. If we fail to recognise that who we are on the inside informs every aspect of our leadership, we will do damage to ourselves and those we lead.”

Last word to Richard Rohr:  ‘If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it.’

It is never to late to visit Grandpa.

September

It has to be one of my favourite months.  And, it is a good one for reflecting on what has been a beautiful summer.  The weather has been beautful.  I’ve enjoyed some lovely time away with the family.   I’ve had a great long weekend at Greenbelt.  And I had a good retreat time away in my little hermit tent in the depths of West Sussex.  It is that I want to write about today.

Sometimes when you go into the silence there’s a sense of bliss, rest, peace.  At other times, it is not so blissful and it can be a bit of a slog.  There can be consolation in silence.  There can be desolation in the silence.

This year started, to be very honest, in some ‘desolation.’  I knew this before I went.  I could sense all sorts of concerns, strains, rogue anxieties bubbling up to the surface.  I knew what I had to do.  I just sat with them – quite doggedely, quite intentionally.  I’m the world’s expert at keeping things locked inside – I’ve had 38 years practice.  But I’m now almost equally expert in giving stuff space and to observe what’s going on – to let it pass without judging it, and see what light comes the other end.

After about 24 hours, my mind and heart settled enough to begin to see what was lurking within.  I immediately knew that I then had to engage in a time of allowing myself to be moved.  To tears in fact.  Holding before God people, the church, the world, my own brokenness, and the plea for God to help me see and understand aright.

I was accompanied during key prayer times by a robin.  Not an unusual experience for me.  Familiar.  Strangely comforting that God should direct theses curious little inklings of creation to minister God’s awesome presence in such a small package.  And so, in the desolation: God.

God led me to read the book of Lamentations.  Not one of Jeremiah’s happiest collection of thoughts, but thoroughly helpful and cathartic.  To the soundtrack of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, too…the perfect cocktail for the soul.   Sometimes we just have to find another’s words and sounds to express at least something of what we sense and feel.

I appreciate this might sound all too miseable, but there is a necessary suffering in life that we so often push away.  We don’t deal with it.  The silence helps me to process and sit with things.

fourcandlesAnd then…the shadow lifts and I’m drawn to Romans 12: 9 – 21.  God renews my passion for community, love for people, compassion for the hurting, the desire to submit to availablity and vulnerability.  This is what I needed as I move into September as sole pastor at HBC for the time being. God calls me to live out some key intentions.  I travelled to a local cathedral and lit 4 candles…each representing those 4 intentions which will inspire and provoke me for this next season.  And God is my witness, with Christ and the Holy Spirit.