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Friday, May 18, 2007

The Examen

One of the daily challenges I face in spiritual life is how to discover God and His activity in my everyday routines and experiences. Most of my days are common and ordinary, and yet I expect God's activity to be something spectacular and well, beyond ordinary. I ran across something recently, however, that is a helpful tool to discover God in the ordinary.

While the name may sound intimidating, the practice is really quite easy. Several hundred years ago, a group of monks began practicing a daily ritual they called "The Examen." In this exercise, two simple questions are asked and reflected upon. First, for what have I been most grateful over the last 24 hours? Where did I experience the most life? And second, for what I am least grateful? What diminished life over the last 24 hours? As a person reflects on these events, the goal is to bring them before God and allow Him to direct, lead, and speak into these situations.

I would encourage you to try it! I have been discovering that even though my days have been "typical", I can still readily identify these two areas of life-giving and life-draining. In both, I can see the hand of God at work. For the first I am thankful, and for the second, I find reasons to really pray.

May God speak words of life into you as you attempt the Examen.

Continue your journey with hope.

Nick

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Just a PB&J

I've never been a big fan personally of the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but with a two- year old in the house, we seem to eat them quite often. This simple meal has sustained toddlers, teens, and adults through many days over the last number of decades. You've got your protein, your grains, and your fruit (assuming the jelly of choice actually has some real fruit in it!). Add a glass of milk and you've covered the basic food groups. Nothing flashy. Nothing elaborate or expensive. But filling, cheap, and usually quite available.

I've been reflecting lately on simple meals. In the gospels, Jesus takes a simple meal, blesses it, and feeds the five thousand. This beloved story has been used countless times in churches to remind us all of how God can use even the smallest gift we have to give. I know this story well. I've preached on it several times. But a truth in the story hit home for me in a new way this week.

During a time of reflection, I was led to consider the size and simplicity of the young boy's meal of five small loaves of bread and two fish. (Perhaps the PB&J of his day?) I can only guess that as the disciples went around the crowd asking if anyone had food, the young boy was not the only person out of 5,000 who had thought to bring a lunch. Surely there were others who looked at their meal and decided not to share. For some reason, however, the boy looked at what he had and decided that if the Master really wanted it, that was reason enough to give it. He gave, God blessed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here's where my heart was stirred. How often have I been one in the crowd who took a look at his lunch and decided that it was too small or insignificant to bother giving it to God? Oh sure, I can think of times where I have done simple things in the hopes that God would bless it. But far more often, I save myself and my energy for those "big" moments of contribution. Once I have a great big grocery cart of food, then God can really use that. Once I have something really great to offer God, I will give it gladly. And yet I can't help but wonder; how often is the Master asking me to put my PB&J into His hands to be used? A short note of encouragement, a few minutes to lend a helping hand, a brief phone call to encourage, a simple act of kindness- are these the things that could feed the crowd today?

May you be encouraged today to offer all that you have to the Master, be it something grand and wonderful, or simple and common. God is in the habit of using the smallest gestures for the greatest impact, so that in the end everyone will know that the real gift was God's blessing, and not the person who gave it.

Journey in His grace this day.

Nick

Friday, May 11, 2007

Yeah, I've Got Nothing...

I remember awhile back watching a video blog of a pastor who was launching a new website. He would stare into the camera for several seconds, and then begin what sounded like a profound statement. After only a few words, however, he would stop and continue to stare into the camera while considering his next words. This went on for about two minutes, and at the end he finally looks straight into the camera and says, "Yeah, I got nothing," as he reaches over and switches off the camera.

I remember laughing at this poor schmuck who had all the desire in the world to say something of significance, but couldn't think of a single thing. Ironically, I have found myself in that same place as I've considered blogging over the last few weeks. I sit to write and ponder deep things, and in the end I walk away with the same sentiment, "Yeah, I got nothing."

I guess you could say I've been facing a little bit of a dry time in my spiritual walk. Before you gasp in shock that a pastor would say such a thing, try to keep in mind that we are all human. And as human beings on this journey of discovery, we will all encounter times where we feel that God has gone strangely silent. We will all run into periods of life where we wonder if our souls have fallen asleep. I'm guessing you've been there. Maybe you are there. Sometimes spiritual dryness can be the result of overly busy lives, crowded work schedules, or unconfessed sins. At other times, however, we simply arrive at a place where we feel spiritually alone and uninspired.

The psalmist and king David ran into this quite a bit, evidently, which is encouraging to me because he was called a man after God's own heart. And yet he wrote,
"O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you most?" Psalm 10:1
"O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?" Psalm 13:1
"My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant?" Psalm 22:1
The list could go on and on. A man who pursued the heart of God better than any of us, and here he is asking the same questions I've heard myself and many others ask.

Maybe there's something to this. Maybe the very fact that we feel dry at times is a good sign- perhaps it means we've experienced enough of the life-giving presence of God that we know what it is like to be without. I'm not saying this makes a spiritual desert ok, but perhaps we can be encouraged to know we've become connected enough to God to realize when we've grown more distant.

So, from one seeker to another, here's some ideas for spiritual dryness. None of these are miracle cure kind of ideas, but this is what I've gleamed during this time from my own experience and the encouragement of others:

1)Keep at it. If your spiritual routines no longer feel meaningful, don't immediately get rid of them. Some of the greatest growth and refreshment will come through the perseverance.
2)Change it. At the same time, varying your routines and spiritual pursuits can bring renewed vision to your soul. Take a hike, sing in the shower, read a new author, visit a museum- try something new and search for God's presence there.
3)Remember. I believe the Bible calls us to remembering the work of God in our lives and the history of His church for times such as these.
4)Be a Blessing. Spiritual dryness always makes me more concerned with me. Spiritual vitality usually comes by caring more about others.

Keep seeking Him on this wonderful journey.

Nick