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Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Takes Practice...

Practice. Never been one of my favorite words.

It conjures up images of 5:30 AM basketball practices when I was a sophomore in high school. It reminds me of double-days for college football in the muggy Minnesota heat. It puts me right back on the piano bench as a grade-schooler, struggling to learn songs that my older sister had long since mastered.

Yet once again I find my life circling back to this word. I have been reading through the book, "Your God is Too Safe" with a group of guys, and we recently went through a chapter on being aware of God's presence in your life. The author, Mark Buchanan, made it clear that becoming readily aware of God in our life requires...you guessed it...practice. He even references one of my all-time favorite (and least favorite) books, "The PRACTICE of the Presence of God" Written by a simple monk, this books encourages the reader to know and relate to God even while peeling the potatoes. (Seriously- check it out.)

In regards to "practicing" God's presence, Buchanan writes,
"We need to practice the presence of God: not just to acknowledge in some philosophical way that God is present, but to rehearse, to repeat, to work and rework our knowledge that even though we don't see Him and sometimes don't feel him, he is there. He is here. When we practice the presence of God, we train ourselves to desire His presence..."

I certainly want to desire His presence. But with all this talk of practice, I can't help but reflect on my experience of learning to play the piano. For me, that kind of practice was a constant ebb and flow in my life. I would go through seasons of intense desire where I really wanted to get good. But inevitably, before I would reach a true level of competence, I would become content with my current ability. As soon as that happened (and it always did), my desire to practice immediately went away. Sometimes it would be weeks, even months, before I would return to practice again. The net effect of this pattern is that to this day, I have likely spent more hours at a piano than anyone in the history of the earth who is still unable to truly play. Why? Because I got tired of the practice.

I guess today I don't have a real "motivational" thought, but instead I want to wrestle with this idea. I want to express a very real fear and a worry of my own heart that I will do the same with God. I will seek and desire His presence to a point, but when I sense a certain closeness with Him, my practice will end. And over and over, rather than walking in true friendship with God by continued practice, I will go through this cycle of unlearning and relearning.

How do we break from this cycle? I am not sure I know. Perhaps it has to do with focus, or commitment, or perseverance, or any other number of words that could be thrown out in a cliche fashion. Or maybe it's something more. Maybe the "answer" is in finding a certain level of contentment with this pattern I have, believing that even in the ebb and flow of my heart, and the on-again, off-again nature of my practicing His presence, that God is doing more in me than I know.

May you know, and practice, His presence on your journey today,

Nick

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How do you break "this" practice? When I came upon your website I was immediately saddened to read the following: "You can also expect casual dress, coffee and tea before and after each service, contemporary worship, and a friendly atmosphere. So please, stop in, grab some coffee, say hello, and enjoy either our Saturday evening or Sunday morning services."

Enjoy? Worship is something to be enjoyed? Worship actually means the "work of the people" and I strongly suspect that waving one's hands around in the air and being "entertained" by a so-called Praise Band is nothing we read about in the holy scriptures. Yes, it's contemporary but that does not make it right. Grab some coffee... dress casually... come on in a sit back and enjoy. BUT ask yourself this: If your congregation knew for a certainty that the President of the United States was going to be present at your next "worship service" would they dress casually? I suspect not. And yet... the King of the Universe is "supposed" to be present at your services. Right? But you know... I strongly suspect you only believe He is there is some nebulous, controllable way and that He doesn't require anything of you other than you're showing up, getting a bit emotional for a few praise choruses, waving your hands about, listening to a sermon and gabbing away before and after with friends and family while drinking coffee and tea. It's contemporary all right. It's entertainment for sure. BUT it is most definitely NOT worship. Ichabod, my friend. I found that after 44 years as a member of the Alliance. And what I see today, saddens me and I'm sure it would sadden A.B.Simpson. I know that A.W. Tozer wrote long ago that worship was missing from the evangelical churches. Francis Schaeffer wrote more or less something of this order in The Great Evangelical Disaster.

Anyway... carry on. Drink your coffee...wave your hands... pretend three-point sermons and songs projected onto walls are worship. Then examine carefully the sort of worship that is revealed by Isaiah and the Apostle John (in Revelations) and compare. You'll find yourselves shockingly out of step.

Britt said...

It is rather easy to get to this sort of comfortable complacency. I was just thinking about this last night and mulling over doing my own blog post about it. That passion and drive I had in the beginning (which, I know is really common for a lot of later-in-life converts) and that desire to truly KNOW and be fully immersed in God's presence 24/7 is just not there. But, as you said, it ebbs and flows...I have times where I want to get back to that place and do a lot more praying, being still and listening, and participating in church things, but then there are inevitably times that I just want to be "left alone".

I don't know how you break that. Like you said, practice, right? But, like you said, practice is always that warming up time -- not really the big game -- so it's more like work or drudgery. And yes, it IS work to get to know God (or ANYONE) but I suppose we aren't really supposed to look at working to know God in the same way as we look at working to know others...or just work, in general :)

I have been doing better practicing these things lately...but I've got a LONG way to go still :) Thank you for the reminder!

As for Anonymous -- you were immediately saddened to hear that dress is casual and worship and church is enjoyable? Interesting. So, church should not be enjoyable and it should be very formal then?

As an evangelical, I hope to actually attract others to Christ...not turn them off. What is the public perception of "church"? Stuffy, boring, formal, ritualistic...right? The only reason I can say that is that I thought all those things before becoming a Christian in my late-20's. Would people who are turned off by that, really come to a church that demanded formal dress (even if you can't afford it -- so no allowance for "come as you are"), and made worship a chore? How do you hope to reach the lost?

Your statement -- "I strongly suspect you only believe He is there is some nebulous, controllable way and that He doesn't require anything of you other than you're showing up, getting a bit emotional for a few praise choruses, waving your hands about, listening to a sermon and gabbing away before and after with friends and family while drinking coffee and tea. It's contemporary all right. It's entertainment for sure. BUT it is most definitely NOT worship." -- is so way off base that I really am not sure how to respond to it...

If you've never attended EHA for a period of several months (because no one can get a full picture of a church through a website, podcast or pastor's blog) then you probably aren't aware that we are CONSISTENTLY challenged to make worship a LIFESTYLE -- everything we do is to be for the glory of God. We gather together and sing and listen to a sermon to be edified, but then we are to go out and participate in our community -- to give of ourselves in our homes, our workplaces, our church...everywhere.

We have had sermons on the word "worship" and how it's NOT the music we sing, but an attitude of our heart and our lives. It is unfortunate that worship has come to be commonly known as the musical portion of a service -- would your objection be somewhat lessened if the description of the church said, "contemporary Christian music"(By the way, there are older hymns in there from time to time, as well).

I guess I'm hoping that you will see that you are making a snap judgement based on a short synopsis you have found online. I encourage you to listen to the podcasts and attend the church for a while and see if you are really correct in your judgement.

Personally, I always feel very convicted and inspired to worship with my whole life, and not just during the musical portion of church. Anyone can do that, but at EHA we are pushed to realize that being a "Sunday Christian" is not what God had in mind.

Pastor Nick said...

Dear Anyonymous,
While I respect your fervency for worship that is sincere and Biblical, I am saddened you think it is wrong to want to enjoy it. I believe firmly that when we approach a loving God out of a desire to deepen our relationship with him, that relationship should result in joy.

I think too often we play the "either-or" game in our faith. Either it has to be deep and serious, or it is light and fluffy. Either we are painfully working at worshipping a God who is awesome and fearful, or we are just snapping our fingers to good music. While I respect the way you approach worship, I think you are wrong to suggest that a less formal approach is wrong. If you search the Scriptures I think you would be hard-pressed to back up your claim that we should dress up for God. Wearing our "Sunday best" is more a product of the Great Awakening than good hermenuetics.

Right on, Britt. Thanks for putting your thoughts down.

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Pastor Nick said...

Dear Anonymous,

Hello! Thanks for your avid interest in my blog. I have removed your comments for the following reasons:
1) The original post was about cultivating an awareness of God in every moment of our life, and none of your posts address that topic.
2) You know all about me (to a degree)but have yet to introduce a single thing about yourself. It is easy to take shots at ministries or pastors while from secluded corners.
3) I am more than willing to be criticized and disagreed with, but when someone's comments become judgmental and condescending, I feel that goes beyond the intended scope of this blog.

I get the sense that you have been either hurt or extremely disappointed by a church in the past, and for that I am sorry.

I would be more than willing to continue our dialogue if you would e-mail me personally at nick@easthillsalliance.org.

I appreciate your enthusiasm for authentic worship. May we both grow closer to Him in grace, in humility, and in truth,

Pastor Nick

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being off-topic and condescending. Please remove my first post and this one as well. I've written to you privately.