Is Repentance Tied to Happiness?

Today is our last look during Lent at the word repentance before we turn to Isaiah’s final word rest in chapter 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he says, “repentance means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.”  I’m not  sure how to unpack that statement in a few paragraphs, but perhaps a quick look at the word happy can provide some insight on what Keating might be getting at. μακάριος is the Greek word for happy. It is most often translated at blessed and most famously used in Jesus’ remarkable Sermon on the Mount. Look at these words of Jesus through the lens of happiness:

How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!

Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons (and daughters) of God!

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way. (Matt 5:1-10 Phillips)

If I am honest with myself my definition of happy is most often the opposite of these statements that Jesus makes about happiness. I don’t want to be humble, experience sorrow, be merciful, make peace. Instead I want to build my own kingdom, have security, cut corners, take offense, and be in a constant state of pleasure. In addition to that, I want to turn to another person, an object, or an ideal and settle for temporary “happiness” at the expense of true contentment.

So how might we lean into Keating’s invitation to change the direction we are looking for happiness?  Perhaps part of the answer is in Isaiah’s invitation into quietness, “In quietness and trust…” What if the answer is in the pause, in getting quiet long enough to be honest and ask ourselves what we are currently doing/looking to for happiness? I did this when I awoke this morning. What was revealed to me in the quiet wasn’t pretty. Pride, vanity, and my own selfish desires surfaced. As I confessed those passions once again to God I was able to remember that my heart is good, it matters to God and that He is the only true source of happiness? Thanks be to God!

Are You Interested in Rest?…Lent begins in 2 days

LENT begins in 2 days. During this season of Lent I’ll be looking at two themes, repentance and rest. I am calling it True R and R. I plan to look at the powerful statements of two prophets throughout the Lenten season.

First, the prophet Isaiah:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15)

and

the prophet and Master Jesus:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I’ll be posting once or twice a week the next six weeks during Lent. If repentance an rest are things you would like to explore join in. Perhaps we will discover together what Isaiah and Jesus we offering to those who were listening.

Aloneness that Feels Like Community

We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.

Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,

“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.

I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:

As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.

 

Doing Nothing

A few years after my commitment to spend time each morning with God, I found myself longing for even deeper connection with Him. But I didn’t have the faintest clue where to start.

I remember pulling up to a morning meeting a few minutes early and doing a Google search on my phone: “intimacy with God.” A book by Thomas Keating titled, you guessed it, Intimacy with God, popped up on my search. I ordered the book and awaited its arrival on our front porch. As I read the first few pages, I realized it was speaking to that very longing in my heart! I was being invited deeper into the journey of silence and solitude with God.

In the book, the author, Father Thomas Keating, describes a silent prayer practice that helped him (and me!) more closely experience God’s presence. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. It’s called “centering prayer.”

Now, if you think it’s an arduous task to commit to occasionally spend a day away with God in a culture that screams out that you are as valuable as you are useful, try doing nothing for 20 minutes a day. It will either make you crazy or . . . you just might discover the secret that Jesus often leaned on: silence and solitude in the presence of the Father.

(Am I Loved? Chapter 8 Introduction)

Hearing the Voice of God

After a number of years of spending daily time alone with God, I have realized that perhaps the most significant thing we can do in our time with Him is listen to His voice. You may be thinking, What? Come on now, Shawn. How do you do that? What does that even mean? I hear you. Developing the discipline of listening for God’s voice did not come easily for me. In fact, in the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things in one sitting. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Yet slowly, over time, as I continued to return to this place of listening, I began to hear the voice of God.

Now, it wasn’t an audible, booming voice that shot down from Heaven. Sometimes it was simply through Scripture, a passage in a book I was reading, or journaling. Other times it was through the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. But surely and incrementally, over the past 17 years of consistently showing up to listen each morning, God has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am His son. And more than anything, His quiet whisper assures me that I am loved.

Give it a try. Do you best sometime in the next few days to sit with God. Maybe just repeat a verse in your head to get the time started like, “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps 23) Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in calmness and peace, breathe out worry and fear. Allow yourself to just be.

Embracing Solitude

Solitude is so counterintuitive to our culture. It takes a lot effort to learn to cultivate this spiritual discipline, but we can see in the Gospel accounts that time alone with God was very important to Jesus:

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35, NASB)

 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:1,5 NASB)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12, NASB)

We don’t know what happened between Jesus and the Father in these times of solitude, but we do know that quiet, reflective time with the Father was a priority to Jesus.

By the world’s standards, some might have said Jesus was “wasting” time. Not being “productive.” Not “accomplishing” anything. The truth is that Jesus was operating on a completely different value system, one that we are wise to consider if we, too, want to draw close to the Father.

The Psalmist David also experienced this, saying, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, NLT). In that place, he could open himself up to the Lord and commune deeply with Him. David wrote of this practice: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23, NLT). When we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord and invite Him to search us, we join David and a long line of spiritual giants who have experienced this before us.

(from Chapter 8 Am I Loved?)

The Humanness of Jesus

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians tells us, “…But (Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and became as human beings are” (Phil. 2:7, Phillips). A lot of people have argued about what Jesus emptied Himself of, exactly. Most Christian scholars agree that when Jesus came to Earth as a human, He emptied Himself, or set aside, His divine attributes—that is, His omniscience (knowing everything), His omnipresence (being everywhere, always present), and His omnipotence (limitless in His power). As a human, He was limited in all these qualities simply because of He had a human body. But let’s set that thought aside for now.

My question is this: what if He didn’t just empty Himself, but also added something? What if that something was human nature? If that were the case, then of course Jesus would have had to limit the access He had to His divine nature. He couldn’t fully operate out of His divine nature and still have the full experience of being human. Those two natures contradict one another.

This is the really challenging part. How human was Jesus, really? He was born of human flesh, grew physically like any other human would, had veins of actual blood, got hungry, thirsty, and tired. He died a physical death. He felt human emotions including anger, despair, joy, grief, sadness, excitement, and wonder. Jesus struggled—He was tempted, confused at times, limited by others’ lack of response, frustrated, and often lonely. It all sounds pretty human to me.

If I were Jesus and had a “God card” I could access anytime I wanted, I would have certainly used it to avoid the daily struggles of being human. However, although Jesus possessed His divine nature throughout His life on Earth, He mysteriously gave up His access to this nature in order to fully possess humanness. Let that sink in for a moment. God, through Jesus, became like us. I don’t know about you, but this makes Jesus—and in turn God the Father—much more relatable and “follow-able” than a super-human, superhero-like God.

To be open to the idea that we are loved is to respond to a God who chose to be human and vulnerable. As Dan Brunner said in a lecture at Soul Formation Academy, “A human Jesus is a broken Jesus who identifies with our brokenness.” Jesus, in His human nature, completely identifies with us! He gets it—our joy, our sorrow, our loneliness, our longings. Jesus meets us in our humanity. He is, after all, the fullest expression and example of what it is to be human.