Audio Lectio: Our Fixer Upper World
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)...
But do you know that all that dark won't stop the light from getting through?
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)
-- from the song "Is He Worthy?" by Chris Tomlin;
listen to the whole song here
Lately my heart has felt burdened by things people tell me every day about the anger and hurt and fear they feel when they consider the world we're living in. I've been hearing these things since long before COVID-19 came on the scene.
I've felt heartbroken and confused about what to do as it's dawned on me that many of the people I regularly engage with are people of deep faith and conviction, yet they all have vastly different views of what is right and wrong about the world and how it can be fixed. And this is just among the people I know - to consider what I see and hear in social media and the news every day makes the issue feel even bigger.
If so many people are praying so many different prayers to address what, at the core, are common concerns, how effective are we as a body of faith? How do I keep from contributing to the dissonance, and how can God use me to contribute to healing and peace in the world around me?
Hearing the Chris Tomlin song excerpted above gave me something to think about as a starting point. I can get bogged down and trapped in the brokenness and finger-pointing I see, to the point of not being able to see much else, or I can remind myself that there is a better thing to focus my attention on: God in my midst.
If I can redirect my focus, I can begin to see positive ways to be in this world, in this time. As I've been reading Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, two of the chapters I've read so far have me mulling this idea over further: prayer and study.
Here's my assessment of my prayer life going into the chapter:
My prayers have a high asking-to-thanking ratio. In the "asking" category, my prayers are usually based on what I believe I need and/or want, or what I understand others to need based on inferences and assumptions I make. With the exception of the Lord's Prayer and prayers in liturgy, I am the sole author of my prayers. I frequently include the caveat "if it's your will…" just in case things don’t turn out as I hoped.
After reading the chapter, one of the key things I found sorely missing from my prayer life is listening (and probably some trust, but that's another post.) Foster talks about this in a couple of different ways. There's listening for and obeying the will of God in my own life before I pray God's will into someone else's life, and there's listening for God's guidance in terms of what I take on to pray in the first place.
Practicing listening and obedience to God's will in my own life is a work in progress, for sure. In considering Foster's points about what to pray for, however, I'm realizing if I only pay heed to my own thoughts and worries when I pray, I’m missing some big opportunities to fulfill my God-given purpose in these matters.
God already gives me some direction through what He places on my heart, and I want to open myself to letting him – and only him - guide me from there. My own ever-changing will and desires are never going to be a perfect match to anyone else's ever-changing will and desires, and is certainly no match at all for God's consistency and grace.
So I decided to start practicing a shift in my approach to prayer for others, and I've been excited about what's happening! I've started small, bypassing the woes of the world for the moment and beginning with little things that are personal to particular people.
While it hasn't happened every time, I've had some experiences with the "rise in the heart" Foster notes can be an indication that the prayer is of God. Once, I even sensed a wall when I ventured into praying for something specific --it was a jarring interruption of flow of the Spirit-- so I moved back into what I had felt led to pray in the first place, and it felt right again. God didn't let me go too far astray.
Foster’s chapter on study was rich, covering both verbal forms of study like books and lectures and nonverbal study through observation. For me, the study of Scripture felt like the most important place to start.
Foster notes that what we study determines the kind of habits of thought that we form. When I look at what I have been ingesting lately - news, social media posts, and daily devotions that include samplings of the Bible - I can see how selective I am in what I feed my mind and soul. And, because I make specific choices even within these three categories, I am beginning to get a sense of how my own thoughts and attitudes aren't helping anything or anyone.
I was having a conversation recently with someone I respect as a beautiful woman of faith. It was on a charged topic, and it was clear we had very different opinions on the matter, all rooted in the information we had each chosen to seek out and embrace.
I am normally pretty comfortable with agreeing to disagree, but in this case, I cried for days. I was unable to shake a deep sense of disappointment that two reasonable Christians were so far from being on the same page.
I finally found comfort in the Spirit’s gentle suggestion that a deep study of the Gospels would help. I understood why; besides the fact that it's a good idea for Christians anyway, I could see that I was relying too much on my own thoughts and ideas about what should be, and not enough on the perfect example God gave me in his Son. Jesus is the ultimate role model for relating to people, prioritizing, and keeping things in perspective, and I needed to know him more intimately.
Foster suggests this kind of study requires reading the Bible for meaning, and not just for what it means for me. I’m drawn to lectio divina, so this distinction Foster makes is a big deal. I know it will involve reading more than my Bible. I know I’ll have to be open to what others have to teach me. I know I’ll have to lean heavily on the Spirit to make sense of it all.
I don’t want to enter this just to find the Jesus I think I already know or the Jesus I want to believe in. I want to find the Jesus that embodies, as Foster writes, "life-transforming truth."
* * * *
My heart may always break over brokenness and division; I think God's heart breaks over these things, too. But if I can turn my focus more consistently toward God, listen and follow the lead of the Spirit in prayer, and learn more about Jesus so I can become more like him, I am in a better place to be part of the solution. These are things that will help me remember (and maybe even shine a little more of) the light in the darkness!
What is driving your perception of the world around you right now? How is God calling you to respond to the things you see or hear, either in your own heart and mind, or coming out of others' experiences and feelings? I encourage you to comment below, or e-mail with your own reflections.