Broken in the Light

In a dream once
I knew I was dreaming
so I ventured
from the storyline
and entered a cave.
Deep within
was a mirror
and I wanted to see myself,
what I was like
in this deep, inner place.
What I saw was twisted,
my body set in shadows,
scarred
and dry and wilting
like a plant,
head hanging down,
eyes empty and glazed.
I have seen him since,
in those moments
taken off guard
I let the mask slip.
I’ve spent my life avoiding him,
dressing up in the clothes
of better men,
wearing the words
of the healthy.
The secret I did not know,
all these years,
this broken, inner man
was the only one
who could approach the throne
of God.
Hidden in darkness
he was starved of life.
But these days he has begun
to surface,
the ice of pretension
melting and snapping off him
and he is at once terrible
and beautifully illumined
by the light that holds him.

(This poem is about being open and authentic before God. As long as we are wearing a mask or putting up a front, we don’t let anyone in, especially God. It’s about getting in touch with ourselves, especially our well-guarded inner scars and letting them come out into the light, so God can heal us. This is the spirit and real purpose of the Christian practice of confession in my opinion.)

The Way of God

I wanted to write a bit about
the way of God
as I’ve come to discover it.
My way is one of force,
of control, of coercion.
I push, I strain, I work
to defend myself,
to bend others
and the world around me,
to accomplish my aims.
And sometimes my aims are good
and I want to help,
but I find myself in conflict.
My ways don’t work.
And God says,
“my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are my ways your ways.”
His way is not of force
but of surrender,
of mercy,
of long waiting,
of listening,
of prayer,
of trust.
God made the heavens and the earth,
but not through force;
the book of Hebrews tells us
he made it all by faith.
He called it into being by words,
by his prayers.
and he forms us inside
to help us grow,
not with the twisting of hands
but a gentle touch,
a call and a whisper,
a leading into the open meadow of his grace.

Humility

God does not desire perfection
in the first place.
In fact, if you were perfect
in yourself
you would have no need for God.
It is not a failure
to have to depend upon God,
because he is the source of perfection.
But what we do need
is humility.
This is something God can work with,
if we are honest
with ourselves and God,
if we are open
about our faults.
The scripture teaches that God
opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble,
that he raises up
not the one who is confident
in his own righteousness
but the one who is contrite in spirit,
who can barely look up to God
but casts himself upon divine mercy.
As Jesus said,
the healthy do not need a doctor
but the sick.
We do not need to be afraid of our sin.
Sometimes we want to hide.
It’s a defense mechanism.
But God already sees you,
down to your innermost being.
Let yourself be seen in the light,
in all your naked ugliness.
Know that you are not doing just fine
without him.
Know that you need him.
Lay your head down at his feet,
because those who bring themselves low
God raises up.

‘When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor,
He told them a parable:
“When you are invited to a wedding banquet,
do not sit in the place of honor,
in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited.
Then the host who invited both of you will come and tell you,
‘Give this man your seat.’
And in humiliation, you will have to take the last place.

But when you are invited, go and sit in the last place,
so that your host will come and tell you,
‘Friend, move up to a better place.’
Then you will be honored in front of everyone at the table with you.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 14:7-11)

A Proud Man

A proud man cannot love God.
He loves to see himself attending church
and being seen to do good.
When he prays, he doesn’t look to God
but delights in seeing himself pray.
He loves how he sounds when he talks about God,
but he doesn’t love God
because he doesn’t really know God’s love for him
and he doesn’t really know himself.
When you walk with God
you are walking with the brightest light
you have ever known.
It is a light that is never blocked
and never casts shadows.
It is a light that permeates all.
Walking in such a light,
in the presence of such perfection
you see what a broken man you really are
and have always been,
only you could never face up to it soberly.
And in that moment of terror,
knowing that you deserve nothing,
God’s love around you
glows like a warm fireplace
all the more.
And you know that you have never
been loved like this,
when you see how much he has known
of your brokenness,
how he has seen down into the depths of your heart
and knows the darkness there
yet loves you completely
with an invincible promise.
Then you will love God.

Slowing Down and Using Prayer Words

I just wanted to make a few follow-up comments from my last post on cultivating interior silence. When we use a short prayer or verse to focus our minds, we need to approach this practice in the right way. In modern society, there is a tendency to rush, to do things quickly. When we read, perhaps we skim read. (Are you doing that now?) When we go for a walk, it’s brisk. We are not used to slowing down and taking our time, but in this practice of interior silence it is vital.

When we are reciting our prayer words, we need to be keeping an eye on ourselves, that we are not rushing it, that we are not trying to force something. It’s really not about how many times we can recite the prayer. It should be done slowly and peacefully. We need to keep in mind the wider perspective, that the aim is to slow our minds down, to calm the inner chatter, and to enter into rest in the presence of God. We are just using the prayer words to gently anchor our attention on God, so we are not carried away in thoughts.

What we are trying to depart from is busy mental activity, so we can go deeper with God, down into the heart. So we should be careful that our recitation doesn’t become busy mental activity itself. We want to be sinking down into silence and presence. If your recitation slows right down and even stops, that is fine. Rest in the silence. There is a letting go taking place. We are not trying too hard, to achieve something, or force something to happen. It is more about being than doing.

We want to become more present in this moment, not eager to move on somewhere else. This is something we can practice in daily life. We need to resist the anxiety that wants us to rush to the next thing, like we perpetually have ants in our pants. As St. Anthony, the desert father said, “wherever you live, do not easily leave it.” If we follow this advice throughout our day, it will help us when we do sit down for formal prayer.

Cultivating Interior Silence

These our my current thoughts on cultivating interior silence. These ideas are in no way final and my understanding, as ever, is a work in progress.

It is true that we cannot control God, or make spiritual experiences happen by our own will or efforts. We can’t make his felt presence turn up. God is in control, and it is by his will that he will commune with us. However, it is important to know that we have some work on our side, to facilitate his presence. As the prophet Isaiah commands us, we must “prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

We have the seed of the kingdom within us, but like a farmer we cannot force the crops to grow, we have to wait. The growing of the crops is the work of the Lord, but any good farmer knows that he has work to do to facilitate this growth. He must prepare the soil. If he does not prepare the soil, he cannot expect a good crop to grow.

There is a story from the book of Proverbs, where Solomon comes across a vineyard that has been badly neglected:

“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
(Proverbs 24:30-34)

Yes, it is God’s business when he turns up, or when the crops grow, but he has prepared works for us in advance, and these works include spiritual works. If we are like the owner of this vineyard, and we have neglected our spiritual disciplines, we cannot complain that God hasn’t turned up. If we really want to host the presence of God, we must prepare the soil by cultivating interior silence. Sometimes, God will show up with no effort on our part, and interior silence will follow from his presence, but most often encountering his presence will follow from interior silence. I’m not saying this is the only way to prepare the soil, but cultivating interior silence is an important spiritual discipline, if we want to go deeper with God.

God says to us, “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) So “be still” here is a command or an instruction. It’s something we do on our side, that God is asking us to do. It is a spiritual work that God has prepared for us. Like a good farmer, we need to tend to our inner soil regularly, and not let it get completely out of hand like the vineyard Solomon came across.

So how do we produce this silence within us? There are many methods, and if you are really serious, I would pick up a book by Richard Foster, such as ‘Sanctuary of the Soul’, or Pete Greig’s ‘How to Pray’. There are many good books out there, but these are a couple I think are brilliant.

Pete Greig explains interior silence beautifully in his book, ‘How to Pray’:

“Five hundred years ago, St John of the Cross captured the tranquillity of such moments in a lovely phrase: ‘my house now being all stilled’. The lights are off, doors locked, the street outside has fallen silent and inside every living thing has been put to bed. Finally, I am ready to host the whispering King.”

The essential practice is to rest our attention on God, and train ourselves to overcome distractions. One method I would do is to sit still on a chair, in a comfortable position but with my back straight. Then I would scan through my body, noticing any tension and consciously releasing it and relaxing each body part. Then once my body is all settled and stilled, I will bring to mind a short Bible verse, such as “be still and know that I am God”, or “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”, and I would slowly and quietly repeat this, gently focusing my attention on the words. Then when my mind wanders away and I get distracted, I simply notice this has happened and bring my attention back. This process of getting distracted and then coming back is the method of training in concentration. This will help us to cultivate interior silence, if practiced regularly. Ideally, daily. Around 20 minutes will do, but there is no shame in starting with a shorter time and building it up.

“This process of getting distracted and then coming back is the method of training in concentration.”

Using our imagination is another helpful way of fixing our minds on God and overcoming distractions. You may want to experiment and see which method works best for you. You can try imagining a scene from the life of Jesus, or using the visual descriptions of God from Revelation 1 or Daniel 7. The fundamental practice is the same, whether using a short verse or a visual image. It’s about fixing our attention on God and overcoming distractions. It’s about noticing our attention has wandered and then gently bringing it back.

You can also combine this with your daily Bible reading. You can read through a chapter slowly and meditatively, and focus on a short verse or phrase, or a visual image, that seems to stand out for you, and take this as your object of focus.

You will find that as you cultivate interior silence, some of the obstacles between you and the Spirit will fall away. I notice, that if I still my mind first, then I go on to reading the word or singing worship, my experience of God is intensified. In worship in particular, it is helpful to keep these principles in mind. Singing to God with our attention fixed on him, having overcome distractions, can lead us into deep encounters with our Lord.

However, we should not try to hunt for big experiences or feelings, as this can lead us to discontent. The most important thing to keep in mind throughout all our spiritual practice is that we should surrender to God’s will. We are not trying to make anything happen, to achieve any experience or become a success in some way. We don’t want our prayer time to become all about our ego and striving. We surrender the moment to God. We let go. “Whatever you want to happen in this time God, let your will be done.” This letting go and surrendering is so important, and if you take anything away from this blog post, please let it be that.

Taming the Wild Beast

I was watching a documentary where a reporter was going to meet people who had managed to train dangerous animals, and the one who interested me the most was an old cowboy called RC Bridges. Now RC had trained a Buffalo called Wildthing since it was young. At first Wildthing would try to attack him every day, but RC would act as if nothing was happening, and eventually Wildthing gave up. Amazingly, RC was able to establish himself as the alpha male, largely through psychological means. For example, Wildthing will spend hours trying to lift up the metal fence surrounding him, and then RC will come along with the key, so Wildthing thinks he’s really strong. He will even look at him and think, “wow”. RC will hold him by the horn and Wildthing thinks he really has him.

What is the most amazing thing to behold however, is that Wildthing will even enter RC’s home. And when he does, this huge animal that is so rough and wild outside becomes incredibly gentle. While in the house he doesn’t knock anything over, as if on tip-toes and he will even go outside to urinate.

When asked how he managed to house train a Buffalo, RC replied that he didn’t, and that he doesn’t know how he would even begin to house train him. “What you have to understand”, says RC, is that Wildthing knows that everything I do is for him, to protect him and bring him happiness, and I never do anything against him.”

A wild and aggressive creature is made gentle, not through force or control, but through love. We are all Wildthing. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, we do not find a master who forces us to change or threatens us with punishment. God’s love and care for us comes as a gift, that we can neither earn nor deserve. He saves us in his mercy because he so desires to, not because of anything we have done ourselves. And it’s recognizing and receiving this great love that defies understanding that makes us gentle and peaceful in spirit, which is very pleasing in the Lord’s sight.

And this is how we are to love others, to often ignore and overlook the insults, as hard as that can be, to repay evil with kindness, not to force or threaten, but to trust in God’s love to change a heart, as only he can.

Trusting in the Invisible

If we are going to grow in life, it’s going to require faith, or “trusting in the invisible.” For most of our lives, we only operate on the visible plane. We respond to what we immediately see or touch, we regurgitate the things we already know, constantly affirming and strengthening the things we already believe and know about.

In a conversation we mostly focus on what we ourselves are saying, and when we look at another person we think our own thoughts about them, label them and mind very little what they might have to say about themselves. And when we imagine God or the lack of a God, we imagine him as we would have him be, in ways that agree with our own ideas and beliefs. We are constantly just self-perpetuating, going round in a circle and never really getting anywhere.

Anything new is invisible to us. God is invisible. The hearts, the thoughts and feelings and motivations of others are invisible to us really. We see only what we imagine them to be. So if we don’t trust in the invisible and look past ourselves to try and truly listen for once, we will never get anywhere and learn nothing.
Some of the most painful experiences for humans are invisible to all those around them. I’m talking about mental health. If we see someone with a broken leg, then this is quite credible in our eyes, but it’s much harder to take mental health seriously. We don’t see what another person is experiencing in their inner world, we don’t know the battle they are facing, so our own judgments about that person’s condition are far, far from adequate.

It’s going to require something more of us, to put ourselves aside for once, and to listen to what other people have to say, in their own words, giving them the benefit of the doubt, hearing it from their perspective with no judgments of our own. We’ve been wise in our own eyes for too long, and listened to only ourselves for too long.

And when it comes to God, what does he have to say about himself? Not what we think he is or should be, but what he actually says about himself. Do we really want to know? Or does living in our own fantasies seem easier, feel safer? It isn’t.

Whoever told us that we were the most reliable person to depend on? Whoever told us that we were the most wise, that we should listen only to ourselves? Whoever told us we were qualified to make it all up, to judge everything? Whoever made us the creator and the judge of all? When did we become God in our own eyes?

And when are we going to venture out into the unknown again, into the invisible? When are we going to listen, really listen to those around us and God? It’s time for us to stop pushing our own limited perceptions on everyone and everything around us, and it’s time to start taking in new information again, to come out of our self-made cells and into the sunshine.

Christ is Contagious!

“When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
1 John 2:2

There is something about seeing Christ, that we begin to reflect him. To get close to God is to become more like him. His holiness is contagious. It’s in his presence that we are transformed.

In the Bible, morality and doing the right thing are understood as ‘fruits’. This means that we do not act rightly in order to earn our way into heaven. Right actions are fruit. In other words, they are ‘the result of’ a relationship with Christ. As we are spending time with the Lord, we are changed and those around us will notice this. It is usually not an instant change but is a lifelong journey. As Justin Welby says, “it’s process, not event.”

“Whoever does not love does not know God.”
1 John 4:8

God’s command is that we love others. We do not love others so we can earn God’s approval, rather our love for others is a fruit of our relationship with Christ. When we are close to him, we become like him. He rubs off on us. He is contagious. Walking in love, doing the right thing, these are evidences that we know Christ, because those who spend time with Christ become like him.

In the Old Testament, if people were unclean they could not come into the holy presence of God without being destroyed, and they had to undergo many rituals in order to become clean and get close to Him. In fact, their uncleanness was contagious, so they had to be careful that what was unclean did not come into contact with what was clean, as not to contaminate it.

“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'”
Isaiah 6:6-7

However, here we see in Isaiah this holy piece of coal from the altar, which had the reverse effect. It was something holy coming into contact with something impure, and instead of being contaminated by what was impure, the coal made holy what it touched. This was to foreshadow the One who was to come, who would make all holy by His touch.

We see this in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The teachers of the time would not touch the unclean, such as those who were diseased, for fear that their uncleanness would spread to them. However, Jesus turned this on its head, by reaching out and touching the unclean and healing them. Like the coal, whatever Jesus touched he made holy.

Even today, when we spend time with Him, in prayer and worship and learning from his word, we are being made holy in his presence, by his Holy Spirit. It’s not about us trying to be perfect by our own strength, it’s about having a relationship with Jesus. In his presence, we cannot help but be changed.

My Father in Heaven

I never knew my biological father growing up. I had a great childhood with a loving mother, step-dad and brother, but when I got older I sought out my birth father. I wanted to learn more about where I came from. When I met him he wasn’t interested though and he disappeared again out of my life.

Then I sought out God, wanting again to know where I came from, but this time I was not let down. In God I found my true, spiritual Father, the one who made me and formed me. And he made right every wrong.

Sometimes I get distracted by philosophy, approaches and books about God, and I forget that He is not a system or a ritual or a philosophy, He is my Father who loves me and desires to know me.

It was never about a system of belief, it was always about a person.Thank you Jesus for the new life you have given me, in relationship with you.