Encouragement From The Word

Leisure: not what you think!

One of the things the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that our society, indeed the whole world that is influenced in any way by western culture, has been too busy.  Chances are, I don’t need to tell you that: it is more than likely evidenced in your own life, as it is in mine.

I read an article yesterday that was sent to me by a friend who is a monk in Pennsylvania.  It is entitled “Leisure in the Life of the Christian”, and appeared in The Catechetical Review, Issue No. 6.2.  In that article, the author, Simone Rizkallah, a Roman Catholic lay worker, wrote about the meaning of leisure.  She quotes Josef Pieper’s book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, wherein he writes that leisure is a “mental and spiritual attitude, a condition of the soul, an inward calm, of silence, of not being ‘busy’ and letting things happen.”

Since we tend to define leisure as the things we do when we are not working, this might seem like an apt definition by our standards.  But, if you dig deeper, there is far more to it than that.  Rizkallah suggests, echoing Pieper, that leisure is not the ancillary activity we undertake when we’re not doing the ‘main thing’ of life – working – but is intended to be the centre of life.

Talk about countercultural!

That doesn’t mean that our work is unimportant; quite the opposite.  But our work does not, and should not, define us.  (By implication, therefore, our lack of work ought not to define us, either – a word of grace for those who are currently unemployed!)  But we have tended, in our culture, to see leisure as entirely secondary to our work.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus, our true work is actually the practice of prayer and faith.  As Rizkallah writes, “without the silence, space, and time for the cultivation of leisure, I cannot pray well.  I cannot wait well.  And then I may not be in a prime position to recognize ‘when and how’ [God] arrives.”

I’m a big fan of etymology, the study of word meanings.  I’ve been fascinated by it for a long time.  The article I read noted that sloth is actually quite contrary to leisure:  “Slothful people are idle, restless, agitated, and often workaholics.  They are spiritually lazy and easily bored.”

Yikes.  Not quite the same definition as we have given it over time, eh?

Again, echoing Pieper, Rizkallah notes that the word ‘leisure’ in its Greek and Latin roots actually translates – virtually transliterates – to the word ‘school’.  Now, I don’t know many students who think school is leisurely, at least by our culture’s definition of leisure, but it’s where the notion of the liberal arts came from:  “[e]ducation was for the sake of (human) freedom, perfection, and salvation; not for the sake of work.  It seems while the West has largely forgotten this connection, its enemies have not forgotten.  For example, the terrorist group of Nigeria, Boko Haram (which means “Western Education is forbidden”), is one such example.

One more etymological gem:  the root of the word ‘culture’ is ‘cult’, which refers to worship.  Cult doesn’t have the same meaning in North America, where we see it as a hardline religious or ideological group that expects abject obedience from its adherents.  (There is an exception:  French-speaking churches in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will still refer to their worship gatherings as la culte.)

So if leisure is the basis of culture, then leisure is the basis of worship, at least in one sense.  But what do we worship?  Money?  That breeds materialism, which focuses on the economy rather than on human dignity.  Power?  That leads to a culture that political and even violent, says Rizkallah.  Honour?  We’ll be centred on vanity.  Pleasure?  We’re headed for hedonism.  But if our culture centres on the worship of God, that’s revolutionary.

I say all this to suggest that perhaps this season wherein we have far fewer options to entertain us might be an invitation from the Lord to reframe how we see our lives, and how we contribute to the culture around us.

Are you spending more time in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we can’t yet gather together to do so?  Are you spending more time in service to others in Jesus’ name, aiding the vulnerable and the needy?

Or are you hankering for things to get back to ‘normal’, so you can crowd out the opportunity to face these challenging questions with more busyness?

Spend some time pondering that today, while you still have the opportunity.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4.21-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Merry Christmas!

At this notoriously busy time of year, let me encourage you simply to stop for a few minutes, amid all that’s going on around you, and spend some time chewing on this passage of Scripture.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
  (Isaiah 9.6-7, NLT)

Let each name for Jesus in this prophecy wash over you, comfort you, and encourage you as we celebrate the most miraculous birth of all time.

Merry Christmas!  I invite you to worship at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on this special weekend.  Service times are printed below.  God’s best!

ChristmasInNobleton2017

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Be Still

I’ll bet you’ve had a busy week.  So have I.  So here’s what I’ve prescribed for myself, and I hope it’s of encouragement to you, too.

Just take five minutes – five whole minutes – to sit in God’s presence.  Pay attention to your breathing, and read these two small verses several times:

Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honoured by every nation.

I will be honoured throughout the world.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

The God is Israel is our fortress.

   – Psalm 46.10-11, NLT

Just let that sink in.  It’s worth your time.

Encouragement From The Word

Making time

What does prayer look like for you?

For many people, even seasoned believers, prayer is something that happens at meal times, maybe at bed time, maybe for a few minutes before the morning rush ensues.  But few of us take much time for this rich and important fellowship with the Lord.

If you’re one of those for whom time in prayer is limited, you’re in good company:  even most pastors do not spend much more than 5 minutes a day inimages prayer.  That said, such ‘good’ company is auspicious indeed.  What kind of relationship would we have with our spouses if we spent only 5 minutes a day in conversation with them?  Not much, right?  So why does God get crowded out of our lives in terms of the priority of time?

Perhaps one reason is that we cannot see God, at least not in a physically obvious way.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” we might say.  Another reason God gets crowded out of our lives has to do with his character:  God is patient.  Because God is Creator and we are the creation, God has no need of us, so he has no reason to beg us to be in relationship with him.  Yet God wants to be in relationship with us, so he finds subtle ways to invite us into his presence.  Can we slow down enough to take the time to notice God’s subtle invitations, and respond?

We seem almost to wear it as a badge, don’t we?  Someone asks, “How are you?” and we respond, “Great.  I’m really busy.”  Yet even the most noble tasks – even the most godly tasks – which make us too busy to spend time with the Lord need examination by us if we are to carve out time for our Maker.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  And it can start simply.  There will be interruptions, but as one person has suggested, consider each interruption yet one more opportunity to return to God.  Start with five minutes a day, and add a minute each week to your prayer time.  Even if you find you don’t have enough to say to fill the time, sit in the silence.  Let God speak to you, or just enjoy the silence with God as your Companion.

Rise up, my darling!  Come away with me, my fair one!  Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone.  The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.  The fig trees are forming young fruit, and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.  Rise up, my darling!  Come away with me, my fair one!” (Song of Songs 2.10-13, NLT).