Encouragement From The Word

God’s fingerprints

I’m sure you’ve had those kinds of days, as I have, full of unexpected annoyances.  I won’t bore you with details, but I will say that they were not pastoral issues; let’s be clear:  people are not annoyances.

But one day this week (well, more than one, really), I found myself engaged in Wild Goose Chases that left me feeling out of sorts and flustered.  When those days occur – and I can’t imagine that they don’t happen to all of us – I’ve learned to do all I can to take a step back in the midst of them to ask where God is present, and how I have prayed through the situations at hand.

I have learned to do this because, invariably, if I describe the day to my spiritual director at our next meeting, she’s going to ask me where I sensed God’s presence and how I prayed through the situations at hand!  So I might as well come prepared with an answer.

If you’re anything like me, you find it easy, on days like that, to feel overwhelmed and stuck in the (unpleasant) moments.  But if you can take a step back – even a baby step – and look at where God may be present in the midst of it all, it can garner you some remarkably helpful perspective that will help you deal with whatever has befallen you at the time.

For instance, though I found one thing piling on another earlier this week, I also found a few graces that might otherwise have been overlooked – good things that cannot and should not be taken for granted.

When we live each moment, intentionally, in the presence of God, it becomes easier to step back and find even small areas where his fingerprints are all over the situation.  In so doing, we receive comfort, and find our faith strengthened for whatever may happen next!

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him” (1 Chronicles 16.11, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

An ever-flowing stream

There’s a verse in an old hymn that says,

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the op’ning day.

Time is something we tend to think a lot about as the year closes.  To be frank, I’m thinking a bit more about it than usual.

On Wednesday, I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend who that day turned ninety-eight.  It’s hard for most of us to conceive!  But she is well, all things considered, and it was a joy to talk with her.

Then, on Thursday, I hit a milestone – the half-century club.  I’ve always believed age is just a number, but this one has caused me to pause and ponder a bit more than any other, perhaps because it is such a profoundly round number!

The end of the year, like a milestone birthday, is an occasion both for looking back and looking forward.  What have I accomplished in the past year (or half-century)Who have I becomeWhat do I hope to accomplishWho do I hope to become?

The ancients called an exercise like this the examen, an examination of both conscience (what I’ve done and who I am) and consciousness (how aware of God and his activity in my life I’ve been).  It’s something they actively encouraged we do not only annually, but daily.

Life coaches and new age gurus (who don’t necessarily overlap much) will often tell us to visualize goals as a means of doing what we want to do, and being who we want to be, in a prescribed period of time.  Making goals both attainable and tangible certainly contributes toward their accomplishment.  But I would stir that pot for you a bit by suggesting that what matters more in that conversation is this:  What does God want us to do, and who does God want us to be?

I encourage you to spend a few moments, as the year closes, asking those questions.  Because time, “like an ever-rolling stream”, seems to fly by with greater haste as we grow older.  Let’s make the most of it.

We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.  The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9.4, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 12.

Encouragement From The Word

Being aware

Where I serve, it’s annual meeting season, so a flurry of reports is being compiled in preparation for the one meeting the government mandates the church to have every year.  (This is true of most churches, except those that may be run by a board of directors instead of one of the more common forms of church polity.)  I don’t know many people who are big fans of meetings, but one thing the preparation for an annual congregational meeting does is cause one to pause and look back on the year that has passed.

The ancient practice of the examination of conscience and consciousness, made popular by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is normally seen as a daily spiritual discipline, but it can also be a monthly practice, or even an annual practice.  The process of compiling annual reports can be harnessed as a form of spiritual discipline, whereby we think back on the year and see where God has been at work, and how aware we have been of that activity.

Let me encourage you to take some time, maybe this weekend, to just sit quietly before God and think back on 2016.  It may have been the best year ever for you, or it may have been your version of the annus horribilis.  For most of us, it was probably somewhere in between.  But by sitting quietly and reviewing the year, we can look for those areas where God was noticeably present and obviously at work.  We can rejoice in those gifts of presence and activity.

Or, if we have not been able to see God at work, we can ask why we were not sufficiently attentive to God’s presence.  Thus, this examination becomes more than a “year in review”; it becomes a way of deepening our faith, of doing a gut check on our walk with the Lord.

Why not take time this weekend to take a look back?  Maybe you’ll see God’s fingerprints all over everything – such cause for rejoicing!  Or maybe you’ll be like Jacob at Bethel, who upon waking from his dream said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Genesis 28.16b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Looking back, looking ahead…with God

One of the great spiritual practices of the ancients that is being revived in these days among Christians is the notion of the examination of conscience and consciousness.  Normally, this is a daily undertaking, whereby we consider the day that has passed, and ask the Lord to help us see both where we have sinned (that we may confess and be forgiven) and where we have seen God at work (that we may rejoice).

This can also be an annual practice, however.  As we sit at the end of 2016, let me encourage you to spend some time before God today or tomorrow, asking him to help you review your year, particularly to highlight areas where you have seen his hand at work in your life.  Take some time to sit with that and praise the Lord for his faithfulness.

There’s no formula for it; we can see God’s beauty in a flower growing by the roadside in summer, or in a snowdrift in winter; we can see God’s hand at work in a ministry we undertake or in the lives of our children as they grow in Christ.  God’s fingerprints are all over so much!  The challenge for us is to take time to notice them, and to praise the Lord for his activity in our lives.

At the same time, take time to ask God’s blessing on the year to come.  If it helps, use these words from hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be

In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.

Another year of progress, another year of praise,

Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

 

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,

Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;

Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;

Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

 

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,

Another year of training for holier work above.

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be

On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

 

May the Lord bless you with more grace as you look for where he has been active in 2016, and as you pray for him to be active in 2017!

Encouragement From the Word is taking a week off and will be back on January 13.

Encouragement From The Word

A calendar change

Happy new year!

I have a habit – a tradition, of sorts – that I undertake every time I change a calendar. I did it this morning before sitting down to write this. In my study hangs a calendar, right over my computer table, which I can consult for checking dates – but also for receiving modelling inspiration and invoking memories. It’s a Canadian train calendar. And each year, when I take it down to replace it with the next year’s edition, I review the photos that went with each month. It’s hard to pick a favourite, since one photo might have a favourite locomotive and another might have the most breathtaking scenery. Occasionally, they combine for a “keeper” shot!

(In case you’re interested, 2014’s calendar favourites included a tie between VIA’s Canadian tied down in the station in Vancouver in 1986 and a Canadian Pacific RS-18u posing in front of the majestic old CP station in MacAdam, New Brunswick. I’ve visited the former; I hope to see the latter on a future trip east.)

A similar habit could be undertaken of the snapshots of our lives over the course of the past year, couldn’t it? If you’re a Facebook user, you know that their magical algorithms choose a bunch of photos for you to display, if you choose, as the highlights of your year in Facebook photos. But your own memory can do better: consider the events that comprised 2014, and look for where God was at work in your life through those events.

This may not be a quick undertaking. You may need to set aside an hour, or even the better part of a day, to ponder, prayerfully, what God has done through the events of your life in the past year.

One of the values of doing this is to quicken your sense of being able to see God’s hand at work in your life this year. Even if you consider last year your annus horribilis, it will still be a good exercise to see where God was at work, even in the midst of your suffering or trials. And I can tell you this: God was at work in you, and God is at work in you. That, if nothing else, should give you cause to start this new year with rejoicing.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139.7-8, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

Examine your life, starting with your day! (Thanks to Ignatius.)

Have you ever engaged in the ancient spiritual practice of examen?  No, it doesn’t have anything to do with taking a test when you get to the Pearly Gates.  The examen is a practice that likely dates earlier, but was popularized by Ignatius of Loyola in the fourteenth century.

Ignatius was a Spanish soldier who experienced a profound conversion while recovering from battle wounds.  He founded a religious order – the Jesuits – and created a series of “spiritual exercises” for those in his order, and others who would find them helpful.  Only recently have Protestant Christians ‘discovered’ them and put them to use.

Among the exercises commended by Ignatius was the examen – not an examination to determine how much you know, but an examination of one’s self and life experience to consider the ways in which God seemed most present, or least present, in one’s day, week, month, year, or even life.  Some practise the examen once a year, while others practise it daily.  Some even wait until they know life’s end is near to look back and find God’s presence in their years.

I’m an advocate for practising the examen on a daily basis, as a growing part of the relationship with God.  Typically, this can happen at the close of the day when one is preparing for a night’s rest.  You can think back on the events of the day, and before God consider where God was most active, whether in encouraging or admonishing or comforting.  At the same time, you can consider where God seemed most absent, or most distant.

These are good things to which to pay attention on an ongoing basis, and doing so daily makes it much easier to note the details of our lives.  Did God’s Spirit minister to you in a special way at some particular point?  Praise him! Perhaps you might keep a journal in which you thank God for those moments when he seemed closest and was at work in your life.

Did God seem far away at some point in your day?  Take time to ponder why that was the case.  Since we know from Scripture that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Joshua 1.5; Hebrews 13.5), we can take on faith that if God seemed distant, it was not because God was distant; we just chose not to involve or engage the Lord in that part of our day.  Perhaps you might journal that, too, and ask God to help you to be more aware of his presence.

The Psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me, and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139.23-24, NIV).  I encourage you to try the examen as a tool to invite God to search you, and know your heart.  Let it be a daily part of your growth in Christ. You won’t be disappointed as you see the transforming power of God’s grace at work in your life!