Prayer

The Peace that Passeth My Understanding

By Rev. Tabitha Isner

As a person of faith, I’d like to believe that I am filled with the Holy Spirit. Not in a speaking-in-tongues way, but in the sense that God’s Spirit impacts all aspects of my life, that God is present in each of my moments, helping me to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. But to be honest with you, it just isn’t true. When I am caring for a distressed friend, it’s usually true.  When I’m mentoring my “little sis,” it’s mostly true. But for the largest chunk of my time–the time I spend at work – it’s just not true. I am NOT Spirit-filled. 

Sometimes I think the problem is my job, the environment in which I work. It’s a bureaucracy, filled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and it requires excessive patience to wait for anything actually to get doneSo, day after day goes by, and I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment or appreciation.  But it’s not just me, and it’s not just my workplace. We’re all frustrated. Resentful. Impatient. Defensive.

At work, I am often NOT Spirit-filled. And yet, it’s not never. When it does happenwhen a spirit of grace and peace and gentleness fills my heart and mind, when I speak to my colleagues with patience and empathy as my sisters and brothers on this journey - I find myself completely caught off guard by my own actions and words. It’s not that they feel wrong or inappropriate. Quite the opposite. They feel wonderful.  Like a cool breeze sweeping unexpectedly through a stuffy room. They feel right and obvious. Like the muscle memory of climbing into bed in the dark. Of course I am filled with the Spirit! Of course I am responding to a stressful situation with grace and peace and gentleness! It’s the most natural thing in the world.

And I’m 100% baffled about how it happened. 

The thing is, I’ve been praying for peace. I’ve been praying that the Spirit might grant me the “peace that passeth understanding,” that standard Christian notion from Phillipians 4:7.  I imagine it as the Zen calmness of one who knows her place as God’s beloved child and therefore is unruffled by the stress of deadlines and unscathed by the rough edges of inconsiderate coworkers. It’s a good prayer, I think, the kind that, if granted, would bring me closer to God and also to my neighbors. I’ve been praying it for months now and simultaneously reading books and blogs about how to make it so. But to no avail. I still don’t get it. I haven’t found an effective trick for staying in that Spirit-place throughout the day or for ordering up an injection of Spirit when the need arises. 

Sure, I have those unexpected moments when it just happens, but I want more. I want to be the expert on the peace that passeth understanding. I want to be able to do it consistently, on command. I want to be a master of Spirit-channeling. I want to control it. The Spirit. The chaos-ordering, death-defying, church-birthing, millennia-crossing Spirit of God. If I’m being honest with you, I have to admit that I don’t want the peace that passeth my understanding. I want the peace which I completely understand, and can predict – but that others are impressed by, saying, “I just don’t understand how she does it!” And having put it that way, I have a sudden clarity that I’m not going to get it.

So back to the drawing board.  No, not the drawing board. The prayer mat. It’s time to give up my self-conception as the expert designer and instead assume the position of baffled gift-receiver. It’s time to pray this prayer again, this time asking for the ability to blindly accept the Spirit’s incomprehensible gift of peace; to lean in to the fact that I can’t control when the Spirit shows up in me, I can only welcome it when it arrives. It’s time to pray for the peace that passeth right over understanding and skips straight to my heart.  I pray it comes to you too.


Tabitha Isner is a government bureaucrat by day and a church consultant when she can talk someone into it.  She confesses to a long-standing habit of practicing theology, feminism, and statistical analyses.

Does God Still Speak?

By Daniel Adams

When we read through the Bible today it seems as though way back then God was always speaking with somebody.  God walked and talked with Adam; God spoke to Cain; God liked Enoch so much he took him; God gave Noah instructions; God gave a promise to Abram, and so on, and so on.  And that’s just the first twelve chapters.  

It seems like God speaks to everybody except me.  It becomes easy to feel left out of the conversation.  For me, it’s reminiscent of every party I went to while I was in high school; and, there weren't many.  There was a group of jocks in one corner, talking about practice; there were musicians in another, prattling on about the halftime show; there were shop guys, cheerleaders and nerds. There were conversations going on all around me; and, I wasn’t a part of any of them. There I stood in the middle of it all, trying to edge into the conversation. 

“Hey guys, the homecoming game sure was exciting, huh?”

(Awkward pause.)

It's easy to feel the same way when we read the Word.  

"Hey God, that Exodus sure was exciting, huh?”

If you, like me, sometimes feel left out, there are some things to remember concerning revelation, enlightenment, and God speaking to the individual, that help me feel better:

1.) Keep in mind the vast expanse of time that actually passed biblically between messages from God. For example, Ten years passed between the time God spoke to Moses about giving him an heir and when God spoke to Hagar about returning to Sarai (Genesis 16). Thirteen more years passed before God spoke to Abram again (chapter 17).  We read the Bible as though those things happened rapid-fire; but, they did not.  Abraham went twenty-three years between messages from God.

2.) Consider the extremely small percentage of the total population of the earth that ever heard God speak, ever. Even if there are hundreds of examples in the Word, there are billions of people who have lived and died since the dawn of time.

3.) Exclude all messages prior to the flood. God changed the rules at that juncture.

4.) God now has the Bible through which to speak to us, a luxury that was not afforded prior to Moses, and was not readily available to the bulk of humankind until the early 20th century.

 

Does God still speak to people individually?  

The answer is a resounding "Yes."  And this is not a new question, it's one we humans have been asking over and over again throughout the ages.  Isn't there a story somewhere about a prophet hiding out under the crag of a stone waiting for God to speak?   

Part of the problem is that we try to place God in a box.  In other words, we want to hear God how we want to hear God.  We want God to peer down through a gap in the clouds and shout with a big booming voice.  But if there's anything to be gleaned from the scripture it is that God is unpredictable.  We can never know how God will chose to speak from one moment to the next.  

God speaks through nature, humanity, the Word and even through media.  One has only to seek the divine to find the divine.  How can we be sure it's God we're hearing?  It is a matter of faith.  There is no acid test.  There's no litmus paper for the voice of God.  And we may never know from which direction the word will come, or in what vehicle it may arrive.  God speaks through friends and foes, on mountaintops and in valleys, especially in valleys.

We must listen for God's voice and learn what it sounds like.  Often, for me, it comes down to picking up on the internal voice, the prompting of a thought that rarely sounds like something I would naturally think.

A couple of years ago I lived in a small apartment above a working garage.  It was inexpensive; but, the upside ended there.  It was noisy, homely, smelled of motor oil and was a half hour drive from my children.  After my divorce, however, it was the best I could afford.  I had been praying for an improvement, but saw no options on my budget.  

In late March I pruned apple trees for a local orchard, as I had done for several years running.  As we worked in the field that contained the bunkhouse, where the migrant workers stayed for a couple months out of the year, the owner grilled me with questions about my living situation, what it cost, how I liked it, whether or not I had a lease, etc.  I didn't understand why he was asking; but, he's a great guy, and seemed genuinely concerned, so I answered honestly.

"How would you like to pay me a hundred dollars less and stay right there in that bunkhouse?" He said.

Within two weeks I was living in the bunkhouse, a rustic cabin with a million dollar view.  It was quiet, spacious, smelled like apple blossoms and from my living room I could see much of the Presidential Mountain Range, and it was two minutes away from my kids.  As I prepared for bed in my new home on the first night I had one of those thoughts... you know, the kind that don't sound like something I would think.

It said, I want you to bless the orchard.

Elated, and grinning ear to ear, as I had been since I started unpacking, I agreed.  I knew the voice, and understood what it meant.  Each day as I drove through the field of trees I pronounced a blessing for a good heavy crop of fine looking fruit, right out the window of my car.  No altar, no sacrifice, no religious mantra; I didn't stop and kneel. I didn't even turn down the radio.  

As the season progressed I learned that the orchard wasn't doing so well financially.  They had lost their contract with a food chain in Florida which purchased most of their apples; and things were looking poorly for the picking season.  They thought they may not even bring the migrant workers to the field.  And then the frost hit.

It was late, the blossoms were already on the trees and all of New England experienced what they call a "Killer Frost."  All the orchards were hit, from up-state New York to Maine.  Blossoms fell to the ground everywhere, un-pollinated.  Many orchards lost their entire crop.  The owner of the orchard I lived in was particularly worried. 

I just kept blessing the trees. 

By harvest, the field I lived in had a beautiful crop, all the apples were sold, and I shared the bunkhouse with thirteen Jamaican apple pickers, instead of the three they had planned on having.  A field boss who had been in New England apple business for thirty years told me he had never seen such a wonderful crop of apples in one orchard.  This, he thought, was peculiar in a year that had seen so many orchards with poor or no crops.

Did God speak to me that day in the spring when I was moving in?  Yes.  It would be impossible for me to deny.  Have I ever heard the audible voice of God?  No.  But I find that God speaks to me plenty; although, it typically means I am being humbled in some way. 

What is really at question, as with anyone seeking enlightenment through any religion, is, how committed to being enlightened are you? How open are you to receiving enlightenment through various sources? Do you keep questions to which you seek answers in the conscious part of your brain?  And most importantly, do you make time to listen?

We are a people who, in an effort to conserve time, have become slaves to time. Everything is moving faster and faster. We have quickened our pace, but not in a healthy way.  I’ll give you  an example.

Before vacuums existed people used to take carpets outside and beat the dust and dirt out of them.  Carpets were scantly placed in key areas of the house, in front of the entry, beside the bed, under the kitchen table, etc.  Vacuums made cleaning  them easier.  In the new age of ease, wall to wall carpeting became possible.  First we carpeted our living rooms, then our bedrooms, then our hallways.  Then we put a small carpet beside the shower, in front of the toilet, in front of each sink, and kept the one in front of the entry.  Because we have vacuums, the pets can live indoors.  We can vacuum their hair.  So, beating the rugs, which was a ten minute chore once a week, became a two hour project three times a week.  How is that easier?

We created a small block of time and squeezed a large block into the gap.  In doing so we have closed off portions of our mind simply because we do not have time to use them.  Our ability t hear God is greatly dependent on our willingness to listen.  God always likes, and often speaks to those who seek God daily.  God will speak to you, and when you realize that has happened, you will have to decide whether or not to believe.

Time Bandits

There is a kid in every group that has sudden outbursts of seriousness. For me, it has been Will. Once in a while the joking and teasing give way to deep insight, especially if we are talking about the end of the world. “So, the Mayans stopped making notes after 2012! So What! My calendar doesn’t go any further than 2012. Calendars are cyclical. Maybe they figured someone would grasp the concept of cyclical by 2012!”

Time can bring out the serious side in many of us and bring out the crazy in others. Some feel time as a stressor, worried they won’t get to complete their to-do list or their bucket-list before running out of time. Some experience time as a task master, pushing them forward with no grace. Some feel time is rapidly clicking away and that Jesus is saddling up the horses of the apocalypse for next year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Often I hear the expression “God’s Time.” Occasionally it refers to creation and how so much could have been done in a traditional week. Occasionally it refers to ancient times when God seems (based on scripture) more active in the world. More often that not, it is in reference to a patient future. “Things will happen in God’s time.” In other words, there is no use worrying when something will happen because only God knows when and it may not be soon.

In all of these, God’s time is either a construct of the past or future. What about the present? Isn’t this God’s Time too?

I have always believed that if everyone put their first priorities first, all our busy schedules would just click like a well maintained clock. I have always believed that if everybody made time for those things that are most important, they would have the energy to do all the things they claim they don’t’ have energy for. I have always believed this but have struggled to do it and lead a church family to do the same.

We do all kinds of things to “make time” in our lives. Calendars, agendas, smart-phones, workshops on multi-tasking, 5 hour energy drinks and cabinets full of time-saving devices for the kitchen. In reality, we can’t make or save time. It just keeps going.

The pressure of it drives some of us to act goofy avoiding the issue. The pressure of it drives some of us to drink, shoot-up, sleep-around, log-on, zone-out or what ever else we can come up with to distract our fearful minds. The outcome is a world that feels like it's moving even faster and more out of control. Maybe that's what we get for trying to control time.

A friend of mine recently shared an adaptation of scripture that seems to speak well in this present time. Instead of “Be still and know that I am God,” he says, “Chill out and know that you are not God.”

Ouch!

Researchers tell us that young adults (and not just those in the church) are spending a lot of money and Google search time on ancient prayer disciplines. Fasting, keeping hours, and other disciplines most often associated with monks and nuns. In this crazy hyper-speed world we live in, people are longing to live in God’s Time. They are looking to see how people did it in the past, hoping to find a better future. Searching for God’s Time.

It is interesting that ancient prayer disciplines are making such a come-back. There are places in scripture where the Disciples are off to keep the daily prayer cycle. The tradition was preserved through monastic orders among others. It is an ancient cycle of prayer that calls us to stop every three hours and talk to God.

Maybe we can find God’s time now. Maybe we can find a rhythm or cycle to life that is grounded in prayer. Maybe we can tell the coach or instructor or event leader, “no.” Maybe we can make time to simply listen and be present with family. Maybe we can give of ourselves to serve those in need. Maybe we can stop filling the calendar with stuff we hope will distract us from the reality that time is running out.

Maybe we can chill out and remember we are not God.

But we are God’s people.

Maybe we can find God’s Time now.