Stop, look, listen: redeeming each moment

In the last two posts, we’ve been talking about Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to redeem the time. We looked firstly at the challenge of making the most of each kairos moment, and secondly at how the past and the future can distract us from the present.

If we’re going to redeem the time, then the only time we have the power to do that for is the present – by being ready to make the most of each individual moment. By being aware, and noticing those kairos moments.

So when we realise the past or the future are rushing in and overtaking our thoughts, let’s try and get in the habit of slowing down, and being more aware of what’s going on here and now.

Stop, look, listen.

It might sound cheesy, but let’s give it a go.

Stop.

Be present; be observant. Notice what’s going on inside you. Let go of judging your own thoughts and feelings. Just let yourself experience them, and bring them before God. Maybe it’s a positive feeling – gratitude, or joy. If so, acknowledge that feeling! Sit with it and let yourself enjoy it. Give thanks and rejoice with God.

Or it might not be a good feeling. Maybe instead it’s pain, or fear, or anxiety that you’re experiencing. It’s OK – you can be honest, and notice that too. Show it to God. Take the time you need to work through and name each emotion.

When we’re too distracted to stop and be in the present moment, we get in the habit of hiding who we are from God, and from ourselves as well. And as a result, we don’t get to truly know ourselves the way God made us.

Look.

What can you see happening around you? If you’re on your own, then stop and really notice your surroundings – where are you? What’s around you? What can you see, hear, touch, taste, smell? We so often rush through our days just getting from one thing to the next, one place to the next, one appointment to the next, but the journey and the in-between is part of God’s gift to us as well.

Be present and notice your surroundings. Every part of creation is a gift from God, so let’s start to become more attuned to it and able to give thanks for it. The wind blowing, the warmth of the sun shining on our skin. A rainbow lorikeet flying out in front of you. A flower growing on the side of the road. All these gifts given to us in a day, in a single moment.

Listen.

What can you hear going on around you? If you’re in conversation with someone, are you really hearing what they’re saying?

Let’s all learn to stop doing that thing where we spend the whole time the other person is talking thinking about what we’re going to say next, instead of actually listening to them. Notice the person you’re talking to. What’s showing on their face? What are they really saying, what are they really asking for? How can you serve them in that moment – what do you have to give to them?

Or – what do you have to receive from them? It’s not always about trying to be the one who gives, trying to be the one in control. Sometimes God calls us to be vulnerable and receive. Sometimes God brings us into connection with another person so we can learn from them, other times so we can teach them, and other times… so we can just be with one another. But we need to be present and listen to know which is which.

Let’s try and retrain ourselves not to be distracted, but to be people that stop, look, and listen. To be people that are in the habit of noticing what’s happening right here, right now.

This is how we “pray without ceasing.”

So often we’re afraid of being in the present moment – but it’s only in the present moment that God speaks. What is God saying to you right now?

Walking with God one step at a time

What does the Lord require of you?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. It’s not complicated… and yet it’s everything.

From one perspective, it can seem too big. To spend a lifetime always being just and merciful and humble sounds impossible – none of us are that virtuous all the time. But it’s something we can choose to do in each moment. So forget about it being something you should have done yesterday, or will do tomorrow. We can’t redeem all of eternity. It’s just one action, now, this moment. You can manage that! Don’t worry about what follows. That will just be one action, one moment, too – when you get there. But right now, your presence in this moment is all that matters.

Maybe though that feels too small. Maybe you feel like, “what’s the point?” Is my one little moment of doing justice, or of being merciful, really going to make a difference to the world?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. Do it any way. Because changing the world isn’t the point. Leaving your legacy, impressing people, setting world records – it all sounds great, and it’s tempting to make it all about that, all about how doing one tiny thing now will benefit us and make us look good in the long term – but that isn’t the point.

Redeeming each moment

Responding to God in this moment is the point. If we do that, then the rest may well follow, but let’s leave eternity to God. Our job is just to choose to redeem this moment.

If you give it a go now – if you stop, look, listen – then what does a redemption of this moment look like for you? What does doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with God look like right now?

Maybe it’s asking someone to come and have lunch with you. Or maybe it’s taking time out for yourself, observing the Sabbath, making sure you get the rest you need. Maybe God wants you to go to bed early for once! Or spend time with your family. Or get some exercise, or call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or finish that really difficult unpleasant job you’ve been putting off for days on end.

I don’t know what God’s speaking to you in this moment. But God does, and you do. We just have to stop, look, listen. Take a breath. Let ourselves be here, now, however that feels. Let the Spirit guide us in redeeming this moment. And then the next one. And then the one after that.

Then, moment by moment, all our tiny, seemingly insignificant little moments of choosing to be with God add up to become a whole way of life. A life that looks like following Jesus, our very own Redeemer. A life that looks like walking with God one small, humble step at a time.

Today’s Good Samaritan: who is your neighbor?

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

Luke 10:30-34 (NIV) (read verses 25-37)

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps we even know it so well that it’s lost its punch a little bit. I’m sure you could recite it roughly, if asked! Some guy gets hurt, two people pass by and ignore him, the third stops to help. Person number three was the one who acted like a “neighbor” – and, so the moral goes, so should we.

The title of this famous parable has become part of our lexicon. “What a Good Samaritan!” we say. Shortened even to, “oh, she’s such a Samaritan!” The word has ceased to refer to a people group, as it once did. Now it often just means “a good guy”, someone charitable and helpful.

But who were these Samaritans, really?

Who were the Samaritans?

The Samaritans were ancestrally closely related to the Jews. They followed a religion that was similar to Judaism in many respects, but still different enough for Jews to see them as heathens. Their main disagreement was about location – the location of the Holy Place of Israel. Samaritans had built their own temple at Mount Gerizim, roughly 25 miles north of Jerusalem, and they believed this was the true Holy Place, not the temple in Jerusalem.1

About a century before the birth of Jesus, the Jews supposedly destroyed the Samaritan temple and the surrounding territory. Years later, closer to the time of Jesus’ birth, a group of Samaritans took their own revenge for this destruction. They desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by scattering the bones of dead people around the sanctuary.2

To put it simply, the Jews and Samaritans had very little respect for each other. There was ongoing violence and enmity between the two groups. The low opinion that the Jewish people had for the Samaritans during this time was the background of this parable.

“Holy” and “righteous” – but not necessarily loving

When we go back and read the story with fresh eyes, now we can see some surprising implications for these first-century listeners. In describing what it means to do the work of God, surely we would expect Jesus to choose one of the first two passers-by as the neighborly character in this story – the priest, or the Levite. These first two men, after all, were the “holy people” of Jewish culture. They were righteous and well-respected; the kind of people you expected to do the right thing. People that you counted on to do the right thing.

But in fact, by virtue of who they were, showing kindness in this situation actually put them at greater risk of doing wrong in the eyes of the Law. You see, priests and Levites weren’t meant to come into contact with dead bodies. This made them ritually unclean, something they had to avoid at all costs. If the injured man were to die while they were helping him, they would have to go through a strict ritual of purification before resuming their duties.

Being holy made it all too difficult – it got in the way of them actually being loving.

Who might these two respected, “righteous” people be, do you think, if the story were rewritten for today’s audiences?

Can you think of situations today where religion gets in the way of loving? Or can you think of situations when you might have turned away from someone who was in need of help, because you were concerned with the appearance of righteousness?

Meeting Christ in the outsider

It’s after the priest and Levite have passed by that we get the real shock of the story.

Jesus tells his listeners that it’s someone outside of their religion – someone who believes all the wrong things about God! – who is actually the one doing God’s will.

What? Scandal! Outrage!

The Samaritan – the one classed by this first-century Jewish audience as outsider, heathen, impure, barbaric. This is the person is doing good, demonstrating love, acting like a neighbor. Against all expectations, and in spite of their background and beliefs, this is the person that Jesus holds up and praises as an example.

This would have been a hard message to swallow for these people who had been taught to hate the Samaritans, to believe they had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and to see themselves as unquestionably superior.

Who is the Samaritan today – and who are you?

Think again about how this story might sound if Jesus were telling it today. Who would this third character be, do you think? Who are today’s ‘Samaritans’ to those who count themselves as insiders to the Christian church?

Let’s bring it even closer to home. Let’s do the tough work of examining our own hearts, here. What kind of people are ‘Samaritans’ to you, personally?

Are there people whose good deeds you have ignored, or rejected, or belittled, or simply felt uncomfortable acknowledging – because they didn’t come from the ‘right’ sort of person?

How often do we say things like, “it doesn’t matter so much what people do, it’s their heart that matters” – when what we really judge as “heart” is whether they look right, or dress right, or worship in the right way?

But actions are what really reveal someone’s heart, aren’t they? Jesus knew that. So do we, deep down, but sometimes maybe we don’t want to admit it. Sometimes we’d rather believe the easy, comfortable lie that the state of our heart is justified by the tribe we’ve aligned ourselves with.

The truth is tougher to swallow. But it’s the truth that will set us free.

Are there individuals or people groups that you’ve dismissed in your life, that Jesus is calling you either to be a neighbor to, or to acknowledge that they have been a neighbor to you?

Good News: what does it mean to share the Gospel?

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

How often have you heard pastors preach on the Great Commission? Or heard other people in church speak about the importance of effective evangelism? Of not being ashamed of the gospel, and being ready to share your testimony?

Go out and make disciples of all nations, they cry! Tell everyone you meet about this Good News, about what Christ has done for them and for you! Take every opportunity to tell the world, tell someone, tell anyone, how good it is to be a Christian!

But what does it really mean to “share the Good News”? What was Christ really asking of his disciples, and what is he really asking of us?

The “Three Minute Sales Pitch Testimony”

Have you come across this idea in evangelical circles of having a prepared, practised, “three minute testimony”? Something you can spout out and recite on command whenever required, whenever an opening presents itself?

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that preparing such an account is without merit. It’s a great exercise for our own spiritual growth to think about and write down an honest, concise description of why you’re a Christian. It’s helpful to clarify what your spirituality actually means to you, and what experiences have led you to hold your current set of beliefs.

The problem arises not with giving an authentic account of our faith, but with transforming it into some kind of marketing spiel. Such speeches tend to fall on deaf ears. Worse, they do harm, because it becomes apparent in the delivery that the speaker doesn’t actually care about their audience. They only see them as a potential sale for this “gospel” they’re advertising.

A better testimony: Listen and love

By all means, share honestly and vulnerably what Christ has done for you. But be careful your testimony doesn’t come across as a weapon, designed to manipulate or to shame. That was never the intention of the Great Commission.

In our last post, we saw how instead of jumping into trying to “fix things”, the example set by Christ is to love first. And just as Jesus grieved with Mary and Martha before raising Lazarus, so too we should sit with a person and love them before trying to “sell” them our idea of salvation.

How can we know what “salvation” is for a person, if we haven’t taken the time to find out what they need saving from? How can we preach the “good news” to someone, if we haven’t listened to them enough to know their needs? Reducing the Gospel to a one-size-fits-all marketing message is dehumanising. It dehumanises those we deliver it to, who are individuals with their own unique hurts and desires, worthy of being known and heard. It dehumanises us, too! You’re worth more to Jesus than the slickness of your three minute testimony and your ability to market it well. And it cheapens the actual good news of Christ, which says that each one of us is loved and valued for who we are.

Remember that good news looks different to each person. So let’s not be blind to someone’s unique situation in the rush to tell our practised story. If you really want to bring someone good news, first love them enough to know what “good news” means to them.

“Jesus wept” – God prioritises loving over fixing things

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

John 11:32-37 (NIV)

It’s famously the shortest verse in the Bible – the verse that lazy Sunday School kids trot out when tasked with memorising Scripture.

Jesus wept.

It may be brief, but boy, do those two words pack a punch.

The setting: One of Jesus’ close friends in Bethany, Lazarus, has tragically fallen ill and died. And worse, Jesus wasn’t even there for him during his final days. Visiting a neighbouring town, Jesus received word of Lazarus’ illness, but chose not to return to Bethany sooner.

When he does arrive back, Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary, also dear friends of Jesus, cry out to him in anguish. Why weren’t you there? Why couldn’t you save him? They are desperately grieving for the loss of their brother, and wanting to understand how it all went wrong. They can’t understand why their friend – and the one they called Savior – seemed to leave them all alone in their darkest hour.

Now, we know how this story ends. We know that only a few verses later, Jesus gives the triumphal cry of “Lazarus, come out!” – and miraculously, Lazarus rises from the dead.

But before we get to that extraordinary finale, we have this curious moment, where Jesus…

weeps.

Jesus grieves alongside Mary and Martha, even knowing what will happen next.

Jesus doesn’t diminish Mary and Martha for their grief. He doesn’t tell them that their sadness comes from a lack of faith. He reminds Martha of her faith, yes, and asks her to reassert her belief in him (see earlier verses 21–27), but there is no reprimand there, just comfort and reassurance; a gentle but powerful declaration of hope in the midst of her despair.

Nor is he aloof from or unaffected by their emotion. No, he shares in their sadness, and this is perhaps the most confounding thing, because we see from earlier verses that he knows Lazarus will be raised. It seems reasonable to expect that Jesus would stride in, say, don’t worry! I’ve got it all under control! and simply cut straight to the resurrection part. Isn’t that what we would do, given the ability? If we’ve got the power to fix things, then surely we should just get on with the fixing! Why waste time crying, grieving, over something that’s going to get better soon?

Jesus shows us by example here what it is to be fully present in each moment. In this particular moment, there was pain and grief that needed acknowledgment. In the moment that followed, there would be miraculous healing and joy – but they weren’t there yet. And so Jesus demonstrates his love for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha by sitting in this present moment of grief for Lazarus’ death – even though doing so means experiencing the same pain and heartbreak that his friends are suffering.

Christ doesn’t consider himself above grieving alongside his friends. Christ does not separate himself from this painful emotion; no, he walks through it with Mary and Martha, feeling every bit of distress that they are at the loss of Lazarus. When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he is “deeply moved and troubled”, writes John. God is with us in our pain and grief.

We’re told that many saw the raising of Lazarus, and believed in Jesus as a result. No doubt they were amazed and in awe of such a miracle.

But those who witnessed the moment just beforehand, when Jesus wept, said this: “See how he loved him!”

And that, right there, reveals to us so much about the character of God. Christ responds to us in each moment by choosing love, even if it’s painful. God doesn’t rush to smooth things over, diminishing us in the process. God sits and weeps with us first, letting us know that we truly are not alone. That demonstration of love takes precedence over any miracles, any demonstration of power.

Blessed are we when our impulse is to love first, before trying to fix things, even if we are derided as weak and ineffective for doing so. Blessed are we when we understand that this is as much a part of any healing as the ‘fixing’ itself.

Self care: an important part of building God’s Kingdom

A little while back, I wrote a short post entitled Tending to my corner of Creation. It talked a bit about our tendency to feel guilty taking time out for self care. It reminded us, though, that we’re a part of God’s creation — “fearfully and wonderfully made”, the Psalmist writes! So it follows that we should place a high value on looking after ourselves well. There’s no need for a guilty conscience where proper self care is concerned.

I’d like to go into a little more depth with some of the ideas I touched on back in that post. But first, let’s look some Scripture.

Elijah’s self care ‘fail’

Do you remember Elijah’s moment of despair — that little tale in 1 Kings 19? Poor Elijah was in fear for his life. He’d been faithful in prophesying God’s word — but for all his efforts, Jezebel was threatening to kill him. At this point in the story, it all seems too much for him. Elijah is tired of running and running, but never getting anywhere! He’s wondering if any of his efforts have even made a difference. He’s wondering what the point of it all is. Elijah has reached a place of desperation, and of bone-deep weariness. Perhaps you can relate.

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

1 Kings 19:4b-6 (Read 1 Kings 19:1-9)

So what does God do? He doesn’t say, “Get over yourself, Elijah! Stop wallowing and get on with the job.” He doesn’t tell Elijah everything’s going to be fine, or to cheer up, it’s not that bad!

God gives Elijah sleep. God gives Elijah food and drink.

Then, He gives Elijah more sleep, and more food and drink.

Then, and only then, does Elijah decide he is strong enough to face what’s ahead.

Forgetting self care: the dangers of “running on empty”

Things often look better after a good night’s sleep, don’t they? A proper meal helps, too. When we take care of these basic needs in our own lives, we tend to see things with more clarity. We approach situations more rationally. We deal with set-backs with more resilience, and we’re less likely to take things personally.

Sometimes, we become so consumed by a particular task, that we end up neglecting our basic needs. Maybe we’re not even aware we’re doing it. We might still be going through the motions of eating and sleeping — but perhaps the meals are rushed and not as healthy as they should be, and the sleep is low on quality as a result. Like Elijah, we can get caught up in this cycle of running and running, and never stopping, but never really getting anywhere, either. Eventually, we end up running on empty. We become so exhausted that we forget our original motivations for whatever it was we were doing. We collapse in desperation, wondering what the point of it all is.

In today’s fast-paced world, constant busyness can seem like an unavoidable fact of life. Making time to care for one’s self requires intentional focus. It requires setting aside time to plan meals, to schedule quiet time, to get enough exercise and enough rest. That might mean consciously shifting our priorities.

Deferring self care to others

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who picks up the pieces for you when you forget to look after yourself. You know the type of person I’m talking about — maybe a parent, or a spouse, or a close friend. That person in your life who makes sure you eat a vegetable every now and then. They remind you when you’re due for a health check-up. They drag you away from the computer screen at 2am, when you’ve been staring at it for so long you can’t keep your eyes open anymore.

These people are such blessings to have in our lives! But the truth is, we can so often take them for granted. We fail to notice that they’re spending time looking after things that we should be taking care of ourselves.

Now, in saying this, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t accept help when we really need it! If you’re struggling with your health, and you’ve got a supporter out there on your team helping you shoulder the burden, then skip over this section. This is not meant to make you feel guilty!

But sometimes, we place burdens on those close to us, when deep down we know that with wiser prioritising and more self-awareness, we could carry those burdens ourselves. If that’s the case, we need to make some serious changes. Neglecting ourselves so that someone else has to do the hard work instead is beneficial to no one.

“Because you’re worth it”

Ultimately, we bear responsibility for our own self care. We might justify overlooking our wellbeing because we’re too busy serving others. But if serving others comes at the expense of our health, we won’t be any use! We won’t have the physical, emotional, or spiritual fitness to be able to support or serve anyone.

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Did you see that? God’s handiwork. That’s you! That’s someone worth taking care of. And someone, furthermore, who needs to be taken care of, so that you can actually do those good works that God has prepared for you. Carrying out those works has to start with discipline and faithfulness in our own lives.

God’s Kingdom: bearing each others’ burdens in balance

Once we’ve sorted out the self care thing, we start to gain awareness of those areas where we’re pushed to our limits. We start to have a clearer picture of where we might need to rely on our friends and family to help us out.

And on the flip-side, we also become more aware of those areas where we have particular gifts to bring, where we can help carry burdens for others in our community.

This is how we do Kingdom living! This is how God intends for His community to work and live and love together. But none of it can be done well if we don’t get our own house in order first, so we have the strength and the endurance to live out our calling. So that we know, realistically, when we actually do need a hand up from a friend. And we know when we’re sturdy enough to be able to hold that hand out to someone else.

So go ahead. Make that doctor’s appointment; invest in that gym membership. Buy some fresh vegetables. Whatever it is that you know you’ve been neglecting about yourself, it’s time to tackle it. It’s time to look after the you that God made you to be, so you can carry out the good works he’s calling you to do.

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Lent begins this Wednesday March 6th. Traditionally, Christians observe Lent by giving up something, or observing a new spiritual discipline. How might you observe this season of Lent?

Being right: how important is it to you?

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark 2:23-24 (Read Mark 2:23-27)

There’s an oft-shared comic by popular webcomic author xkcd, in which someone ignores his partner’s pleas to come to bed, because “Someone is wrong on the internet!”

The popularity of this comic no doubt stems from its relatability. We all know that frustration of hearing someone misrepresent a topic we feel strongly about. We can relate to that driving impulse to correct and inform, when we’re confronted with something that’s wrong, so wrong!!

Sometimes the frustration arises because it’s us who is being misrepresented. Have you ever felt the fury and indignation that comes with being falsely accused of something? The burning desire to set the record straight and vindicate ourselves overpowers anything else.

But other times, we can get all riled up over something that’s got nothing to do with us personally at all. And yet, defending the “rightness” of our ideas can seem as close to the heart as defending our own reputations.

The idol of being right

It’s easy, I think, for our ideas and beliefs about the world to become intertwined with our identity. So when someone challenges what we believe, we take it personally. We see it as a false accusation, as slander, if someone disagrees with us, and we take it upon ourselves to correct them by any means possible, in order to clear our name and restore truth to the universe. Being right, and being seen to be right, becomes not just academic, but of personal importance.

I get the feeling the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were a bit like that. They were so infuriated by Jesus and his disciples doing things differently — ignoring the prescribed traditions by not observing Sabbath correctly. Following tradition in the ‘right’ way had become an entrenched part of their identities. But Jesus has a simple, yet brilliant response for them:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees had become so concerned with the principle of observing the Sabbath, that they’d forgotten the very people it was intended to serve and benefit. They were all hung up on being right.

People over principles

It’s easy for us, too, to forget that people are more important than principles. Let’s try to keep this in mind the next time someone disagrees with us. Is the argument worth your relationship with that person? Is it worth making them feel bad about themselves? Do we really know everything we think we do about the situation, and where the other person is coming from?

Sometimes we’re better off just going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep. What seemed like a life-and-death dispute the night before is often revealed for the petty spat that it really is, with the clarity that morning brings.

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Have you ever participated in an argument that seemed more important than it really was?

Have you ever “lost” an argument, for the sake of keeping the peace?