Close Your Eyes and Breathe

By Michael W. Raley

Before the coffee begins to brew,

The thoughts come rushing in:

“You need to do this today.”

“You have to do this too.”

“Don’t forget about this.”

“You have to do this on Friday.”

“You’ve been putting this off.”

“You’re out of this, you need to get it today.”

“You should have started the day earlier.”

The list grows well beyond what I planned.

Stop!

Close your eyes and breathe.

Come back to this moment.

Close the mental browsers that don’t need to be open.

Step back and reason through this.

Focus on one and only one task,

Then move on to the next task.

Gradual momentum and gradual goals,

Just as you would read a book:

Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then pages, then chapters,

Then the book will be finished and will be on the shelf with the other finished books.

 

 

 

 

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The Mountains

By Michael W. Raley

I close my eyes and retreat into my mind.

I can see the mountains as if I am there.

The majesty, the beauty, the only place

Where my spirit, mind, and body are at peace.

The winding roads,

The gorgeous blue skies

Seemingly untouched by industry.

The snow-capped peaks at the height of summer.

Nature’s grandeur of wildlife-

Elk, big-horned sheep, and marmots

Living out their existence.

How my soul longs for the mountains!

The mountains are not obstacles,

But a point of perspective.

For when viewed from the mountain top,

Our problems become small and insignificant.

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

If you desire to be a better athlete, musician, public speaker, writer, artist, chef, or anything else in life, you need continuous practice. Natural ability and talent can go so far, but to further hone one’s skills, one must take the time to practice. Brother Lawrence in his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, humbly and brilliantly shows us how to increase God’s presence in our lives through our daily practice of living.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) was born Nicholas Herman and served God as a lay-brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. The Practice of the Presence of God is a combination of conversations, letters, and spiritual maxims Brother Lawrence had with various people and was compiled and published after his death by his friend, Joseph de Beaufort.

Brother Lawrence states, “The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.”[1]

The principles put forth are so simple and profound, we can easily overlook them in the overly busy, overly frustrating, and overstimulating days that make up our Twenty-First Century lives. You do not need advanced theology to understand that God is omnipresent, always with us, but do we take the time to acknowledge Him during our day?

“Brother Lawrence insisted that, to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive a great joy at being His.”[2]

No matter if he worked in the monastery kitchen, the monastery shoe repair shop, or just going into town to get supplies, Brother Lawrence dedicated everything He did to God. It was out of his love for God that Brother Lawrence sought to please God, not to be rewarded, but to show adoration for God’s grace in his life.

“He [Brother Lawrence] was content doing the smallest chore if he could do it purely for the love of God.”[3]

We often think that we need to do great things for God in order for Him to love us. However, Brother Lawrence insisted that we can bring God and ourselves joy in the simplest of chores. Imaging cooking for your family and how often that is a thankless chore we can come to dread. But, what if we were to view cooking for our family as a way to show God thankfulness for the family that we have? What if we were to take a lesson from Brother Lawrence and thank God before we began a chore and thank Him afterwards for the opportunity?

“Brother Lawrence declared that he felt much closer to God in his day-to-day activites than most people ever believed to be possible.”[4]

Another way Brother Lawrence practiced God’s presence was to speak to Him openly and frankly, as if he was talking to his best friend. It was said that Brother Lawrence went to God in all matters great and small and discussed them with Him.

Of course we know our modern world is full of distractions- smart phones, the Internet, television, movies, video games, and other sources of entertainment. These distractions, if we allow them to, will take our energy and focus away from enjoying God’s presence. According to Brother Lawrence, we must direct our thoughts toward God and God’s presence. If we do get distracted, we can simply repent and begin again. Overall, The Practice of the Presence of God shows a tremendous spiritual depth at the relationship between the Lord and Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence describes how God had blessed him so much when he made the habit of seeking God’s presence out of love and devotion. What if we were to praise God just because He is God and has saved us? Are we capable of seeking God without the hope of a material reward? If we practice God’s presence, God will give us the grace and strength we need to overcome life’s difficulties.

Brother Lawrence’s book concludes with the three blessings we receive from God’s presence:

“The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times, since it obtains the grace we need to deal with temptation and to conduct ourselves in the world…Second, the practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God’s secrets through practice of our holy exercise…The third blessing is that this practice causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God, who is a consuming fire, who reduces into powder whatever is opposed to Him.”[5]

For anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God or is starting out in a relationship with God, I would encourage you to read Brother Lawrence’s words because they, like Scripture, have much to say regarding a more spiritual life. God bless you all.

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington PA: Whitaker House (1982): 67.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 21.

[5] Ibid, 71-72.

Toward a More Practical Faith

Everyone regardless of their spiritual background has faith. For example, a farmer who plants his seed has faith that his crops will grow. If I go to work, I have faith that I will receive a paycheck at the end of the week. People put money in various stocks, bonds, and funds believing they will have money to live comfortably after they retire. A coach believes that his or her game plan will win the game. These are oversimplified examples of “worldly faith,” where principles are applied and put into practice. We can at times, however, view our Christian faith as something more abstract. We have the “saving faith” to accept what Jesus did on the cross, but we may be confused on how to apply it to everyday life.

The Apostle Paul’s influence on Christianity is undeniable, as he is the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament. Paul’s multiple missionary journeys touched countless people all around the world of his time. Though Paul was a very learned man and spoke with kings, governors, and religious leaders, his epistles to the churches were written for everyday people who were trying to live out their everyday lives. I believe Paul’s letters give us insight on how to live a practical Christian faith in our daily interactions with our families, friends, and coworkers. Just as Paul instructed the Philippian church: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NIV).

The following list is far from comprehensive, but I believe this will give us a foundation upon which we can apply biblical principles to our daily lives.

We must live our faith

 “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” (Philippians 2:12-15a, NIV).

How do we live out our faith according to Paul?

Value everyone as God values them

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV).

We must remember our lives before Christ

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh-who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, NKJV).

Remember that we are one church

 One of Satan’s best strategies is to divide and conquer. If he can keep the church at odds with ourselves, how can we stand together to defeat him.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7, NKJV).

We must continue to grow in the Spirit

 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17a, NKJV).

Don’t get caught up in petty arguments

   “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes. Knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NKJV).

Change your thinking

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV).

Put your time to good use

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV).

Accept what comes our way

Because we are in Christ, that does not mean that our lives will be free from hardship and difficulty, but God can use our stories to reach someone else. The Apostle Paul spoke of such an event during his first imprisonment:

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV).

Seek the higher peace

Finally, if we come to understand that God allows for everything that happens in our lives, we can live through the most difficult circumstances with a peace of mind that would baffle other people.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV).

May the Lord be with you and bless you.

Biblical Meditation

What comes to mind when you hear the term “meditation?” Do you think of someone in a yoga pose trying to clear their thoughts? Do you think of someone repeating a chant or mantra? Due to the influence of the New Age movement, these images spring to mind when meditation is mentioned. But, did you know that meditation is a biblical term as well?

Broken down to its most basic terms, meditation could be defined as “musing, pondering, contemplating, or reflecting.” In short, meditation is dwelling upon something, whether good or bad. Our thoughts can have a direct influence on our lives. If we dwell constantly on the negative aspects of life, we will become negative and cynical. If we dwell upon the good or seek out the blessing in situation, we will have a more positive outlook. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our meditation is a reflection of our hearts. The question then becomes what does “biblical meditation” look like?

Biblical Meditation is dwelling on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8, NKJV).

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2, NKJV).

“I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways…Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes…My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes…Let the proud be ashamed, for they treated me wrongfully with falsehood; But I will meditate on Your precepts…Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation…My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” Psalm 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148, NKJV).

When we meditate on God’s Word and our thoughts, a good analogy to use would be that of a garden. When you raise a garden, you must tend and care for it, making sure the plants get the right amount of sunlight and water, along with treating for weeds and pests.

 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.  Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:14-16, NKJV).

Biblical Meditation is dwelling on God’s goodness

It is easy to get upset about our current situation or opportunities that have been missed or handled improperly. It is easy to think about how unfair life is. However, if we cultivate our relationship with God, He will reveal His goodness to us. God is for you and not against you. God has given His Son, Jesus to die for your sins. If you are reading this, God has given you another day on this planet. Maybe God has saved you from a life threatening situation or brought you through sickness, poverty, addiction, etc. Whatever it is, when we feel overwhelmed, we must meditate on God’s goodness.

“When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:6-8, NKJV).

“May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.” (Psalm 104:34, NKJV).

Biblical Meditation is dwelling upon God’s work

On three occasions, I have traveled to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. When I am there, I cannot but help to gaze at the beauty of God’s creation. The majesty of the snow-capped mountains, the clear water, and the teeming wildlife all provide an awe-inspiring scene. It is in this environment that I begin to dwell on God’s creation. When we can stop and remember that our God created everything in nature, we can remember His current work in our lives.

“And I said, ‘This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.” (Psalm 77:10-12, NKJV).

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands.” (Psalm 143:5, NKJV).

Biblical Meditation is prayerful and uplifting

“Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation.” (Psalm 5:1, NKJV).

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NKJV).

“My mouth shall speak wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall give understanding.” (Psalm 49:3, NKJV).

As we go about our day, we must always be in a state of prayer. If we do not take the time to pray, we will become powerless Christians. Just as you take the time to talk to your spouse, children, and other people around you, so we must take the time to talk to God. If our thoughts are prayerful and uplifting, we will have the right perspective when problems arise. God bless you all.