Experience Life!!!

jon-flobrant-C2PvO6dOORY-unsplashI’ve been watching a set of DVD’s featuring Dallas Willard which is an accompaniment to his book “Hearing God” (great book). Willard (1935-2013) was a theologian, author, spiritual director, and professor at the University of Southern California. His books focus on how we grow in our relationship with God.

This morning this quote struck me:

“The only thing of great value we have in this life is our experiences…we are our experiences…they are spiritual experiences…these experiences are where we meet God and God uses them to shape who we are.”

Willard goes on to talk about how when we are aware of God’s role in our experiences (and He is involved in all of our experiences), we have intimacy with Him. It struck me that being still is the tool God asks us to use to increase our awareness of his role in all of our experiences and to grow in intimacy with Him.

When I am moving at warp speed, even if I am serving God and following His lead, I am not opening myself to the intimacy with Him that shapes my life. It’s only when I slow down to reflect on where I saw Him in my day and am curious enough to ask Him to show me where He was in my experiences – good and bad – that I am molded and prepared for new adventures.

Jesus promised, in John 15, to give us the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and comfort us. The Holy Spirit hovers around us all the time – like He did in Genesis 1 when He hovered over the waters of creation – but how often do we really allow Him to speak to us, to show us what God is doing in our experiences, and to allow ourselves to celebrate and embrace His power in our lives?

So, get out and experience life! Step out of your comfort zone! Do some new and adventurous (whatever that means for you) things this summer! Meet new people, experience new cultures, play with children, go into places where God wants to use His light in you to shine into darkness! Let God stretch you!

AND take the time to reflect on these experiences. Sit quietly by water. Soak in sunshine (when we have it). Do nothing. Journal. Talk to God and LISTEN. Reflect on your day and celebrate that God was all around you. Experience life and life abundant and be changed!!!!!

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:28

Living Forgiven

backlit cemetery christianity clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Do you live your life as one who is forgiven? If there was ever a time to think about this question, it’s this week – Holy Week. As believers, we are assured that if we confess our sins, He is faithful, just, will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This is what the crucifixion of Christ made possible for us.

However, we often live in the shadow of our sins. We live in regret. We live in fear that someone will find out the truth about us. We live in denial of the sinful patterns in our lives that separate us from God. We live carrying a weight, distracted and disconnected from our true selves and from God.

While God promises to forgive us, we often find it difficult to embrace His mercy and grace. We also often find it hard to forgive ourselves. When we live as unforgiven people, the light of Christ does not shine through us as much as God intends. When we do accept God’s grace and forgive ourselves, our lives change dramatically. We are freed from the weight of guilt and sin. We are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We can live the abundant life Christ promised us (John 10:10).

The abundant life is not a life free from trouble and pain. Jesus warned us that in this life we would have many challenges (John 16:33), but He also promised us peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) if we place our trust in Him. When we humbly bow before God and allow Him to purify us of all unrighteousness, we place our trust in Him that He will guide us into new life. In this trust, we find the ability to experience peace, joy, hope, and freedom regardless of our circumstances. This is the abundant life! This is the life that others can see in us and want to follow. This is salvation.

As you walk with Christ to the cross this week and as you celebrate his resurrection on Sunday, focus on the forgiving grace of God that Christ’s death provided to us at such great cost.  He wants us to live forgiven! He wants us to have the abundant life!

 

 

The Loudest Message in Silence – LOVE!!!

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him (Jesus) with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:35-38

The more quiet time I spend with God, the more the message of love rings in my ears and touches my heart.  In silence, God is our only resource.  I realized this several years ago when I went in for a breast biopsy after a suspicious mammogram.  My husband was very supportive and went with me.  Others were praying for me.  However, when I was laying in the silence of the examining room, it was just me and God.  When I relaxed and turned to Him, His love overwhelmed me and my love for Him became very real.

Unfortunately, it often takes these types of jarring experiences to allow God to penetrate our hearts with His love.  Lots of people share with me that they hate silence and they have a lot of trouble being still.  If its in stillness that we get the most profound experience of God’s love, is it any wonder that its hard?  Satan doesn’t want us to be in touch with God’s love, conveyed constantly to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  He wants us to stay busy, to work to control everything that scares us, and to be distracted.

Without a sense of God’s deep love for us, there is no way we can fully love others, especially those we find different from us or difficult.  There’s no way we can let our guard down enough to really allow others into our hearts.  Its too scary.  That’s why, according to Jesus, loving our neighbors comes after loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  When we are secure in our sense of God’s love for us – really secure – we can allow our hearts to be touched deeply by the needs of others.  Until then, others’ pain, needs, and desires scare us and we seek to protect ourselves.

Jesus was right.  Loving God and experiencing God’s grace allows us to love others.  It is also the only sound basis for us reading, understanding, and applying Scripture.  Jesus said this to the Pharisees – those who thought they understood Scripture perfectly, but were not basing their understanding on love –  in Matthew 22:38.

We don’t have enough quiet in the world we live in and we often don’t make it a priority to spend time with God when we don’t have an agenda.  That’s why fear, not love, is the underlying theme of the stories we see in today’s headlines.  Regardless of your political affiliation and what you choose as your source for updates, it is obvious that fear is ruling our world.  We are not secure in our sense of God’s love, provision, and power.  We are trying to control everything ourselves instead of loving others – even our enemies –  and working with them to solve the BIG problems we face.

I realize that some of you are thinking that I am an idealist and out of touch with reality.  I know there are many dangers in the world and enemies who seek to destroy!  I understand this and I get scared too.  But when our responses of choice are fighting, controlling, and protecting, we are not allowing God to speak to us and work through us.  We are getting in the way!

In silence, God is love and peace is possible.  In silence we hear the cries of the impoverished, oppressed, and abused.  In silence we are convicted of the roles we play in the Sin of the world.  In silence God gives us direction and purpose.  In silence, God reassures us that regardless of what happens in this world, HIS LOVE WINS and that we are safe.  I encourage you to spend more time with God in silence and let His amazing love pour over you.  It will make all the difference in who you are, what you think, and how you respond to the challenges of life.

 

 

 

 

Losing Your Cool

Sometimes people just get on my last nerve. Sometimes I’m too tired to react in ways that really accomplish what I’m after. Sometimes I lose my cool. It’s gotten even more difficult as the hormones of menopause have done their magic.  I also coach a lot of people who have trouble keeping their emotions in check. It seems with the chaotic and unpredictable nature of our world today, we are all finding ourselves a little frayed around the edges. It doesn’t help that much of the public discourse around us is dominated by gripping, complaining, and arguing.

grace.jpgSo what does God say about all of this? Well, we know that Jesus got angry and lost his cool at least a couple of times.  It’s one of the clearest signs that He truly was fully human. We also know that God gets angry – just read the Old Testament. What was behind their anger? In all cases, it was offenses against the Creator of the Universe. How often can I say that this is the source of my frustration and anger? Not very often. Most of the times I get angry it’s because my needs, my interests, my plans, my, my, my (whatever IT is)…. are not getting enough attention.

God calls us to examine our motivations especially when we are agitated, but that is soooo hard. It’s so hard to pull back, ask God to calm our hearts, and then allow Him to show us the source of our emotion. We don’t want to see it, we want what we want, NOW.

What comes out when we act quickly, from emotion, is what is truly in our heart. Jesus tells the disciples in John 6:45 “A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” This is why not losing your cool is not just about self discipline, but about relationship – our relationship with God. If we don’t build that relationship every day, how can we expect to have the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – that allow us to show others grace. These are the characteristics of a “good person.”

Oswald Chambers writes in “My Utmost for His Highest” (September 20); “The secret of a Christian is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life, not in times of communion with God.  When we come in contact with things that create a buzz, we find to our amazement that we have power to keep wonderfully poised in the centre of it all.” This poise comes from relationship and produces in us an ability to step back, examine our motivations, curb our natural emotional tendencies, and act in ways that do not avoid the issues at hand, but deal with them in a grace-filled and kingdom building way.

Is your life built on a strong enough foundational relationship with God that you are demonstrating the character traits of the “good person” you desire to be?  I know I have work to do. Time with Him, in stillness, is the cornerstone of the foundation.

God fosters wholeness and healing in guest during Spring Retreat

Feelings of refreshment and freedom washed over Diane Herrick during this year’s Seeking Stillness Ministries spring retreat on April 7-9. With the theme “Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God,” 20 guests reflected on topics of humbleness, generosity and love at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, Ohio.

diane herrick
Spring 2017 Retreat guest Diana Herrick.

“What we were focusing on was very freeing,” Herrick said.

Seeking Stillness Retreats, led by Executive Director Debra Griest, encourage women to pull back from daily life and hear from the Lord in a nurturing and safe environment. The reflection guides, atmosphere and schedule helped Herrick have intentional time with the Lord throughout the weekend.

“While you are there, it’s always about finding the Lord in the moment where you are,” Herrick said. “You could go at any place in life. He just meets you there. He always meets you there.”

With diverse groups of retreat guests, Griest creates the material for women of all ages and backgrounds.

“I only hear positive feedback on how Deb reaches each person,” Herrick said. “I think that takes someone special.”

The retreat came at a time when Herrick began feeling better after a year of illness. She experienced numbness and paralysis on her right side after a surgery. When massages were offered during the retreat, she took the opportunity and the Lord met her powerfully.

“During my massage, I started to feel in my right arm,” Herrick said. “Throughout the weekend, I continually felt Him – that He is right there while I am healing. He was encouraging me that it is OK to depend on Him for healing.”

Herrick said it brought her immense comfort and validation to know, on a heart level, that God was by her side healing her.

“I could go away whole and whole in Him,” Herrick said. “Maybe not perfectly healed and maybe not exactly how I was, but to Him I was healing and I was whole and I was His.”

Herrick feels more whole and ready to continue healing, but still faces chronic pain and numbness. Yet, her faith is not tied to her health.

“This is all that I am. All that I am is in Him. I am His,” she said. “That’s all I need to be. I am not going to be the person I was before surgery.”

The spring retreat also helped her find contentment in being a different person spiritually post-surgery. She is on long-term disability and appreciates the support she receives.

“It’s about my soul,” Herrick said. “I have learned to receive because I wasn’t able to do everything on my own. I am going to walk away telling His story and being His child.”

Since Seeking Stillness formed in 2010, Herrick has attended almost every fall, spring and recently offered summer one-day retreats. She also actively prays for the ministry and Board of Directors.

Overall, she describes the retreats as peaceful and prayerful.

“I always come away feeling as though I am in a new place with the Lord, and that we have had valuable and intentional time together,” Herrick said.

She appreciates that Seeking Stillness Retreats have a loose schedule, but no pressure to attend every session.

 “You are sent way with instructions, but you don’t have to go back,” Herrick said. “You can stay right where you are when you are in the presence of the Lord. It makes it really special.”

The design of Seeking Stillness Retreats makes them a true withdrawal from the busyness of daily life.

“So often women – when they go on retreats – they think of them as stressful, but they are not that at all. It’s a very peaceful time with the Lord.”

Herrick connects Seeking Stillness Retreats with her growth.

“I look forward to each retreat,” she said. “It always singles out something I need.”

The retreats have cultivated confidence in Herrick to share her testimony and knowledge. She attends Friends Church Willoughby Hills, and will share about her journey of healing at the upcoming women’s retreat.

“So often people leave what they learned there,” she said. “I came away in a confident place with Him. I am ready to go and speak in front of others. I hope that they take away something from what I have to say.”

Prayer as a Lifestyle

” Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In this hectic and confusing world, what does it look like to fulfill this charge that Paul left with the Thessalonians?  Often when I talk with people about prayer and the role it plays in their life, they respond “I just don’t seem to get around to having quiet time with the Lord.”  One non-profit ministry leader told me last week that he doesn’t really pray anymore, he leaves that up to the other people involved in his ministry.  Many people tell me they feel guilty that they don’t pray very often.

I’ve come to realize that while people say these things and feel they are not praying, they are often talking with God all the time.  This is life-style prayer.   Often our definition of prayer is too narrow and associated with the idea that we each need to spend dedicated time with God each day.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dedicated “quiet time” with the Lord and I do feel it is soooo calming and instructive to spend this time.  However, let’s face it, it’s not always possible.

Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks can happen anytime.   I talk with God all day long.  Yesterday I saw a kid on a bike narrowly miss getting hit by a car.  I audibly said “Thank You Jesus!” as I drove away.  People often ask me to pray for them and I am committed to do so, but this doesn’t always take the form of me sitting in my prayer chair with a candle lit.  God is everywhere and hears us from anywhere.  He’s told us he doesn’t expect long, windy prayers.  What he expects is sincere concern and care for others.

It’s easy to talk with God spontaneously when things are going well.  Remembering to give thanks in the midst of challenging circumstances is another thing.  Often God wants us to look beyond the present situation and allow him to show us, in the moment or over time, the “silver lining” purposes which he has put in our suffering.

Paul was a busy guy and so were the people of Thessalonica.  I am sure they talked with God throughout their days.  I am also sure that they did take time out once and a while – as often as they could – to sit and LISTEN to the Lord.

What Do I Want?

What Do I Want?

Deb Griest

Somewhere in my reading this week – of course I can’t find it now – I came across a question that stopped me in my tracks:

“At the end of the coming year, how would you like your relationship with God to be different?”

As much time as I spend thinking about, reading about, writing about, and talking about the relationship God wants with us, I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about the nature of the relationship I want with God.  Sure, I want to be closer to God, but what do I hope that might be like?  Sure I want to sense God’s presence and power in my life, but how would that be reflected in the quality of our relationship?

Often I think we tend to view God as very distant and unapproachable.  After all, He does sit on a throne, so how can I expect to have a really close relationship with Him?  He is reallllllly busy.  Although my head knows that God wants to have an intimate relationship with me, do I really expect and ask for that?  I don’t think I have ever explicitly prayed to God or talked with Him about our relationship.  I’ve talked with Him about all kinds of other things and just assumed that our relationship would grow naturally.  I think we often do that in human relationships as well.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus tells the disciples: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.   For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  James 4:2 says “You do not have, because you do not ask.

As I’ve reflected on the question above, I’ve begun to sketch out the type of relationship I really want with God.  To get there, I sense I need to make some commitments to God, but first and foremost I need to take my desires to Him in prayer.  I need to get a sense from Him about where our relationship currently stands, in His mind.  I know He’ll help me define what I need to be doing to be more open to the relationship I want with Him, He’ll open my heart in ways I can’t, and He’ll be more than glad to walk through the door I’m knocking on and give me the desires of my heart – in His time.

I encourage you to spend time with this challenging question as you move into 2017.  Is there any more important New Year’s resolution than committing to talk with God about your relationship?  My prayer is that at the end of this year, our relationships with God will be surprisingly different, amazingly more powerful, and steeped in an even deeper sense of love, grace, and gratitude.

Please remember that we are welcome to blog submissions from you.  If God is prompting you to respond to this blog or share something else with our community of faith, please send your submission to Liz at lmcarthur@seekingstillness.org.

The Power of Story

The Power of Story

Deb Griest

“Story telling moves us into the place where we trust what we know, even if it can’t be measured, packaged, or validated empirically

Annette Simmons
The Story Factor

 The theme of the Fall Seeking Stillness retreat was “Light in the Midst of Darkness.”  Throughout the weekend participants were encouraged to reflect on and talk with God about times in their lives when God had broken into darkness and brought them hope.  It wasn’t an easy weekend, because we were called to remember times in our lives that were painful, disappointing, and very difficult.  However, as we looked back, many of us could see how God was present in these times and how He also used these dark experiences for good, in the long run.

In the last activity of the weekend, we reflected on these questions:

  • Think about how you talk with others about darkness you have or are experiencing.
  • How might the way you tell this story impact the way you experience transformation from it?
  • How might God have used or be using your darkness story (or stories) for his glory?
  • With whom might God be calling you to share your story?

I think it’s fair to say that all of us were amazed at how powerful the process of remembering and telling our stories was as the retreat drew to a close.  We sensed God’s powerful movement in our hearts and in our midst.

What is it about telling our story that makes it so impactful?  William Barry writes, in a book entitled Letting God Come Close, “sometimes we need to be asked about experiences before we can recognize how important they are to us.”  He considers times in our lives when we sense God’s presence with us as touchstones – experiences we can revisit in our minds at times when our sense of God is not so strong and our hope might be waning.  He goes on to say that “remembering and telling someone about our profound experiences of closeness to the Lord can be a royal road to ever-deepening intimacy (both with God and with the other person).”

I had a clear example of what Barry is talking about this past weekend.  I was driving with a women I’ve known for several years.  We consider each other friends, but haven’t really shared our lives at a deep level.  In the course of our journey, she began to tell me about a VERY difficult time in her life as an African refugee.  We’re talking life and death situations over multiple years.  Throughout the story, however, she often stopped to tell me how God had provided for her.  She said she tells the story to remind herself that He is always with her, even when she doesn’t see Him.  She said it’s only in retelling the story that she has come to appreciate how He was protecting her life.  At the end of the story, we gave glory to God together, feeling both closer to Him, and closer to each other.

I’m convinced that God uses not only our stories, but the way we tell our stories to impact us deeply.  He especially uses our stories of how we’ve experience Him in darkness when we tell them to ourselves and others.  Not only do these stories give those who hear them a sense of God’s power and a degree of hope in their own circumstances, but they create in us a deep sense of God’s love and provision.  The more we tell our stories in a way that gives God the glory, the more our hearts are strengthened in trust and reliance on Him.

Sometimes we don’t want to remember the difficult times in our lives.  Often, we’re embarrassed to talk about them with others.  When we plow through life as if everything is fine or when we lock our memories away, never to be revisited, we miss gifts God wants to give us and to the world.

I encourage you to think about the reflection questions listed above and to take time to share the results of the reflections with at least one other person.  I would love to hear how God impacts you through this process.   Write to me (debgriest@seekingstillness.com) or send me a blog that we can post so others are encouraged.

Blessings on your Christmas Season;

Deb Griest

Coincidence?

There Are No Coincidences, Only God At Work

When you have your antennae up, looking for God at work, guess what?  You see God at work.  At the recent Seeking Stillness retreat weekend God was at work in mighty ways.  There were many situations in which people heard things described or discussed that had already been on their minds.  In one morning devotional we focused on a story from scripture that one of the participants had read the night before – she said she had never heard it before in her life.  God obviously wanted her to pay attention to it.  In another moment, a women shared a sense of how God was stretching her and the woman next to her began crying.  This second woman had received the same message during the weekend.  The group was amazed at all these “coincidences” and we all knew that it was evidence of God at work.

I’ve concluded that the world’s idea of random coincidence is Satan’s way of diminishing our attention on God.  There are no random coincidences.  When I run into someone in the grocery who has been on my mind, that is a God-appointed meeting.  I need to ask, “What does God want from me here?”  When the same person or resources are recommended to me by multiple people, I need to pay attention.  When I’m reconnected with someone with whom I have lost contact in the most roundabout way, there must be a reason.  When I read a devotional or even read a newspaper article and the message fits perfectly with what is going on in my life that day, God is speaking.

People tell me all the time that they’re not sure God is real or if they believe in Him, that they have a hard time seeing evidence of His active participation in their lives.  The next time you experience what the world would call a “coincidence,” take some time to stop and ask God what He’s up to.  Praise Him for showing you His handiwork, and ask Him to reveal His intentions.  Keep your antennae up and you will see God all around you.  He never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4).

Pilgrimage

There’s a small 1.5 x 3.5 mile island off the western coast of Scotland called Iona.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, during which Scots were Christians, the country reverted to paganism.  In 587 an Irish priest named Columba landed on Iona with the mission of spreading the gospel and re-energizing the Christian faith of the Scottish people.  He found on Iona a special place, filled with God’s presence.  The Celtic heritage of the place – focused on the wonder of God’s creation, the presence of God in everything, and the joy of people living in community – provided a great backdrop for Columba’s ministry.

Last month I had the opportunity to travel – as a pilgrim – to the Isle of Iona.  Pilgrimage is not a common devotional practice for Christians.  We hear more about Jews having a life goal of celebrating Passover in Jerusalem, or Muslims’ desire to go to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, known as Hajj.  Often Christians have “The Holy Land (Israel)” on their “bucket list,” but when we go, it’s often as tourists.

Through my Iona experience I learned that pilgrimage is different than tourism.  Traveling as a pilgrim involves intentional spiritual practice – prayer before, during, and after.  Pilgrimage is rooted in a desire to experience God more powerfully and to spend time in His presence.  Pilgrimage is less about the destination – there is nothing magical about Iona – and more about the process.  By stepping out of your comfort zone, traveling to a part of the world with which you are not familiar, and trusting that God will provide, all contributes to the experience.

I’ve traveled a lot over the years – for work and pleasure.  This was the first time I was a pilgrim.  I went on this adventure with a group, but much of the time I was by myself.  I started praying and journaling back in January.  My days on Iona were spent walking through pastures where sheep and cows grazed, praying in front of stone crosses where faithful Christians have stood for centuries, watching the fog blow in over the island and then dissipate in an instant, and sitting on the beach as the glorious sun set over the horizon.  Pilgrimage is about taking the time to notice God in action every minute of every day.

Pilgrimage is the gift that continues to give.  Since returning, people have asked me what I got from going to Iona.  I don’t have an answer for that question except to say that I know I am different than before I left.  I’m not sure I will ever be able to point to a specific decision I made, messages I heard from God, or changes in my perspective.  But, I know that I am different because I had this experience.

We don’t have to travel to Scotland or any other place considered “spiritual” (many Christians are going to the Camino de Santiago, Ephesus, Assisi, Jerusalem, mission trips…. ) to be on pilgrimage.  Anytime we leave the comfort of our homes, God has an opportunity to move in our hearts in a special way if we approach the journey with the right mindset.  I’m looking forward to viewing more of my business and leisure trips as opportunities for pilgrimage.

Where are you traveling next and what might God have for you in the journey?  Think about what you might do to prepare yourself, how you might spend the time so that you are open to God’s presence, and how you might return home in a way that makes room for God to continue speaking into your experience.

If you’re interested in finding out more about pilgrimage as a spiritual practice, I would recommend “The Art of Pilgrimage” by Phil Cousineau.  You can check out images from the Isle of Iona at http://welcometoiona.com.