During a seminar at the Buechner Writer’s Workshop today, one of the participants shared the following fragment of The Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: 

“Teach me to act firmly and wisely
without embittering or embarrassing others.”

I’ll post the entire prayer below, but I found these words to extremely helpful in navigating the difficult days in which we live both as a church and as a society.

For those of us who serve as pastors in Christ’s church, we are repeatedly called upon to make decisions that others disagree with. Sometimes the issues are relatively minor; sometimes they’re immense. 

In the midst of differing opinions–and we have never had access to others’ opinions the way we do today–it’s easy to become paralyzed and to seek for a way forward upon which all will agree. Consensus is nice, but rarely achievable.

At times we are asked by virtue of our office to uphold beliefs and practices that many today find deeply offensive. My insistence, for example, to employ the language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in the doxology drew awkward looks from some participants who favor, “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.” This is, of course, a disputed point in the PC (USA). However, as a pastor I must be deferrential to the language of the church over time and to the language of Holy Scripture, an attentive reading of which reveals that the Holy Trinity is delineated not primarily by function (i.e., Father=creator; Son=redeemer; Spirit=sustainer), but instead by being (three persons who are a single Divine tri-unity). The former model draws near to the heresy of modalism, which insists that there is a single God who at various times and places has acted to perform different functions.

Of course, we must never simply parrot the previous generations of Christian reflection on an issue. I’ve seen thise done–and been guilty of it too–it can be a counter-intuitive form of idolatry. However, we must engage in a deep, sustained, deferential conversation with those who have gone before us. 

And our conversations must extend, with grace, to those who disagree with us today.

There can be no more pertinent prayer than to ask God for firmness in the face of disagreement, even oppositio; wisdom in the midst of confusion; and, the grace to act in a way that neither causes others unnecessary offense nor that deprives them of their innate nobility as God-beloved humanity.

I’ve got a feeling that I will be returning to this prayer repeatedly.

 

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me. Amen.


Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayers/Eastern-Orthodox/Morning/Prayer-For-The-Beginning-Of-The-Day.aspx#p3mSP7Su2gWy6iQX.99

I’m happy to be at the Inaugural Beuchner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary this week. This is the first time I have returned to the seminary since I left in the seminary in January 1999 experiencing a profound crisis of faith precipitated by depression. At the time I was planning on being a baptist pastor, but in God’s wisdom I had to leave a PC (USA) seminary in order to become a PC (USA) pastor. 

This week I hope to make time to reflect on how writing forms the basis of my ministry. Perhaps I’m weird, but if I have anything of value to speak to anyone it has probably been written first. I am not aspiring to be a writer so much as a writer aspiring to grow in the integration of this element of my personality and vocation with my ministry as a pastor.

Stay Tuned

The Unhurried Life

June 1, 2015 — 1 Comment

“There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers”
Susan Cain 

 

Eric Liddell. Public Domain.


There’s an old saying that you can tell a lot about a preacher by what she chooses to preach. Truth is, most preachers speak to themselves and let the congregation listen in. I bring this up because in today’s post I want to look at some practices that seem to be in decline amongst many Christians. The danger is that I’m projecting my own struggles onto others. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been totally content with my spiritual practice. Perhaps its temperamental, but it always seems that I could be more earnest in prayer, more assiduous in study, more sacrificial in generosity. I have to return frequently to the gospel truth that regardless of my own efforts or diligence, I cannot recommend myself to God–Christ alone is the source of my salvation.
 
As I consider contemporary Christianity, I’m convinced that our churches need to grow in five areas:
  1. Scripture
  2. Silence
  3. Prayer
  4. Generosity
  5. Simplicity
Scripture
 
The Bible has become marginalized in the life of the church for a variety of reasons. Many Christians appear to be incapable of reading it for themselves and interpreting it as a guide for life and practice. The variety of interpretations of the Bible has caused some to give up and assign the Bible to some sort of secondary authority because since there is no unanimity of opinion it must mean that the Bible has nothing to say to me. In practice the Scripture is replaced by a culture-formed conscience. Others are just too busy, tired, or distracted  to sit with the Bible for the time necessary to actually digest it.
 
We face at least three challenges in the discipleship ministry of our churches:
  1. Teaching Christians to read and interpret the Bible for themselves and in conversation with the Church.
  2. Guiding Christians into an awareness of the relative values of the doctrines developed from the Bible.
  3. Equipping and encouraging believers to create space in their lives for sustained Bible reading.
 

Silence

 
By silence, I don’t mean the absence of noise. Instead, I’m referring to an inner silence–an internal quietening of the soul and the mind before God. Regardless of the stream of Christianity we’re in, each has a tradition of quietness in the presence of God. For some this is best done alone; for others it can be done in community. What’s needed, regardless, is the slowing down of our minds and of our hearts so that we are aware of our humanity and of the presence of a loving God.
 
As a culture we are loud, anxious, entitled, and manic. There are precious few sources of inspiration to this practice outside of the church. If the church is unable to encourage Christians to slow down before God, then it won’t happen. 
 
Prayer
 
I have a feeling that prayer as practiced by many evangelical Christians is no longer sufficient. If we are distracted, anxious, manic, it seems unwise to counsel Christians simply to cease that and enter into a quiet internal monologue. Experience shows that this sort of prayer practice will likely lead to a wandering mind and only a temporary abatement of internal noise. 
 
The church needs to work on providing Christians with the resources to prayer better. For example, I recommend that we augment our normal prayers with the use of a prayer book. Some fine examples include: 
 
  • Celtic Daily Prayer [The Northumbria Community]
  • The Divine Hours [Influenced by the Anglican tradition]
  • The Book of Common Prayer [Episcopal]
  • The Book of Common Worship [Presbyterian]
If this is something new to you, check out Scott McKnight’s book Praying with the Church. It introduces the concept of fixed-hour, liturgical prayer.
 
Generosity
 
By generosity I mean so much more than simply financial gifts. By generosity I really mean magnanimity. The Latin roots of magnanimous refers to a largeness of soul. It is the very opposity of a petty, small-minded, vindictive life that seeks only what is good for itself. Rather, the generous person seeks the welfare of all and considers others more esteemed than himself. It’s not thinking less of oneself; it is thinking of oneself less (to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis).
 
Simplicity
 
Simplicity is the opposite of complexity. It can also be, according to Oliver Wendell Holmes, something that is reached beyond complexity. His famous dictum is, “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give  you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” One of the gifts of a highly intelligent and diligent person is that of making complex ideas seem simple without doing violence to the idea itself.
 
As we look at our lives there is the sort of simplicty that is the result of laziness or of indifference–it’s easy to not be rushed when you’re failing to take responsibility for providing for your family or for contributing to society. Then there’s the type of simplicty that is the result of a series of intentional decisions about values and how your life reflects those values. It brings to mind Eric Liddell whose high view of the Lord’s Day precluded him from running races on Sunday. Obeying the fourth commandment was, for Liddell, an intentional decision born of his Christian discipleship and not some publicity stunt designed to get a movie deal.
 
The church must help its members make intentional decisions that reflect the core values of their life and of the faith. 
 
 
 What do you think?