Reflection & Listening, Silence & Solitude

Life’s a funny thing. As babies, we spend our first years oblivious to everything except what is immediately around us. The next several years we spend our energy comparing ourselves to everything around us. The next several years we carve out for ourselves an identity so we can figure out how to relate to everything around us…And then eventually … we get to a place where the things around us simply aren’t as important as what’s going on inside of us. Something begins to stir. We begin to realize that we have experienced so much, but what does it all mean? What was it all for? Authenticity begins to trump achievement. “Being” eclipses “doing.”

If you’re young, most of that wont make sense to you. Every stage in life has its own priorities. I’m not sure how quickly people can advance through life’s transitions.

It seems strange that you have to live most of your life before you can discover what is most important to you. How can we become more effective, at an earlier age, at being rich in what matters most?

Jesus taught parable we often call, "The Pearl of Great Price."

Matthew 13 45"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.                   

We call it the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, partially because of the parable immediately preceding it.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Treasure hidden. Sell everything. Get the treasure. ~ Pearl hidden. Sell everything. Get the pearl. We’ve been taught that it is the same point expressed in two different ways.

We assume the pearl is the main object in the second parable because the treasure is the main object in the first parable… Not true.

Look again:  
Matthew 13 45"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.   

For those of you who are English majors; understanding that we are describing the Kingdom of Heaven, what is the main object in this parable.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking…

It is primarily about him, not the pearl.

Why did Jesus do that? He always taught in parables. In fact, even his disciples didn’t understand the meaning most of the time. Why parables? Why not just come out and preach a sermon? “Just make it simple. Spell it out for me. Tell me what to believe. I have a full schedule this week. This is my feeding time.”

That doesn't work with parables and symbolism. If I am going to discover what that parable means, I’m going to need to think about it. And there in lies the problem. I have a lot of things I need to think about. Important things. We face social pressures. We face money pressures. We face belief pressures. Do I really have time to carve out some space to think about a parable?

For me it comes down to whether or not I believe that Creator hid in stories, clues to help me maneuver through life. Right now I have a story about a pearl and a merchant and it is somehow a description of what the Creator’s kingdom is like. Does that interest me? What if that parable is somehow talking about me?

Parables:

  • Engage your imagination more than your intellect
  • You see pictures and not doctrine
  • You can’t understand it completely without thinking about it at a deeper level.
  • It implies that if God wanted you to know facts, he would have stated them. If I wanted you to know him, he would give you pictures and enter into dialogue with you

Do you want to dialogue with God about who the merchant is? And who’s the pearl? Those are the kinds of questions you cannot answer without thinking about it. And that kind of thinking rarely happens in a crowd. It is what transpires when you get alone with God and think about what he’s said. You get quiet and remove other distractions. You give Holy Spirit your full attention, and you listen to what he tells you next.

Matthew 13 45"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

I spent 6 days alone with God in the mountains. Just me and him in a house in the woods. It’s not easy being alone with yourself and God. When you first start doing it, your mind is filled with distractions? “Dear God, I worship you today…Aww man. I gotta remember to buy milk.”

That’s okay! Have a pad of paper with you. When a distraction comes, just write it down and give yourself permission to think about that in an hour’s time. If you don’t write it down, you will find that it is constantly coming back because you don’t want to forget it. So don’t forget it. Record it and don’t think about it again until after you have enjoyed some one-on-one time with Holy Spirit.

It’s in those alone times with God that we are able to focus and ask questions of God. Jesus came right out and told his disciples, “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” So I ask.

I remember making the decision, when reading the Bible, that I would stop and think about every significant point I came to. I wouldn’t move past it until I had figured it out. Sometimes that means you wont read more than one or two words before a question comes up. So stop and don’t move on until you’ve found the answer.

We go through life and everyone tells us how important it is to be productive. We need to accomplish things. We need to take advantage of each situation. Work the crowd. Write yourself a list and get it done.

Well sometimes productivity gets turned on its head in the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is sit in a chair for 3 hours, concentrating on one question, and you’re not changing the topic. Kingdom productivity is pressing through for the answers that we avoid when we are doing the other version of being productive. It's a tough slug sometimes. We usually don’t even attempt it until we find ourselves in a desperate place. Desperation is a great motivator.

For much of my life I was told about how important it was for Christians to have their devotions. And devotions was a time when we were to go off by ourselves, read the Bible and pray. I found it very difficult to do that on a consistent basis. I tended to always feel like I wasn’t that good a Christian. Guilt kept saying, “If you really loved Jesus, you would have a devotional life. So I guess you don’t really love Jesus.”

That all changed. I have a deep longing in my life is to be known, to be loved, to be valued and accepted for who I am. I have been discovering, more and more, how much God loves me, for me. When I sin, I expect a lecture, but he’s been giving blessings to me instead. I tell him how much that amazes me. It disarms me. How do I even react to love like that? He’s nicer to me, than I am to me. And he’s been teaching me how to accept myself. I’ve wanted to start spending time with him and find out more.

If the Creator of everything values you, what’s the big deal about getting your name in the newspaper? Who cares how many Facebook friends you have? Who cares how many homes you’ve built; how many degrees hang on your wall?  We expend a tremendous amount of emotional energy in pursuing the recognition and praise of others. The longer you live, the more you realize it’s never enough.

So people get desperate. That desperation doesn’t start in your head. It isn’t a byproduct of your intellect. It is your heart that cries out to be known. We long to be heard. It takes desperate times to recognize what matters most.

Occasionally you hear stories of people who found themselves in life and death situations and they wanted to make sure that someone told their family that they loved them. Why?

I remember being in Eastern Congo. We managed to get ourselves trapped between a rebel group trying to seize power and government forces who weren’t prepared to give it up. We didn’t know if we’d get out. The irony was, we had cell phones with calling cards that enabled us to phone anywhere in the world. Sitting in that place, with rebels on one side and government forces on the other, with bullets and grenade launchers going off throughout the night, I found an overwhelming longing to phone home. I just wanted to talk with Nancy. I wanted to know, that she knew, that I love her and want to spend my life with her. And we talked about nothing things.

A couple of hours later, I called her again. Just to talk. She asked, “What’s goin’ on?” I said, “Nothing. I just want to talk.” When I eventually got home, the first thing she asked was, “What was going on? You were in danger weren’t you?” “Why would you say that?” “Because you never call home. Ever. - What was going on?”

I was discovering what mattered most. In the crisis times of our lives, if we know that we are known, it is enough. Keep a record of God’s interventions in your life. Record how you have experienced the provision of God. You’ll need to remember those things when life gets tough.

Life has a way of stripping off the pretense.

After we have experienced enough disappointment and others haven’t been as loyal as we thought they would be. After our efforts still left us feeling a little empty, we begin to realize that our identity is not found in those things. I begin to realize humanity is going to let me down. What does God think? What if my identity is grounded in who he says I am? As that begins to take hold, the pressures of achieving become less and the longing for Presence; God surrounding you, loving you, affirming you ~ that is profound.

So many cry out for more and don’t really know what more is. Our spirits long to be heard and we begin to understand that what we are wanting is to hear our Creator speak. And in our desperation we withdraw, and we begin to ask and listen. We cry out, “God are you real in my life?”

When you're young, how are you supposed to know what matters most? We can know what matters a lot. But most? We forget the things that matter most when we get caught up in everyday life. It didn’t take too many months after that Congo trip before I started to do things that took Nancy for granted. How is it possible, that in life and death situations every thing is perfectly clear. You literally know your top 3 priorities. Yet outside of life and death situations those priorities might not even be on your list. The average person seeks identity in external things. Our whole culture is geared around the concept of being popular. That’s why social media is so powerful.  We know a quiet time with God is something we should do, but our schedules are full.

I’ve learned:

  • It’s hard to be still in a crowd.  It’s hard to be still if I can’t lay down my cell phone for 1 hour.
  • It’s hard to think about, meditate on, reflect and consider the implications of things if I do not set aside time and place to do it.
  • It’s hard to go deep and discover profound truth without removing distractions that interfere with my thinking

Get a pen and paper and get off by yourself. Thank God for the things you’re thankful for. Ask God what he wants to tell us about those things. Write down what comes into your thoughts. Tell him what you would like to see happen. It’s good to dialogue with Creator. We’re told in the Bible that he likes it.

What matters most? And how could we possibly discover it?

Psalm 46
10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 91
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.


Let’s assume there actually is a Creator of all of this. Let’s assume he is actively involved and has not taken his hands off influencing the world. Let’s assume that he is personal and he loves us. Do you think he knows what matters most?

Let’s assume he wants to show us what it is. Let’s assume that the only thing we need to do is figure out how to hear him speak? What do you think we should do?

This I can tell you. You will find answers if you find a quiet place, alone without distraction. Share your heart with God and listen to what he tells you. If you like, start with the parables.