Not an “Instantaneous” God

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.

Exodus 15:21–22

This is not what really happened. At least not according to Cecil B. DeMille’s famous 1956 movie The Ten Commandments starring the late Charlton Heston as Moses. In that film, the parting of the waters happens quickly and spectacularly.

But in the actual biblical account, it takes all night. Commenting on this story, Heather Thompson Day says: “What God could have done in a moment, he chooses to do in a process. We’re concerned with the product, God is always concerned with our process.”

We live in a culture that expects results immediately. Information is at our fingertips whenever we want it. So is all manner of distraction and entertainment. Thanks to smartphones the world is in our pockets, easily accessible with the swipe of a finger. Sometimes a blessing, but perhaps more often a curse.

And we know from all kinds of studies and statistics that smartphones, social media, and the internet have not done our attention spans any favours. Spending an inordinate amount of time on screens actually has the effect of rewiring our brains. We lack patience and are increasingly becoming a society largely ill-equipped to spend serious time in quiet reflection.

And in prayer. Especially insofar as prayer means–indeed, requires–waiting on God. Thinking that prayer is all about the answers rather than the actual communion with God that prayer is, even many who follow Jesus are impatient with God himself. We’re virtually unable to spend more than a few minutes or moments quietly in his presence, seeking him rather than simply seeking what we want from him.

If we were in Moses’ sandals, would we have the patience and willingness and trust to wait all night for the parting of the waters? What about days, months, or years of seemingly unanswered prayers? Or instead do we wait for the answers to our prayers like we wait for a text? Perhaps we want God and his answers to our prayers to operate like an app, with notifications letting us know when he’s received our request and alerting us to his response?

But God certainly doesn’t act according to our timetable. Because it’s not always or only about the end, but about how we get there. Who are we becoming while waiting for God to act? What happens to our souls when we pay as much attention to the process of waiting on God in prayer as we do on what we hope to get from the process? Could it be that God seeks to teach us to want him more than what we pray for?

Our God is not an “instantaneous” deity, ready to respond to our hastily cobbled together and impatient prayers with the convenience to which we have become accustomed thanks to our ubiquitous WiFi culture. No, he means to form us, to shape us, and often this process is decidedly inconvenient. And it takes time, especially given how profoundly our habits have been moulded by our technology. Prayer, seeking God, and growing in spiritual wisdom and maturity require different habits other than those we acquire through hours on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The question perhaps is not whether our God is still a God who answers prayers and acts miraculously, but whether we are patient enough with the process of prayerful waiting to have the eyes to see it.

A Prayer for the Afternoon

For whatever reason, afternoons are my least favourite part of the day. It feels like I’ve finished the best part of the day and I am now waiting for the next best part of the day. Give me instead a productive morning or a relaxing evening with family. Below is a prayer for people like me that I came across with a couple of changes I made. Maybe you could use a prayer like this too.

“Lord God, Thank you for the morning, for watching over me and walking with me. May I find rest and peace this afternoon in all I do, that I may gather strength to work for you until nightfall. Keep me mindful of your presence. And in all I do may I bring glory to you; in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Spirit. Amen.”

Rest for Our Souls

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

Isaiah 30:15

The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.” You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020)

My wife gave me a gift this week. You see, she is a teacher who, because of the current COVID lockdown in our province, has to prepare online lessons. She goes to her school to do this. And so our twin sons and daughter have all been doing school online from home. Most weeks she takes the boys with her on a couple of days.

But one day this week, when normally both boys would go with her, one of them wasn’t feeling well. So he stayed home.

So on another day this week, she took our sons with her one morning so I could have time to myself and get some of my work done. I needed it.

And you know what? For a part of that time I sat in our living room rocking chair, did the Daily Office, prayed, read my Bible, and just sat in God’s presence. Quiet. Still. Restful.

What is rest?

If I have a very busy day or week, perhaps busier than usual, chances are I’ll need physical rest. After a hard day’s work, most of us look forward to crawling into bed. A good night’s sleep is a cure for many things.

But we need more than physical rest.

I can also find myself emotionally drained. Maybe I’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship. We all know what it’s like to have a conversation that leaves us feeling wiped. Afterwards, all we want is to rest.

And Jesus invites us to rest. More specifically, he invites us to find rest for our souls in him. And our souls are the heart of who we are. You and I are embodied souls.

While I’m sure it means much more, sometimes receiving rest for our souls means being able to rest from ourselves: our cares, worries, burdens, fears, anxieties, hopes, expectations, disappointments, and failures.

What burdens are you carrying?

What cares are you shouldering?

What’s weighing you down? What’s weighing on you?

Jesus invites you to come to him. To let him unburden you, take the weight off your shoulders, to give you rest for your soul.

But it’s an invitation. Jesus never forces or coerces.

To the church at Laodicea, (Revelation 3:20) believers who had become lukewarm in their relationship to Jesus, he says, See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

But according to the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites—God’s very own covenant people—refused this rest. Refused him.

We do too.

So often we think life, wholeness, contentment, and peace are up to us. That it’s our effort, our strength, our capabilities that will save us.

You see, Jesus gives us rest by giving us himself. His invitation is a gospel invitation. To come in and dine with us—to share table fellowship—is a sign of intimacy and relationship.

In other words, it’s Jesus’ presence that gives us rest. Him. The rest he offers is not separate from him. He is that rest.

This current COVID lockdown seems especially tiring for some reason. Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect. It’s been a long year for many of us.

Yet the rest Jesus offers—indeed, is—is available no matter what else is going on. Circumstances can’t dictate what Jesus can do—who he is, what he offers, what he provides. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus is knocking on my door. He’s also knocking on yours. Rest is possible. We only have to open the door and let the author of rest in.

The Daily Office for Families

My lovely wife put together a Word document of the Family Prayer section of The Book of Common Prayer. It includes short prayer services for morning, midday, evening, and the close of the day. This is how we occasionally practice the Daily Office as a family. Typically, we’ll use the one for the end of the day, often called “compline.” Sometimes I like using the early evening one instead, with its focus on Jesus as the light and use of the Phos Hilaron.

I should say that using this sort of resource doesn’t make us an especially spiritual family. Our family life is messy, often loud, and not all of us get along perfectly all the time. So our use of the Daily Office takes place within our family life as it is. More than anything, using the Daily Office forces you to slow down and stop and reflect—and to acknowledge intentionally that God is at the centre of our lives. Even when you don’t always want to or don’t feel especially holy or spiritual.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the Family Prayer part of the Daily Office. There’s also an app for The Book of Common Prayer (2019). Below you can download the document my wife put together.

Maybe you wouldn’t normally use a resource like this for all kinds of reasons. But if you find that your usual way of doing devotions, reading Scripture, and spending time in prayer isn’t working like it once did, it’s ok to change things up a bit. Or as we say in our family, “Mix it up a little!”

Perhaps this will bless you. If it does, feel free to share the blessing with others.

A Prayer for Those Afflicted with Mental Illness

Mental illness, depression, anxiety, and similar afflictions affect all of us. Either we suffer from them or someone we know does. Maybe both. Especially in these days of COVID and other forms of uncertainty and instability, there has been a significant rise of those struggling with mental health issues, including young children. My family is well-acquainted with this experience. I’m grateful that it’s possible to be more open about it now than in the past.

Here’s a prayer for people dealing with mental health issues from The Book of Common Prayer:

“Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people: Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety, depression, or mental illness; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs; help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you; and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”