I lead a Morning PrayerFor those not familiar with Anglican tradition, Morning Prayer is a prescribed service of scripture, responsive readings, confession, formal prayers, and time for spontaneous prayer and petition. small group each week. A while ago, a man started coming on a regular basis. He was going through a difficult time in life and sought out our little service. Often during prayers he shared his hurt and needs, and at our coffee time after the ritual he shared more details and some of his history. Though obviously in a rough place, he livened our discussions with good stories and an engaging sense of humor. After a few months, though, he just stopped coming.
We didn't want to pry (and hoped we hadn't offended him some way), but after a few weeks, I decided to follow up with a phone call. "Oh, I was really hurting and in a bad place at that time," he said. "You guys and Morning Prayer really helped me. But, I'm OK now; I've moved on ... I really don't need it anymore." I was so shocked at his response that I think I only mumbled something like, "OK, good; have a nice day."
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble," the psalmist says. (46:1) Our Morning Prayer colleague had heard and learned this truth first hand. While his response seemed quite cavalier, it was probably a most honest one. God is there to help us when we need help. ... End of story.
While we might not say it as bluntly as the man did, probably many of us treat and view our need for God like that: God is there to help us make it through the tough times. That's when we call on God. We can relegate God simply to being "our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."
But, the message of Christmas is that God so loved us that He became one of us to live with us. And, through the resurrection, to live all of our todays with us in all aspects of our lives. The tough times, the good times, and ... yes, in all our Ordinary Times.
In A Testament to Freedom, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that most of us really do want to reserve some space for God, but that we assign that space at what he calls the boundaries or edges of our lives. Those times when our own resources seem to give out. God should be at our center, he says, not simply at our boundaries:
"God must be recognized at the center of life, not when we are at the end of our resources; it is God's will to be recognized in life, and not only when death comes; in health and vigor, and not only in suffering; in our activities, and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is the center of life, and certainly didn't 'come' to answer our unsolved problems."Dietrich Bonhoeffer's A Testament to Freedom, p. 506.
Just as we can have a tendency to give God space at the edges of our lives, at Christmas time we can relegate Jesus to that quiet pastoral scene in the manger. We can view Jesus as the babe and forget that he was also the one who walked the dusty roads with his followers, ate and drank with friends (as well as sinners and outcasts), and suffered and was executed. He was more than the baby in Bethlehem ... he was Life!
Truth be told, probably most of us compartmentalize our lives and in doing so place God in certain areas of our lives, not in others. God is obviously front and center in my church/religious compartment, not so much in the milieu of my daily work grind. I might involve God in my decision about a yearly church pledge; do I invite that same God in as I review and tweak my financial planning and investments? God desires to be the Lord of our total lives, to live with us at the center. The popular daily devotional book Jesus Calling says it well in a December 7 selection with Jesus 'saying', "I am with you in all that you do, even in the most menial task. ... When your focus is broad enough to include me in your thoughts, you feel safe and complete. ... Learn to look steadily at Me in all your moments and all your circumstances."Jesus Calling, Devotions for Every Day of the Year; Sarah Young, 2004, Thomas Nelson (publisher).
One suggestion for expanding this realm of God into all parts of our lives might be share with God all aspects of our lives. We are used to bringing serious requests and thanksgivings to God in prayer; what about sharing some of the not-so-big deals of life with God (much as we share with a friend). "I had a neat encounter in the grocery check-out line this morning; I want to share that with you." Maybe, "Hey, God, I'm meeting in a few minutes with my pain-in-the-neck boss; how about holding my hand, squeezing it when I start getting hot." In my morning devotional time, I sometimes do a review of my upcoming day, what's on my plate. Not only do I review it with God, but ask God to be with me in those specific events. I also ask for the divine presence in those unanticipated things that usually pop up. Including these types of things in prayer not only helps bring God to the center, but it can also help ... perhaps at the close of the day ... to see how God really was present in all things.
During this Advent and Christmas season, let us think more about God living at the center of our lives. Let us internalize that our Triune God not only wants to wrap loving arms around us when we are lost or suffer, but wants to sit and ponder with us when we think deep thoughts, and wants to dance with us in joy when we celebrate. And, Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10b. KJV))
And why the picture at this Reflection's beginning, the one of Old South Church in the center of Boston? I'll let Bonhoeffer explain:
"I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weakness but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt, but in humanity's life and goodness. God is beyond us yet in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village." Bonhoeffer, op. cit.. 503.
May God be with you in a Merry Christmas! Keith