Tennessee Mornings

Ocoee

It’s pretty easy to spend time with Jesus in the morning when you wake up to this view.  At least that’s what I found last week when I got to spend a few days in East Tennessee speaking at a student summer camp.  I could hardly wait to wake up in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch, take in the majesty of God’s creation, read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer.  To make it even easier, the cabin I was staying in had no phone line, no internet and no cell signal and my nearest neighbor was miles away.  Just to complete the picture, Laura and the kids were at her parents, so there were no little voices asking me for juice or to telling me they had to go potty.

So, I would sit there in silence and solitude. Read a little.  Pray a little.  Talk to myself.  Talk to God.  Reflect.  It was all kind of surreal…kind of like I found my own Walden Pond, in a really good way!

And somewhere along the way, I found myself thinking, “this is the way life should be.” That’s an unsettling thing for a guy living in an apartment in the city with a family of five to be thinking.  But, I suspect all of us city dwellers think similar things when we get out of town for a bit, right?  If we had different jobs, more space, less traffic, and simpler lives we would have better relationships with Jesus.  In short, if we lived elsewhere, we’d be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something really good about getting out of our routines.  My friend Mark Batterson says it so clearly, “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective”  He’s totally right and I’m all for vacations, retreats trips out of town and speaking at any church retreat with a good view!

But blaming our spiritual apathy on our surroundings is a cop out.  That was a point the Lord drilled home one morning last week with a simple question in my spirit, “John, which are you enjoying more, me or the view?”  Ouch.  Was I reveling in Jesus or in a novel experience?

When it comes to spending time with God, we all have a tendency to put too much hope in the experience and too little hope in experiencing God.  We spend so much time getting ourselves comfortable and creating an experience that will look amazing on Instagram and so little time enjoying Jesus.  Any time we lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the best part of any experience, we’re headed for trouble.

What mattered last week wasn’t the view.  What mattered is that God was there.  He wanted to speak.  I wanted to hear.  And that’s transportable.  That’s available in DC.  That’s available everywhere.  To every one of us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And the next morning.

Don’t settle for an experience when God invites us to experience Himself!

 

Jesus In The Chaos

quiet-morning

 

Distraction.

More and more, it feels like my greatest battle is against distraction.  The unexpected phone call.  The “quick question” that turns into a 45 minute conversation.  Social media.  Email.  Checking out houses on Redfin even though we aren’t in the market.  Gossip.  A few texts.  Breaking news.  Netflix.

It all adds up and there are days when I wonder if I’ve really accomplished anything.  Busy? Definitely.  Tired?  Absolutely!  Productive?  I’m not sure.  Connected to God?  I know He’s with me but I don’t seem all that aware of His presence.

I know Jesus isn’t intimidated by the chaos of my life.  I know He isn’t running scared.  I know He doesn’t stay home sipping coffee while I go to work.  I know He’s with me.  He promises that in His Word, “I am with you always.” (Mt. 18:20)  He’s not the problem.  I am.  I loose sight of Him and get focused on a thousand other things.

For me, the battle for focus starts long before the sun is up.  I’m learning the more I connect with God in the morning, the more He shapes the chaos of my days.  I know how simple that sounds.  But I also know there’s a huge difference between “doing my quiet time” and connecting with God.  I can have a really well structured quiet time and totally miss God.  It happens more often than I would like to admit.  I power through a devotional book, journal a few thoughts, read some Scripture and pray a few rote prayers.  Quiet time done.  God missed.  And then there are days when those same raw ingredients combine to create a beautiful encounter with God.  His voice is clear, His presence is real, His love is almost tangible.  Most of the times, the difference is found in my expectations – power through or slow down and meet with Jesus?

When I slow down and meet with Jesus in the morning, He’s so much easier to see throughout the day.  He’s there helping me say no, avoid distractions and do what He’s called me to do.  When the unavoidable interruptions of life come, He’s there reassuring me He’s still working even though we’re off my script.  He’s near and real and everything’s better.

Yes, there are ways to manage distractions.  But it’s not like they’re going away.  And it’s not like Jesus is going away.  I’m just much more focused on staying connected with Him during the day.  And I’m finding that my best shot at connection during the day is connection before the day gets started.

Time With God: Desire or Duty

Is your daily time with God marked more be desire or duty?  Is it something you love to do or something you have to do?

Of course, there’s a huge assumption behind those questions – that you do, in fact, have a daily time with God!  I’m not naive enough to think that’s the case for everyone reading this blog or for everyone at Restoration City Church.  Honestly, I know we have committed members of the church who struggle with finding consistent time with God in His Word and in prayer.

The last thing I want to do is guilt you into creating this kind of time in your day.  One, I don’t think it’s likely to work.  Two, even if it does, it’ll never lead you to enjoy your time with God.  Many of us slug through a daily time of spiritual disciplines out of a sense of obligation or just to be able to give a good answer when someone in your life group asks you if you’re reading your Bible and praying.  It’s kind of like going to the dentist for a cleaning – we know we aren’t going to enjoy it but the alternative is even worse, so we suck it up and get it done.

In contrast, the Scripture gives us a picture of young Joshua, well before he was the leader of Israel.  At this point, Joshua was working as Moses’ assistant.  You DC political types might refer to him as Moses’ body man.  As the leader of Israel, Moses would go to meet with God in the tent of meeting outside the camp.  When this happened, it was a huge deal – God would descend in a pillar of cloud and all of Israel would stand by their tents worshipping.  Joshua didn’t observe all of this from afar; he got to be in the tent with Moses and the Lord.  What’s so interesting, convicting and inspiring to me is what Scripture records in Exodus 33:11, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”  Joshua hangs out and soaks up as much as he possibly can.  He isn’t there out of duty.  He’s there out of delight.

If we felt that way, we would never miss another quiet time again.

So, how does delight get perverted into duty in our hearts?

Well, there are a lot of answers to that.  Some of it has to do with our preaching – we’re great at telling people they need to spend time with God.  We just often forget to mention the real issue is desiring time with God!  Some of it has to do with the accountability questions we ask in a life group.  We shouldn’t settle for “are you reading the Bible?”  We should press towards, “Are you enjoying God?”  But there’s something more subtle in our hearts that leads us astray.

Many of us spend time with God to earn, not to receive.  We fall into the trap of legalism – I need to invest this time in my relationship with God so that He’ll bless me throughout the rest of my day.  It’s kind of a “I read some Bible, God protects me from evil” exchange.  We see time with God as the price of admission for blessing.  Imagine how different it would be if we simply came to receive from Him.  We’re not coming to prove our love; we’re coming for our love to be strengthened.  We’re coming because we’re weak, confused, powerless, broken, lonely, afraid and burdened by the cares of the world.  We’re coming that God can speak into us, give us strength, lead us, heal us, restore us and prepare us for His mission.

Joshua didn’t stay in the tent to earn.  He stayed in the tent to receive.  He knew God was the fountain of life (Ps. 36:9).  He knew the fullness of joy was found in the presence of God. (Ps. 16:11)  He knew the longings of His soul could only be met by the God who created him. (Ps. 63:1)  So, he stayed.  He wasn’t trying to impress the village or polish his resume as the one day leader of the nation.  He just wanted more.

Time with God will always become duty if it’s about earning.  It will become a delight when it’s about receiving.  Allow your motives to shift and see if you don’t end up loving time with God more than you ever thought possible.