Unhurried Is Not Un-Busy

Last Saturday I had the joy of leading what I call A Day with Jesus, which is simply a small group of people retreating together for half a day to enjoy solitude with God and to share in community with one another. Every time I do that, I am reminded by those who come of how valuable that intentional, extended time with God can be in the midst of much busyness and stress. And yet as valuable as a retreat can be, the reality of our stressful, busy lives makes the choice to retreat very counterintuitive. Especially in certain seasons of life, making space for retreat can feel impossible.

So I was encouraged by an email I received from Gem Fadling of Unhurried Living. This is some of what she shared…

Any of us in life stages where we find ourselves as caretakers can hear about an unhurried life and think, “Yeah, that’ll never happen. Not in this season. I’m just trying to take a shower and put on fresh sweatpants today.”

[Y]our cry is, “I have so many responsibilities. How would I possibly engage anything resembling unhurried time?”

Remember, busy is a matter of calendar. Hurry is a matter of soul.

[I have] a memory of sitting in a rocking chair in my bedroom. I was nursing one of my sons, enjoying the bonding that happens during that time. I remember very distinctly a small voice, whispering in my ear, “You know, this counts.”

I had been accustomed to following my good Christian girl to-do list fairly well. But all of that went out the window moving from one child to two. I loved being a mom, but I couldn’t figure out how to spend time with God the way I had before.

“You know, this counts” was God’s gentle way of saying, “I see you. I know what season of life you are in right now. This moment, with your son…this is how I feel about you. The care you are giving him is good and right. This counts. I am with you. You are with me.”

Every once in a while I would hear the whisper again, “You know, this counts.” It may have been a worship song that was playing in the background or a word of encouragement from a trusted friend. God was showing me that we were together and relating in far more ways than I was giving “credit” for.

My season of life made me tired, scattered and seemingly out of control of my schedule. But God wanted to show me that being with him, in the midst of my very real life, mattered and counted.

[M]y suggestion to you would be to make it a priority to get two to four hours per month in time alone with God in solitude. Not “me time” but honest to goodness solitude. What we call Unhurried Time with God.

Back in that season of young children, Alan and I would give each other that time by caring for our sons so the other could meet with God. We certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but we did our best to have a rhythm of Unhurried Time.

If you don’t have a spouse or relative that can help you, maybe you can swap with a friend. Or even pay for a babysitter or parent-sitter.

In order for the [moments of] “this counts” to have a solid foundation, these reservoir [longer] filling times must be included. I know it sounds impossible. But with a little work and creativity, you can make some time for yourself and God. Think of it as a holy invitation, not a luxury that you cannot afford.

So if you find yourself in a season of life where retreating for a few hours on a Saturday sounds wonderful but impossible, be encouraged by Gem’s realistic and hopeful challenge. And if you need some ideas or assistance in making it happen, feel free to email me and I’d love to walk with you in figuring out a plan that works for your situation.

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Slackers Need Not Apply

Robert Coleman might raise a few eyebrows with his statement “There is no place in the Kingdom for a slacker…”. But lest you mistakenly interpret that as a general indictment against laziness or a false theology emphasizing works, what he intends to communicate is that following Jesus requires a seriousness and wholehearted commitment. Being a disciple of Jesus means He is the Master–and if He is the Master, then I don’t get to pick and choose which parts of His teaching I want to obey. And if He is the Master, then to be flippant or lackadaisical in my obedience is really to disobey.

However, Jesus modeled for His disciples–including we who follow Him now–a rhythm of life and ministry that included regular periods of withdrawal from the very ones He was calling to follow Him. In other words, Jesus Himself might have been accused of slacking off when He deliberately left the crowds behind (Mark 6:31-32) or refused to make Himself known (John 7:3-9). Careful examination, though, makes it clear that the purpose for Jesus’ pattern of regular withdrawal was not an introverted or isolationist attempt to get away from the pressures of ministry, but rather His purpose was to engage deeply with His Father (Mark 6:46). Jesus was not disengaged from His Father even in the midst of intense ministry, yet He still intentionally chose to step away from active ministry in order to create space to commune with His Father alone (Mark 1:35-37).

You and I land somewhere on a spectrum of engagement, with lazy indifference on one end and devoted burnout on the other end. Jesus’ pattern challenges us regardless of which end we default toward. For those more likely to be (accurately) accused of slacking off, may Jesus’ example of tireless service toward those who could never repay Him jolt you out of your indifference and move you to invest yourself in the work of the Kingdom. But may that work start, not with the crowds in need, but alone with the One who can meet their need (and yours)–as Jesus modeled for you. And for those more likely to fizzle or flame out while trying to do it all, may Jesus’ example of regularly creating space to be alone with God remind you of your humanity and your dependence on God, so that your Kingdom work would be done in an attitude of joyful humility. And may that humility lead you to regularly withdraw into those “unproductive” spaces of deep communion with God.

Following Jesus requires total commitment. But total commitment does not merely mean busyness and hard work–creating unhurried spaces for communion with God is a vital part of that commitment.

Driveway Discipleship

Years ago, when I served in a college campus ministry, some of my most fruitful interactions with students occurred in the most unlikely places: walking to the parking lot,  hanging out at the pool tables, “studying” in the favorite lounge area, or sitting in my car in the driveway after giving someone a ride home. It is a little humbling to realize that all the hours I poured into studying and preparing messages to teach to the group had perhaps less long-term impact than those little unplanned conversations with individuals that “just happened” throughout each day.

Mark 3:14 reveals something of Jesus’ disciple-making strategy. It tells us that Jesus’ purpose in selecting His disciples was “that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” We tend to emphasize the sending out to preach and completely miss the fact that what came before being sent was simply being “with him.” It was during the long dusty walks between destinations and in the boat rides across the stormy Sea of Galilee that Jesus’ school of discipleship took place.

Robert Coleman puts it this way: “Having called his men, Jesus made a practice of being with them. This was the essence of his training program–just letting his disciples follow him… Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation.” Thus we have verses like Luke 9:18 “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him.” That doesn’t sound very “alone” to me! But it was precisely because Jesus gave these men access to His private prayer times that eventually they asked Him “Teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1).

And it is precisely this principle of discipleship through association that makes parenting so powerful. Whether we intend to or not, we as parents are constantly teaching our children, for better or for worse, simply because they are with us and are observing our reaction to stress, our attitudes toward people, our devotion to God, our struggles with sin. And though we are called to intentionally instruct our children in the ways of God, we also do much informal teaching around the dinner table, on the car ride to church, in the grocery store, and snuggled up on the couch before bed. So we would do well to be mindful of all that we are modeling and teaching our children in those unplanned moments of driveway discipleship.

Strategic Selection

Many years ago, I was taught a useful little motto that has stuck with me ever since: Do few things, and do them wellIn other words, it’s better to be truly effective with a few key plans than to try to do everything and end up doing nothing well.

Jesus didn’t teach this motto per se, but His strategy of making disciples operated by this principle. He selected twelve men to be with Him and learn from Him, and He invested the majority of His time in equipping those few to carry on His work after He was gone. And that strategy was so effective that we who follow Jesus today are the direct result of its genius.

Robert Coleman says it this way in his excellent book The Master Plan of Evangelism: “Though [Jesus] did what he could to help the multitudes, he had to devote himself primarily to a few men, rather than the masses, so that the masses could at last be saved. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.”

What is perhaps perplexing, though, is that the men Jesus selected–the men on whom hinged the success of His whole strategy–did not at first glance appear to be the best qualified for the job. They had no academic degrees, nor any professional training. None of them belonged to the priesthood. Only a few had perhaps some considerable means, but none would be considered wealthy. Most of them came from the despised section of the country–the region of Galilee. They were impulsive and petty and prejudiced. Not exactly the most promising bunch of world-changers.

Coleman says: “Yet Jesus saw in these simple men the potential of leadership for the Kingdom. They were indeed ‘unlearned and ignorant’ according to the world’s standard (Acts 4:13), but they were teachable. Though often mistaken in their judgments and slow to comprehend spiritual things, they were honest men, willing to confess their need. Such men, pliable in the hands of the Master, could be molded into a new image–Jesus can use anyone who wants to be used.”

The same principle holds true today for we who would follow Jesus in His grand disciple-making mission. “We must decide where we want our ministry to count–in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don’t live to see it. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for.”

So if you are following Jesus, who are the few that you will strategically select to pour your life into and train up to do the same?

No Instant Discipleship

I love the title of Eugene Peterson’s book on discipleship: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Following Jesus has no simple, quick formulas for success. There may be instant noodles and instant messaging, but there is no such thing as instant discipleship.

Peterson defines biblical disciples as: “…people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.

It is vital that we understand discipleship in this way, as a life-long apprenticeship relationship with Jesus, because we live in a culture and time that values efficiency over the long, slow work of relationship. Big and fast and glamorous almost always wins out over small and slow and mundane, yet following Jesus and making disciples most often occurs in the small, slow, mundane corners of everyday existence.

Peterson’s assessment of how this instant mindset of the world infiltrates our Christian discipleship is very sobering:

We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments. 

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

Will you–and will I–get squeezed like instant jello into the mold of this world system in which we live, or will we open our hearts to the small, slow process of transformation that comes through a long obedience in the same direction?