DAY 4: SHARING IS CARING

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children,  and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand  and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

DEUTERONOMY 6:4-9 (ESV)

When a baby’s born, it can’t see beyond a very close distance. Even the most important people in her life, her very exhausted parents, will often exist as nurturing blurs, but as her eyesight develops, the world begins to open up. She will begin to reach out for it, grasping at what it holds before her. Soon she will crawl to it. One day she will stand up to chase it. Each of these incredible milestones comes with cognitive development. The baby that can look and walk and grab can now think about what she sees and follows and holds, too. She’s growing and learning and ready to be taught.

In the five years since we welcomed our daughter into the world we have tried to teach her many things. Riding a bike (almost), kicking a soccer ball (kind of), swinging at a piñata (nailed it) – most of the skills of a child at play have been covered. Basic requirements of a functional human being have been practiced too. Using the bathroom on her own, brushing her teeth, getting dressed, sleeping through the night. Class is in session with an eye toward a successful future.

To get her to that horizon, we know the lessons will have to go a step further. We have to focus on the more difficult things, the things that need time to take root in the person our daughter is becoming. We have in mind here the inner life being cultivated, the life that can only grow as it learns things like patience and sacrifice and love. This requires discipline and consistency. From her parents, it requires trust.

One of the most difficult lessons has been stewardship. My daughter was not born with a concept of scarcity or fragility. Sharing has been a struggle, even with toys she no longer plays with. We sometimes have to remind her that protecting a toy from her cousin is not actually playing with it. And some of these toys get broken in our house, usually when they aren’t being shared. Often she will plead with us, through tear-filled eyes, to replace what has been lost. We have found in these moments an opportunity to teach her to value good things in the right way, to use them well and share them freely.

This is very near to what God had in mind for the final arena of a life of holy worship. The Hebrew word we translate as “might,” was given in relation to the resources and property and relationships with which God had blessed each person. The things outside of our listening bodies, things we hold and cherish, are His too. Lest there be any question as to the kind of commitment this glorious God deserves and commands, He makes clear that there are no areas of our lives He hasn’t come to redeem and order.

So we have given God our hearts. We have given Him our bodies. What is left to give? What does it mean to love Him with the rest?

Our Father delights in seeing us grow, in bringing us to life and watching as our eyes adjust to see His light and our legs stretch forward to chase after it. He smiles as He freely provides what we couldn’t deserve, spiritually and materially, and trusts that we will steward His gifts to serve a broken world. Our hearts have received. Our bodies have responded. We are ready for the more difficult lessons of Kingdom life. What we have in our families and our jobs and our homes and our wallets is not ours to hide but ours to use well and share freely, an unmistakable testimony to a sovereign, loving God.

PRAYER:
Lord, how great your provision! You have loved and cared for me in so many ways that I confess it’s easy to take You for granted. Give me eyes today that see your gifts but see you greater still. Remind me that every blessing is just a taste of your goodness. Loosen my grip on the things I cherish and give me a passion to steward all I have for your glory. AMEN.

WALK:
Before you leave, take stock of the blessings in your life. How has God provided for you? How do you steward these gifts? As you ask these questions, consider also what needs around you might be met by sharing the abundance of your heavenly Father.

DAY 3: BODY LANGUAGE

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

DEUTERONOMY 6:4-8 (ESV)

One of the most important concepts in Christianity is incarnation, the embodiment of the invisible and transcendent in something visible and physical and here. God cares about bodies, so much that He came down in one to be with us, communicating His love in a way we couldn’t ignore or doubt. God spoke to us in our native tongue: body language.

The Hebrew word for “soul” in the Shema references the body at worship. The Israelites were used to worshiping this way – voices singing loudly, heads bowing reverently, hands serving humbly. Their worship identified them as God’s people. It was testimonial activity. In the Israelites’ physical response, devotion became a way to recapture God’s design for mankind to be bearers of His image in the world around them. Among the outsiders there was no mistaking what they saw: these worshipers were the people of the Hebrew God.

Think about how you express the internal today. How do you show anger, sadness, joy? How do you communicate love or trust or fear? You do it with action. We shout at people when we’re mad. When we are in the throes of heartbreak and at a loss for words, tears come to talk for us. When we are joyful, we smile and laugh, often as an invitation for others to join us.

Every day we do a hundred subtle things that reveal our feelings and motivations and faith. Each of us will follow a schedule today taking for granted the car won’t break down and render the whole thing useless. We organize budgets believing calamity won’t strike to tear them all down. Restaurants are filled with people trusting the food won’t make them sick despite never seeing inside the kitchens.

If someone were to “read” a day in your life and follow the narrative of your waking to your sleeping, he would have a great picture of what you believe and in what you believe. He would know what you trust, what you care about. He would see what angers you by observing when your brow furrows or your teeth clench. He would learn what you love by hearing what words of sweetness you save and for whom you save them. Right now your body is telling the story of your heart without you ever sitting down to write a word.

God knows this, of course. It’s why He tells us to love Him with all our bodies. It’s also why He detests fake religion and false piety. God is consistent, ordered, whole. He expects that His people follow that example.

What God wants is faithfulness, inside and out. In the life of Christ, from birth to death to resurrection, we have the clearest revelation of God’s heart for us. He has told us and shown us that He is sovereign and loving; He wants us to live like we believe Him. If we really do trust in God’s goodness, then shouldn’t we proclaim it? Shouldn’t we sing about it loudly and let out an Amen! when we hear about it in a sermon? And outside of our gatherings, shouldn’t this goodness of God guide the steps of our paths? Shouldn’t it fill the words of our conversations and the work of our hands?

Just as we prepare our hearts for worship, so too should we prepare our bodies. We were made to receive and to believe God, so we come to worship needy. We come open and expectant. But every heart is also a two-way system, taking in and sending out the gift of life. We are designed to receive, yes, but we are also designed to respond. The God who made true love real forms us in His image so we might do the same.

PRAYER:
God I believe You are who You say You are. I believe that You are good and sovereign and loving. Open my eyes today to the many opportunities You give to make my faith alive in the world around me. Show me the choices I make and the words I say that are not consistent with a heart after You. Expose the idols that drive my wayward actions as the unworthy temptations they are. Give me strength today to live a Kingdom life. AMEN.

WALK:
Study your daily routine. What does it say about you? What gives you joy? What robs you of it? As you reflect, consider what it would take to live more intentionally today. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Choose words well. Take each task as a Kingdom opportunity.

DAY 2: BREAKING AND ENTERING

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

DEUTERONOMY 6:4-5 (ESV)

Have you ever been in a church service and felt off? Perhaps you’ve stood quietly discouraged as others were moved, listened as voices stretched to breaking points, watched as tears streamed down faces, all the while wondering what part of you was missing that could enable such a response. Maybe it wasn’t lack in this case. Maybe it was the presence of something heavy in your life. Despair, worry, pride, sin. Whatever the cause, the symptoms in moments like this are undeniable. We feel disconnected. We feel insufficient. In a room full of people we somehow feel alone.

This is not how worship is supposed to be. The worship we see illustrated in the Bible is vibrant and faithful and emotional and thoughtful. It is lifted by the swelling of God’s manifest presence. It is participative and deeply communal. Most of all, it is authentic.

That’s usually the part that stings the most. Try as we might in these moments we cannot make the feeling of worship happen. We can’t seem to generate a sense of proximity to God. And the more we try, the less authentic we feel. It all seems like a show, our bodies responding more to fit in than to pour out. We cannot escape this reality: in the house of God there is no “fake it ‘til you make it.” We find that we cannot make this life of worship fulfilling on our own. There is no perfect formula or thought or emotional response to sanctify our devotion, to make it real. God is relational. He is never transactional.

In his book, For the Glory of God, Daniel Block notes that the Hebrew words God uses in His command in Deuteronomy (known as the Shema) point to three distinct arenas of worship: internal, external, and contextual. This word we translate here as “heart” was a Hebrew word for “inner being,” for the seat of our thoughts and feelings and attitude. Worship from a heart after God responds with faith and fear, fostering trust and obedience, and pours out from there. Before it can be “incarnated” in a physical response, devotion to God is an internal reality.

How does one love the Lord with all her heart, as He commands? When her emotions seem disconnected and her thoughts corrupted, does she “force” it? I believe we respond best in these moments in two ways. We reset expectations, and we seek God.

We talk often in church about when worship “breaks out,” about services where something was different, where the singing seemed extra powerful or the sermon felt uniquely moving. Perhaps we should reconsider our language.

These moments are certainly great gifts, beautiful manifestations of our devotion, but all they can ever be to us are signs. These will always be reflections of a deeper reality. When we come to worship chasing a feeling we often find we have skipped the first step. As we stall out in a church service, perhaps God is telling us it’s time to restart our engine. The truest worship, the kind we most desire, should really be a breaking in, a strike deep into the center of who we are. That’s where worship starts, and only God can turn that key.

In some ways, being with God should be an uncomfortable experience. He is holy. We are not. Worship is not a meeting of two parties on equal footing. It is a bowing down. It is a desperate soul finding joy in the lavish grace of an omnipotent God. We shouldn’t be so quick to shake off a sense of need. Sometimes the discomfort reminds us that we are still alive, that for all the world has taken from us it has not removed our hunger. It’s in these moments, when we feel like we’re fighting off the lies of loneliness and inadequacy, that we can be most honest with God. This is the kind of worship that honors Him, that trusts Him, that waits on Him, that loves Him with a whole heart, empty and eager to be filled.

PRAYER:
God I confess my restlessness. How often do I wave off your guiding hand as distraction or discomfort? How often do I see Your invitations to draw near as problems to solve? Renew in me a desire to worship from a heart that hungers after You alone. Be my focus today. Break into my thoughts and emotions and desires so I might enter joyfully the day you have set before me. AMEN.

WALK:
Take note of the moments or experiences when God feels far today. As the feelings of loneliness or absence tempt to distract you, remember that He sees and hears You. In prayer, turn your anxiousness to hunger and watch how God responds.

DAY 1: PRAYING THE SILENCE

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

MATTHEW 6:5-13 (ESV)

I spoke recently with someone leading a local ministry who was reeling over a confession given by a man attending his Bible study. “He told us he had never prayed out loud in front of his family.” Eyes still widened by the shock, he continued, “Not once. Not over a meal. Not at church. Never. Imagine that!”

Ask anyone on the street what Christians do, and prayer is likely one of the activities you’ll find most associated with the Church. We sing songs, we read the Bible, we pray. It’s an identifying practice of God’s worshiping people. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not something we do as often or as fervently as we’d like to admit. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 45% of adults who say they pray do so once a week – or less. We readily confess the incredible belief that there is a real God with a real voice who really speaks to us, and yet we seem to have great difficulty bothering to speak back to Him.

What keeps us from prayer? I believe it’s silence. Ours is a culture that despises silence. Look through any music streaming service for tracks of white noise and you’ll be struck by how many millions of listens each has acquired. We don’t know how to be quiet and still because we have no reason to be. Every bit of space can be filled with sound. And when something isn’t speaking to us, we’re speaking to something. Each of us has a mouthpiece in the dozens of social media platforms waiting for us to join. We are a world of voices speaking over one another trying to be heard. In that kind of environment, there’s nowhere to go but louder.

Jesus saw this coming. Even in a time before artificial noise addiction, he knew how quickly the soul longs to be filled, how scared it is to know emptiness. The false prayer of his day was white noise. It was distraction, numbing, a burst of sound sent out across the surface to drown out the shouts beneath. The Gentilic prayers were about conjuring God’s activity, as if by magic, with the power of human performance. They revealed the worst kind of pride, one that would domesticate the power of God and tame His imagination.

The kind of prayer Jesus lays out was and still is countercultural. It’s prayer that greets silence with trust, the kind that approaches the presence of God with a heart unburdened and open. Jesus is telling us there is no need to force the hand of God. We couldn’t if we tried! Instead we’re told the Father knows our need before we even approach. And better yet, He still wants us to bring our needs to Him! This is because ours is a God of relationship. What He desires for us is faith that He’s listening. And faith like that can only come from communion.

In his grace, Jesus teaches us how to pray, and in the process he models the chief tenet of prayer: Christian prayer, like all worship, is a conversation that God starts. At the most fundamental of levels, prayer is simply resting in that. “Our Father.” As Alexander Schmemann says in his book on the Lord’s Prayer, before we ever get to our needs, we acknowledge our sonship and our family. We have a Father. God says so much to us before we ever say a word.

PRAYER:
God remind me today that You are speaking, always, and that I don’t have to conjure your presence with false piety or pretty words. Remind me, clearly and often, that in the silence you are inviting me to listen and to receive. Renew in me a desperation to hear Your voice, knowing that in relationship with You I am changed and You are glorified. AMEN.

WALK:
Take time today to observe how often you encounter silence. Pay attention to your reaction to it. Do you embrace it? Do you fill it? And if you do, whose voice fills it? Consider how God might speak to You in these moments you are tempted to dismiss.