A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.


A Discussion of Time

Time“Does anybody really know what time it is?” asked the rock band Chicago back in 1969 (from their debut album Chicago Transit Authority). I am also asking the question because invariably, my perception of time is drastically different on the weekends than it is during the work week. C. S. Lewis said of time that, “Humans live in time … therefore … attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to … the Present” (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 67-68). Maybe my perception changes because my “present” changes.

Still, usually, time doesn’t really seem to be my friend. When I have plenty of it, I lose track of it; like on Sunday mornings when I’m always late for church (thusly, my entire family is late as well). When I don’t have enough time, I become task and outcome-oriented, more focused on accomplishments than relationships.

Barry Parker, in his biography on Albert Einstein, wrote, “If you asked several people what exactly is time, you would no doubt get a different answer from each of them. And the truth is: nobody really knows. It’s easy enough to point to your watch and say, ‘It’s what that thing is measuring.’ But does that really tell us anything? No, it doesn’t, and even if you quizzed scientists, they would admit that they don’t understand time any better than anyone else” (Albert Einstein’s Vision: Remarkable discoveries that shaped modern science, pp. 101-102).

Time seems both easily discernible and mysteriously elusive. Scripture says that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Genesis states that, “God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (1:5). Interestingly, the concept of day and night is defined early in the creation account, even though the sun and moon don’t come onto the scene until verse 16. This also clearly indicates that God is not bound at all by time. In fact, as I stated a few blogs ago, He created it.

But it is in this context that we define time. That is, we define time based on divisions of what we call a “day.” A typical day is 24 hours and we divide that 24 hours up into 1-hour increments. So much of our lives are based within this framework of 24 hours, of which around eight of those hours are spent in or around sleeping. And we can get even more technical and explore how sunlight affects our differentiating of time.

But really, is life based off of minutes and hours or is it based more off of experiences and outcomes? For instance, our accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior occurs in a segment of time; but is the segment what’s important or is what happened in that segment important? I know that’s a rhetorical question, but it sort of gets at the heart of things. A project is due to be completed by x-date; but why and who said it? Is the date based on some other set of issues or on an arbitrary selection in the attempt to get things started? Do people lose their lives if deadline is missed? Or, more likely, will a new deadline be established?

Bottom line is, we live in a structured environment that is highly regulated by our perception and application of time. But isn’t it interesting that many cultures around the world are not as bound by time as we are? Did Jesus wear a watch? Did the Apostles have deadlines and quotas to fill by certain times? Well, no, they didn’t. But we sure do.

Now please don’t get me wrong, we have bosses that tell us when to be at work and when we can go home. We have discipleship groups, youth groups, and church gatherings that all start at certain times, and we invite our dinner guests to show up at specified times. So, yes, time and time-setting are important; they keep us organized and they assist in setting and meeting expectations. But somehow, we need to have more unstructured “times” in our lives when we can just be rather than do. That’s why my perception of time changes on the weekends; I am shifting from a doing-orientation to a being-orientation.

I hope that makes sense. Now it’s time to make dinner.

Chair Thinking


blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree


Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Observations from the Backyard

Backyard observations

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been adjusting to lots of changes. Adjusting to a new home in a new part of the city, increased (but very fun) responsibilities with my new position, and slogging through the second-to-last semester of grad school; all while trying to maintain a balance with the rest of life. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit still and quiet the mind. This morning was just such a time as I sat on our bench in the backyard. It had recently rained so the air was freshly moist, the raindrops were rolling off leaves with a distinctive liquid-y plop onto other leaves or the ground, and the birds were out in force as the land drank in the refreshing after a summer of being parched. Here are just a few simple observations from this time of


Initial Sense

The peaceful breeze,

fresh with moisture and fragrance;

Bringing season’s change.

Floating Thought

Cars rumble away,

destinations and errands.

But birdsong remains.

Almost Over

Beckoning silence.

To-do lists and checkboxes.

The tensions of life.

More to Do, Little to Be


“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

—Luke 6:12

“To be in His presence is gift enough.” This is a phrase I heard last week at the Hope Pregnancy Clinic banquet. It is a compelling quote, especially when feeling distant from God. Personally, my life is so full of stuff needing to be done that life itself has become a series of to-do lists. I’m slowly and sadly morphing into the recent cliché of living as a human-doing rather than a human being. Perhaps an overused phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it.

Jesus spent hours just being with His Father, I’m sure He had requests but given the amount of time spent with His Father it is likely that much of the time was just basking in the presence of the Lord. Jesus was longing to hear the voice of His Father rather than His own voice. Conversely, much my time with the Father is nothing more than a ten minute “prayer session” of requests and laments. I don’t give enough time to listen to anything other than my own voice. There is no presence of God because I monopolize the time with my own presence.

Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine states in Sensing Jesus that life for a Christ-follower is an apprenticeship with Jesus and “apprenticeship needs meditation and time” (p. 26).  Part of this time is spent in prayerful meditation on the character of God or on a portion of Scripture, such as the one mentioned above. It takes time in any conversation to move into the deeper waters of relational richness and soul-moving transformation. It reminds me of strolling with Jesus down a leaf-strewn path, kicking and crunching through the fallen foliage just talking…talking about the deep things like longing for Heaven, or enduring through chronic pain or fearing the future. It is asking Jesus to speak into the darker areas of my heart; the areas of selfish ambition, or the desire to be in control or my covetousness. It is intentionally opening the doors and windows of my soul to the refreshing and cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit wafting through unhindered, removing the stench of sin and clutter. This opens up spaces for healing and transformation, and for two-way conversation.

Be More Than Do

Instead, Jesus is kept at arm’s length with carefully crafted to-do lists and requests. We have accomplishments next to little check-marked boxes of things we have done; but Jesus is interested in transforming our being, not our doing.  We are called to be lights, not do lights (Matt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:15).

What if our mindset was to be healing rather than do healing? And being bathed in the presence of Jesus is in itself healing; yes, the aches remain and things needs to be done for employers, school, and ministry—but that time of being with Jesus can help us become a healing presence for others. But when we focus on doing, our soul shrinks to the size of our check boxes; Jesus wants to transcend us above such a small soul to become more like Him. To become more of a healing light, drawing others to Jesus’ healing presence.

We are to be more than we are to do.