I think I would be unsettled to know the number of times in the past year that “write a blog post” has been on my to-do list for the day. The reason I’d be unsettled, of course, is that I’ve written very few posts recently. But like attending church for many people with good intentions, it seems that blogging is a habit that, once departed from, is easy to keep putting off.
As I’ve thought about it, I’ve wondered if the best purpose of a pastor’s blog for his congregation would be not necessarily to write individual articles about particular subjects, but simply to keep up a conversation for those who appreciate this means of communication. There’s a bit less pressure then to have everything be “significant” but also more opportunity simply to share this or that thought that passes through my mind and seems like it might be beneficial for others. The word “blog” was originally coined, after all, as a shortened word for “web log”—a kind of journal—so we might as well use it that way.
Take it or leave it as you will. If you’re not inclined to read a blog, don’t worry about it. But if you’d like to spend a bit of time checking in, perhaps you’ll be a person who finds it worthwhile.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about prayer. I doubt I’m the only person who feels as though their “prayer life” could be better. In fact, I’m certain of it. I imagine that the barrier to prayer has a lot to do with a lack of honesty with ourselves, or at least a lack of attention to what’s going on in our lives/hearts. It’s pretty easy to avoid paying attention. All you have to do is keep busy and you’ll find yourself going from morning to night on autopilot, never prying for meaning or examining you motivations. I imagine that another barrier to prayer is a lack of attention to Scripture as the revelation of who God is. Even for those of us who are daily Bible readers, it’s easy to let our eyes pass over the page without really hearing the things that are being said, the stories being told, the heart of God being revealed.
In the church book club we just discussed Kazuo Ishiguro’s book The Remains of the Day, the story of an aging English butler who for most of his life served an employer who had dubious connections with German higher-ups in the years between the two world wars. The butler, Stevens, goes on a little road trip around the English countryside, and as he does so he thinks back over his life, now defending his loyalty to his employer, now struggling to avoid the rather obvious truth that he may have wasted his life serving someone who wasn’t such an upright man after all. As Stevens thinks about the past, the amazing thing the Nobel Prize winner Ishiguro does is to show us just how inattentive to his own inner life Stevens is, and just how adept he’s become at self-deception. As I reread the book this week for our discussion I was powerfully impressed by how easy it is to miss life due to self-deception. And even if we don’t do so as explicitly as Stevens does, we still manage to avoid paying attention to our lives before God so that his truth can be constantly shaping us. This is what our relationship with God really is about. To paraphrase an Eastern Orthodox description, prayer is coming before God and opening your heart to him. Too many of us, like Stevens, leave our hearts a closed book to ourselves, let alone to God.
Jeremiah said, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is the problem for Stevens, as it is the problem for all of us. The psalmist wrote of his encounter with God this way: “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7). It’s that confluence of the human heart and the LORD’s counsel that shapes our lives, that constitutes prayer, a daily practice of living with God.
So what I’ve been trying to think about lately is how to bring my heart into God’s presence, how to bring God’s words closer to my heart, and how to let this encounter shape the decisions and attitudes I take. It strikes me that there are many ways to head in that direction. Anything that opens our hearts up and allows us to see what’s going on there can be helpful—for some of us it might be journaling, for some it might be some time of silence and reflection, for others it might be conversation with a trusted friend. The point is to pull back the mask a bit, however unintentionally it’s been put on in the first place. And having done that, we may find ourselves coming to Scripture to listen to the Word of the God who has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ—who surely lived a fully self-aware existence, always in the realm of his Father’s presence—with new ears.