Canaans Rest

Canaan’s Rest represents a quiet place “set apart” for the purpose of hearing God's voice, growing in intimacy with the Lord, and being renewed in soul and spirit.

Month: June 2017

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike

A recent article in the New York Times tells the story of a 37-year-old social media consultant who wrote on Twitter her concern for a friend not communicating.  “I don’t hear from my friend for a day – my thought, they don’t want to be my friend anymore,” she wrote, appending the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike.  Soon thousands of people offered their own examples.  It stuck a nerve.  “If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious,” she said, “there’s something wrong with you.”  Notice the anxiety is about relationships.

The article went on to say, “anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition….a shared cultural experience ……. …. We’ve been at war since 2003, we’ve seen two recessions.  Just digital life alone has been a massive change.  And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where they fit into the future” (Kai Wright).  “People with anxiety were previously labeled dramatic,” said Sarah Fader, a Brooklyn social media consultant, “Now we are seen as human being with a legitimate mental health challenge.”

Men, we live in a barren waste land, giving us little help in knowing ourselves, allowing us to have  a healthy relationship with God and  others.  The anxiety discussed in the New York Times article points to a ” depleted self.”  There is no one home on the inside.   This is cause for real anxiety since we are made to have a relationship not only with  God and others, but also ourselves.   Kierkegaard defined faith relationally,  “That the self in being itself and in willing to be itself rest transparently in God.”  “Let me know thee, O God, and myself, that is all,” was the advise of Augustine.  In my opinion, contemplation is vital in dealing with relational anxiety.

We are created as relational beings, who are not able to handle our uniqueness.  Church Father, William of St. Thierry, reflecting on contemplation, asks, “Why, then, do we go outside of ourselves to seek God in external objects when all the while he is with us and in us, if we will only make it our preoccupation to be with Him and in Him?”  Contemplation calls us to pay attention to the center. In contemplation we become aware of God’s presence within.  “You don’t have to search for God, you have only to realize him…So do not go out so much into reflections…but close your eyes like a child and confide yourself to the hidden being who is so near to your inwardly (Tersteegen).” .

When the Psalmist prayed, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps 42:5), he was aware of how his relationship with himself and God caused him anxiety.  The Message puts it this way, “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?  Why are you crying the blues?  Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.”  Fixing our eyes on the Lord is the key to contemplation.

Men, in the days to come you will be tugged two and fro by the conflicting voices in our culture telling you what a man should be  and how he should conduct himself before others.  If you are not sure of who you are, producing  insecurity in your relationship to your heavenly Father, you will be anxious.   Paul reminds us, “For God, who said,’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6).  The darkness of relational anxiety is removed by the light of  Jesus’ presence in our hearts.

At The Threshold of Manhood

Recently at the conclusion of a Sunday morning service in our church I closed the service with prayer.  I had a picture of  people  standing by a door, wondering if they should cross the threshold.  Thresholds can be  important markers, helping us  interpret our progress on the  spiritual journey.  John O’Donohue asks,  “At which threshold am I now standing?  At this time in my life, what am I leaving?  Where am I about to enter?  What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold?  ……  A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres?”  There comes a time in a man’s journey, when He must face to need to embrace the feminine compliment  of his masculine soul  – intuition, feeling, meaning and response.

In a poem entitled  “At the Threshold of manhood,” O’Donohue challenges men to “receive your manhood with grace and mindful ease.”   “May you awaken confidently to the feminine within you, and learn to integrate the beauty of intuition and feeling so that your sensitivity kindles and your heart is trusted.  That you may slowly grow to trust the silence of the masculine as the home of your stillness.”  He ends with, “Beyond your work and action, remain faithful to your heart, for you to deepen and grow into a man of dignity and nobility.”  These words speak to the need for men to embrace their tender side.  Remember a wild man is both tough and tender.

Recently I read about Warrior Week, a boot camp for men, who participated in, ” a regimen of physical torture and mental preparation that involves being punched in the face, hiking while holding logs, and reciting the poem ‘Invictus.”  This in not the kind of  threshold experience most men need  to become a better men.   It only  reinforces the “Rambo” image, the tough side of the masculine.   But it can be appealing when men feel emasculated, being told, for example,  after the recent London terror attack, “more sorrow and grief at the hands of madmen in London.  Men and religion are worthless.”

I worry about two responses from men: The passive depressed state of a soft male or the angry mucho man. This blog is committed to helping men not only know the true masculine, but the  balance of the complimentary feminine.  Each man will have a unique integration  of both.   Richard Rohr has observed that men are easily identified because they live in the control tower of their minds. My burden is in helping men cross over the threshold so as to embrace the feminine.  Men are reluctant to do so because it means surrendering control and not being about to rationally understand.

The poem challenges us to “slowing grow  to trust the silence of the masculine as the home of your stillness.”  Beneath our hurried, insecure masculine consciousness, which tries so hard to make sense of true maleness in our present culture, there is a deeper self,  the mystery of Christ hidden within us (Col 1:27).  We are challenged by O’Donohue to, “remain faithful to your heart, for you to deepen and grow into a man of dignity and nobility.”

Being faithful to our hearts, becomes a matter of listening and being attentive to how the Lord desires to form us.  We learn to move beyond the circumference of life to the center.  We have few male mentors who point us to the center.  Men, don’t let either the radical feminist or the angry male voice determine the contours of our soul.  Find wholeness with Jesus, in quietness and rest (Is. 30:15).  Let Jesus form you are as a man.

The Noonday Devil

Be warned men, you will be afflicted by  the “Noonday Devil” on your journey to wholeness in Christ.  This is the term given to the sin of spiritual sloth and  discouragement, known as” acedia.”   The desert fathers of the fourth century called acedia, the noonday devil –  “destruction that wastes at noonday” (Ps. 91:6), because during the hottest part of the day, the monks would  be tempted  give up on the work of the spirit, leave the desert and return their former way of  life. Through painful introspection, the monks would criticize themselves for not being fit for the journey.  The noonday devil would then attack them with acedia, the distain and distaste for the rigors of the spiritual journey due to spiritual warfare.

Today it can be seen in Christian men, who seem to drop out of the race, lack commitment and energy, become careless,  while displaying a passive indifference to the way of Jesus. Some even become passive aggressive.   Their self talk becomes focused on not being worthy or spiritual enough, simply feeling as though they can’t measure up to the standard they feel is the norm for a man of God. These men become  spiritual causality in the spiritual battle that is getting more intense in our day.  They are the “wounded soldiers” that need to be rescued from the noonday devil, who is intent on taken out a lot of sincere men who don’t understand the subtle way of the Devil.  “The Devil is poised to pounce and would like nothing more better than to catch you napping” (I Peter 5:8) – Message).

“The other demons are like the rising or setting sun in that they are found in only a part of the soul,” observed Eavgrius, one the early leaders of the monastic movement. But, “The noonday demon….. is accustomed to embrace the entire soul and oppress the spirit.” The combination of sadness and lethargy cause acedia to be expressed  as despair, crippling the spiritual energy of a man.   It is like a spiritual blanket of darkness that falls over the soul.

Years ago, Fernando Ortega recorded  a song entitled, “Noonday Devil.”  As I  listened for the first time, being under attack by the noonday devil, I was despondent with my spiritual progress. I was turned in on myself, deep in the “disease of introspection,” feeling sorry for myself as a husband, father and pastor.  I could feel myself losing energy for the journey, while beating myself up because of my indifference.  The words, “In my hour of hopelessness/In my deep despair/The noonday devil whispers in my ear” spoke to my condition.

But it has been only years later that I came to understand the meaning of the refrain, “Oh Lord, make me angry/ Oh Lord, make me cry/Oh, Lord break my cold, dark heart/So I can know your love inside/ Your love inside.”  I now see the refrain was encouraging me to be honest.  I was angry and I wanted to cry.  But I could not admit I had a cold heart.  The key over the years has been the discovering of the love of God in my own heart.  I have come to realize,”There is nothing to ‘get’ in the spiritual life because I already have it.  I simply need to become aware of what I already have”( Albert Haase) and  “Things are not what they seem to be” (Haase).

Men the words of the Psalmist can be very helpful when battling with the noonday devil.  “Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Ps 27:8).  It is not your spiritual heroics that will get you through, but rather your awareness, trust and surrender to the loving presence of God within ( Rom 5:5).

Habakkuk

I am preparing a sermon on Habakkuk.   Eugene Peterson says this  about Habakkuk. “That God-followers don’t get preferential treatment in life always comes as a surprise.  But it’s also a surprise to find that there are few men and women within the Bible who show up alongside us as such moments….Most prophets, most of the time, speak God’s Word to us………[But] Habakkuk speaks our word to God……The prophet realized that God was going to use the godless military machine of Babylon to bring God’s judgment on God’s own people….It didn’t make sense and Habakkuk was quick and bold to say so.”

So what can we learn from Habakkuk.  First, its OK to bring your complaints to God.  “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do no listen?” (Hab. 1:2)      The prophet had been praying for some time about the unjust, violent conditions in Judah.  He brought his complaints to God, rather then complaining about the cultural conditions.  Men, don’t  vent before others about how difficult life has become,  rather bring your grievances to the Lord.  Do your grieving in secret before the Lord.

Secondly,  God’s answer.  “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed…..I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.” (1:5-6).  Babylon was not yet a super power, but God was preparing them to bring judgment on his people.  Men, don’t allow  preconceived notions of God, prevent you from seeing what God is doing in the earth.  He is not inactive, but is in control of human events. Be attentive to his voice, then secondarily to the latest new cycle.

Thirdly, Habakkuk’s response.  He did not understand, but he trusted God.  “O Lord, are you not from everlasting?  My God, my Holy One, we will not die” (1:12).  He was ready to face the crisis, even though he was perplexed.  He would wait. “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (2:1).  Men, our most important activity in these trying days is  watchful prayer, helping us to respond in a godly manner.

Fourthly, God’s command.  God asks Habakkuk to write down His answer so other understand that justice will prevail.  “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it….Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:2-3).  God helped Habakkuk to see the difference between the ungodly and the faithful.  “Look at that man, bloated by self-importance – full of himself but soul-empty.  But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive” (2:2 – Message).  Through a  series of five woes, God shows how judgment will come.  Men, justice will prevail for those in right standing before God.

Fifthly, Habakkuk’s prayer.  Habakkuk started asking God to  “do something” and ends up praying for God to show mercy.  “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:2).  He trusted in God.
“Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us” (3:16b), while he was praising God, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:19).  Men, in the midst of the cultural chaos, cry out for mercy as you worship God.  It will change our perspective.

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