The other day, I had a curious thing happen to me. As I was sitting at the little table in my little apartment, eating my little breakfast (tomatoes, lentils, eggs, and coffee, I believe it was) and reading my little Bible (with tiny print), I had something of a little Lenten epiphany. The passage that I was reading at that moment from Deuteronomy spoke directly, naturally, and rather uncannily to a practical challenge that I was confronting in my life and finances last week. I laughed, chalked it up to God being cheeky and hilarious (as he often is), and had the situation sorted by sundown. But this was not actually the epiphany that I’m talking about. The little epiphany came upon further reflection on what had happened. First, I realized that this sort of über-specific message from the Lord rarely comes to me as I prayerfully spend time in God’s Word. And second, it occurred to me that this first realization, the fact of the rarity of it all, really did not bother me a bit.
By this point, I have probably shocked (perhaps even worried) you, the gentle reader of this blog. Can a pastor, nay a missionary, demonstrate true spirituality if he is not praying for, hoping for, and faithfully expecting the very voice of God to guide him regarding the details of the coming day as he spends “quiet time” with the Lord in his “prayer closet”, consuming “every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”? To the consternation of some, I suggest that not only can a pastor and a missionary do so, but so can other Christians as well.
To begin, allow me, if you will, to reflect on my own experiences of the result of my spending time in God’s word on a daily basis. Frankly, most days are pretty average and ordinary. As an Anglican minister, I tend to select the passages of Scripture to read and upon which to meditate through the use of a daily lectionary, that is, a calendar that lays out a pattern for a group of people regularly to ingest a balanced diet of God’s word together.
Now, I happen to use Archbishop Cranmer’s lectionary, and yesterday evening, for example, we prayed together Psalms 147-150 and read both Joshua 1 and 2 Corinthians 4. These readings, I think everyone will agree, have nothing really to do with each other, except that they are in the Bible, and that (like everything in the Bible) they have to do with the Triune God, Jesus, and us. Similarly, these readings had almost no direct reference to the minute details of the day that I had just led or of the evening that was to come. Nevertheless, I ended my time in God’s Word refreshed. Why?
I left refreshed, in part I think, because reading a portion of Scripture that was not actually tailor-fitted to my day forced me to re-comprehend that day in the light and context not only of those passages but of the whole of the Bible’s story and perspective. It forced me to get outside of myself, outside of my head, and outside of the story that I had been telling about my life until 6:00 PM, and be confronted by God’s story, God’s priorities, God’s details, and God’s purposes. To make any sense of what God was saying to me, through David, Joshua, or St. Paul, I had to submit to his Word and hand over my immediate worries and preoccupations (of which I had more than a few) and sit for a few moments at the feet of the Man who would wash my feet by taking me out of the center of my crazy world by putting himself and his Message there in my place instead.
The purpose and reason for which I go before the Lord daily to pray and to spend time in his Word is precisely to have this kind of displacement, this kind of submission, with the hope that I will come out more alive, more oriented, and more prepared for whatever this world and its pomp may throw at me. Listening to God in a “quiet time” or in a “prayer closet” then is usually less like following the instructions of a GPS (no matter how cool it is to listen to the voice of Bob Dylan commanding you to “turn right now!”), and much more like time spent studying the map and polishing the compass (no matter how boring we may think Scoutmaster Blain and his mustache are). We may want direction for the moment, but time spent day-after-day learning the contours of the path will be even more valuable in the long run.
Not of course that I complain when God’s word is delightfully specific. And, even in the most seemingly unrelated passages of Scripture there is always “daily bread” to be had in one way or another if we have prayed for it. In fact, last night as well, the Lord gave me the sustenance of his re-orienting story, the precise words that I needed then and that I now impart to you, on the off chance that they may feed your souls as well:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.