Maintaining Calm in the Tumult

“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do.”

Philippians 1:27, 28a (Common English Bible)

Some years ago, a young man shared with me that years earlier he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. However, in the time that followed, he never sought to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Now his life was moving through a crisis, and not moving through it very well. This brought uncommon insight for him. He said, “I never did anything with my faith so now my faith is not doing anything for me.”  Apparently, this young man reduced the Christian faith to right beliefs. He confessed before a church that Jesus Christ is his Lord. He believed in Jesus Christ and that was that. Nothing more required. What he was now learning – in the midst of a personal crisis – is that the Christian faith is not merely right beliefs. The Christian faith is something that we do, and optimally, in community with others.     

In his present tumult, what this man desired is calm. Some years ago, William George Jordan wrote, “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-reliant and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis.”[i] Simply, the person who is calm identifies a singleness of purpose and pursues that purpose with both a sturdy confidence and an intentional strength of resolve. This is precisely the point Paul makes in his letter to the Church in Philippi: “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” That is our purpose. Further, Paul asks for a steady resolve toward this regardless of external circumstances – whether Paul comes to see them or is absent from them.

A familiar song during the Christmas season has this refrain, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Initially, the response is a chest that swells with anticipation and joy. A loved one is coming home for Christmas! However, the chest deflates when the refrain continues, “if only in my dreams.” Notice here that joy, or its absence, is dependent on something from outside of the individual – something that is beyond the grasp of the individual to control. Will a loved one be home for Christmas or not? Paul is saying that joy and a life of obedience to Jesus Christ is not dependent upon some external circumstance; not dependent upon whether Paul comes to be with them or is absent from them. Calm is available either way once a mind is focused upon a great purpose.

These few sentences of Paul conclude with the promise that fear and uncertainty will not fill the heart if the mind is set upon the single purpose of living for Christ’s gospel. If we hand authority to external circumstances for our well-being, we confess our inferiority to them. We grant them the power to dominate us. It is then that worries of every measure stir us to unease, wear upon us, and eventually, we wear down to surrender. Calm dissipates. Paul announces it does not have to come to that. “Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” Do that and the natural result is that you will not be afraid of anything your enemies do. Malice and slander, difficulties and hardships, disappointments and failures may assail you. Calmness will remain.


[i]Earl Nightingale, “Managing Your Inner World,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence(Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 39.


How Can I Find God?

“It’s impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards people who try to find him.”

Hebrews 11:6 (Common English Bible)

The beginning of the matter is faith. Faith does not mean the absence of doubt. As Jesus spoke to his disciples for the last time, the Bible tells us that some of them doubted. Their doubt did not bother Jesus. What Jesus did was to command them how they were to live after he left them. Here, faith is the determination to live “as though it is true.” When two people make marriage vows to remain together “until death do they part,” they are aware of the staggering divorce rates. They are aware of the possibility that their marriage may fail. Yet, they begin their life together on faith, the determination that they will remain together until death. Hebrews instructs that we begin the search for God “as though God does exist.”

Faith is not putting aside all doubt. It is determining to believe that God is there, just as we are present in the world. Faith is not putting aside all arguments against the existence of God but, rather, choosing to “accept as true” that God loves and understands and is interested in the smallest details of our life. A serious quest for God will put away all excuses for not beginning to seek God, excuses such as not having sufficient time to be alone with God each day, and sincerely striving to be in a personal relationship with someone as real and present as a spouse or dear friend. Faith is an acknowledgment that God is someone who is worth our worship, our love, our striving to learn from, and a decision to follow.

Let the one looking for God then turn each day into a quiet place, a place free of the possibility of interruption and distraction. In silence, think of God as present. Perhaps make a mental picture of God standing directly in front of you or seated right beside you. If it helps, picture God as Jesus groomed as your favorite picture of Jesus, wearing the traditional dress of the Hebrew people of Jesus’ day. Some find sitting in a church before a stained-glass window of Jesus helpful, as do I. Imaginatively, look into tender eyes and see arms outstretched to embrace you. At that moment, confess how you have wronged others and God. Pour out your hurts, disappointments, and longings. Share with God your unmet needs.

Then, after the silence, accept the forgiveness of God, the forgiveness you have heard proclaimed from the pulpit, read in the Bible, or shared with you by those who believe in Jesus. Accept the forgiveness even if you find it difficult to believe that anyone can forgive you, even God. By faith, trust the promise that you are forgiven. Trust that God has taken all that you are ashamed of and removed it from you. As God has placed all of it behind you, now make a mental picture that your back is turned to it, and you face forward with no guilt. In that new freedom—and in gratitude—resolve to learn from Jesus and to live as Jesus teaches us to live. Hebrews promises that God will reward you—promises that you will find God.



A Life Trained by Christ

Train yourself for a holy life!”

1 Timothy 4:7b

A physician once taught me an important lesson about spiritual growth—there is simply no substitute for regularly paying attention to God. He shared this story with me. In the midst of a successful practice as a doctor, he had little time for his wife, and for his children. Seventy and eighty-hour workweeks were customary. He loved his patients. He loved his work. Time at home was for rest and renewal for the next day. Dinners with his family were rare. Hard work seemed to pay dividends. His salary rose steadily each year. Admiration for him and his exceptional work held a privileged position in the community. Everything seemed right until it did not. Both his wife and his children had found a way to get on in life without him. “The day I realized that was the most painful day of my life,” the doctor said.

The doctor held a stethoscope in his hand. “Perhaps, this is the most important tool for a physician’s work,” he shared. Doctors study and train to know how to listen to a patient with this tool. What is supremely important is to know what “regular” sounds like when we hold the stethoscope to a patient’s chest or back. If the doctor does not know what “regular” sounds like, then the doctor simply does not know what they are listening to with a patient seated in front of them. Doctors must learn well what “regular” sounds like so when using a stethoscope, they can recognize immediately what sounds “irregular.” Once an “irregular” comes through the stethoscope, a decision, with the patient, is required. This one part of practicing medicine is all about listening carefully, listening correctly.

“I was failing at listening carefully to my life, to my family,” said the doctor. “Then, I almost lost them.” “That terrified me.” The difficulty was that I did not know what “regular” was, or what “regular” sounded like as a part of a family. Here is a man who is an excellent doctor but is a poor husband and father. Training was required. Good training is about consistent, regular effort over time. Good training demands the proper tools. “I went back to school,” said the doctor. The textbook was the Bible. The classroom was a chair in his backyard for one hour at the close of every day. Reading the Bible every evening, the doctor learned what “regular” sounded like. Then he listened carefully to his own life, his daily practices, and his priorities. What the doctor heard was irregular.

It is remarkable what listening to God will do for a life. A “regular” life, a healthy life, is a lived experience of faith in God. Practices change, and as practices change, a reshaping occurs. Each life that listens carefully to God, in regular time reading the Bible and prayer, redevelops from the inside out. Such a life embodies more and more the way of Jesus. Trust in God increases, persistent hope in the coming of God’s reign expands, and love overcomes hatred and selfishness. Life moves from unhealthy “instinctual reactions” to learned behaviors—behaviors that enter the heart from habitual practice in the way of Christ. This is a trained life. A life trained by Christ.



A Fresh Approach to Prayer

“Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”

Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

The Newlywed Game was a popular television show in the late sixties and early seventies. The show would place newly married couples against each other in a series of revealing question rounds that determined how well the spouses knew or did not know each other. There would be two rounds; the wives were taken off stage first, while the husbands were asked three questions. The wives were then brought back into the studio and asked for their answers to the same three questions. Once the wife gave her answer, the husband revealed the answer he gave—written on a blue card—in her absence. Five points would be awarded to the couple that shared the same answer. The roles were reversed in round two, and the wives were asked to answer questions about their husbands. The couple with the highest score at the show’s end won.

Imagine a similar game that puts to the test how well we know God and how well we understand God’s purpose for our lives. I suspect many of us would be embarrassed. Here, in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples came upon Jesus when he was praying. Tremendously moved by what they saw, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. There is no hint in this passage that the disciples witnessed answers to Jesus’ prayers. Results weren’t what caught their imagination. There was something else: something that went much deeper.

If we dispense with the notion that prayer is only about answers, that prayer is simply presenting pleas when we are in need, in danger, or in a crisis; our eyes are cleared to see what the disciples saw when they came upon Jesus at prayer. In Jesus’ prayer, the disciples saw a concentration and absorption into a relationship with God they had no experience with. Jesus’ prayers demonstrated a deliberate and sustained cultivation of a relationship with God that would put Jesus in the winner’s seat of The Newlywed Game. What is clear in this passage is that the disciples wanted the same.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty with prayer today is that many are simply out of touch with God. Prayer is reduced to instinct rather than habit, to approaching God out of need rather than a regular cultivation of a personal relationship with our creator. And that is our deepest need—to renew our acquaintance with God. Prayers that flow from instinct tend to be self-centered. The prayer of Jesus is God-centered. It is prayer that takes time to cultivate and requires extraordinary perseverance. But once this fresh approach to prayer is mastered, don’t be surprised if another approaches you and asks, “Teach me to pray like that.”



When God Seems Distant

“I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38a (Common English Bible)

Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tells about an experience he had in church. One Sunday he was in Cincinnati for a ball game against the Reds. That morning he went to early morning Mass and happened to see the Red’s manger there. They were old friends and sat beside each other during Mass. Afterward, the Red’s manager said, “Tommy, I’ll see you at the ballpark. I’m going to hang around a little.” Lasorda said that when he reached the door, he glanced back over his shoulder. He noticed that his friend was praying at the altar and lighting a candle. He said, “I thought about that for a few moments. Then, since we needed a win very badly, I doubled back and blew out his candle.”i Though misguided, what a powerful demonstration of faith in God’s presence and activity!

Countless people today long for that deep confidence in God’s presence and activity in their lives. God seems distant to them. They plod through each day, fearful, anxious, and burdened with uncertainty. Some may remember once having a close relationship with God but that was a long time ago. Prayers seem to never rise higher than the ceiling—and that is when we even feel like praying! The good news is that this is not an uncommon experience in the Christian faith. Just as people can grow apart in relationships with one another, so we can drift away from God. As Thomas Tewell once said to me, the difference is that in human relationships, both parties contribute to the distance. But, in a relationship with God, the reality is that we drift away from God. God never drifts away from us.

In those moments when God seems distant, what are we to do? Perhaps an experience I had will help. My daughter, Rachael, was in Norway—a studio photographer for the Holland America Cruise Lines. It’s was not uncommon for Rachael to work twelve and fourteen hour days. Wi-Fi is limited and with her long hours it was difficult to “connect” with her by telephone or by other means in real time. Rachael reached-out to me via Facebook Messenger. She said that for a limited time she was available to receive a phone call from me and that she really would like me to call. Immediately, I moved something that was already on my calendar to another time and placed the call. Do you see what happened? Suddenly, my greatest desire was to speak with my daughter. To do so, I had to make the time.

We reconnect with God the same way. We move beyond our desire to be close with God and carve out time from our busy lives to simply be still in God’s presence. We open the Bible and read expectantly, asking God to speak powerfully through the words that we read on the page. We learn from our reading more about God, about God’s good desires for us, and we learn what God requires of us. We spend time together with God. And we listen; we listen deeply in the silence following our reading to the hunches, the promptings, and the direction we sense from God. As we respond positively, the distance we once felt from God begins to close.  



i William R. Bouknight, The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth In A Skeptical Age. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001) 30.