Monthly Archives: May 2015

Clearing the View

I recently replaced the screen cover on my phone. The previous one had been in use for three years at least and was showing the signs of three years of wear. However, being the “utilitarian” fellow that I am, I only replaced it after it had almost completely fallen off. My proactivity (or, rather, lack thereof) aside, what struck me was the sharpness and the clarity of the screen once old protector had been removed. I had become so accustomed to seeing the screen through the scuffs, dirt, and wear of the old protector that I had forgotten what the screen actually looked like.

I think the same thing happens with our view of God, others, and the world around us. Going through life, we cannot help but be scuffed, accumulate dirt, and get worn. Life is messy. That is an inescapable fact of living in a fallen world. It is also why it is so important to take time to re-center and refocus on God. It is like the screen protector on my phone. The wear of life clouds and distorts our view of God just like the wear of use clouded the screen protector. When we take time to settle ourselves in God, be it through prayer, meditation, worship, etc. it is like changing the old screen protector for a new one: the clarity in our relationship with God is restored.

With this clarity comes a better view and appreciation of God’s glory as it is manifested in others and the world around us. Even though we live in a fallen world, we can still encounter God’s glory in various ways if we keep the eyes of our hearts open. The crispness and simple beauty of a phone screen was waiting to be revealed once I was able to focus on it again. Likewise, the glory and beauty of God is waiting to be revealed once we focus on it again.


Slowing Down

We live in a fast-paced world that continues to accelerate. As a result of living in such an environment, we have become exceedingly good at multitasking. It’s almost become natural for us to have our minds scattered across several things at any given time. Granted, in older, more primitive times, splitting our attention was vital to our very survival and the ability remains both useful and valuable today. However, we are stretching our finite cognitive resources further than ever before and there are consequences that necessarily arise. Though the human mind is as vast and mysterious as the oceans, like the oceans, it also has boundaries and limits. The greater the area over which the mind is spread, the more shallowly it must be applied. In short, ill-managed multitasking impedes our depth of thought.

This becomes especially troubling in matters of faith and religion. We must dwell on the truths of the Bible in order for them to soak into us and transform us. In order to abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), we must spend time digesting and being nourished by Him, by the True Vine. This should not be equated to punching our time cards each week with church-related activities, for without taking time to dwell on God, on Christ, on the Bible, etc. these are like so many unopened books which never do us any good for having them. There is much to be gained from taking time to slow down and really attend to and be present to God.

Here is an exercise to help cultivate a habit of slowing down when we spend time with God:

Start by finding a place where you are able to concentrate. Generally speaking, this is a place where you can find some level of mental solitude (i.e. it doesn’t have to be devoid of people but you should be able to be undisturbed and able to focus entirely on one thing).

Pray and ask God to help you to slow down and focus on Him, to help you to listen to Him and what He has to say to you.

Take some time to just focus on your breathing. Take relaxed, full breaths. Become aware of the air as it passes into and out of you. Try not to think about anything else. It may be handy to have a paper and pen nearby as sometimes we can bothered by thoughts of what we are going to do after this. Writing them down on the paper allows us to set them aside for the time being without risking forgetting them. Feel your body begin to relax. Continue in this until you feel calm and still.

Once you have reached a calm, clear state of mind, read Psalm 4. Take your time and fully register everything that you read. When the Scriptures say “Selah”, pause from reading and reflect on what you have just read. After this, return to the psalm and continue, pausing at the next “Selah” to reflect as before. When you have finished reading the psalm, take another pause to reflect on what you have read, dwelling on what the Scripture is saying to you. From there, you may wish to repeat the reading again or perhaps there is a particular thought that has arisen from your reading that you wish to spend more time with.

Conclude the exercise with prayer. Pray out of the time you just spent in God’s word. You may thank God for some blessing you have received or recalled during the reading. You may ask God for forgiveness for a sin that came to mind. You may ask for His help and grace to stand up under some trial or temptation that came into focus or the Psalm spoke to. After praying, tuck away a bit of the quiet from this time into your heart and mind to carry with you throughout the rest of your day.

(Note: You can use this sequence when reading any selection of Scripture.)

Flay & Pray

I have written about League of Legends in the past, and I hope you will permit me to write of it again for illustration’s sake. One of my favorite characters to play as is Thresh, “The Chain Warden.” His tools of choice are a pair of chains tipped with a scythe and a lantern respectively. Thresh’s primary contributions to his team come in the form of restraining and locking down enemies while protecting his allies and helping them reposition on the map, all while soaking up the damage the opposing team dishes out.

Thresh’s first ability is “death sentence”. When activated, with the clatter of links, Thresh twirls the scythe over his head like a lasso before hurling it in a target direction. If it collides with an enemy, the scythe hooks onto them and they are stunned while Thresh tugs them toward him twice. He can even reactivate this ability to use the chain like a zip-line to dash to the hooked target. His second ability is “dark passage”. This causes Thresh to toss his lantern to a target location providing a shield to one nearby ally. If an ally clicks the lantern, Thresh uses it to quickly pull them to his location, even across walls and other obstacles. (This is sometimes called riding the “Thresh Express”.) Third in Thresh’s kit is a not so flashy move called “flay”. Passively, it causes Thresh’s basic attacks to do extra damage. Upon activation, he sweeps his chain in a line extending in front and behind him which pushes all enemies in its path a short distance in the direction of his swing and slows them. Last is his ultimate skill, “the box”. Activating this ability causes Thresh to summon five spectral walls around him, closing in anyone caught inside. If an enemy runs into a wall the wall is broken, but in return they take heavy damage and are slowed by a full 99% for 2 seconds.

As you might guess, these skills can be chained together to accomplish some pretty useful things. Most notoriously by grabbing an enemy with “death sentence”, tossing the lantern to an ally, then zipping to the enemy and using the lantern to bring your friend along to say hi. However, it is the subtle “flay” that plays a huge role in bringing many of Thresh’s combinations together and also brings a boatload of utility to the team. The slow it provides can be used to make landing “death sentence” easier and it can be used to push enemies into the walls of “the box”. “Flay” can also be used to interrupt enemy’s dashes, preventing them from escaping or diving onto one of your allies. In many ways, this least visible of Thresh’s abilities is also arguably the most important to his kit.

So why all this explanation? Well, this “flay” ability and the place it occupies in Thresh’s kit provides a good illustration of how the less visible and less public of our spiritual practices are the most important to our spiritual wellbeing. It is often the case that when we think of doing spiritual things, we think of going on mission trips, taking some huge leap of faith, or intensely spiritual experiences in general. However, while these things are good for our growth and service to God, they aren’t things that make up a large portion of our daily life. Rather, they are like highlights that give us a graceful boost. It is a dangerous proposition to try to engage in a spiritual journey using only these hops and runs, as we will soon find ourselves short on energy and short on progress.

It is better for us that we find a pattern and routine of regular time spent with God. This is, in fact, what we see modeled for us by Christ in the Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, especially, we are shown that Jesus regularly withdrew to be alone with God and pray. When word spreads of how Jesus healed the leper and crowds come to Him to hear and to be healed we read: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) This isn’t Jesus fleeing from the crowds and refusing to minister to them. It is Jesus making time to spend with God in quiet, even in the midst of His rapidly growing ministry. Later on, in chapter six, we read: “Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12) This account is situated directly after Christ healed a man with a withered hand and right before He calls the twelve. Again, we see Jesus stepping back from His more public and visible actions to spend time in quiet with God. In verses 9:18 and 11:1, we get another interesting perspective of Jesus’ prayer-life: “And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18) “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) In these two instances, we encounter Jesus’ withdrawing to be in quiet prayer as something that He regularly did.

Although these portions of the Gospels are brief and not very flashy, we should not discount their significance nor overlook the importance of the picture they present when viewed together. We see Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man, regularly making time to spend with God in quiet; especially when things got busy. These times of quiet form the base from which we work and are sustained. Without them, it is easy to be swept up in and consumed by the busyness of the very endeavors we seek to serve God in. We might think of them as a sort of glue which holds the rest of our spiritual lives together by being the means by which we remain in God and abide in Him.

Just like Thresh’s “flay” is a subtle skill that brings the rest of his kit together and is crucial to him being able to fill his role well, our times of quiet retreat into secret prayer are vital to us being able to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and to travel well on the road of discipleship.

Chibi Flay

Skills and Abilities

One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing League of Legends, an online game in which teams of players work together to destroy the opposing team’s nexus (essentially capturing their base). One of the game’s most prominent features is the sheer number of characters (champions) one can choose to play as. There are 124 champions currently, and the roster continues to grow. Each one of these champs has four abilities that can be activated and one passive ability that is always in effect. These abilities further define the character and shape their contribution to the team. Doing a little math:  124 champions, with 5 abilities each, means that right now, in-game, there are 620 unique skills potentially in play. Yet, from this dizzying variety, an order and strategy emerges that brings a team together as a unit able to accomplish goals and secure objectives.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of what Paul tells us about the Church body:  the diversity of gifts within it and its unity in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes of how there are many different gifts in the Church but one common denominator:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We each have things that we are talented at and things that we have a passion for. These are also things which we can and should offer back to God and share with Him. What I mean is that these gifts given to us by God are things which we can do with Him and honor Him with. Are you a fitness buff? Praise God for the marvelous machinery of human physiology. Help others to be good stewards of their bodies. Do you delight in reading? Give God glory for the power and beauty of written words. Give freely out of your experience with books to help others. Do you love cooking? Honor God for the complex challenges and simple joys of food. Share with others the delight to be found in the kitchen.

Above all else, though, the most important thing that any of us can do with our gifts is to grow closer to God and share that joy with others. It is easy to forego the spiritual impact of our gifts and turn into the dreaded “know-it-all” or to look down on others who don’t share our interests. However, God gives us these gifts to be a stepstool to reach up to Him, rather than a stumbling block for ourselves and others. The joy and delight that we have in God in the exercising and pursuit of our gifts is the crux of what we share with others. It is what overflows from our well to fill others.

When we step back and turn this perspective upon the Church, the roster of 124 champions and 620 skills found in League of Legends seems simple in comparison. However, the joining together of these diverse characters and abilities in a common goal can serve as a small example of how the Church body comes together in a common Spirit. Paul later writes of spiritual gifts:

“And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

-Ephesians 4:11-16

In loving God in what we do and sharing with others out of that love, we are built up in God and help build up others.

Chibi Abilities

A Clear Center

In a previous post, we talked about seeking to settle the waters of our internal life so that we can more clearly see and hear the Holy Spirit as He works within us. Now this all sounds like a nice, spiritual, thing to do, but how does it translate into “real life”? After all, we can’t spend our lives perched on a lofty dais. We have to come down at one time or another to tend to less spiritual things in the midst of the daily grind.

During our devotional times, such as when we are meditating, we are cultivating an inner stillness and attention to God. However, the aim of these activities is not only to become practiced at spending time with and listening to God. Rather, we could think of these times as a re-centering of ourselves on God. The motions and forces we encounter in daily life (temptations, frustrations, inundations, etc.) tend to pull us away from God so that our center is no longer on Him. They also tend to disturb our inner life, making it rough and choppy.

Because we are so accustomed to living our lives in this hubbub, it has essentially become our state of equilibrium towards which we are drawn by default. This is part of the reason, I think, why things like silence or stillness are so uncomfortable to us at first. They go against our grain. However, as we persist in spending quiet time with God, through the working of His grace, our equilibrium begins to shift towards an inner peace that comes from God alone. This being centered on God becomes the shading and color of everyday life. Not that everything will be sunshine and lollipops, but we will be living out of and viewing things through a heavenly perspective. With this becoming the norm for the rest of our time, the times we set aside for devotion and focusing on God shift in functionality from strictly being time blocked out to pay attention to God to being time in which we are refueled and refreshed for everything else.

We might think of it as visiting the gas station. While most car-business consists of driving and transporting, the periodic visits to the petrol pump are necessary for all of the driving and transporting to happen. Likewise, the periodic times spent refocusing on God are necessary for the rest of our Christian lives to happen (as opposed to forgetting about our spiritual life as soon as we return to our daily life, as if the two were separate).

In much fewer words, by spending time settling our internal life, we cooperate with God’s work to shift our default setting to a heavenly perspective. The times we take for devotion serve as a base out of which we live the rest of our lives because it is there that we are refreshed and resupplied for the journey. It is also there that we are reminded that there is no separation between our spiritual life and our daily life.

Chibi Clear Center