Be still and know that I am God.
Have you ever seen a Saguaro cacti? They're only found in one part of the world: the Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico and the far southwest US. They are breathtaking to behold. Some grow up to 40 feet high, with thick stems and arms that extend like huge pipes. But there is more than meets the eye. Every towering saguaro tells a story. They didn’t start like that. When they took root, you weren’t born yet. After 10 years of growth, a saguaro only reaches an inch in height. A century later, at 90-100 years, it will grow its first arm. Standing in front of a saguaro is amazing. It gives you a strange sense of rootedness. You are looking at something that was alive well before you and will likely be alive after you. And it’s been rooted in place the whole time. Grounded. Consistent. The picture of stillness.
We have trouble fathoming something as steady as the Saguaro. We move around a lot. Not just in where we live, though that is certainly true. We move around in our minds. We move in our emotions. We move in our priorities.
Not all of this is bad. In fact, many forms of movement are a part of the growing and living experience.
But there’s something compelling about the saguaro. There’s something beautiful about slow movement when the rest of the world is spinning out of control. It’s consistent.
In Psalm 46, the Psalmist speaks about how scary the world has become. Everything is shifting sand. He writes of mountains quaking and falling into the sea. The earth is giving way. Nations are in uproar. It feels like chaos. But in the midst of his head spinning back and forth, looking at everything going wrong and how scary it all is, he hears the whisper of God’s voice: "Be still and know that I am God.”
It is a word of trusting God, but it is also a word of challenging the frenetic pace of his mind. It’s about living a consistent life with God.
Being still is harder and harder.
It’s hard to slow down our bodies enough to be rooted in meaningful tasks.
It’s hard to be aware that God is God and we are not.
It’s hard to give even a few minutes of time to prayer and move beyond interruption from our phones and surroundings.
And it’s really hard to slow down our minds enough to be still and really know God.
We are in a society that bounces from one stress to another in our own lives. Then we listen to the news or look on social media and see mountains shifting and nations in uproar. We are embedded in a world of constant outrage and indignation. We walk around so angry and hyped up that we can miss the daily opportunities God gives us to love each person in front of us… which is one of the clearest ways to begin healing the world. If we can’t be still and know that God is God, we will never be able to discern what is ours to do. And we certainly won’t be able to do it consistently over the long haul.
It’s in the stillness that we learn to know God. It’s in the rootedness that we truly grow arms to do good work.
This week, in the moments that you feel mountains quaking in the world around you or in the world within you, take a moment to be still and know that God has given you an unshakeable kingdom of Love. That’s what we live out of, and that’s what we invite others into.
Jesus, teach me to be still and know you.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
-1 Samuel 16:7
Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Yesterday I nearly skipped breakfast and needed to grab a banana as I headed to work. I looked on the counter and the only option I had was one that appeared, shall we say, “undesirable.” The peel had dark spots, the stem was dried up. This one had long ago bid farewell to dreams of starring in a Chiquita commercial. The glory days were past, and brown was the color of the moment. My first thought was to send that guy right to the compost bucket. But I decided to check inside just to make sure.
Upon a second look, I saw that the inside of the banana was beautiful! Interestingly, the outside peel had not been a sign of how ruined the inside was… and I nearly missed breakfast because of it. So I did what millions of millennial hipsters do every day: I took pictures of my food. Confession: I am neither a millennial nor a hipster. But I did sense a Jesus metaphor coming on.
It’s a simple, overplayed idea, right? We’ve got these famous sayings...
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Looks can be deceiving.
Don’t toss a banana because of its peel... seems like it is also destined for greatness.
At first glance, this message seems almost juvenile in how obvious it is. Yet theory and practice are not the same. The truth is that I’ve meet very few people who truly have the capability to go beyond exteriors and offer inherent value to a person. We need Jesus to teach us how to do that over and over again.
It’s tempting to use first impressions of someone in order to pass judgment.
It’s tempting to use limited knowledge about someone's past to make assumptions about their future.
It’s tempting to take someone’s ugly moments and make it the totality of their character.
We have this human inclination toward competition over cooperation. And we also have a need for control that tempts us to deal always in absolutes, rather than layers. But Jesus teaches us a better way. He teaches us compassion and engagement. He teaches us to make gracious assumptions. And he releases us from the responsibility of passing judgement. This example does not just transform how we see others. It’s changes how we see ourselves.
So how do we achieve that heart of God for others?
We have to receive the heart of God for us.
Frequently, our inability to practice value within others is rooted in our personal inability to be loved as we are. Our experience of God’s grace has been rather anemic, so we communicate our disease to others.
Listen friends. Stop singing about God’s grace being enough. Start actually letting God’s grace be enough. Start welcoming God’s love in fullness. Start seeing yourself as fearfully and wonderfully made, worthy of love and redemption. Start seeing yourself as created in God’s image. You are beautiful despite your failures. You are worth dying for.
And the only way to come to grips with that is to sit with Jesus until the love sinks in.
When you are tempted to assume rottenness in yourself or another this week, may you be reminded that God sees beneath the hurts and failures to the core of who a person is-- and loves them. Yes, God’s image in us can become corroded and marred. Sometimes we lift back the peel and what we see is mushy fruit. But here’s where the metaphor reaches its limit. Not only does God look at the heart, but even the heart reveals pride, greed, and ugliness… God loves us anyway and is powerful to transform. So even the rotten fruit in our world isn’t beyond restoration in God’s kingdom. Today is a good day to start living like that’s true.
Jesus, help me receive your grace in a way that really changes things.
**If you want to take the metaphor farther, apparently you can shop for ugly produce here.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?”
-Jesus (Matthew 26:40)
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
-Jesus (Mark 13:35)
Let’s keep thinking about the new year, since we’re only a week in. Many of you chose to stay awake until midnight last Tuesday to welcome in the new year. I don’t want to sound like a party pooper, but I think it’s been about (insert children’s ages) years since my wife and I stayed up. We party hard until about 9:00 or so and then it’s just not worth the effort. I’ll wish you happy new year in the morning. Stop judging me.
But for those of you who make the effort, bravo! It got me thinking.
A new year is a good time to invite God to help us stay awake. It’s so easy to fall alseep, to forget what matters, and to miss out on the beauty and joy of living in God’s kingdom. Interestingly, our society is experiencing an awakening of sorts. People are getting “woke” to the reality of racial bias in our country, and to the uncomfortably reality of sexism and the epidemic of sexual assault. People are noticing that we’re losing relationships because of our technology addiction. People are starting to notice that our consumption habits are not sustainable. It’s hopeful. Staying awake can be really good, especially when it’s Jesus that’s asking us to.
As we consider staying awake this year, I can think of three areas where we don’t want to fall asleep:
- God is at work all around us and we don’t want to miss it.
My eyes over the past two years have opened up so much more. Everything around us an opportunity for growth. God is at work in all of it. Every conversation can make us more like Jesus. Every good and bad event can be shaping tools in our lives. Every sunset, every birdsong, every person, and every minute- all have something to reveal about God’s goodness if we slow down enough to take notice. But too often, we fall asleep to those moments and miss out.
Slow down enough to keep your eyes open, friends.
- People are hurting and we want to be aware of it.
As mentioned above, our world is full of heartache. We forget that each person in front of us carries a story with them, full of hurt, hope, joy and pain. It’s easy to assume that what we see is the totality of a person. But God tells that so much is going on inside each person. They are in need of active love, just like you and I. Let’s become alert to compassion as we listen to each other’s stories.
Slow down enough to keep your eyes open, friends.
- Habits that are damaging to us and others develop almost effortlessly.
Most poor choices start long before the worst moment. Many bad habits (speaking critically, giving in to lust, using food or technology to fill a deeper need) form without us even being aware that they’re forming in us. We fall asleep at the wheel and forget that Jesus has given us a spirit of power and self-discipline that leads to a truly good life. Jesus hasn’t just set us free forever- he’s given us his Spirit to move toward loving practices in this life as well. Now is as good a time as EVER to get intentional and lean into prayer and community encouragement.
Slow down enough to keep your eyes open, friends.
I want us to be awake this year to the many ways Jesus wants to shape us and use us. So if you stayed awake last week, let it be an ongoing image for you this year as Jesus gives you eyes to see and ears to hear. And if you were like me and fell asleep early on new year’s eve… well, we were just resting up...
It’s go time.
Jesus, keep me awake and alert so that my eyes can see you and my ears can hear you.
Delight in God's love for you this week- and love others well.