I tend to err on the side of overfilling my mind. I cannot tell if there is a purely noble motivation for that or if it a sign of insecurity, but whatever the reason may be I am an information glutton. At work I am required to interact with people in meetings, presentations, hallway chats, and via phone and email. Depending on the day I might spend about half of my time actually interacting with people. I know that this is not a high percentage compared to professions like teaching, sales, or support but being an introvert I would quickly drown into a sea of utter social exhaustion if two thirds or more of my day was all-out direct communication.
During the other half of my day, the half that I am working but not interacting, I listen to sermons, seminary lectures, sociological presentations, audio books, and whatever else I can find that is content rich and compatible with my iPhone. There have been weeks that I have, gladly and by choice, listened to full lecture series or sermons through an entire book of the Bible. I am voracious to know and understand. This is my make-up and I do not believe that I am alone. We live in a culture that is consumed with consumption. Of course not everyone is slamming theology and social theory into their noggin all day long, but whether it be through social media, around the clock news, or just mobile entertainment we are absorbing more “stuff” than anyone even 50 years ago could have predicted.
I say these things to highlight something that happened yesterday, Monday, that happens from time to time in my life – something which I believe to be a gift from God and direct evidence of the Holy Spirit working in me. I didn’t listen to a thing. I didn’t listen to music, preaching, lectures, none of it. I was just quiet. I walked the halls at work, the sidewalks during break-times, I watched birds, trees, ants, and fountains. I shut down the information factory and let life and the earth and the beauty of Creation move into my being.
There is always the temptation to keep pushing ourselves without ever knowing why we are pushing. We can easily get wrapped up in our own short-sighted projects and goals and completely lose track of what the big picture even looks like. For me, from time to time, God smothers my appetite to know and gives me the wonderful gift of simply being. Grammatically we are accustomed to using the word being as a verb (I am being good…you are being bad), but in God’s economy the word being is first a noun and then later it shows up in actions. To learn how to merely be, to not lose sight of the gift of Creation that God has given us, to become enraptured by the glorious commonness of the simplest of all beauty that surrounds us – and goes largely unnoticed – everyday. This explodes our sense of self-importance, razes the structures built up by our pride, and roots us firmly in the reality of God as central.
Some days, maybe not today but some day, it would be of highest importance for some of us to do a great deal of nothing. And by nothing I am not suggesting that we sit still all day like the walls are padded, but that we put those things that seem so critical on hold for a bit. What tends to happen in that time of contemplation is a reorientation of sorts. We begin to understand once again that we are not the center of the universe and the world’s survival does not swing on the hinge of the success of our plans. In fact, it seems to be evident to me from reading the New Testament that our level of success in this world, true success, is directly proportional to how much we are willing to allow God to be the center of all our plans and motivations. Unplugging ourselves from all of our outlets and resources creates a very subtle dynamic of weakness that demands we see Who is actually keeping the globe spinning.
After all, Jesus said that if we will look at the grass and the birds we will come to the conclusion that God is in full control of our lives (Matthew 6:25-34). I would suggest that fish, ants, tides, and butterflies all tell the same story. The key is not which version of that story you choose to hear, but that you choose to take the time to listen to it at all.
One of my favorite hymns was written by Maltbie Babcock and entitled, “This is My Father’s World”. I offer two powerful reminders from it for our encouragement today:
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and ’round me rings, the music of the spheres
This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, and skies and seas; His hands the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, oh let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet
This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done,
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.
– Maltbie Babcock