One of the books I am reading on my sabbatical is The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb. The word PAPA is chosen by Larry Crabb both to express the quest for deeper intimacy in prayer with God our Father and as an acronym.
The first “P” is for “Present.” It has to do with a call to us to present ourselves to God as we really are–not as we wish we were or as good Christians are supposed to be, but as we really are. It has to do with us genuinely presenting to God whatever it is that is going on inside of us.
The first “A” is for “Attend.” It has to do with “attending to” or paying “attention to” God and to whatever it is I may be experiencing of God. Again, the focus is on genuineness. Am I aware of God’s closeness? Or am I aware of my heart missing greater closeness with God? Am I aware of some conviction from God? Or am I aware of some affirmation and encouragement from God? Or am I aware of some ideas that God may be stimulating in my soul?
The second “P” is for “Purge.” It has to do with clearing away anything that blocks my relationship with God. Since something is always coming up that blocks my relationship with God, that makes this an on-going need of our prayer lives.
The second “A” is for “Approach.” It has to do with approaching God as the most important thing in our lives. Crabb comments, “It then becomes clear that everything else is a second thing. Whether my spouse makes me feel important, whether my lunch mate asks me more than one question, whether my cancer comes back, whether I feel alive and vital and full of excitement–everything I want besides God is a second thing, legitimate in its place but an idol if it climbs into a higher place than God and His glory.”
I thought about that prayer as I turned to my adventures beyond Stirling (Scotland) today. I set out to catch a bus to the beautiful ancient cathedral in Dunblane then a bus to the William Wallace Monument. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go in Dunblane or how to get from one bus to the other or how long I might have to wait for buses or whether the rain would soak me. But I realized that my “outward” adventures on this sabbatical (visiting historical sites and such) are not as important as the “inward” journey (discovering more fully who I am inside and growing in greater intimacy with Christ), so I determined to keep my focus on the issues of the PAPA prayer–especially being present with God and paying attention to Him. As it turned out, my day involved much unexpected waiting. But that was okay. I brought my real self to God and paid attention to God and to what was going on inside of me, and I read some things that encouraged me and challenge me (and I happened to be inside most of the time that it was raining today).
After an afternoon of touring Stirling Castle and the Argyll Mansion, I walked into town for dinner. Following dinner, on my way back to my lodgings, I passed a sign that invited people to a Christian gathering above a coffee shop. I went up for some conversation, then some singing, then a speaker was introduced. The speaker happened to be the minister at the Church of Scotland church in the town where I will be spending a week beginning this Sunday. That was pretty cool in and of itself.
The minister spoke from Psalm 67:1: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us.” He spoke about how deeply God desires to bless us abundantly—which ties in directly with what I want to learn to embrace more fully on this sabbatical. I thank God for drawing me to this service this evening to hear this message.
One of the examples he used had to do with a woolen mill in his town (Hawick) that was going to be closed down. Many of the workers at the Mill go to his church and to other churches in town. They began to pray for a new company to buy the mill so that it wouldn’t close down, putting all the employees out of work. After several months of fervent prayer the Chanel Company bought the mill. An abundant blessing!
Now…if only I can keep in mind God’s desire to bless me abundantly when I worry about the cost of talking to my wife by phone from overseas!
(Talking to the speaker later, I found out that the people who run the lodging where I will be staying next week attend his church in Hawick.)
One of my goals over the course of this sabbatical is to learn to open my heart wider so as to be able to receive more freely and more fully. I want to be able to receive God’s love and goodness more freely and more fully in my life, but I am finding that to have a heart that is open to receiving from God I must also have a heart that is open to receiving from others.
That is not natural to me or easy for me. I tend to be self-contained and self-sufficient. I tend to be closed to the help or kindness of others.
I find that I am much like Simon Peter. When Jesus tried to wash the feet of Simon Peter, he answered, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Like Simon Peter, I don’t like to have other people go out of their way for me. Yet I fear that for as long as I have been refusing the kindnesses of others, I have also been refusing the kindnesses of God that He would send my way through other people.
With all that in mind, one of the “exercises” I want to work on during this sabbatical is to practice receiving the kindness of others. Well, I got in some great “exercise” sessions over the last few days.
These “exercise” sessions began with Martin Howie giving me a ride from Fionnphort (a short ferry ride from Iona) to Methlick. Martin lives in Aberdeenshire, but it was still about a six hour drive and a half hour further out of his way to drop me off in Methlick. On top of that, he paid my way on 2 more ferry passages between Fionnphort and Methlick, bought me a muffin, and took no money from me for gas, only allowing me to purchase lunch for the two of us along the way.
Though Matt & Julie Canlis and their 4 children are in the midst of packing up their belongings for a move back to the U.S., they warmly received me into their home on Friday evening and took wonderful care of me.
Then Colin & Anne Presly took over. They brought me to their beautiful home on their sheep ranch on the outskirts of Methlick (Scotland) and provided tremendous hospitality to me from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. It was at their home particularly that I began to feel the strain of these “exercise” sessions. I realized how difficult it is for me just to receive graciously from others. I wanted to do something to make up for them putting me up, but wouldn’t let me. I found myself worrying that I was getting in their way too much, or perhaps that I wasn’t being available enough to them. I was worrying, but they just kept providing warm and gracious hospitality. Their hospitality was a loving expression of their faith in the Savior who has given so graciously to us.
As I rode away on the bus this morning, I got to thinking about many other people throughout the years who have extended an invitation to Debbie and me to welcome us into their homes if we would venture their direction, but I have not taken people up on in because I have been so reluctant to put others out. I am beginning to realize that I have deprived them of company they have wanted, and I have deprived them of an opportunity to offer a loving expression of their faith in our gracious God.
I have had some good exercise sessions so far. I wonder what my Trainer has in store for me next?
Here, at last, is a picture Debbie took of me when she dropped me off at the airport for my flight to Scotland.
I am extremely grateful to God and to many people. I am grateful to all who have helped me to make this sabbatical possible. I am grateful to the bus driver and passenger who steered me in the right direction to get to Glasgow from the Edinburgh aiport. I am grateful to Martin Howie for driving me from Fionphort on Mull to Aberdeenshire, and going out of his way to drop me off in Methlick. I am grateful to Matt & Julie Canliss for putting me up last night, and to the folks from the Methlick Church who will put me up tonight and tomorrow night. God has been kindly watching out for me in many ways, and I am extremely grateful. I need to rush away now to join Matt & Julie and their church in a walkathon in Methlick. Hopefully early next week I will have opportunity to write more and to post some pictures from Iona, Methlick, and Stirling (where I will arrive on Monday).
Over the years, my wife has often pointed out my habit of ignoring and negating my feelings. I have rationalized this as my Christian responsibility to subjugate my emotions rather than to be ruled by them or overly affected by them. But if our emotions are a part of the way in which God lovingly designed us, then perhaps what I have been doing for all these years has been an act of faithlessness rather than faithfulness. If I wish to embrace more fully God’s love for me, perhaps I need to embrace more fully the emotions with which He made me. If I want to experience more deeply Christ’s closeness to me, perhaps I need to stop suppressing one of the wonderful ways in which He would express His closeness to me.
Brennan Manning’s book, A Glimpse of Jesus, is challenging me in this regard. He writes,
“Emotions, mistrusted and much maligned in the checkered history of Christian spirituality, are integral parts of our total self. They are the most direct reaction to our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
“Whether positive or negative, feelings put us in touch with our true selves. They are neither good nor bad; they are simply the truth of what is going on within us. What we do with them determines whether we live lives of honesty or deceit.
“The familiar reproach, ‘You lied to me,’ is often valid even when we have told the truth! The other only heard what we said but not what we meant because we repressed our feelings.
“When submitted to the discretion of a faith-formed intellect, our emotions serve as accurate and trustworthy beacons for appropriate action or inactions.
“Feelings that are not expressed cannot be fixed. For example, suppressed anger leads to resentment; repressed resentment leads to guilty self-flagellation; guilt leads to depression. Repressed persons are often depressed persons.
“An integral life implies creative listening to our emotions, taking responsibility for them, and courageously expressing them. The denial, displacement, or suppression of feelings…leads to a loss of integrity.”
Later he adds,
“To ignore, repress, or be inattentive to our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings and surprises of the Spirit within our emotional structure calling us to creative response.”
What do you know? I guess my wife was right all along.
It is going to be a learning curve for me to pay attention to my feelings and to accept them. But in doing so, maybe I will accept more fully God’s love for me, and maybe I will be more in touch with the nudgings of His Spirit upon my heart.
On another note. Yesterday was our day of taking a 7-mile pilgrimage hike around the island of Iona. It was the one day of beautiful weather so far. Every other day has been cold, windy, and raining.
Following communion this morning during worship at the Abbey in Iona, we were given a time of silence. Right away a 2-year-old little girl began fussing and crying. It got me thinking about what I read last night from Larry Crab’s book, The Pappa Prayer. He was comparing our prayers to a young child riding in a shopping cart in the grocery store, though he has actually grown old enough not to ride in the shopping cart anymore. The child is fussing and screaming for candies and cookies and sugar-cereal. That is often how we pray–focused very much on our own wants. He stressed that prayer ought to be more about establishing relationship with our Heavenly Father than just fussing for our wants. After a time of quiet–except the crying of the little girl–the worship leader said, “Now let us pray.” It hit me: Perhaps God is saying the same to me. Now let us pray. Now let me move from selfish, fussing prayers to prayers that build my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
Whenever you wish to build a muscle you must do something with repetitive action that stretches that muscle beyond its comfort zone. On this sabbatical, one of the things I wish to do is to stretch myself away from self-sufficiency and self-containment to trusting God more and being more open to people. I think God has a stretching exercise in mind for me.
Since my aim is not to be here in Scotland as a tourist–traveling about the countryside, site-seeing–but as a learner–spending larger amounts of time in specific places, settling in there, relaxing, reflecting, studying–I have not rented a car but am depending on public transportation. I find that this is stretching me. It is so much more in my character to rent a car, then I can depend on my own self for getting wherever I want to go, and I have a place where I can leave my stuff. As it is, I have to depend on buses to get around, and I have to depend on the kindness of people to help me out. For the first legs of my trip (Edinburgh airport to Glasgow), I purchased the bus ticket in advance online. When, according to my bus ticket, I was to transfer to a new bus, I asked the driver where to catch that particular bus. He informed me that there was no such bus. He told me to stay on the bus (which was returning nearly to where I began the trip) then to catch a different bus than I was expecting. Another passenger overheard and told me that he would be getting off at the same spot and would steer me to my next bus. I thank God for their help.
I have more of this “stretching” to look forward to this morning, and the rest of my month here. Please pray for me.
A few weeks ago, in our Staff Devotions, I was struck by a message I thought I had better hold onto for my sabbatical. The April 16 entry in the devotional book Streams in the Desert states, “In no way is it enough to set out cheerfully with God on any venture of faith. You must also be willing to take your ideas of what the journey will be like and tear them into tiny pieces, for nothing on the itinerary will happen as you expect.”
I am at the airport, beginning the first adventure of my sabbatical. I am setting out “cheerfully with God” on this venture of faith, and I have carefully worked out my plans for this sabbatical, but I pray that God will enable me to tear my ideas of what this journey will be like and tear them into tiny pieces, accepting that nothing on the itinerary will happen as I expect, so that I will be able to joyfully embrace whatever God sends my way.
As I begin my sabbatical, one of the things I want to do is to learn to stop following the pattern of the older brother in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. Like the older brother, I have been dutiful and worked hard. But the older brother ends up complaining because the Father never cooked even a young goat for him. Lovingly, the Father tells the older son that He has always wanted to share His riches with the son but the son did not take them. I don’t want to be so focused on “dutifulness” that I miss the rich grace and blessings God wants to share with me. While on this sabbatical, I want to pay better attention to the riches of God that surround me, and I want to embrace more eagerly the blessings God will send my way.