Inconvenient and Inefficient
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Last week, I wrote out a list of goals for 2018. This is an exercise I do every year. I identify six parts of my life and set goals for each: family, ministry, writing, learning, health, and soul care.
That last one is the hardest.
How do you set goals for your spiritual life? Any quantifying of spiritual activity comes off empty and pharisaical. And yet it seems misguided not to include my soul in the list of my life's most important projects.
Here’s my solution: I’m setting a goal for the number of days next year when I want to seek God’s presence. I know when I’m seeking Jesus’s presence rather than approaching my daily devotional time with a check-list mentality. I know when I’m truly offering Jesus my soul, not simply going through the motions. I want more of those days.
Here, I take a lesson from the shepherds.
Have you ever wondered what those Bethlehem shepherds did with their sheep that first Christmas night? Did they get someone to fill in? Or draw straws to see who got left behind with the herd? Did they bring the sheep with them? (I like to imagine they marched them right through town and that the midnight bleating woke up those people taking all the rooms in the inn.)
And how did the shepherds find Jesus? The angels hadn’t given them an address. The way wasn’t clear.
The shepherd’s task was inconvenient and uncertain. They weren’t sure how to do it, if it would work, or if they were fools for trying. And they had to ignore their sheep to pursue it.
That sounds like my prayer life.
Parker Palmer wrote:
In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.
I can make a few minutes each day for Bible reading and box-checking. But it is terribly inconvenient to interrupt my busy schedule and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree.
And that tree-sitting is terribly inefficient. There’s no guarantee that I’ll see anything. The Holy Spirit doesn't whisper his truth as soon as my hour is up, as if my devotional is a cosmic time-out. This tree-sitting is an act of faith.
Seeking Jesus is inconvenient and inefficient.
But something tells me the shepherds thought it was worth the effort. In fact, it’s Luke who tells me that:
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
What if you and I could do that? What if, at the end of 2018, after having set aside our work, after having sit in Jesus’ presence, you and I found ourselves glorifying and praising God for all the things we had heard and seen?
I have enjoyed the advent journey with you this year. It has been so good for me to pause and ponder the Christ child. Tomorrow, as we celebrate his first coming, let’s also pursue his presence. Let’s go find him. And let’s make that a habit in the year to come.