God: Our Guide

The last couple of weeks have been over-full. Most nights I’ve tossed myself into bed too late and slept fitfully, waking groggy with odd remnants of uneasy dreams clinging to my tousled hair.

It’s just a season, and God has shown up in small and big ways: a verse of the day that spoke with increasing volume as the day wore on; sweet Tween snuggles and fewer Teen snarls; opportunities to encourage others; glimpses of God weaving together strands of this-and-that beauty in ways that we only yet guess at the pattern in the fabric He is creating.

Still, one day this week I’d had it with the hustle-bustle and desperately needed solitude. I asked Guy to take over dinner prep, shut the bedroom door, and picked up a book of spiritual meditations. One exercise involved praying while holding an object reminiscent of Christ. Which reminded me that I have a handheld labyrinth I hardly use.

labyrinth

A labyrinth is a prayer path, a walking meditation. It involves your physical body in your spiritual journey. It has three movements: releasing on your way to the center; receiving in the center; and returning on your way out. Another way to think about it: moving from self, to God, and back to self. At times you might bring questions to God in the labyrinth, and sometimes it’s just a way to slow down. No magic, just a helpful tool for spending time with God.

Guy bought my labyrinth, designed after the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, years ago at a retreat center. I had recently audited a graduate-level seminary course on spiritual disciplines and his gift honored my contemplative inclinations, different from his more gregarious form of Christian practice. But I think I’ve only used it once, when we had been invited to participate in a leadership position. I came to the labyrinth asking for direction, emerged unsettled, and God eventually said a loud and clear No. Did that put me off using it again?

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, France

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, France

However, this particular day it called to me. Because the metal stylus that came with it makes a metal-on-metal ear-splitting sound I grabbed a Qtip to make my way through the path. I then read Psalm 63 and a few phrases imprinted themselves on my heart:
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!

As I held the labyrinth, I told God I felt worn out, sad, heart-heavy. I told Him I needed Him. I began winding Qtip through path as I whispered, “I seek you. Earnestly I seek you.”

The Qtip is too big for the width of the path. I can’t see where it’s going, and I think, “That’s like God leading us through life” – we can’t see the twists and turns, but we trust that He is with us. Oh, no, God! There are twists and turns I do not want you to take with my life. Please, no? But you are with me. I know you won’t fail me; you won’t leave or forsake me.

Realizing I’ve inadvertently skipped some turns, I get to the middle: Jesus. Repeating His name over and over, I stay with Jesus, tracing the center petals of the flower, enjoying His presence, letting His love wash over me.

Jesus sends me back out, His Spirit walking with me as I reenter the world, and the prayer changes again: “Your love is better than life.” Jesus loves me, and He sends me into the world with His love pouring over and through me. I’m still skipping lines on the labyrinth, but truly, all roads lead to Jesus and back again; Jesus is my path through life, the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6).

I’m surprised how quickly I’m out of the labyrinth. Not feeling done, I start over, wanting to trace the lines I missed the first time. And now I realize I’m racing. I am racing to Jesus, which strikes me kind of funny. Yes, I want to run into His arms. And yes, He is with me all the time. And thank you, Jesus, that I can stop the madness and find some quiet time with you.

This second pilgrimage takes a fraction of the time but when I get back to myself again, I realize I no longer feel sad. Having spent time with Jesus I’m ready to reenter my family without my own gunk getting in the way.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you… Your love is better than life. I praise you with songs of joy.

I won’t always pray labyrinth in hand, but I am grateful God guided me to it – and through it – this week. I pray God will open your eyes to the tools He intends to lead you on the next steps of your faith journey.

Connect
In what ways are you like/unlike your parents?

Study
Read aloud John 14:6-21.
What do we learn about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit from what Jesus says?
You might find it helpful to create 3 columns on a piece of paper for “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit,” and fill in the columns with corresponding verse numbers and descriptions.
What does this passage tell you about the relationship between the Father and the Son? Between the Son and the Spirit? Between the Father and the Spirit?
What does this passage says about our relationship with Jesus? With the Father? With the Spirit?
Since Jesus says that the world cannot see the Spirit or the Son (vv. 17, 19), how can the world see Jesus? (hint: v. 20).

Live
To whom do you most often address your prayers, and why?
Jesus’ followers knew Him well because they lived with Him for three years. What do you do regularly to know and love Jesus? In other words, how do you actively invest in your relationship with Jesus?
What does Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the Spirit tell us about what our relationships in the body of Christ should look like?
How do intentionally live Jesus’ presence in your life so that others will see Him?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will know and love Father, Son and Spirit more each day.

Keep On

Some days life takes a hard turn for the unexpected. We ache, we long for something different, we want to hide.

But God is all about redemption. Where we see darkness, He is painting the background from which He will erupt glory.

For years we longed for a second child. While our coworkers, neighbors, friends all conceived and birthed beautiful babies, our doctors had no answers. We prayed that God would grant contentment if One and not Two was His plan. And like so many stories, we became pregnant as soon as we let go. Fast forward a few years, and we find our deepest friendships among parents of Tween’s friends. Had our child come sooner, we might have missed the opportunity to know and grow with this community.

Also some years ago, we had jobs we loved despite challenges. Those we served turned a blind eye to the issues and held us to impossible standards; with politics at their worst, we left. Slicking off the ugly-ooze that covered us head-to-heart-to-toe, God used the next two years to restore us to health, to beauty, to life and love and ministry. With Joseph we can say that what others intended for evil God intended for good. Yes, the pain was real, but Yes, the redemption has been more beautiful in contrast.

God doesn’t promise an easy life. He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, regardless of the yuck we have to slog through.

It didn’t take long for the early Church to experience persecution. Arrests, imprisonment, beatings, and – horror! – the first martyr: Stephen. The Church scattered, all but the apostles who remained in Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria just as God promised they would. Hardship became the vehicle through which the good news of Jesus spread, Evil the beast on which God’s message traveled to the ends of the earth.

What went through Philip’s mind? He and Stephen had only just been elected as the Church’s first deacons; now Stephen was dead and Philip was on the run for his life. Yet he held true to the gospel, proclaiming the Messiah and standing against evil. Where there had been fear, Philip brought joy. He listened to and obeyed God’s leading, allowing God to use him. The darkness didn’t beat him down. Instead, God turned Philip into a light for His glory.

Connect
When, in hindsight, have you experienced a hardship turned into an opportunity? Explain.

Study
Read Acts 8:1-5, 26-39. 
Compare Acts 8:1 to Acts 1:8. How did God use persecution to spread the gospel (vv. 1-5)?
How would this story have changed had Philip not been attentive to the Spirit (vv. 26-29)?
What stands out about the Ethiopian’s response (vv. 31-39)?

Live
Which is easier for you: inviting someone to church or telling them about Jesus? Explain.
Can you think of a time when you experienced the Holy Spirit’s prompting or a divine appointment God directed you to?
What might it look like for you to become more ‘missional’?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for the Spirit to prepare divine appointments for you to share the good news about Jesus.