All our life is
like a day of celebration for us;
we are convinced, in fact, that God is
We work while singing,
we sail while reciting hymns,
we accomplish all other occupations of life
(Clement of Alexandria)
AS WE SET OFF ON OUR
WALK in the Lake District beside the river, we were
aware of a deep desire within us to draw closer to
the Lord. Within minutes of putting on our walking
boots and striding into the woods that bordered the
river we felt our spirits lifting. It was a
refreshing change from the pressures of the past few
months. I little realized that it was also about to
become a way of life for us.
The Lord invites His people to walk by the River of
Delights – but many of us find that busyness makes
life feel more like a Torrent of Turbulence! As we
return from a busy day, swallow a hasty meal and
then head off for yet another engagement, what
opportunity do we have to ponder, let alone to
implement the insights we have gleaned from earlier
sermons, tapes and books? It is hardly surprising
that many of us become spiritually numb, going
through the motions outwardly, but with all too
little heart conviction. Scripture certainly
encourages us to meet together, but we dare not
measure our spiritual well-being by the number of
meetings we attend or lead.
If we are to experience more of the presence of the
Lord, we must pay considerable attention to the pace
at which we lead our lives. So many of us suffer
from the ravages of too much outward stress that is
offset by too little physical exercise for the body,
and insufficient spiritual nourishment for our
inmost being. Even though we may be able to keep our
professional mask more or less in place, our inmost
being may be yearning for the renewing touch that
comes from spending time with our Heavenly Father.
We are wise if we heed this cry of the heart because
we burn out inwardly faster than we do outwardly.
Aspire to God
with short but frequent outpourings of the
admire His bounty;
invoke His aid;
cast yourself in spirit at the foot of His
adore His goodness . . .
give Him your whole soul a thousand times in
(Francis de Sales)1
As world events
accelerate headlong into unexpected scenarios, we
are left catching our breath at the speed at which
change is sweeping the globe. New and often unstable
nation-states have appeared almost overnight on the
political map, even as a powerful move of God’s
Spirit has brought entirely new dimensions of
spiritual freedom to many parts of the Church.
Through all the change and shaking, the desire of
the Lord remains constant: for an intimacy with His
people that develops through a lifetime of seeking
Him. Romance cannot thrive on occasional contact.
The Lord wants to renew a sense of adventure in our
walk with Him. The hand of the Lover is poised on
the latch of our hearts, and He bids us come forth
and follow Him.2 Dare we refuse His gracious
advances? If we remain too engrossed in our own
pursuits – not to mention our comforts – our love
weakens and His heart saddens.
Because Christians are usually amongst the most
willing of all people to serve, we may experience
particular difficulty in adjusting the pace of our
lives. Yet if we rush to action stations to meet
every need that comes our way, we may end up
scrimping on our times with the Lord and with our
families. Above all, we must seek to be sensitive to
the Spirit’s leading.
If too many church activities can bring their own
strains, the sheer amount of television most of us
watch can also stunt our spirits and hinder our
attempts to draw closer to the Lord. ‘TV or not TV’:
that will often be the question we must ask
ourselves! Why is it that so many Christians flop
for hours at a time in front of the box without
checking whether God is happy for them to watch that
particular programme? How much richer would it be if
they took time to reflect and even to pray about the
things they have just watched and heard?
I am concerned, too, for the pace of life our
leaders and politicians are expected to adopt. The
schemes they devise have such far-reaching effects
on people’s lives – but who will show these absurdly
busy people how to set time apart to weigh and
ponder the different options that lie before them?
The French have coined a phrase that epitomizes the
soul-deadening nature of so much of modern commuter
life: ‘Metro, boulot, dodo’. It means you take the
Tube to work, you do your nine hours at work and
then you make your way to bed.
Given that most of us have to earn our living within
this far from ideal framework, we urgently need to
find ways to restore romance and adventure in our
walk with the Lord.
The Sabbath Day Principle
remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people
of God. Let us, therefore, make every effort
to enter that rest. (Hebrews
In Hebrews chapters 3
and 4 we find repeated exhortations to enter God’s
Sabbath rest. These verses refer less to dutiful
Sabbath observance than to that quality of rest from
our labours which enables our weary bodies to be
refreshed and our souls to be recharged.
A famous biologist once commented, ‘It is necessary
to be slightly under-employed if we are to do
anything significant.’ Unstructured time (that is,
free of demanding schedules) can help us develop an
eternal perspective on life – but only if we
approach them in the right spirit.
When the Lord ordained the Sabbath as a day of rest
He was modelling a pattern for man’s well-being.
During the Second World War, many schemes were tried
to discover which pattern would best aid the war
effort. The results were conclusive: six days on and
one off proved the most effective!
Although Sabbath-day observance as such is less
important today than it was under the old
dispensation, the principle remains true – as do the
consequences of ignoring it! Just as the tithe
belongs to God by right (our offerings beginning
above and beyond this point) perhaps it would be
helpful to view the institution of the Sabbath –
that is one day off a week – as God’s minimum
If busyness reduces our relationship for a season to
little more than telling God that we love Him, and
calling on Him for help, there need be no cause for
concern. ‘Provided the intention remains firm,’
wrote Teresa of Avila, ‘my God is not in the least
meticulous . . . In drawing up our reckoning, he is
not in the least exacting, but generous.’3
Time and again the Lord condenses much wisdom and
direction into a hasty reading of Living Light, The
Word for Today or our other Bible notes. The danger
comes when unusual times of pressure become the
norm, and we reduce our diet to suit our hectic
lifestyle. Just as there is a world of difference
between fast food and gourmet fare, so we will need
to adjust the pace of our life to avoid living
exclusively on a diet of spiritual snacks.
The Burning Desire
to Heaven is through desire . . . The path
to Heaven is measured by desire and not by
(The Cloud of Unknowing)
intentions, to grow in intimacy with the Lord we
need a strong desire. In post-Freudian thought,
‘desire’ is usually considered to be unfulfillable.
It witnesses to the absence of all absolutes –
especially God! But the Lord has placed this longing
for intimacy deep within us not to tantalize us but
to reassure us that the presence of God is the
proper end and fulfilment of desire.
Augustine considered there to be no greater sin than
indifference, while Frederick Faber described the
lack of desire as ‘the ill of all ills’. Desire
enables us to overcome all manner of daunting
circumstances, first to experience, and then to
preserve, intimacy with God.
I recently came across a biography of a woman who
had been bedridden from childhood, and blind and
deaf for the greater part of her life. Faced with
almost endless time stretching ahead of her, Jane
Hess Marchant fought enormous battles against self
pity. As she wrote to a friend, ‘It isn’t an easy
foe to overcome, even when we know the remedy.’ Jane
bore her disabilities bravely and wrote poems that
were treasured right across America. Something of
her resilient attitude is captured in this poem, The
Sacrifice of Praise:
|If we would
offer praise to God continually,
Our hearts must sacrifice some things that
seem to be peculiarly dear;
The pleasures of complaining when little
things go wrong and little hurts are
The joy of feeling abused, and envious of
And sorry for ourselves and our unrequited
The pride of pointing out the small defects
that mar our satisfactions,
to prove how skilled in taste we are –
All this the heart intent on offering praise
And sacrificing, finds all freedom and
And yet by some perverse and curious mistake
It seems a sacrifice our hearts are loath to
Jane found that it
was praise alone which kept the power of Satan’s
negativity at bay, and which enabled the breadth of
her vision to scan the world from the narrow
confines of her bedroom. As her fame increased,
however, so too did the interruptions. She found
herself desperately short of time for what she
called ‘slow interior living.’
Ponder some more of her words:
within the heart,
the shape within the stone,
Is visualized apart,
is realized alone.
No one who would express essentials,
can exclude the arduous inwardness,
the searching solitude.4
The temptation is to
assume that we will never have time to enjoy the
richer fare this reference to ‘arduous inwardness’
is clearly calling us to. Clergymen point to their
impossibly busy round of activities; parents wrestle
with never-ending piles of clearing up – and
everybody knows the stresses that affect the
If excuses are the order of the day, I suspect that
even the hermit in his cave might find the lack of
central heating – or the presence of too many bats –
reason enough to stop seeking God. It sounds so much
more plausible to say ‘Circumstances prevent me,’
rather than ‘The cost is too great.’
What will really hinder us from seeking the Lord,
even more than a lively child or a demanding job, is
the lack of desire. When we are really eager to do
something, it is amazing how much effort and
ingenuity we can devote to making it possible.
Not only do most people struggle to find time for
the ‘searching solitude’ Jane Hess Marchant was
describing: they may also be surprised how hard it
can be to cope with if they do succeed in finding
it! It takes maturity to handle unstructured time,
whether it comes our way as a consequence of
redundancy, illness, retirement or the Lord’s
specific leading. But God will not share His richest
blessings with those who are harbouring hopes of
finding something better in their worldly pursuits.
May the Lord renew a burning desire in us to honour
Him in all that we do. As Faber wrote,
None honours God
like the thirst of desire . . .
Then pray for desire, for love’s wistfullest
For the beautiful pining of holy desire;
Yes, pray for a soul that is ceaselessly
With the soft fragrant flames of this
Thrice happy fire. For the heart only
Truly dwells with its treasure,
And they who love God cannot love Him by
For their love is but hunger to love Him
For the lack of desire is the ill of all
God loves to be longed for, He loves to be
For He sought us Himself with such longing
He died for desire of us, marvellous
And He yearns for us now to be with Him
Making the Most of
Prayers that first recall and then transform
circumstances require a settled spirit and a firm
purpose. Whatever our personal circumstances, we
will need to make time to wait on the Lord. The
nature of our diaries (to say nothing of the subtle
distractions the enemy sends our way) mean that we
will almost never be able to find enough time to be
If this means choosing not to go somewhere
interesting of an evening in order to spend more
time in God’s presence, then so be it. We are almost
bound to disappoint more actively minded friends
from time to time by our choices, but true devotion,
like true creativity, cannot be rushed.
If our desire is strong enough (and most of us have
to struggle to overcome the fear that we are not the
sort of person that God would reveal Himself to)
there are usually practical steps that we can take.
Mothers can arrange baby swaps, and carers can ask
friends to look after aged relatives for a few hours
so that they can spend some time with the Lord.
The wife of a busy executive, who used to enjoy more
time than her husband did to be with the Lord,
shared the spiritual ‘manna’ she had gleaned during
the day with him at the end of the day. This was not
‘spoon-feeding’ him so much as taking advantage of
her privileged position to bless and strengthen her
husband. Neither was it an exclusive service for his
benefit. She frequently received helpful insights
for the many other people she prayed for.
Suddenly their roles reversed. Some years before her
husband lost his high-powered job, she had started a
business, which in time became a successful
enterprise. It is delightful to see her husband
serving her today as humbly as she once served him.
For us personally, the challenge to make the most of
every opportunity6 became a much more pressing issue
when our children were born. Before their arrival,
friends warned us with that peculiar negativity that
is so characteristic of the English, ‘You wait till
you have children! That’ll be the end of your long
quiet times.’ Truth to tell, the arrival of our
first child did little to hinder our devotions. We
were still able to enjoy our morning quiet time
because Ruth slept well, and we were able to
backpack her while we went for walks. It was a
different story when Timothy arrived. The lightest
of sleepers in the morning (and the latest at night)
we endured four years of our son waking up the
moment we tiptoed out of bed.
Overnight, our devotional pattern was shattered.
Now, instead of hopping effortlessly into a car to
go in search of a family walk, it really would have
been a great deal easier not to go through the
paraphernalia of sorting out a carload of children
and a lively dog. Yet the blessings that came from
doing so repaid our efforts many times over.
We often used to spend some time together walking as
a family, before one or other of us would stride on
ahead (or linger behind) to drink in the presence of
the Lord while the other stayed with the children.
Then we reversed the roles, thus enabling us both to
enjoy some time alone with God, whilst also having
family time together. In similar ways we managed to
turn holidays into mini-retreats. This is important
because we have found that God often speaks to us
while we are on holiday, perhaps because we are free
from our normal responsibilities, and therefore
relaxed enough to be able to enjoy richer times of
reflection with Him.
Most of us can probably do more than we are
currently doing to combine leisure times with
devotional interludes without rocking the family
boat too much. We should certainly be careful to
choose holidays that will do us good spiritually as
well as physically.
Bringing Intimacy into our Daily Lives
|It is an old
custom of the servants of God to have some
little prayers, and to be frequently darting
them up to Heaven during the day, lifting
their minds to God out of the mire of this
world. He who adopts this plan will get
great fruits with little pains.
As a rule, the busier
our lives and ministries, the greater our need to
compensate for the stresses and strains. Whatever
framework we base our devotional life around should
cater both for the objective pressures of our
lifestyle and the subjective way in which we respond
to stress. Our strengths are as varied as our
giftings, and we need to heed our limitations. The
parents of very young children, for example, should
probably not be expected to shoulder the same
burdens they did before they had children – and will
again be able to do when the most intensive years of
child-rearing lie behind them.
There is a rhythm and a flow in the life of the
spirit within us which becomes increasingly familiar
to those who take the trouble to recognize the
patterns of the Lord’s leading. Throughout the long
monastic tradition, monks and nuns have realized the
wisdom of dividing the day into various sectors, for
work, rest and prayer. These well thought-out
divisions were designed to bring balance into their
Perhaps we should add to the monastic division of
work, rest and prayer the equally important
dimension of play. God wants us to enjoy life, and
to live it to the full. Times of genuine pleasure
and relaxation are a wonderful defence against the
work of Satan. The Lord reminded me one day, ‘When I
created children with an instinct to play, I put
something of Myself in them. If you do not play, My
child, you are off balance!’ Half an hour later we
were enjoying each other’s company picking
blackberries in the autumn sunshine, and feeling
much the better for it. To quote again the anonymous
author of The Cloud of Unknowing:
has the light to understand what I mean, and
the grace to follow it will experience the
delight of the Lord’s playfulness. For like
a father frolicking with his children, He
will hug and kiss one who comes to him with
a child’s heart.
Wherever did we get
the idea from that God wants to stop us having fun?
He wouldn’t have created the elephant’s trunk and
the giraffe’s neck or made new born animals leap and
skip unless they were in some way reflecting His own
sense of joy and good humour. Let us fear only to
make His heart sad by our doubt and unbelief.
The pressures of life are so great today, however,
that many people turn for help to a wide range of
We must choose our means of unwinding carefully. All
too many practitioners who promote relaxation
techniques have adopted New Age methods and beliefs.
Hidden within these lies the ultimate deception of
all: that the self is divine. To embrace this view
of life is as absurd as the medieval belief that the
sun revolves around the earth, but it is becoming
alarmingly widespread. Exercise is useful, though,
because it reduces stress levels which have become
clogged with too much adrenaline and harmful
cortisol. Walking is still in many ways the best,
and most readily available means of exercise that we
can take. So why not combine necessary times of
recreation with opportunities to meet the Lord?
Stress sabotages the instinct to play. We live in a
society that is so steeped in ‘doing’ rather than
‘being’ that most of us feel uneasy if we are not
doing as much as we feel we are capable of – and
preferably being seen to be doing it! If our mind
has become stuck along lines of performing and
achieving, I have a strong suspicion that we may
never be able to do or achieve enough to satisfy our
Our church programmes unwittingly perpetuate this
way of thinking. We push prospective pastors through
academically oriented courses, paying far too little
attention to developing the kind of character that
will fare well on the spiritual front-line.
Performance-instructed pastors in turn risk becoming
demanding leaders, more obsessed with numbers
present than with the overall quality of spiritual
life. How can we escape the conclusion that we serve
the Lord best by being frenetically busy? Meetings
can be vitally important – but our standing with the
Lord derives more from how much we love and are
obeying Him than from what we are doing for Him.
Yes, there is a world which desperately needs to
hear of His salvation, but there is a beauty about
someone who has paid the price to be holy, which in
turn helps others to draw closer to the Lord. This
is not an easy balance to achieve. We must be
willing to make whatever adjustments are necessary
in our lifestyle to bring about a better spiritual
Given the time constraints that we face, most of us
will readily identify with the sentiments expressed
in this meditation by Michel Quoist.
Lord, here we are . . . Caught between the
infinity of our desires
and the limitation of our means,
and pulled there,
confused and exhausted.
So Lord, here we are,
and finally ready to listen.
You’ve seen how dissatisfaction has made us
You’ve seen how fear has led us astray in
choosing our commitments. You’ve seen how we
were afraid of doing too little.
And You’ve seen the cross imposed by our
Lord, make us strong enough to do what we
should do calmly,
without wanting to do too much,
without wanting to do it all ourselves.
In other words, Lord,
make us humble in our wish and Your will to
Help us above all to find You in our
For You are the unity of our actions;
You are the single love in all our loves,
in all our efforts.
You are the wellspring,
and all things are drawn to You.
So we have come before You, Lord,
to rest and gather strength.8
Lord and Father of my soul, I ask that I may live my
life at such a pace that my faith may be both more
comprehensive and more fulfilling. Grant me the
ability to structure my days in such a way that
there is time to meet with You, and to dedicate the
things I do to You.
Thank You that I am here this day on assignment for
You. You know what I will do, and whom I will meet.
I pray that You will give me the grace, the wisdom,
and the compassion and the patience to help me bring
Your presence to these people and places.
Keep me from acting impulsively or from under the
influence of false compulsions. Balance the pace of
my life so that I am neither dilatory nor idle but
truly in step with your Spirit.
I give You the matters which are troubling me,
especially . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I ask you to deal with these worries and to turn
them into moments of encounter and breakthrough.
I dedicate my times of travelling to You. May Your
presence and Your protection go with me, and make
them fresh opportunities for seeking You.
I pray for my friends and family today. Show me how
You would have me pray for them, and help me to meet
their special needs.
I give you the items of news which have caught my
attention, especially . . . . . . and . . . . . . .
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. Quoted in The Wisdom of the Saints, Jill Haak
Adels (O.U.P.). All quotations from this book are
used by arrangement with the publishers in New York.
2. Song of Songs 5:2-4.
3. The Way of Perfection (Sheed and Ward).
4. Sarah Jorunn Oftedal, A Window on Eternity: The
Life and Poetry of Jane Hess Marchant (Abingdon
Press). Used with grateful acknowledgement.
5. Frederick Faber, Desire for God. source unknown.
6. Ephesians 5:16.
7. Philip Neri, op. cit.
8. Michel Quoist, source unknown.