Laina and I like to record our favorite shows on the DVR so we can watch them without commercials—we just fast forward through the commercials. Does anybody else do this? You can watch a 60-minute show in about 45 minutes!
If you hit the fast-forward button on the remote once it goes 4 times faster; twice, it goes 15 times faster; three times, it goes 60 times faster. And if you really want to get through the commercials, hit it four times and it goes 300 times faster! You can do a thirty second commercial in 1/10th of a second! This is awesome!
It’s awesome for TV, but it’s terrible if your life is running at those speeds! Do you ever feel like someone has hit the fast forward button on your life? What if, when life is going at fast forward, we could hit the pause button? You can…and you should.
For the next five weeks, we’re going to talk about living our lives at a more reasonable pace…we’re going to talk about pausing. We start today with “Pause so you can pray.”
Offering and Announcements:
Introduction: You can pray on the run, but we need to pause so we can give God our undivided attention.
Almost two years ago, I had an idea to do this series of talks called “Pause”, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to get to it till now!
I was thinking about how busy my life is; it seems like I’m not just living at normal play speed, but on fast-forward. I often catch myself doing everything in hurry: I shower in a hurry, I shave and brush my teeth in a hurry, I eat in a hurry (usually while I’m driving on my way to work and returning phone calls), I go from meeting to meeting in a hurry, and often, I read my Bible and pray in a hurry. If I could, I would sleep in a hurry so I could get more done! There is actually a name for this: it is called “hurry sickness”. One of the reasons for my hurry sickness is that I think I can do more than I can, so I consistently cram more into a day than is reasonable. I jam things into the margins of my day, leaving little opportunity to relax, rest, think, pray or be friends.
I’m a sick man! Do I have any company?
So for the next five weeks, I want to think and talk with you about pausing, about building regular pauses into our days and weeks. I want to think and talk with you about pausing to pray, to worship, to rest, to think and to love. Let’s admit it up front: it’s hard to pause! It’s hard; and it’s also essential to pause to see where God is working in our lives and to hear His voice and live the full life He wants for us.
In your program you will find a strip with three “Pause Stickers”. We want you to stick these where they can remind you to pause. I put the small one on my watch, a medium one on my phone and my wallet (to remind me to pause before I spend impulsively), and a big one on my computer and my iPad. Use them as a reminder; and I hope that they will be a conversation starter as well—that friends at work or school may see it and ask you, “What’s that?”
I’m going to give you two Scriptures that will serve as our texts for this series. I hope you will memorize them. If I bump into you around town, there will be a quiz! Here’s the first one:
Mark 6:31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
It was crazy busy for Jesus and His disciples—so many people were coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat! It was frantic, fast-forward living—and Jesus hit the pause button. Let’s read this together: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” I love that sentence. Jesus said, “Enough. It’s time to pause. Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Ahhhh… Savor that sentence phrase by phrase and let it sink in. (Pause) Next verse:
Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There is that invitation again: “Come to me.” “Come to me and I will give you rest. Come with me and get some rest.” It’s all about coming to Jesus, pausing to be with Jesus, and opening ourselves to Him.
Today, we’re going to talk about pausing to pray. And we’ll start with the example of Jesus.
1. The example of Jesus.
I think it is fair to say that Jesus was busy. He was in high demand, not only for His teaching, but especially because of His miracles. Wherever He went, crowds gathered and people sought to touch Him, or be touched by Him. The crowds were so large and demanding that sometimes Jesus and His followers didn’t have time even to eat, as we read just a moment ago. Sometimes the crowds were so thick that Jesus didn’t know who touched Him, or He had to teach from a boat on the lake to avoid being trampled! On other occasions, the weary disciples begged Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus was busy. Consider this story:
Mark 1:32–35 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
The whole town gathered at the house where Jesus was staying; they brought all the sick and demonized. When was this happening? After sunset—at night. In other words, Jesus worked late into the night. Jesus was busy. Here’s the next verse.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Jesus was busy—very busy. So what did He do? He hit the pause button. He paused to pray. He got up while it was still dark, when he wouldn’t be seen and followed, and went off to a solitary place—He got alone to pray. He paused to pray. The fact that He worked late into the night, and then got up while it was still dark tells me that this was important to Jesus—He made time for it.
ILL: Sometimes I get up really early in the summer to play golf—we’ll have a 6 AM tee time. The next morning, Laina wants me to jog at 6 AM with her. I whine, “I’m tired,” and stay in bed. Guess what she says? “So golf is more important to you than being with me.” I am so busted! What is her point? You get up early for something when it is important to you.
It was important to Jesus to pause for prayer. And lest you think this was a one-time deal:
Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Jesus did this often. This was His practice—He lived with a rhythm of engagement and disengagement, be with people then get alone with God, busy then pause. He paused to pray.
Why did we start with Jesus’ example? If Jesus needed to pause for prayer, how much more do we! Think about it: Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God. And Jesus was busy like we are. If sinless Jesus needed to pause for prayer, if He needed to regularly pause to commune with His Father, how much more do we! If Jesus valued pausing for prayer, shouldn’t we? If Jesus lived life with this rhythm, and we are His followers, then let’s learn from our Leader and live with rhythm. Let’s pause for prayer.
Let’s look at another story.
2. Only one thing is needed.
Luke 10:38–42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I love this story because I relate to Martha. Jesus and His disciples—12 of them—drop in unexpectedly to stay. Imagine having 13 grown men show up unannounced for dinner!
ILL: How many of you hosted family or friends at your home for Christmas dinner or a New Year’s Eve party? Raise your hand if you had more than 15 people over. More than 20 people, 25, 30, 40, more than that. How many? Were there any preparations? Did you do it all alone or did you have help? What would you have said to your spouse or sibling if they sat out of all the preparations to chat with one of the guests?
So how many of you can relate with Martha? She had a big job, hosting at least 13 additional adults for meals and lodging on the spur of the moment. She was busy, really busy—and her sister had left her to do all the work alone! “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me,” she said to Jesus. Normally, we’d all side with Martha in this dispute. Our sense of fairness kicks in and we’d take Martha’s side and tell Mary to pitch and help and do her fair share. It’s not fair for Martha to be saddled with the whole job herself, while Mary just sits there having a great time. Normally, that’s what we’d all say.
But it’s not what Jesus says. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” In effect, Jesus tells Martha that she should sit down and join Mary! “Hit the pause button, Martha.”
Martha was “worried and upset about many things.” Does this describe your busy life? When life speeds up, when we’re running on fast-forward, we get wound up inside. We start hurrying. We get uptight, touchy, and irritable. Our fuse gets short and we snap at people. We get “worried and upset about many things.” What do we need to do? Hit the pause button.
This is exactly what Mary had done. In the midst of all the busy preparations, Mary paused. Yes, there was lots of work to be done, but there was Someone here more important than all the work. She sat down to listen to Jesus. She paused in the midst of preparations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. She paused to be with Jesus. And Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better.” In the midst of all the busyness, pause to be with Jesus—this is better.
“Only one thing is needed,” Jesus said. Many of us would like to argue this point. There are many things that are needed—things like dinner and a place to sleep—the things Martha was busy preparing. Those are needed. I need lunch today! Perhaps it is best to understand Jesus’ saying as comparative: one thing is most needed, and Mary has found it. What is that one thing that is most needed, most important? That we listen to Jesus. The most needed thing is to pause, sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He is saying to us. If we are just going to be a host to Jesus, then fix the meal, stay busy. But if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, then hit the pause button, and sit at His feet and listen.
Only one thing is needed: listen to Jesus. Are you doing that? Are you pausing to pray and listen? Let’s talk about:
3. How to do it:
One of the things we talk about a lot here at Life Center is PBJ time. What is PBJ? Every mother knows it is peanut butter and jelly, one of the essential food groups of children. Here at Life Center it stands for Prayer, Bible and Journal. PBJ time is our daily time with God when we do these three things: we pray, read the Bible, and journal. Here’s how it works.
Inside your program you’ll find this bookmark; it’s our Bible Reading Plan for the first three months of the year. The plan is also posted on our website, and in our journals. If you follow the plan, you’ll read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice this year. The Bible is our standard for faith and practice; it determines what we believe and do as Christians. Yet many Christians have not read it all the way through even once. We say, “This is God’s Word,” and yet we don’t read it and don’t know what it says!
ILL: It would be like me saying, “This is a letter from my wife.” You ask me, “What does she say?” And I say, “I’m not sure; I haven’t read it yet.” Would that be strange?
“Why haven’t you read it?”
“I’m just too busy.”
You need to pause—pause to listen to God’s word.
If you haven’t read the Bible all the way through at least once, let’s do it this year—together.
Each day, read the assigned Scripture. Before you read, pause, open yourself to God, ask Him to speak to you. Ask God to give you one thing for the day. Why just one thing? Because that’s probably all you’ll be able to remember and put into practice. When that one thing comes to you, write it down in your journal. We have a Life Center Journal that has instructions on how to do this. They are available at our Info Center at our cost. Write the one thing down in your journal and then pray it back to God. Let’s review how PBJ time works;
Pray: open yourself to God. “Speak to me. Give me one thing.”
Bible: read it with a mind open to God.
Journal: write down your one thing.
Pray: pray it back to God.
This is PBJ time. I try to do this each morning; if the day gets away from me, I do it at night. But I try to do it every day—it is my daily time to do what Mary did: sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His word. “One thing is needed.” I need to listen to Jesus. I need to hear God’s Word to me. I need to pause to pray.
Lots of us here do this. And when you do it, you join the conversation. Often I’ll ask or be asked, “What did you get from today’s reading?”
Before I move on, let me deal with a couple practical issues.
What if three or four chapters per day are too much? Then read half of it, or read one chapter a day. But read the Bible every day—that’s the important thing. Every day, sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. Every day, pause—make space for God to speak to you. “One thing is needed.”
What if I miss a day? We require self-flagellation. If you miss a day, pick up at the next day and keep going. I’m a little obsessive, and I want to read the Bible through every year, so if I miss a day, I read the day I missed and the current day—that’s just me. Catch up or start fresh—do what works for you. But here’s the one thing I don’t want you to do: give up. Please, if you miss a day or several days, or lots of days, don’t give up. Just start over today.
ILL: What do you do when you miss a meal? You eat at the next meal. You don’t say, “I missed lunch today. I give up. I’ll just wait till next year to try eating again.” You’ll starve! No, you just eat at the next meal.
Do the same with your PBJ time. If you miss today, start again tomorrow. Don’t give up. Pause. Make space for God to speak to you.
Another practical consideration: if you want to make it a habit, pick a time and place. Pick a place where you can be alone and quiet. Remember, Jesus found a solitary place, or a lonely place—He got alone where He would not be interrupted or distracted. Pick a time that is free from interruption or distraction. Remember, Jesus got up early—you might have to do that too. The important thing is to make it regular; make it a habit. You are pausing, making time and space for God to speak to you.
PBJ time—make it a habit. Pause to pray—to let God speak to you.
I want to finish with a few ideas from a book I just read. One of my habits is to try to read a couple books each year that will help my relationship with God to grow and deepen. This last week over the break, I read a new book, Opening to God, by David Benner. It is subtitled, “Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer”. Lectio Divina means “divine reading” or “spiritual reading”. Benner defines it as “prayerfully engaging with Scripture to hear God’s personal word to us.” What I just described to you, our PBJ time, is one form of lectio divina. We are reading the Bible to hear God’s Word to us; we are sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen what He wants to say to us.
Benner defines prayer as opening to God: we open ourselves to God, we are attentive to God, pausing and making space for God to speak to us. This is a different way of thinking about prayer. Most of the time, we think of prayer as talking to God. We ask God for what we want. We tell God what we think He should do. We make religious speeches to God. But Benner insists that prayer is much more than this.
Prayer is first a conversation with God, and in any good conversation, one person doesn’t do all the talking. We talk and we listen. For most of us, prayer is all talking and no listening. This is not a conversation; this is a monologue, a speech. We have to learn to listen because God is speaking. In fact, God is always speaking. I don’t start the conversation when I begin to pray; He has already started the conversation and invites me to join Him. This is why silence is a good way to start praying—it is simply good manners, since God is already speaking and inviting us to join the conversation.
ILL: Imagine walking up to two friends who are already talking. You don’t just start talking about what’s on your mind. You start by listening. You find out what they are talking about, where the conversation is going, then you join in. You listen first.
Think of prayer as something God is doing. He is already speaking with you; we start by opening to God, by listening and joining the conversation. We don’t pray so that we can get God’s attention; we pray so that God can get our attention!
Prayer is a conversation with God, but even more, prayer is communion with God. God is inviting us not only into a conversation, but into a relationship. All of life becomes prayer when we live it open and attentive to God. I come to every experience, every encounter aware that God is already there, and already working long before I got there. I open myself to God and become attentive to what He is doing.
ILL: I’ve been practicing this lately.
I went on my morning jog, and my mind was racing. Then I remembered: God is here. I said, “God, I am open to You and what You are doing right now.” I was aware of the beauty around me, and as I ran, I felt like I heard several things God was saying to me.
I was visiting with someone, oblivious to God. Then I remembered: God is here. I thought, “God, I am open to You and what You are doing right now.” I became more attentive not only to God, but to the other person.
When I do this, life becomes prayer. Prayer is as natural as breathing. I begin to live each moment open to God, attentive to God—and that is prayer.
ILL: One of my all time favorite books is St. Augustine’s Confessions. It is his autobiography, but it is written as a prayer to God. He tells his life story—his story of coming to faith in Jesus—in the form of a prayer to God. He saw his whole life as a prayer, a conversation with God and communion with God. God was acting, he was responding.
Prayer is a relationship. Prayer is communion with God all day long. It is living each moment open to God and attentive to God. To do this requires lots of little pauses all day long. Each pause reminds me that God is present, speaking and acting. Each pause gives me the opportunity to be open and attentive to God.
Back to our PBJ time for a moment. I start my day by pausing to pray—to let God speak to me from His word and in prayer. This larger pause is teaching me to pause all day. I’m more likely to live my day with God if I start my day with God. I’m more likely to be open and attentive all day if I begin by being open and attentive.
Benner uses a framework for prayer that was first outlined by a Carthusian monk named Guigo II and is widely used as the outline for lectio divina. Here are the four steps:
I know some of you are thinking, “Holy smokes, we’re getting Latin from a monk. Is this Life Center?” Stay with me. I want you to see that when you do PBJ, you are doing something Christians have done for centuries—you are part of a great spiritual tradition. And I want to deepen your practice a bit. So let’s lose the Latin, and look at these four steps briefly and see how Benner applies them to prayer.
Reading: prayer as attending. We read the Scripture and are open and attentive to what God is saying to us. We believe that God will speak to us personally. We are sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening as we read.
Thinking: prayer as pondering. We chew on what God says to us. We reflect and ponder on the Scripture and the one thing God has brought to our attention.
Speaking: prayer as responding. After we have listened and thought, we respond to what God has said. There are many possible responses; the most common is speaking. This is what most of us think of when we think of prayer: speaking to God. In fact, it is one part of prayer, and is best done after we have listened and thought.
Being: prayer as being (with God). After we have responded, we simply rest in God’s presence. We enjoy being with Him. We have moved from conversation to communion.
ILL: I love the story of Juan. Every day near dusk, Juan would stop in a church on his way home from work—hardhat in hand, dirty, dusty and tired. He would sit quietly in the back of the church for five or ten minutes, then get up and leave. After watching this for weeks, the priest approached him one day as he was leaving and told him that he was happy he could use the church in this way. Juan thanked him for leaving the church open, saying that this was a very important time for him. The priest asked why it was important. Juan replied that it was his time with Jesus. He went on, “I come in, sit down and say, ‘Jesus, it’s Juan.’”
“What happens then?” the priest asked.
“Well,” he replied, “Jesus says, ‘Juan, it’s Jesus,’ and we’re happy just to spend some together.”
This is the ancient practice of lectio divina, or spiritual reading. If you are doing PBJ time, you are doing one form of this. Benner devotes an entire chapter to each of these four kinds of prayer—attending, pondering, responding, and being—and gives practical ideas on how to do them, and encourages you to experiment and find what works for you. It’s worth reading. Let me finish by giving you two practical ideas that I’m working on that both come from the chapter on prayer as being attentive.
First, pause often during the day to be attentive to God. Use reminders—an alarm on your watch, the pause sticker, the phone ringing, meals—to pause and be attentive to God. “God, You are here, speaking and working. I want to be open and attentive.” This is the thing I mentioned that I did when I was jogging or visiting with friends. Pause to pray by being attentive.
Second, pause at the end of the day for a prayer of reflection. Historically this is called the prayer of examination, or Examen for short. Before you hit the sack, take a few minutes to think with God about your day, and be attentive to what God was doing. Start by being still, and opening yourself to God; then let your mind roam over the events of the day. Thank God for the good things that happened. Own up when you recognize a failure and receive God’s forgiveness. Pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling, the movements of your own soul, and what God is doing. I have been doing this, and find it a great way to end the day, and pay attention to what God is doing in my life.
Pause to pray.