ILL: Not long after pastor and author John Ortberg moved to Chicago, he called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. He writes:
I described the pace of life in my current ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?
“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.
Another long pause.
“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?” I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.
Another long pause.
“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
I’ve concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls.
John Ortberg, “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry,” LeadershipJournal.net (7-4-02)
When we live a hurried life, we rarely pause to think—that’s what we’re talking about today.
Pausing is hard to do. And it is getting harder every day. The pace of life is getting faster, and the amount of stuff coming at us is increasing exponentially. Not only is it a 24-7 world, but information is available like never before.
ILL: Remember when there were three TV channels to pick from—if your rabbit ears worked! Now I have over 250 channels in my cable package—and there is still nothing good on!
Last year, over one million new books were published! It’s hard to keep up with my reading!
And do you know how many magazines are published in the US? Over 10,000. That’s a lot of choices.
But all of that pales next to the Internet, which provides instant access to almost unlimited data. Anything you want to know is at your fingertips. Laina and I were watching American Idol and wanted to know how tall Ryan Seacrest is. I googled it on my laptop. Bam! He says he is 5’9”, but he’s 5’7.5”.
Add to that emails, blogs, Facebook, texts and tweets, all of which are available all day long wherever you are on your phone!
It’s not a flood; it’s a tidal wave of information and data.
ILL: Daniel Lyons, tech editor for Newsweek, wrote a column on May 12, 2010, entitled, “Confessions of a Tech Apostate”. Here’s part of what he had to say:
We have more information than ever before. We’re never away from it. The air around us fairly hums with it. Computers are all around us too—they’re on our desks, in our pockets, on our coffee tables.
And yet I can’t shake the sense that we are all becoming stupider and stupider—and that we are, on average, less well informed today than we were a generation ago.
I mean, look at us, lining up outside Apple stores like a bunch of kooks. Or walking around, staring down at our phones. We’ve been turned into zombie people.
Oh, but we’re very, very busy zombies. We’re reading e-mail. We’re tweeting and retweeting. We’re downloading apps, and uploading photos. We’re updating our Facebook status and reading our news feeds and telling the whole world what we like and don’t like, because for some reason we imagine that the whole world actually cares. You know what we’re not doing? We’re not thinking. We’re processing. There’s a difference.
We’re putting our brains into neutral, and revving the engine. We’re digitally dithering, clicking on links and swimming through a torrent of useless garbage being thrown at us by idiots and self-promoters, pundits and PR flacks and marketing people.
…we are being so overwhelmed by the noise and junk zooming past us that we’re becoming immune to it. We’ve become a nation of Internet-powered imbeciles, with an ever-lower threshold for inanity.
Lyons isn’t the only one with this opinion. A couple years ago, tech writer Nicholas Carr wrote a provocative article for The Atlantic entitled, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” His basic contention is similar to Lyons: we are skimming, but we are not thinking.
Don’t worry; this is not a rant against technology. I use it and love it. I have a Kindle and an iPad and laptop and a smartie-phone. I text, I blog, I surf, I google; I’m cool. But I’m also aware that I end up skimming over data, cherry picking information, and not thinking deeply. And I’m not alone.
So I want to talk with you about pausing to think—in three ways.
1. Pause to think deeply.
ILL: This summer I took a course on C. S. Lewis in my masters in theology program at Whitworth. It was taught by Forrest Baird; it was a fantastic class! In the first six hours, Forrest gave us an overview of the history of Western intellectual thought—it was awesome. When he got to the classical period of the Greeks and Romans, he made a fascinating observation. The Greeks took time to ask big questions and think about them; the Romans were action oriented—they built roads and conquered the world. We are definitely more Roman than Greek! We could benefit from both.
It is not bad to be action oriented; it is good, provided you pause to think too.
When was the last time you paused to think—you sat down without any distractions, or went on a walk, just to think? In the past two weeks, since I’ve been taking a full Sabbath and really resting, I’ve had time to think—it’s one of the benefits of the Sabbath. You can think! We used to do a lot more of this. We had porch time—time when we sat on our porches and thought alone, or together with someone else. Time to ponder is rare today. We’re moving so fast from one event to the next that we rarely pause to think. We just skim.
ILL: I love to read. I usually average about a book a week every year. But I’ve gotten into a bad habit. I read, and then I’m done and on to the next book. That’s fine with a novel that’s just brain candy, but not when you’re reading to learn. One of the things we’re going to do in our new mentoring program for men is that they will read one book a month this year, and then they will write a one-page “net out”, a one-page summary of what they learned and how they will apply it. It’s a habit I want to develop. I may read fewer books, but I’ll learn more and apply more, because I’ll be pausing to think about what I read.
This is especially true when we read the Bible. When we do PBJ (or as it has traditionally been called, lectio divina, sacred reading), we read slowly and ask God for one thing. Then we ponder that one thing; we think about what God is saying to us, and write it down in our journal and pray it back to God. There is a name in the Bible for this kind of slow reading and deep thinking—it is called “meditation”.
Now don’t wig out. We’re not going to don robes, sit cross legged, burn incense and chant mantras. The word “meditation” means “to ponder, to muse, to think deeply, to mutter.” To mutter? How many of you have ever been thinking so hard about something that you muttered; you talked to yourself? That’s meditation—and you’ve all done it and didn’t know it. Biblical meditation isn’t emptying your mind of all thought; it is focusing your mind on God, His Word and His works. It is thinking deeply about God and what He is saying and doing. Typically, Christians in history have meditated on Scripture. A few Biblical examples:
Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Notice that he says, “keep God’s law always on your lips,” then he says the parallel, “meditate on it day and night.” The Hebrews used parallelism to make a point. They say the same thing two different ways. Keep God’s law always on your lips is the same thing as meditating on it day and night. You are thinking about it—out loud. You are muttering, meditating. And why do you think deeply about it? So you can do it! Go back to my book reading—why stop and think about it deeply rather than just hurry on to the next book? So I can do it; so I can put what I learn into practice. And if you do it, you’ll be prosperous and successful.
Psalm 1:1–3 Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night. 3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
Notice again the connection between meditating day and night and prospering. When we take the time to think deeply, we learn, we change, we grow, we prosper. We meditate on God’s word, and we can meditate on God’s works.
Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.
“I meditate on all your works.” The two primary works we consider are creation and redemption: what God has made in creation, and what God has done in saving us in Christ. We can also think deeply about what God is doing in our lives.
ILL: This week in the Bible reading plan, we read the story of Joseph. His brothers sold him as a slave; he spent the next 13 years in Egypt as a slave or in prison. Then he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, and was made prime minister in Egypt. About 10 years later, his brothers—the ones who had sold him as a slave 23 years earlier—show up in Egypt to buy grain. They have no idea that the prime minister is their brother, Joseph. When Joseph finally tells them who he is, what is their reaction? They are terrified—and for good reason! Joseph has had 23 years to nurse a grudge, to let bitterness fester, to plan his revenge. But instead, Joseph says three times, “God sent me here to save your lives. You didn’t send me here; God did.” How did Joseph come to that conclusion? By thinking about what God was doing in his life. After 23 years, he could put the pieces together and say, “God sent me here. Even though my brothers sold me for 20 shekels, God sent me here.”
Pause to think deeply. Think about God’s word and God’s work, what He is saying and doing. And give it time.
Here’s a great thing to do: pick one verse a week, memorize it, and meditate on it. Ponder it. Chew on it. Mutter. Here’s a good one for this week; let’s read it together.
Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Memorize that; repeat it until its automatic; mutter it. Ponder it. Then pray it back to God.
Pause to think deeply. We’re going to do that now. Open your Bible, or use the verse on the screen. Meditate on God’s word and works.
2. Pause to think before acting.
Have you ever acted first and thought later? How many of you operate out of the “ready, fire, aim” philosophy?
ILL: One Friday in 1993, Laina and I were leaving town for a few days. We were late and anxious to leave. Andy (11) came out to hug me goodbye, and while he was hugging me, Jeff (9) came charging up from behind to surprise Andy. Andy saw him coming, and put his arm up to protect himself, and slugged Jeff in the eye. From my vantage point, it looked like a deliberate slug. Jeff grabbed his eye and headed for the house crying, and I grabbed Andy and gave him a hard swat on the bottom and marched him into the house after Jeff.
Both boys sat on the couch, and I began my angry lecture: “I can’t believe it! We can’t even get out of the driveway before you two boys are fighting and hurting each other.” Andy was crying and said, “I didn’t mean to hit him Dad; I just raised my arm to protect myself.” He cried some more, and then said, “Gee, I come out to hug you goodbye and get spanked!”
I realized that I had overreacted and hurt Andy’s feelings, so I apologized. “Andy, I believe you. I believe that you weren’t trying to hurt Jeff. And I’m sorry I swatted you. It looked to me like you punched him on purpose, but I should have talked with you instead of swatting you. I over- reacted and I’m sorry; will you forgive me?”
Andy said, “Next time, think before you act!”
Ahhh…pause to think before you act. I can think of several applications.
We should pause to think before we act. I already told you my story with Andy. I could tell you many more where I have acted rashly, impulsively and made mistakes.
Proverbs 19:2 “If you act too quickly, you might make a mistake.” (NCV)
This is especially true when you are making big decisions. Never make a big decision in a hurry. Pause. Pause to pray. Pause to think before you act.
We should pause to think before we speak. How many times have you said something hastily and wished you could reel the words back in?
James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Be quick to listen and slooooooooow to speak. How many angry arguments and hurt feelings would be avoided if we simply paused before we spoke? We get ourselves into so much trouble by moving our mouth before engaging our brain.
ILL: British shock-radio host Tim Shaw, while conducting a steamy interview of model Jodie Marsh, told her on air that he was willing to leave his wife and two kids for her. Minutes later, his wife, Hayley, who had been listening, created an eBay auction for her husband’s car, a Lotus Espirit Turbo. The auction page read:
“I need to get rid of this car immediately, ideally in the next 2-3 hours before my cheating [jerk] husband gets home to find it gone and all his belongings in the street. I am the registered owner and I have the registration.”
The car, valued at approximately $45,000, was listed with a “Buy-it-Now” price of 50 pence (about a buck), and the auction lasted exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds before an anonymous buyer paid for it and drove away.
Reminds me of the proverb:
Proverbs 29:20 Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.
Pause to think before you speak.
We should pause to think before we spend. One of the most common financial mistakes is impulse spending. We buy stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have—all because we don’t pause. Here’s what I try to do: if I see something that I like, but wasn’t planning on buying, I don’t buy it right then. I go home and sleep on it; I pause to think about it. And most of the time, I don’t end up buying it.
Proverbs 21:5 says, “Haste leads to poverty.”
Put a pause sticker on your wallet!
Pause to think before you act, before you speak, before you spend. We’re going to do that now. Pause to think about a big decision you are facing—think prayerfully.
3. Pause to think about your life.
Do you ever pause to reflect upon and examine your life? Ever do a “day-in-review?” Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That may be an overstatement, but life would certainly be better if we paused and thought about it. It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That is true personally. If we don’t learn from our personal history, we will keep making the same mistakes. If we want to get better and smarter, we need to pause and think about our lives. We need to pray the “search me prayer”. Here it is:
Psalm 139:23–24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Search me, God. Test me. Look inside me and tell me what you see. I said in the first message in this series, “Pause to pray,” that prayer is opening yourself to God. And I can’t think of a more open prayer that this!
ILL: Gary Thomas, in The Beautiful Fight, tells this story:
A businessman in a service industry grew tired of being yelled at by dissatisfied customers. One day, he became oddly detached during yet another customer tirade; he felt as though he were watching a movie. In fact, he couldn’t help but think that the angry woman’s antics made her look like a monkey.
That observation gave him a brilliant idea. He posted a giant mirror behind the front desk—and the customer tirades all but ceased. When people saw how rude and hateful they looked while yelling and screaming, they stopped yelling and screaming.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. Prayer provides a mirror for our attitudes. Through it, we begin to see our motives from a different perspective.
Gary Thomas, The Beautiful Fight, (Zondervan, 2007), p. 63
The “search me prayer” is like holding up a mirror, and inviting God to look with us, inside us. We are inviting God to think with us about our lives.
In the first message, we talked about the ancient practice of the prayer of examination, also called the Examen. The Examen is a “prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.” Here is how to do it:
First, open yourself to God. Perhaps pray the “search me prayer”. Acknowledge that He is there and invite Him to examine your day and your heart.
Now review the day with God. Allow your mind to roam over your day, and pay special attention to your feelings. Does something make you happy? Thank God for it. Does something make you sad, angry, disturbed? Pray about it and think about why you feel that way. Give it to God. Ask Him what He is doing and what you should learn.
Close by responding to God. Respond to whatever He showed you. If nothing comes to mind, go to bed happy!
The point isn’t to dig up a lot of bad stuff; in fact, it is really just the opposite. It is to look for God, to open yourself to God and see where He was working in your life, and where you might have missed Him. Of course, if He shows you some sin or failure, own up and receive forgiveness, and learn what you can from it. But don’t dwell on your sin; focus on God! Someone described the Examen as “rummaging for God” in your day. I like that image. I’m not rummaging for my failures, but for God. I’m looking for God working in my life.
Pause to think about your life. Let’s do it right now. Let’s take yesterday.
Open yourself to God. Pray the search me prayer.
Review your day with God; pay attention to your feelings.
Respond to God.