It’s been the theme of the summer as I’ve been privileged to travel and teach: “Turn and Behold”, derived from a favorite passage from II Corinthians 3:16-18, where we’re promised that transformation isn’t our responsibility, but rather a byproduct of our falling in love with Jesus, of learning to continually turn and behold the glory of the Lord. He’ll be changing us, we’re told, “from glory to glory”. This realization that God will be changing me simply because I’m in relationship with Him, making space to know Him, looking for His fingerprints in every aspect of life, is liberating.
Yesterday, though, I was reminded of another truth in this favorite passage, which is that the glory of God revealed through me isn’t innate, but reflected. This is a theme that runs all through the Bible, all the way back to Genesis 1, where we discover that humankind’s calling is that of image bearer – that our glory is remarkably glorious because it reflects the image of Jehovah Elohim, the Lord God Almighty.
I’d spent Labor Day weekend celebrating the active life with family: trail running on Friday, hiking on Saturday, climbing on Sunday. Yesterday, with my wife and daughter heading back south to Seattle while I stay north to teach this week (if your in Bellingham, stop in and visit at the Firs) in the evenings, I completed my recreational home-run with a little ski touring below Table Top mountain (all these activities were carried out with the goal of a magazine article proposal about 4 different recreational activities in four days – “the generalist”). I finished skiing just at sunset and on the drive out stopped at this little lake to take a picture.
Because the thermal winds were gone as the evening cooled, the lake was perfectly, utterly still. Reflection? Perfection. I stood in awe, remembering that a) this was the picture on the cover of the catalog from Seattle Pacific University that arrived in the mail, summer of 76, and played a role in my deciding to attend there, though I’d never been north of Sacramento, CA in my life, b) attending there allowed me to meet the woman with whom I will celebrate 32 years of marriage this Thursday, c) while there I began attending a church called Bethany Community, little realizing that seeds were then being planted would germinate 17 years later by my becoming the Senior Pastor there. Aside from the matchless beauty of this location, the memories wrapped in it make the spot from which I took this picture, a favorite location rivaled by no place on the planet.
Beyond all this, though, last nights moments at the lake reminded me of important principles regarding life with God.
1. Clarity requires stillness. What’s so stunning about this photo is the clarity of the reflection, but the clarity, of course, is only proportional to the stillness of the water. It’s rare to see this lake this clear, because on clear days warm winds ascend from the valley, and the sweep across the surface, marring the reflection. “Be still and know that I am God” is what we’re told, and elsewhere we’re reminded that in “Quietness and trust” our strength shall reside. There’s something about quieting our hearts that has value. All the religions of the world know this, but the God of the Bible declares that this quieting is the means, not to emptiness, but to knowing God intimately. Out of this intimacy comes our capacity to reflect God’s character with clarity.
If this is true, then our capacity to be still, especially in order that we might experience intimacy with God, is perhaps of the one most important skills we could ever hope to learn. It’s certainly more important than partying ‘til 3AM, or getting up early to run 10 miles. It’s important enough that we’d do well to skip media at some point in the day so that we might encounter God directly. Henri Nouwen offers good resources here. I’ve written about it here. But all the learning about stillness will amount to nothing if you fail to respond by turning away from the winds of activity, so that the waters of your soul will eventually become quiet enough to absorb what this glorious God is wanting to give you.
2. Stillness requires practice. One of the reasons people fail at stillness is that they try it for a day or two and get frustrated or discouraged. Their mind wanders, they get bored, they don’t sense some magnificent, discernable change. Discouragement comes easily, partly because we’re cursed with a lust for the measurable and the instant, and the benefits of stillness are neither of those. Slowly, the waters still. Slowly, we begin to display the character of Christ. Even then, we’re not able to say “Wow! Yesterday is was filled with rage, and prone to swearing in traffic, but today I woke up and all that was swept away. Nine times out of ten, we don’t change that way. I’m reminded that when Moses reflected the glory of God in Exodus 34, the Bible says that he didn’t even know his face was shining.
In light of these truths, let’s get on with it, and cultivate a taste for stillness, believing that God will use the space we provide to change us, slowly, in His time and way.
3. Stillness requires openness to transformation. This is often the crux of our resistance. When I am still, the stuff that’s revealed at the bottom of the pool isn’t always pretty. I see my lust, insecurity, mistrust of God that results in anxiety and greed – ouch! The funny thing is that I don’t notice any of these things when my life is lived on the surface, with the winds of activities keeping me in constant motion from the caffeinated morning to the exhausted television numbing evening.It doesn’t matter whether the activities are about making millions, or saving millions – it’s the addiction to activity that’s the problem. If I’m to be healed wholly, transformed utterly, I’ll need to see myself as I really am, and this will require stillness.
What’s not to love about this reflection? It reminds why reflecting the glory of Christ is absolutely the greatest thing I can do with my life. And if the means to that happening requires stillness of soul, then what am I waiting for? What about you? What are you waiting for? How do you find stillness? Or if you don’t, what are your barriers?