The Right Connections
God wanted them to look for him and perhaps search all around for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us: “We live in him. We walk in him. We are in him.” Some of your own poets have said: “For we are his children.” (Acts 17:27-28, New Century Version)
In quite a few cultures, especially in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, there is little difference between the attitudes and behaviors of people within the church and those outside of it. George Barna, a leading authority on societal trends and religion, has been instrumental in highlighting the discrepancy between what Christians say they believe and how they actually behave. Whether it is lying, cheating, or even divorce, there is little measurable difference between Christians and non-Christians.
This points to, among other things, a tremendous lack of spiritual power in our lives. We seem to be disconnected from the source of spiritual power that would enable us to fully live out our faith. For many people this lack of spiritual power translates into a sense of emptiness, a longing for something more. And yet, rather than turning toward what could be our greatest source of power – God – we try to fill that emptiness with other things. Some of these things are ordinary outlets: our jobs, the wide variety of activities that so often fill our daily lives, sports, or other entertainment. Other outlets are more harmful: unhealthy relationships, alcohol, or substance abuse. In all of this searching there is clearly a desire for something beyond ourselves – we want to be connected to something; often we are just not sure what.
At the turn of the millennium, the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, held a tremendous celebration with fireworks and other exciting activities. A very special aspect of the festivities to welcome the dawn of the 21st century was the release of “millennial birds.” When I read about this, I was immediately moved – what a stirring moment, rich with symbolism! As the new millennium is ushered in, birds are released as a sign of our collective hope for peace.
Unfortunately, the reality of that moment was far different. As the birds were released, fireworks were exploding and in the chaos of the noise and flashing light, rather than flying peacefully away as a flock, the birds became confused and frightened and flew helter-skelter all around the square, never really going anywhere.
What a great metaphor for our human condition! We flap around in our lives, confused, and sometimes frightened, never completely comfortable with where we are flying. It is as though the connections aren’t right. That’s what happened to the birds. Their connections weren’t right. It was nighttime, not the normal time for these birds to be flying. There were explosions going off all around them. They did not connect booming fireworks with safety and flying; instead, they connected them to danger and fear. The connections were all wrong.
Despite all my years in ministry, I still consider myself more of a learner than a teacher. I depend on others for guidance, insight, and mentoring. As I reflect on that process, one thing has become clear from the lives of all those to whom I have turned for guidance: spiritual discipline is crucial. Some folks have mentored me in preaching, others in writing, others in leadership, each according to his or her gift. In all of it however, regardless of their particular strength, there is a thread of commonality – spiritual discipline, rooted in prayer.
Spiritual discipline grounded in prayer is the source of our connection to God. It is a primary means through which our emptiness is filled, and we experience the right connections that enable us to fly without confusion and fear. Without the attention to our interior selves that comes through prayer, we will be unable to know God fully and follow faithfully. We will continue to live without the spiritual power to differentiate ourselves from those who do not share our faith.
I thank God that there are so many in our Prayer and Fasting Community who are working to forge connections between faith and daily life through their pattern of fasting and prayer. I pray that as you move through your regular times of prayer and fasting, you would be able to make the right connections that empower you to fly without confusion and fear. And finally, I pray that God’s Spirit might fill you to overflowing, strengthening you and enabling you to live out your faith in whatever circumstances you find yourself.