(Read Mark 1: 29-37 and Psalm 63:1-8)
Last Monday, a man woke to the sound of his alarm. Beep. Beep. Beep. He hit snooze twice before finally rolling out of bed. He performed his morning routine mindlessly. Shave, shower, dress, eat breakfast—in the middle of breakfast he remembered that his cell phone bill was due, so he left the remains of his cereal to get soggy, and went to pay his bill online. He got distracted and spent 15 minutes surfing the net. When he finally noticed the time, he realized he was going to be late for work. He rushed to put the dishes in the dishwasher, brush his teeth, put on his coat, get in his car, and sped off to work.
Later that evening, in a different house, in a different town, a woman put her children to bed. She was so exhausted, she almost fell asleep while reading them a story. Upon leaving their room, she headed to the kitchen to finish putting the dishes in the dishwasher. She wanted to take a shower before bed, but she was too tired. Her last thought as her head hit the pillow was: Oh no. I forgot to make their lunches.
Life is busy. Most of us feel worn out and tired on a fairly regular basis. With all that we have to do in a day, with all the various people and activities clamoring for our attention, with all the worries, it’s no wonder that we have lost a sense of wonder in our lives.
Our minds keep us in perpetual motion, remembering this, planning that, figuring out something. While lost in our heads, we have lost touch with our spirits. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that fatigue, depression and anxiety are the dis-eases of our time.
There is no shortage of busy people, no shortage of responsible people, no shortage of accomplished people in 21st century America. “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people” (Foster, Richard. Celebration of Disciplines. Pg. 1). People filled with wonder. People who are grounded, centered. People whose primary concern is engaging life to its fullest, and who are deeply in touch with the Spirit of Life flowing through them and animating everything around them.
I desire to be a person of depth; one who explores and invests in
the kingdom of heaven on earth. As Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to suck the marrow from the bones of life; to put to rout all that was not life, and not to come to the end of life, and discover that I had not lived.”
Wesley’s third rule, to stay in love with God, can help us accomplish this very worthwhile, this very holy, goal.
In Wesley’s original language, the third rule was, “Attend upon the ordinances of God.” Ordinance is a word we don’t use much these days. As Wesley used it, ordinance meant a custom or practice established by long usage or a Christian rite. “To Wesley, it was a word that described the practices that kept the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing. He names public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible study and fasting as essential to a faithful life” (Job, Reuben. Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007. Pg. 53).
By attending upon the ordinances of God, we come into contact with God and that helps us to stay in love. And to say in love with God is to stay in love with life. God is life afterall. We will always have things to do, responsibilities, etc, but our orientation to them and our perspective on life will be different if we carve out time to remember who and what we are living for.
In making time for God, we are nourished and nurtured. We are connected with our source and all that is good.
In additional to the spiritual practices that Wesley encourages (and I agree those are vital to living a spiritually healthy life), each of you might have personalized practices that put you in touch with God’s Spirit, that ground you and fill you with a sense of gratitude and wonder. Taking a Sabbath is a perfect start. Imagine a whole day dedicated to life and love and rest. And if you can’t find a day, how about a Sabbath morning, or a Sabbath afternoon or a Sabbath evening?
For you, staying in love with God might mean taking nature walks, meditating, reading spiritual literature or a self-help books, dancing, singing, listening to music, arts, crafts, fishing, golfing, watching a movie. These can all be entryways to connect with the divine. As long as your practices or disciplines help you to feel the Spirit, as long as they enhance your sense of wonder, offer insight and meaning into the depths of your soul, as long as they inspire faith, give strength and guidance to your life, provide rest and refreshment, that is what matters most.
Following this rule is nourishment for our souls. It re-energizes our life force.
Do you make time for such ways of living? If not, life will increasingly be overwhelming and alienating, rushed and distracted. That is not the life meant for the faithful. We are here to live and love. To see beauty and know peace. To rejoice and comfort one another.
Also, if we ever hope to fulfill Wesley’s first two rules, to do no harm and to do all the good we can, (which aren’t just Wesley’s rules but Christ’s commands), then we must stay in love with God because our love for God is what helps us to love each other and fuels our efforts.
Rueben Job’s book, Three Simple Rules says this: “The first two rules are important and bring immediate results, but without the third rule, the first two become increasingly impossible. Staying in love with God is the foundation of all of life. It is in a vital relationship with God that we are enlivened, sustained, guided, called, sent, formed, and transformed. The writer of Psalm 127 [v.1a] declares, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.’ We practice the rules, but God sends the power that enables us to keep them” (Ibid, pg. 48).
I love today’s passage from Mark. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, then he is healing those who are sick and possessed with demons. The whole city was gathered around the door of the house he was at. Finally after a long day and night of service, he takes some time to go off by himself and pray because he’s smart! and he knows that if he is going to continue healing and teaching, he needs to be renewed by God. When the disciples can’t find him though, the text says that they hunt for him. And when they find him, they say, “Everyone is searching for you” (Mark 1: 36). All the more reason why he needed to go away, why he needed to keep the love between him and God flowing.
So the 3 rules are: #1 - Do no harm-not to yourself, not to any person, and not to the earth or any living creature on the earth. #2 - Do good- in any way you can, big or small, in all the places you can, for all the people you can, paying special attention to those you might easily overlook. And #3 - so you don’t burn out and so life remains a joyful gift, take time to stay in love with God.
On a Monday morning, in a warm house, a man awoke to the sound of his alarm. Beep. Beep. Beep. He hit snooze twice, and as he slowly aroused from sleep, he remembered yesterday, Sunday. It had been a beautiful day. He’d gone to church with his family, then shared a wonderful meal with them. He took a nap, something he rarely did. And then he went to the driving range with his son and daughter. Before falling asleep, he and his wife talked about how blessed they were. He slept peacefully that night. His snooze went off again bringing him back to reality. He smiled and took a deep breath before rolling out of bed.
On that same Monday evening, in another house, in another town, a mother put her children to bed while her husband did the dishes. She took a warm shower, and as she packed the kids lunches, she thought about what a relaxing weekend they had all had together. Her last thought as her head hit the pillow was to recall
part of the Psalm she had heard at church that weekend. “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63: 5).