Being Mindful

I won’t deny it, I am a technophile, and I have a particular fondness for the Apple products. I’m currently writing on a MacBook Air (the best laptop I have ever used).  I carry iPad Air 2 wherever I go – its great for reading, writing, watching Netflix, and playing a few games when time permits.  And I have an iPhone, useful not just for calls and messaging, but it is a decent camera, and it has my calendar and tracks my running and diet. All very useful.

Recently, there was an update to the Apple Health App.  This is an app that tracks data from other apps you use to give you a report of your overall health and activity.  In the update, the app breaks down your health information into four categories: Activity (which monitors your physical activity and exercise), Nutrition (which tracks what you report for caloric and nutritional intake); Sleep (helping you maintain a consistent routine for bed and get a good night sleep), and finally, Mindfulness.  It’s this last category that intrigued me.

The Mindfulness data is all about “quieting your mind and relaxing your body.”  Apple describes it thus:

Finding a moment to take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind is a great way to relieve stress and improve your overall health. That’s what mindfulness is all about. Many apps on iPhone, as well as apps like Breathe on Apple Watch, help you decompress and stay centered throughout your day.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

How Zen!

Doesn’t it seem a bit ironic?  It’s important for you to decompress, to unplug, to “center your mind”, and hey, we’ve got an app for that.  Just to write this article today, I’ve had to turn on the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my phone, my iPad, and my computer, just to get an hours worth of uninterrupted time.  The very things that cause distractions are now telling me they want me to focus?!?!?

I get it.  We need time away from the screen, time without an electronic devise in our hands.  We need time to quietly think and regroup.  Surprisingly, we need to be reminded to stop and take a deep breath every now and then.  But is the recommended resources that they suggest that are so bothersome.

So what are they’re recommended ways of “quieting” or “centering”?  They recommend apps like “Headspace” which helps you with guided meditation, or “Grokker” which links videos on meditation, yoga, and healthy cooking. It seems, though, that they’ve gone to great lengths to be sure not to say the word “prayer.”

The problem with all this pseudo-spirituality is its focus.  The focus is always on the self.

I must quiet myself. I must find strength in myself. 

I must find the way to be present in the moment, for I am the center of myself. 

Only when you can quiet yourself can you find the strength in yourself to better yourself.  

The destructive lie of things like zen meditation, yoga, and centering, is that their focus is entirely on the self, even if they dress it up in all sorts of Christianese.

I had a high school student in a youth group point out the fault in this kind of thinking.  He shared with the group one evening. “You know, if you reach far enough down inside yourself, eventually all you’ll get is a handful of _____!” (I can’t write what he said here, but you get the drift).

That’s what we need to remember here.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the heart is deceitful, it cannot be trusted.  I know that left to myself, I haven’t the strength to face the trials and tasks ahead of me. I’m just not strong enough.  I’m not smart enough.  And doggonit, Stuart Smalley, all the daily affirmations in the world will never help me overcome my biggest problem – myself.

Instead of centering on myself I need to find my center in Christ. I need to hear the words again and again, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  God is at the center of the universe, I am not.  I don’t just need to empty myself of all my negative thoughts, I need to be filled with the Spirit of Holiness, and only then will I know peace, only then will I have the strength to face the day.  Yes I need to quiet my mind and my heart regularly, frequently, but not to be stilled by the silence of the moment, but to be filled with the Word of God.

This is what prayer does.  While meditation and centering draws you deeper into yourself, prayer draws us back to God, fixes our hearts on Him and on His righteousness, and helps us to see our lives in the light of His word.  In prayer, we begin to see how our motives, our passions, have gone askew, how we have been self-centered rather than God-centered, and prayer reorients us to Him.  Prayer is finding our strength, our foundation, our peace – not in ourselves – but in our union with Christ Jesus.

So, indeed, be mindful.  Still yourself, not in the quietness of your own mind, but in the presence of the Holy God. Spend a good portion of your day mindful of your need for the strength that only God can provide, and be mindful of the wonderful love of your blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,


The Tyranny of the Urgent

“Be still and know that I am God”
(Psalm 46:10)

While in seminary, we young, soon-to-be-pastors were warned of the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”  When there is too much to do and not enough time to do it, when we find ourselves constantly moving from one task to the next, a little like standing on an assembly line, with no end in sight. Have you found yourself saying, “I’ll sleep when I die”?  You might have succumbed to the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”

Charles Hummel wrote of this epidemic:

It is not hard work, but doubt and misgiving that produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks.  We sense uneasily that we may have failed to do the important.  The winds of other people’s demands have driven us onto a reef of frustration.
We live in constant tension between the urgent and important.  The problem is that the important tasks rarely have to be done today or even this week.  Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait.  But the urgent tasks call for immediate action – endless demands pressure every hour and day.
The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy.  But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the important tasks pushed aside.  We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.

I have to confess, I have fallen into this trap.  It probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know me well.  Those here in Cherokee probably just heard a thundering “Well, Duh!” coming from my wife.

A restless, constant, nagging sense of trying to prove myself (not to anyone but myself); a wearying attempt to do everything myself rather than trusting others with important tasks; a never-ending “to do” list; all of this is evidence.  Having a quiet moment of self-reflection (a 30 minute drive without the radio on) was all it really took for this to hit home.

Why has my prayer life suffered lately?  Why have I struggled to find anything to write about in these Mid-Week messages?  Why is my time in the Word become just a matter of reading it so that I can check it off my list of things to do?

Because it has become about accomplishment, about checking off one more thing – not about just being, living, knowing, fellowshipping with my God and Savior.

When I stopped to listen for one moment, Psalm 46 was whispering to me: Ethan, stop, be still, know that I am your God.”

This, I believe is how you break away from the tyranny of the urgent, how you learn to focus on the things that are truly important, and let the seemingly urgent find it’s appropriate place in your life.  Be still, know that God is God.

Here are a couple of things that struck me about that verse:

  • It requires a quieting of the soul
    How often do you quiet yourself?  Turn off the radio, the iPod, the cell phone, the TV, the social media – disconnect yourself from the clamor and chaos around you, quiet your soul.   How much are you missing because you are tuned in to everything else, but you aren’t listening to the Word of God?  There are times, frequently, when we simply need to quiet ourselves before the Lord (Psalm 131).
  • It requires a relinquishing of the assumption of control
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    YOU ARE NOT GOD, and the sooner you come to terms with that, and give up the illusion that you are in control of things, the sooner you will find peace in your heart.
  • It requires a contentment, a satisfaction in God alone.
    I was listening to a song today (after my 30 minutes of silence) in which the singer repeated several times, “I am satisfied in You.”  It took a while for this to settle in.  I am satisfied.  I am satisfied in God.  I am satisfied.  He has given me everything I need.  I need nothing more than Him.  I don’t need His blessings.  I don’t need His signs.  I have the Lord, and He has my heart.  I am satisfied in Him.

Sometimes we forget to be content in the Lord, to be satisfied in Him.  But when we quiet our souls, when we stop trying to be God, when we give up the frantic scrambling to hold it all together ourselves, then we find the sweet release of God’s satisfying grace that overflows in our lives.

It will take a while for all of this to sink in, for me to get my priorities straightened out.  But I think that just allowing the time to be still, and to let God be God, and to see how He satisfies my every need – I think that’s a start.