Category Archives: Prayer

Staying on the Path (3 of 6)

This posting is in a series of reflections from my time in Chartres, France.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

A labyrinth located in the nave of the Chartres Cathedral serves as a pathway of prayer for believers. It winds back and forth, symbolically representing the many twists and turns throughout our life’s journey. Christians have walked the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral to meditate, pray, and seek a closer connection to God for over eight centuries. While walking, believers often experience something that mirrors some aspect of their life, giving them new insight and prompting prayer.

While traversing the winding path over the past two weeks, I have been praying that God would help me to know better what it means to deny myself and to pick up my cross to follow Jesus, as he instructed all of his disciples to do (Mark 8:34). I have been asking Christ to set me free from the fears that have been holding me back from surrendering my will to God’s at a deeper level, and from the distractions and impulses that take me away from the Holy Spirit’s leading.

On one walk, as I approached one of the dozens of hairpin turns on the labyrinth pathway, I suddenly saw a picture of how easily I get off track with my thinking or behavior. For example, I may be thinking about my writing, or my family, or something to do with my work, and suddenly, I’m off rehearsing how someone hurt me or of how I would like to get revenge. Or, I can be doing well with living by my priorities, and then I’ll make some stupid decision that dissipates my energy or health. Or, I’ll feel love and kindness toward someone, only to bite someone else’s head off in the next instant. Or, I’ll be all set to go forward with God’s leading in some important aspect of my life, and then I get cold feet and start to question myself. I let myself get distracted from the calling and opportunity at hand, or my faith wavers, my confidence diminishes, or I start hedging my bets.

The 180 degree turns in the pathway in front of me were suddenly illustrating a troubling aspect of my life that I wished were different. Indeed, my life is full of contradictions and competing values and impulses, and I frustrate myself often (not to mention how I must negatively affect others at times).

Now, I know my path is going to keep winding back and forth in my life, shifting direction from time to time, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. What I what to know is how can stop letting my “flesh” (sinful impulses and fear) so easily cause me to veer away from the Spirit’s leading onto a path that is contrary to God’s will for me?

As I prayed about these things this past Friday, I realized again that on my own I do not have the power to change my most deep-seated instincts and habits. God has to do the deep inner work within me to set me free and to keep me on the Spirit-led path. Yet, my experience also teaches me that my response to the Spirit and the ways that I order my thinking and living can help.

• The path of the Spirit is pretty well marked out for me—not necessarily all the details, but the character, the spirit, the intention of God’s ways are well known to me. I can consciously remind myself of what I already know to be true.

• I can set out to walk this path every day, and in every circumstance, setting my intention to listen, learn and follow the Spirit.

• I can make a point of not letting other things or people so easily distract (disturb, entice, annoy, consume, intimidate, threaten) me. I will react often, but I can catch myself and ask, “Is this how I want to react?”

• I can choose not to distract myself when I become afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed.  I can simply remind myself, “Yes, this task is scary or hard, but the Spirit will show me what most needs to be done, and help me to do it.”

• When I discover that I have taken a sharp turn away from the Spirit’s leading, I can stop, reconnect with God, look around for how to get back on the Spirit-led path again, and start fresh.

• I can focus on walking the path that leads to God, rather than focus on trying to change myself or others. That is, instead of trying to make things happen so much, I can put my energy into connecting with God and letting the needed changes in me and in others flow from the Spirit’s activity.

• I can choose to trust God.

If I close my eyes I can see distinctly the spot on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth where the Spirit spoke to me about how I am living my life. While, at first, the 180 degree turn painfully illustrated to me how easily I switch directions, change focus, and move out of the Spirit into the flesh in a moment. Yet now this mental picture also depicts how I would like to navigate the twists and turns in life by staying in the Spirit.

I leave today for Africa. I’m a little nervous, but now, after spending time seeking God in prayer, I feel ready. I do not know all of how God intends to use us there, but I’m sure the Holy Spirit is leading us, and will work in us and through us to serve Christ’s purposes. The most important thing is that I stay on the path.

Final Thought

Isaiah said that God would keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfastly fixed on God. Focusing on the Spirit-led path before us is what a steadfast mind is all about.

When you feel yourself starting to veer off the path in your mind, heart or behavior, try simply saying to yourself, “Stay on the path.” As your mind and spirit obey your instructions, feel the temptations diminish in power, and the peace within you deepen and strengthen.

What helps you to stay on the path?


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Christ in Judgment (It’s a good thing!) (2 of 6)

This is the first in a series of reflections based on my time in Chartres, France (September 2008)

West Wall of Chartres Cathedral

Placed in the most significant position, high on the west wall of the Chartres Cathedral (France), in the center of the multi-colored rose shaped window, Christ is seated on his heavenly throne. He is known here as “Christ in Judgment,” reigning over all of creation at the end of time, surrounded by apostles and the souls of the saved and condemned. This powerful symbol of faith says that, contrary to appearances at times, some day Christ will set wrongs right, the martyrs and faithful will be vindicated, and all the “dead will be judged according to what they have done” (Revelation 20:12).

Over the years, the notion of Christ as Judge has alternately frightened me, repulsed me, or simply left me cold. There is so much judgment and rejection in the world that crushes people that I often recoil from critical, damning attitudes and images of condemnation. I much prefer the Jesus who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Believing that God accepts and loves me as I am with all of my faults, experiencing God’s forgiveness, and living out of a place of grace (rather than judgment) has been incredibly healing and motivating for me over the years.

Yet, I am changing. I still am very drawn to the compassionate and forgiving Jesus, and I depend upon Christ for rest for my soul. Yet, at the same time, I’m starting to see that grace only has meaning when there has been judgment. Forgiveness is transforming, but only when we’ve acknowledged (judged) that we or others have done wrong. Truth sets us free only when we admit (judged) that we have been held in bondage by lies, distortions, and manipulative behavior. In biblical teaching, mercy triumphs over judgment, but judgment still has its place when it holds up truth for all to see and demands that we alter our lives to fit with the laws of love.

On Friday, I had been walking the labyrinth, which is uncovered only once a week on Fridays for pilgrims. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I turned to look up at the magnificent rose window to the west. When I fixed my eyes on Jesus on his throne, I suddenly saw Christ as not only the judge, but my judge—and I was surprised by my reaction. I felt strength and encouragement. I felt at peace.

When I am honest with myself, I know that Christ’s judgment is always right. I know that his opinion is the only one that truly matters. If I submit myself to him, and actively seek out his perspective on my life, rather than experiencing domination, I find freedom. Rather than feeling disempowered, I find more strength and confidence to live the life I am meant to live.

If, on the other hand, I look to others (or even myself) to judge my life, the truth is going to be colored and distorted by their (or my) interests and limitations. Whether I submit to or rebel against the judgments of others, they will exert too much control over me. Only one person can rightly serve as Judge of my life. Only Christ offers me the full truth I need to see and the grace I need to accept it and live by it.

Over the past couple of years, I have been struggling with rejection and judgment from someone who used to respect me and was close to me. I know intellectually that I am being treated this way because I won’t go along with his way of thinking or do what he wants. However, emotionally, I keep churning inside. I keep wondering if I did something wrong to bring about his rejection of me, and what truth there is in his accusations and judgments. I can see that I’m too attached to his opinion of me. Yet, for some reason, I have been having a very hard time accepting what’s happened and my powerlessness in the relationship.

No wonder, then, seeing Jesus as my one and only true Judge was so comforting!  Jesus is not like this former friend. Jesus knows the truth. He knows I am not perfect and make many mistakes. I sin and let him down, hurt others, and work against myself all the time. Yet, in Jesus, I find truth. Where I have failed, he offers forgiveness. Where I am confused, he offers wisdom. Where I am wrongly trying to justify myself, he cuts through the pretense.

Christ my Judge does not jerk me around with self-serving demands. He is reasonable and fair, and speaks the truth when I need to hear it, not to hurt me, confuse me or try to manipulate me. Though his rebuke may cut me deeply, I never doubt that he speaks the truth out of love. He is for me, more than I can ever be for him.

So, I trust him. In his judgment I find peace and strength. I feel relief. Looking to him, it’s easier to let go the false judgments of others, and the unreasonable demands I place on myself. Then, ironically, the more I look to Christ as my Judge, the more I find my way back to Jesus, my Savior and Lord, whose yoke is easy and burden is light.

What does Christ in Judgment mean to you?

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Spiritual Retreat in Chartres, France (1 of 6)

The Chartres Cathedral

If you haven’t ever been there, you have to go some time. But expect to be changed by your visit.

Chartres is a town, one hour by train, southwest of Paris. In it is a huge, beautiful cathedral, built at the beginning of the thirteenth century. My wife, Jill, and I journey to Chartres once a year for a ten day spiritual retreat.

  • I go to connect with God on a deeper level
  • I go to rest–from all my striving and drivenness
  • I go to listen to God
  • I always hear something I don’t want to hear, but need to hear
  • It’s always a hard time
  • It’s always the best time of the whole year

When you walk inside of the cathedral, you are immediately struck by the immensity of the sanctuary. The pillars stretch up into grand arches that lift your eyes and heart toward heaven. The stained glass windows are breathtaking. The labyrinth on the floor is intriguing.

My favorite thing to do in the Chartres cathedral is to quietly walk around, hum the Lord’s prayer, and pray. I like to spend hours sitting in front of a statue of Jesus. This year I gravitated to a life-sized crucifix–a cross, with a figure representing Jesus nailed to it. Each day I took time to simply look at him and think about his love and self-sacrificial death. At times, I did my Bible study there, looking up from my Bible periodically, remembering to silently ask Jesus how the verses apply to my life.

Often, I just sat there in Jesus’ presence, letting my mind wander and thinking about what’s going on in my life. I know God is present everywhere, but it’s different there. Somehow sitting in such a grand house of worship, with a figure of Jesus on the cross in front of me, surrounded by stained glass windows and sculptures telling biblical stories, makes me more aware of God’s presence. I find that I want to pray. I want to connect. I want God to speak to me.

This year, I have been reading and thinking a lot about differences among Christians and differences between Christianity and other religions–especially, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age beliefs. I’ve been deliberately seeking out people whose faith is different from mine. I want to understand them better.

I’ll admit, I originally mostly wanted to make myself feel better about being a Christian. I wanted to find the faults in others’ beliefs to strengthen my own confidence in mine. But I’ve been discovering a surprising thing. The people I’m meeting are a lot like me, and share many of the same values I hold. They’re often people who love their families, want to honor God with their life and practice, and want to do good and make the world a better place.

So my search has changed. Instead of just looking for the differences, now I’m also looking for how God is working everywhere in the world, in different traditions, through and in spite of official dogmas and traditions. I’m amazed at what I’m finding, and eager to stay on the journey. I’m more glad than ever to be a Christian, and my love for Jesus keeps deepening, but I’m also amazed at the people I’m meeting and what I’m learning from them.

I discovered that the crucifix had been positioned inside of the ecumencial chapel in the cathedral. As I wrestle with deep spiritual questions, I was being drawn to sit with Jesus, in a place devoted to celebrating points of common faith among divergent traditions. I wonder what God is going to show me next….

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