Advent: Four Elements of “Wait Training”

In the previous post, we heard from Pastor Rich Villodas as he taught us about how Advent is a season for “Wait Training.” In part two of his article, originally published at Missio Alliance, we now look at four practical ways we can learn to bear fruit in our spiritual lives as we wait during this season.

By Rich Villodas

Four Important Elements of Waiting

1. Reflective Prayer

Henri Nouwen has said, “Active waiting is waiting that pays attention, is fully present to what is really going on, even when to all outward appearances, nothing is going on.”

One of the primary ways of this kind of waiting that pays attention is in reflective prayer. Prayer is not simply articulating our needs before God. It’s also making ourselves available for God to articulate his movements before us.

Advent is a season of waiting in a posture of prayerful attention. It’s often when we get silent that we can finally begin to trace God’s movements in our lives.

2. Friends on the Journey

Waiting is much easier when done in community. This is one of the reasons Jesus asked his disciples to join him as he awaited his death (unfortunately they fell asleep on him!). Advent is a reminder that waiting is a communal act.

Mary and Elizabeth wait together.

Simeon and Anna wait in community.

The people of God expectantly waited together.

Advent is an invitation to seek out friends on the journey who will help us process, discern and sit in silence with us as we discern God’s activity.

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3. The Hearing of the Gospel Preached

As we wait, our souls need to be grounded in hope that comes from the proclamation of the gospel. We each need a word spoken to us regularly that reminds us of God’s faithful coming in Jesus.

Sunday worship is not a time to get religious goodies and head home. It’s an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s creative word, which is to anchor us in a story that is often at odds with the stories we tell ourselves.

4. Waiting is an Active Activity 

To wait on the Lord doesn’t mean inactivity. It doesn’t mean a refusal to take initiative, or to seek and search for opportunities (a new job, a romantic relationship, etc.). Rather, it’s a refusal to move without connecting our lives to God in prayer and reflection, first and often.

Eugene Peterson has said, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

Sometimes waiting on the Lord means “staying put” in a particular situation until you get further instructions. At other times, it requires us to move forward—but in a way that is grounded in prayer.

Ultimately, to wait on the Lord is a way of life that comes against our tendencies to be impulsive, to be anxiously reactive, and wise in our own eyes.

If decisions are being made that are anxiously reactive and impulsive, chances are we need some practice in waiting on the Lord.

Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s a great opportunity to train our souls in waiting.

This article was originally published at: Missio Alliance.

Advent: A Season of “Wait Training”

By Rich Villodas (originally published on Missio Alliance)

There’s nothing that unites us in the experience of being human quite like waiting. No matter our age, our education, our accomplishments, or time spent following Jesus, we will have to wait.

This is why the Advent season is necessary for the shaping of our lives.

Each of the seasons of the Liturgical Calendar leads us in paying particular attention to Christian themes and practices. Lent reminds us, among many things, to place God’s way—and not our appetites—as the guiding principle for our lives. Eastertide calls us to live a spirituality of feasting and joy anchored in Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost gives us a vision of life filled with God’s power because the Spirit has been poured out on us.

The Advent season is one in which God trains us in waiting.

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Wait Training

This training is oriented towards the formation of our lives because what God does in us as we wait is more important than what we are waiting for.

Many of the stories of scripture point to the excruciating pain and trouble experienced by the people of God because of their refusal to wait for God. This has been our story to this day.

For example, in Exodus 32 (the story of the golden calf), the Israelites, in a moment of anxiety, impulsively fashion an idol to provide security for themselves because Moses was nowhere to be found. This idol creation came days after God informed them that this kind of religious practice was off limits now that they were delivered from Pharaoh.

Anxiety will make us do irrational things.

Their waiting was difficult because they couldn’t see what God was up to. 

It’s hard for us to wait—and not just because we are impatient.

It’s hard to wait because we often don’t believe God is at work in our lives.

But Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s the annual reminder that God is for creation and moves towards us.

Even so, it’s hard to wait. One of the primary reasons it’s hard to wait is because our understanding of waiting has been incomplete.

As a pastor, I’m frequently asked to help people understand what it means to wait on the Lord. In the next post I will share four elements that I have learned along the way about WAITING. 

Welcoming the Wilderness During Advent

The following excerpt is from “Advent is a Season of Longing,” written by Carolyn Arends and published in Christianity Today.

People are rarely neutral about the approach of Christmastime. Some of us reside at a North Pole of intense anticipation and excitement, while others of us hole up at a South Pole of irritation and dread.

If the latter is the case, it’s important to remember that Advent is a season all about longing and emptiness and waiting. It is a season set aside to help us realize that we need deliverance from our current condition.

Not coincidentally, two of this year’s Old Testament and the New Testament lectionary readings—Isaiah 40 and Mark 1—each begin in the same place. They are both set in the wilderness.

In Isaiah 40, the Israelites are at a South Pole of political exile and spiritual desolation. After chapter upon chapter of warnings and judgment, God begins to speak assurance through his prophet.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” he begins. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (v. 1). And then a voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3).

This metaphor of a kind of superhighway being made through the wilderness is a favorite theme of Isaiah’s. It asks the listener to picture the rough, nearly impassable terrain to the east of Jerusalem being smoothed out into a wide and welcoming path. To the Israelite ear, the voice of one calling to prepare the way in the wilderness means not only that they are going to get to go home, but also that the Lord himself is on his way.

And it’s not just Isaiah calling us to prepare a way. In the New Testament Advent reading, the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark include a direct quote from Isaiah 40. Mark tells us that now the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” is John the Baptist, who has arrived on the scene as a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And John’s sole focus is heralding the coming of the king—of Jesus—who is the direct fulfillment of every promise ever made to God’s people.

It’s important to note that John is not only a voice crying to the wilderness—he’s a voice crying in the wilderness, from the wilderness. He’s a desert dweller, and his ministry is unfolding in the barren places east of Jerusalem.

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So, why did John choose to live in the wilderness? You would think a young man with a spiritual pedigree would set up shop in the most influential synagogue around—or better yet, in the temple—and wait for the religious leaders to recognize his authority. But John chose instead to head for the hills. What did he know about the wilderness that we don’t?

Maybe John chose to live in the wilderness because he’d heard enough of the history of Israel to know that God specializes in bringing good things out of unpromising places.

After all, God had worked out salvation history through childless couples, feuding brothers, stuttering leaders, wayward kings, and, now, in Jesus, a young man of questionable paternity born and raised in a series of backwater towns. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” a potential disciple had incredulously asked when he heard where Jesus was from.

John knew that, yes, when God is involved, something good could come from even a town of questionable repute like Nazareth. And something good could come from the wilderness, too.

So, if you find yourself at a South Pole this Advent, consider the possibility that you are being offered the gifts of the wilderness. Advent is a time for waiting, and the wilderness is as good a place as any—maybe the best place of any—to wait. If you’re feeling a little empty, maybe that’s a good thing. After all, there is a voice crying in the wilderness, and he’s asking us to prepare him room.

–Carolyn Arends is director of education at the Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. She is also a recording artist, speaker, author, and college instructor.

Living Stones

By Ken Mitchell

The tour guide introduced herself at the entrance to Linville Caverns and immediately warned us not to touch any of the stones inside. She explained that these were living stones and that the acid from the human touch would cause them to stop growing.

It was Saturday afternoon and Janet and I and our two grandsons were on our annual outing. This year we had been gem mining and now were about to explore the inside of the mountain in Linville, North Carolina. I found the warning interesting, but the concept of living stones didn’t catch my full attention until the following Tuesday morning when I read 1 Peter 2. As I read verses 4 and 5, I was reminded of our Saturday tour. “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

I realized that if I am to be a living stone, I should know what a living stone is.

The Holy Spirit took me back to the tour guide. She had indicated that the stones were living because they were growing. As the mineral laden water flows over them it deposits additional minerals. These additional deposits cause slow growth. I believe she said they grow approximately 1 cubic inch every 100 years. This is slow growth to be sure, but it is growth. She defined “living stones” as “growing stones.”

We too must be growing stones if we are to meet the definition of living stones in 1 Peter 2:5.

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The stones in Linville Caverns are nourished by constantly flowing mineral water. I asked myself, How must I be nourished in order to grow and be a living stone?

I found the answer in verse 2: “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (NKJV). I was reminded of Elizabeth, our 7-month-old granddaughter. When she desires milk, everyone nearby knows about it. She will not calm down until her hunger is satisfied. What would happen if we fed Elizabeth only once a week on Sunday morning? Or 3 times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening? This would obviously not work. First, she would not give us any rest as she expressed her desire for milk, and second, she would not grow.

Is my “desire [for] the pure milk of the word” as strong as Elizabeth’s desire for milk for her stomach? Does my soul cry out for nourishment? This is a challenge to me. Elizabeth cannot feed herself or control her feeding times, but I can. As a mature adult I feed my physical body three times daily. How can I do less for my spiritual self? Thank you Lord for showing me how to become a “living stone”. May others read this and be challenged to, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that [they] may grow thereby.”

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

Our Dwelling Place

By Scott Armstrong

I travel a lot: around 80 days a year actually, not including our home assignment, which is a state of permanent flux anyway.  Being able to visit so many cultures and share with fellow Christians from other nations is an enormous blessing! At the same time, at the end of a trip there is nothing like arriving home.

Sometimes I wonder what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness those 40 years.  Sure, we know from Numbers 14 that they brought it on themselves with disobedience and lack of faith.  Still, I cannot imagine four decades of life (!) spent without ever feeling at home.

Moses was the leader of that wandering brigade.  And he starts one of his psalms with a profound statement of praise:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Ps. 90:1).

It is likely that he wrote those words during the last forty years of his life. The years without a home, waiting for the Promised Land he would never experience.  So how can he testify to having a “dwelling place”?

A dwelling place is not just a house.  It’s possibly an even more cozy term than “home.” Some versions translate this Hebrew word as “refuge”, and God is certainly that. But for God to be Moses’ dwelling place is to say he feels safe not just with Yahweh, but in Him.  It is to declare that he does not just receive rest from Yahweh, but in Him.

Safe. At rest. In God.

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In the Christian tradition I grew up in, we talked a lot more about God, through Christ, living in us.  After all, how could you be a true believer if you had never “asked Jesus into your heart”? While Christ living in us is a biblical concept (Rom. 8:9-11, Eph. 2:22, Col. 1:27, etc.), we frequently neglect the reality also mentioned often in Scripture: us in Him. 

In Colossians 3:3, our lives are described as being “hidden with Christ in God.” God is that secret, safe place where we huddle up with Jesus.  When Paul addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill, he explained that God is not far from any of us, “for in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  God is a home for His people, and it is a spacious place where we can relax and move about with freedom.

We are not invited to be guests of God.  We are not invited to be live-in servants in his palace.  No. The invitation is to make our home in Him.

We can be the recipients of copious and undeserved amounts of hospitality as we travel. But the one place we will feel truly ourselves is at home.

And home is not as much a place as it is a person.

Abba.

From past to present, men and women have been kicking off their shoes, leaning back, and putting up their feet in the cozy living room named Yahweh.  And now my prayer is that for generations to come, my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids would know that they can play and laugh and cry and sing and veg and love and eat and relax in Him.  I want them, too, to dwellin their Lord and find true home in Him.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
–Augustine of Hippo

 

Living Simply so that Others may Simply Live

And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

Have you ever been outside your country? Have you ever visited some of the poorest of the poor in another country or in the inner-cities of your own country? If you have seen the reality of poverty in our world today, like I have, you will view this passage differently.

I have to be honest.  Years ago, I read these verses in Luke and thought other people were the greedy ones.  Some of Jesus’ parables are confusing, but this one he explains right off the bat in verse 15.  The whole point of telling a story about a rich guy who keeps all his “grain and goods” to himself is to warn us against all kinds of greed.  And a while back I always thought that meant others.  I am not really rich, right? I don’t have to worry about this.

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Now I am convinced this rich fool is me—and maybe you. I have seen up close too many people who are suffering from poverty, disease, disasters, and bloody warfare, that I cannot pretend anymore.  How can you or I say that we are not greedy if we eat three enormous meals a day while a third of the world’s population starves? How can we live in our huge, comfortable houses while billions have nothing? I ate an ice-cream cone last week that cost as much as a farmer in some of our countries makes in a week to feed his family.  

So what are we going to do about it? We can continue as rich fools or we can begin to live more simply so that others may simply live.  We can store our possessions or learn to share and sacrifice in order to truly change the world.

“Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Feet

By Frederick Buechner

“HOW BEAUTIFUL upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings,” says Isaiah (52:7). Not how beautiful are the herald’s lips, which proclaim the good tidings, or his eyes as he proclaims them, or even the good tidings themselves, but how beautiful are the feet—the feet without which he could never have made it up into the mountains, without which the good tidings would never have been proclaimed at all.

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Who knows in what inspired way the heart, mind, or spirit of the herald came to receive the good tidings of peace and salvation in the first place, but as to the question whether he would actually do something about them—put his money where his mouth was, his shoe leather where his inspiration was—his feet were the ones that finally had to decide. Maybe it is always so. When the disciples first came upon the risen Christ that Sunday morning of their confusion and terror, it wasn’t his healing hands they touched or his teaching lips or his holy heart. Instead, it was those same ruined, tired dogs that had carried him to them three years earlier, when they were at their accounts and their nets, that had dragged him all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, that had stumbled up the hill where what was to happen happened. “They took hold of his feet and worshiped him,” Matthew says (28:9; italics mine).

Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are, as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.

This article was originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words