Do you ever drive somewhere and realize that you sort of “auto-piloted” there, but it was the wrong destination? You’ve driven this route time and time again, only it was the wrong route with the wrong place. I sometimes feel that I need to make sure that I’m not doing the same in life. The draw to what is familiar is often more attractive (at least a the time) than what is necessary and often we just ease into it. There is a propensity to let the world take over and eventually end up somewhere that isn’t what I want, but is what I should have expected from my choices. This outcome is what I’ve often experienced whenever I’ve lost focus on prayer and have let the world’s priorities replace it.
In a recent week we heard the story of the “good shepherd”. If you’ve ever studied shepherds, you’ll find that they tend to live in relatively remote areas, doing a duty which is difficult and often thankless. The sheep tend to wander, unknowingly into danger, but they do know one thing, their shepherd’s voice. I’d assume often they were a lot like me, auto-piloting to whatever destination they thought they should go. If the shepherd motions for them however, they will come running, because they know that the shepherd will lead them to safety. When I consider the good shepherd passage, I need to ask myself, “am I listening?” and “what I have I heard?”
My family and I recently took a trip across the country. During the trip we listened to the story of Elizabeth Ann Seaton, which was very relevant as I examined my life in the last several weeks. The story had a beautiful segment where Elizabeth talks with her mother about Psalm 23, which goes “the Lord is my shepherd, never shall I want, is lays me down in green pastures. He restores my soul.” I’ve heard that Psalm hundreds of times, but until listening to her story I don’t believe it really impacted my life. I was reminded of something that I should have known more, which is that the Lord is always calling me, whether I hear his voice or not. That weekend’s gospel was accordingly about the good shepherd, the one whom whose sheep hear his voice. The questions I needed to ask myself this week was, “where do I hear his voice?”, “am I listening?”, and “how is he calling me to restore my soul?”.
I dug into these questions and it was very powerful. The first I asked was, “where do I hear His voice?” So often I drown out His voice with the need for entertainment or distraction. How often have I checked my phone today? What am I reading about? Do I need to know about the latest thing happening in by business twitter feed? Is it important that my sports team drafted a certain person? I need to ask myself if I’m making those things (the distractions) more important than the time I give God and take a place in my heart which replaces His. My wife and I recently read the book “Time for God”, which reminded us of something very simple, which is, we need to “show up”. Like any activity, unless you show up, you will never participate in it. The activity of “showing up” is about placing yourself in a position where you can communicate with God, every day, no exceptions. I needed to ask myself truthfully if I’m doing that.
The second question I asked is “am I listening?”. If I’d showed up and I’m ready, am I having a conversation with God and listening to what he has to say? I have often been challenged in prayer on staying focused, as my mind has a tendency to focus on the hard things going on in my life. I used to feel great failure in my mind returning to those things and would grow discouraged in prayer. I then realized that God was asking me to bring them forward instead of push them to the side. The most useful technique has been to think about them and bring them to the Lord. It’s as if when talking with your wife you took the things you were concerned about, pushed them to the side. She wants you to talk about what is really going on, the same is with God. He wants us to really communicate.
The third question I asked is “how is he calling me to restore my soul?” If I didn’t hear his voice and wasn’t listening, this is much more difficult. However, just by doing the other two and trusting in his response, my soul is restored. The act of restoring the soul is God’s that I can rest in. I may never be like the saints who literally heard the Lord, but I am certain that he is working in prayer and leading. The giving of the challenges to the Lord doesn’t make them go away, it doesn’t necessarily make them less challenging on their face, but it allows God the space to align our disposition and the outcome in their appropriate place in our heart. The restoring that God does allows my heart to react with the qualities that I embody the person I most want to be.
Prayer is about aligning our hearts to the Lord, bringing him our concerns and hopes, as well as taking joy in who God is and how he acts in us when we are aligned to Him. The soul the rests in the Lord, is the soul that is refreshed and strengthened. Realize that He yearns for us with a complete, welcoming and ever-present Love. Like the Good Shepard, He is always there to restore our soul, even if we’ve wandered far from home and my auto-pilot took me to the wrong destination.