In the Stillness

“Spring Green on a Gray Day,” © Lynn Abbott

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

My mother–God rest her soul–could tell tales a plenty of my youthful impatience.  Fortunately for me, she took most of those stories to her grave.

But there are a few stories that some of my immediate family yet recall and I highly suspect I will never live those personal fiascos down.

“You shouldn’t hurry, Mom,” my 19-year-old wisely advises.  “It never turns out well…”

And he’s right.  When I am hurried or impatient, I invariably take a wrong turn, and head in a disastrous direction.

In fact, I’m certain that eventually my family will make good on threats to embarrass me with the retelling of one particularly memorable, “hurry up” mishap. So let me beat them to it…At least, you’ll hear it from me first.

My husband and I had returned from England after a lovely two-year sojourn.  Since we had been far from friends and family for some time, we made a stop-over in California to visit my folks.

During our visit, I offered to run errands for my mom. And of course, I glanced at the list and sped out the door.  However, I was on home turf.  How difficult could a few errands be?

After making a brief stop at one shop, I climbed into the car and pulled from the parking lot out onto the road.  I made a logical turn… logical, that is, if I had still been living in Great Britain.

As it was, I turned the wrong direction onto a one way street, and found myself driving headlong into oncoming traffic.  Multiple vehicles honked horns and flashed headlights.

The alarm raised, I quickly recognized my honest but dangerous error.  Needless to say, I swung my car into the next parking lot entry, and took time to regain my bearings.

I meant well.  I wished to help Mom who had her hands full taking care of my Dad who was ill at the time.

My husband loves to remind me that while I certainly exhibited the best and most sincere intentions that day, my instincts carried me in a sincerely wrong direction.

Yup.  If I had only slowed my pace, I could have avoided a lot of stress.  To paraphrase my kindergarten teacher, one should always “stop, look and listen.”

But when life swirls around me,  that isn’t easy for me.

I suppose I’m not the only one.  Considering the lives of many around me, it seems that “being still” is difficult for most in this modern world.

“So little time; so much to do” seems to be our contemporary mantra.

Come to think of it, I don’t believe “being still” has ever been easy for the humanity.  We know exactly what needs to be done, what needs to be said, or what needs require filling.  And we restlessly plunge ahead without giving our direction much forethought.

That’s what gets us into trouble.  Solomon definitely knew what he was talking about when he wrote,”There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death,” (Proverbs 16:25).

My guardian angel works overtime. Truly.

I find tremendous comfort, however, when I read Paul’s history in the book of Acts.  As is often the case for me, Paul, aka Saul, also rushed into things.  Most of us know his history well.

Indeed, as far as Saul was concerned, those trouble-makers known as “followers of the Way” (as Christians were called) needed to be silenced.

A member of the Pharisees, Saul was sincerely committed to following Yahweh.  His love for and loyalty to God were indisputable.

But Saul had taken a wrong turn.  In his zeal, he hurried to eradicate Abba’s children, those that Saul had deemed a threat to faith in Yahweh.

At first, his goals seemed reachable. After the stoning of Stephen,  Paul must have believed that he held a popular mandate for persecuting Christians.

Acts 8 reports, “And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him [Stephen] to death… And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.  But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

Had Saul waited upon and sought Yaweh’s leading, many believers would have been spared terrible suffering and Saul himself would have avoided the Damascus road.

But Saul knew he was right, and rushed to apply his sincere, albeit faulty,  remedy to what he saw as a significant problem.

Eagerly, Saul requested letters of introduction from the high priest to pave the road to Damascus.  Saul planned to corral and arrest Christ followers.  Thus, with a heart zealous for God’s good name, the young Pharisee set his own plan in motion; he planned to put things right.

Sincere Saul was sincerely wrong.

He turned the wrong way on a one way street. Destruction loomed. His compass needed realignment.  And it took more watt-age than mere headlights to stop him.

Scripture says, “He was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.”

The light, in fact, blinded Saul.  Thus, the impassioned Saul fell to his knees.  And Christ spoke.

In that moment, Saul’s life changed forever.  With the help of those traveling with him, a blind Saul entered Damascus and waited to hear what he should do next.

During the three days that he waited in darkness, Saul probably did a lot of soul-searching.  In the stillness, he listened for word from God.

Saul, the zealot with all the answers, most likely entertained regret.  Self-recrimination probably reigned supreme.  He had pursued a path that seemed right to him.

Eager to demonstrate his love for God, he had wrongfully harmed those whom God loved.  Sincere but woefully wrong.

Later, after a name and life change that reflected his new identity in Christ, he wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all,” (1 Timothy 1:15).

You bet. Paul had regrets.

There is a way that seems right…

But ultimately it falls apart.  Paul initially placed his confidence in human wisdom but a genuine encounter with Christ showed him the futility of racing down the wrong avenue.

When I consider this, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, ring with an authenticity that only personal experience yields.  Paul writes that we each may choose to build upon the foundation of Christ with materials of varied quality:  gold, silver, wood or straw.

Following my own limited understanding obviously leads to substandard construction.  Hurried shortcuts never end well. And when trial by fire comes, my efforts end in ashes.

Yeah, despite the fact that we are Abba’s children, you and I still fall into the “hurry up” trap…

No time to sit with Abba? No time to be still and hear His voice today? I’m a disaster, waiting to happen.

When I drive in high gear, when I rush to do what seems self-evident, when I lean on my own understanding, I hurtle headlong into flashing headlights (Proverbs 3:5).

“Saul, Saul…”

And in the silence, Saul’s heart sought God.  The once proud, “let-me-handle-this” Saul transformed.  When Ananias of Damascus arrived to grant Saul renewed sight, the one-time enemy of Christ humbly accepted the Savior’s sovereign call.

Often God’s timing and path are unexpected. I’m sure no one was more surprised by Saul’s conversion as much as Saul himself.  Before the Damascus road, he had not considered the possibility that he might be wrong. Saul had simply rushed into the fray.

And that’s how I, too, get into messes.

I think I know what should be done.  “I’ve got this,” I volunteer.  And off I go with nary a second thought.

I do know better.

After all, God’s Word tells me again and again to wait on the Lord.  Lamentations 3:25 exhorts, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD…”

Ah…there’s the rub.  Waiting silently.  I’m not so good at that.

Even so, grace remains. God’s “compassions are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).

And Abba intervenes because He loves.

“Saul, Saul…”

Gently, Christ calls.

At Horeb, when a shattered and discouraged Elijah most needed direction, God spoke.  However, His voice didn’t howl in the powerful wind.  Abba did not shout through the earthquake.  Nor did He roar through the fire that followed.

Only when all the noise died down, did Elijah receive answers to his questions through Abba’s voice, soft like a summer, seaside breeze.

And so it is with you and me.  When my pace slows, when I stop and listen, I hear my heavenly Father’s gentle whisper. His grace guides me.

Without a doubt, I’d avoid a lot of regret and stress if, before driving, I would first consult Abba’s Word, His road map.  Abba’s truth helps me recognize those one way streets.

When I take my questions to my Savior, I find answers.   He guides my steps. In the stillness, God leads.

Yet, even when you and I have gone our own way, Paul’s life demonstrates that our God will gently and graciously redirect us.  Paul definitely got it right when he recognized that his weakness demonstrated God’s patience, and that his story would encourage all of us who, in all sincerity, make wrong turns (1 Timothy 1:16).

Paul, the apostle who spoke most of grace, understood fully that grace covers it all.   In fact, grace calls me to be still and know that Abba is God.  When I slow down in His presence, I willingly allow Him to handle whatever my day entails.

He has this.  And there will be no regrets.

Abba, in fact,  promises to direct my paths if I will simply be still long enough to acknowledge His voice, (Proverbs 3:6).

For this reason,  although often imperfectly, you and I cling to Jeremiah’s words as the down payment on His promise.

Today, in the stillness, we await Abba’s daily leading:  “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail…The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him,” (Lamentations 3:21-22,25).

“Be still, and know that I am God…”~ Psalm 46:10

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…” ~ 2 Timothy 4:7-8a