An Invitation to Stillness

Being still means more than refraining from movement. It also means to stop desiring movement – or even planning or hoping to move. (Steven James)

Movement. A word that seems fitting to me in so many ways. I am a mover. I do not sit still well. Nor do I move slowly. My sister-in-law frequently teases that my “walking” pace is a “running” pace for the average person. And while it is true that I tend to walk fast, all too often, I allow this trait to spill over into my spiritual life. When God is calling me to “be still,” my feet are itching to move. Even when I am not in motion. That’s why the words from this quote of Steven James so quickly caught my attention. (See, I even notice quotes “quickly.”)

While I can force myself to refrain from movement, it is much more difficult for me to curb my thoughts from desiring to move. Especially when it is so obvious that things need to be done… and especially when I am administrative by nature and a planner at heart. Even when my body is not in motion, my brain is constantly devising ways to more efficiently accomplish those ever-present responsibilities.

But I’m slowly learning (apparently learning is the one thing I do in slow fashion) that there is a freedom that comes in approaching God with empty hands and an empty agenda. And I’m discovering a treasure in the stillness that cannot be found among all the busy distractions of life.

All too often, I desire to reduce my relationship with God to a series of check marks on a list. I want to keep things neat, tidy, and orderly. Unfortunately, attempting to treat the things of God systematically can be problematic. The number one problem being that God refuses to follow my list. What makes complete sense in my natural mind is foolishness to Him. And yet, the very things that appear absurd to my rational way of thinking are, more often than not, the very ways that God chooses to work. Repeatedly. Hence, when there is something to be done, He calls me to be still. Seriously, what’s up with that?

Could it be that productivity is not God’s main concern regarding me? And here I always thought that if I increased my productivity I would be of more value to God. That I would somehow experience His approval if I could only organize more conferences, attend more Bible studies, host more seminars, read more books, write more articles, go on more mission trips… well, you get the idea.

Amazingly enough, it has come to my attention that doing more things (including things that one might call “ministry”) does not achieve the Father’s approval. Even if it makes me feel fulfilled. In reality, too much activity actually takes away from living an abundant life because my focus is all on producing rather than on abiding.

Overachieving in service to God is not the same as being in communion with Him. Psalm 37 encourages me to delight myself “in the Lord”  not to delight myself “in service to the Lord.” A point worth pondering.

Likewise, John 15:4 states,  Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

We’ve been duped by the world’s way of thinking that productivity leads to promotion. In God’s kingdom, productivity is not the means to becoming close to Jesus, it is the result of being with Him. There is a reason fruit is referred to as “produce.” It is what comes from the act of abiding. Production follows communion; it does not lead the way. In fact, Jesus warns that no good fruit is produced apart from Him. All that striving? All those labors without His intervention? Guess what they are yielding? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

In our desire for movement to produce results, we end up missing out on the treasure of simply being with Jesus. We hasten to produce an underdeveloped fruit and are left with a product that is small, unripe, and inedible. On the flipside, when we are  content to remain with Christ – tarrying, waiting, abiding, moving only when He moves – the fruit is produced without extra effort as it comes alongside the relationship that He is having with us. This abiding is what produces a mature fruit that is large, ripe, and sweet to the soul.

Trying to rush the production of Kingdom service is not only tasteless, it is lifeless. Getting caught in the snares of distractions and too much activity leads to a discontent life and one that gives way to a heart much like that described in Psalm 143:4 – Therefore, my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or stressed out, perhaps your agenda is too full. Perhaps, like me, you need to be done with your list of “things to do” (insert audible Gasp!) while you take a break and learn a lesson in abiding.

Busyness can lead to brokenness, but not in the sense of a brokenness that leads to holiness. If left unattended, our too-full lives will consume us, crowding out any time for communion with the very One who can soothe our spirits and calm our hearts. And that is not the will of God for any of His children.

Don’t buy into the lie of busyness. God doesn’t need you to “do more” for His Kingdom. Remember? Apart from Him you can do nothing.

But with Him – great things happen. And those great things begin in you.

Consider this your invitation to stillness.

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