Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Restlessness and Spirituality

Ever feel restless?  That feeling that is part desperation and part frustration.  It is a deep source of human longing that is part of the human experience.  How do you deal with feelings of restlessness?  How does restlessness fit into our understanding of humanity and God?

Hear some quotations from literature about restlessness:

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” – Charlotte Bronte

“You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised.  Great is your power, and your wisdom is infinite.  And man would praise you; man, who is but a small particle of your creation; yes, man, though he carries with him his mortality, the evidence of his sin, the evidence that you resist the proud; yet man, but a particle of your creation would praise you.
You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” – St. Augustine

“Restless thoughts, like a deadly swarm of hornets arm’d, no sooner found alone, but rush upon me thronging.”  John Milton (17th century poet)

The Psalms in the Old Testament are filled with prayers of restless people.  Let’s look specifically at Ps 77:

NIV Psalm 77:1 For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm. I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. 5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; 6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: 7 "Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?" Selah 10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High." 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. 13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah 16 The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. 17 The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. 20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Restless hearts are desperate hearts

The pray-er who penned this psalm was in dire straits.  In the initial ten verses, the psalmist prays relentlessly, even desperately but it appears in vain.  The person is plagued by a sense of abandonment and deep disappointment in God.  Ever been there?

But profoundly this desperation propels the pray-er toward God rather than away from Him.  What if restlessness was really God stirring within us to invite us into a deeper relationship with him? 

Restless hearts move forward through remembrance.

The psalmist continues in prayer and continues to reflect upon God and through his remembrance of God’s mighty acts, the psalmist discovers a memory that transcends
Remember -  vv. 3, 6, 11
Muse - vv. 3, 6, 12
Meditation -  v.12
Think, Consider v. 5
Search, Ponder  v. 6

It matters profoundly in what story you cast yourself.

The psalmist finds himself or herself rooted in the Scriptures.  This psalm betrays an acquaintance with other texts from the Old Testament.  In what story are we cast?  In what bigger narrative do you find yourself?  

Illustration: A ship/vessel with a GPS navigation system.  It rarely is technically on course due to waves, but over the course of a voyage, it brings the ship to its destination.  The journey is not a straight line between A and B, but it is a journey home.

How do we root ourselves in this story?  Scripture and Worship.  In the conclusion of the psalm, the pray-er recognized that even at the Red Sea, the footprints of God were not visible, but Moses and Aaron were.  I think that the mention of these two figures points to the living vitality and centrality of Scripture (Moses represents Israel’s Torah) and Worship (Aaron represents the cultic/temple side of Israel).

Restless hearts can be catalysts for profound change:

The psalmist’s circumstance does not necessarily change, but through the desperation of prayer and power of memory, the psalmist shifts in terms of orientation (this shift occurs explicitly beginning in v. 13):

1) “I” language  shifts to “you” language

2) Isolation moves to community (note “people” language in vv. 14-15)

3) God-talk (God as object) is replaced by God-centered (experience of God’s presence)

4) Lament (where are you God?) turns to Worship/Praise

5) Chaos in the moment morphs into security in the transcendent and eternal

Restless hearts find rest only in following Jesus.

Remember Augustine’s words:
“You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Following Jesus is not a static or one time act; it is dynamic and on-going.  Before Jesus went to the Cross for our sins and was raised by the Father on the third day, he broke bread with his initial followers and initiated a rite of remembrance.  Simple bread and the fruit of the vine served to create a sacred moment of invitation, reflection, proclamation, and empowerment.  As Paul records in 1 Cor 11: 24-26,

“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The power of this meal is that it engages us with the reality of Jesus Christ as the only source of satisfaction and resolution of our restlessness.  It is also an invitation to move forward.  Because the Jesus who went to the Cross, is the Risen Jesus who now leads us into the world on mission.

May your sense of restlessness today be the propellant to a deeper engagement with the God who loved you so much that He sent Jesus to offer you life.

What if following Jesus Christ were the only way to come to terms with your restless spirit?  Will you pray with me…

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

No comments:

Post a Comment