In a recent conversation with a young leader, he was curious about our “rule” at Soul Sabbaths (which are day-long retreats of silence and solitude) when we discourage doing homework, or other reading outside the Bible, while they are alone, quiet and prayerful. His defense was something like this, “I don’t see how reading a Eugene Peterson book would interfere with my day of prayer. Isn’t it better not to dichotomize our life with God and include even a good Christian book into our day set apart for prayer and reflection?”
While I agree to him to a certain extent, and of course I love all of the Eugene Peterson books I’ve ever read, I mentioned to him that each time we read something other than the Bible we begin to attend to that author’s voice…and potentially miss the Real Author’s voice. While reading a Peterson book can indeed be prayerful, as are many other similar books, it shouldn’t become a replacement for attending to God’s voice in prayer. And, although in another setting…like a study day…when it’s our express purpose to read our assigned texts or ones of our choosing, we may indeed have a “strangely warm” experience with God tapping us on our shoulder and inviting us to notice Him in the midst of our reading.
But, when we’re purposing to focus our fullest and most complete attention on the God of the universe, and we have this one day set apart for that intention alone, why potentially clog up the pipeline of communication with something other than the singular and loving voice of God? Why not simply read God’s Word, and enjoy Him in our solitary place of prayer? Do we need Eugene Peterson to open that door for us? Sometimes, yes…but most times not.
I responded to him, “It would be like taking your paint brush, canvas, and small vials of paint into the gym, and while you’re on the treadmill also trying to paint a picture. Although that may be possible, and might actually produce some kind of interesting art, is that the best way to exercise? Or, to paint?” The point I was trying to make is…yes, indeed, painting on a treadmill is possible, but is it best? The “dichotomy” is then the best choice…when I’m in the gym, I’m going to concentrate on my exercises on the treadmill. And, when I’m in the studio or standing outside in creation, I’m going to focus my attention on the canvas, brush, and colors used to create a beautiful picture.
We far too often come up with excuses for not having solitary time with God. This is just one of a thousand others. Aren’t we trying to “paint on a treadmill” in many other ways in our lives too? Texting while driving. Television during family time. Cell phones next to our dinner plates and under our bed pillows. Not focusing on a conversation with a loved one. Believing that we can actually multitask. Saying yes too many times. Not saying no enough. Constant motion, noise, and activity. The result? Never being alone and focused exclusively on God, His Word, His voice, His creation.
At Leadership Transformations we are advocates of painting in a studio, treadmilling in a gym, and praying – yes, primarily praying – in a solitary place. If God has many more important things to say to us than we to Him, shouldn’t we press the pause button on the treadmills of our lives and actually stop the machine long enough to notice, attend and truly listen to God? No more excuses please…just listen. And pray. And notice. Your painting will look awesome!