Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Green Cathedral With A Sky Blue Dome

As the weather gets warmer (at least here in southeastern Michigan), you may want to consider expanding the locations in which you pray to include an outdoor location. This is something found throughout the Bible and in church history.

Isaac, the son of Abraham, is recorded as meditating in a field (Genesis 24:63). The Lord Jesus is known to have prayed outdoors (Mark 1:35) and seemed to be fond especially of praying on a mountain (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:28). We find in the book of Acts that a praying community in Philippi met by a riverside (Acts 16:13). In 18th century America, Jonathan Edwards would walk in a field or in a forest for a time of prayer and contemplation on the things of God.

The outdoors are, of course, a part of God's creation, They reflect the beauty of His holiness and the depths of His creative thought. My family and I are blessed to have an 11 acre forest as a part of our backyard. Due to its size, I have referred to it as the "green cathedral". We have also been blessed to be able to visit my in-laws' place in the eastern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a week's stay during the summer. On a clear night, the starry dome of the sky automatically lends itself to prayer. While the original ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome was painted with a starry background, I suspect no human-built place of worship can exceed having the actual stars as the ceiling above you.

As opportunity permits, take advantage of this original and most beautiful of worship sites, the very creation which God Himself made.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Personal Retreat

Today, I took the day off for a personal prayer retreat. There have been a number of items which I have been trying to work through spiritually. I sensed that I needed some time away with the Lord. I was able to arrange staying at a retreat center during the day.

It was a truly blessed time. Upon my arrival at the retreat center, for a moment, I had a sense of guilt about taking the whole day off work for this. There are so many things to be done. Yet, I very quickly reminded myself that seeking God first in my life is not something to be done second. My body may not have needed a day of vacation but my soul did.

Although I did encounter a few people during the day, it was truly a time of silence and solitude. In the morning, I read through the devotional reading (Zechariah 2) for today with the printed guide that I use called Encounter With God (published by Scripture Union here in the U.S. and also in Great Britain). I also read through the letter to the Philippians, with a special emphasis on Chapter 3 and its' call for us to put the past behind us and look ahead to the heavenly and upward call of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). I really sensed during that time this morning that God wants me to slow down my Bible reading and spend more time on meditation. I do not merit favor with God if I complete a reading the Bible in one year. I do obtain grace in pondering over the text and seeking how to apply it to my life.

I was able to spend quite a bit of time in prayer in the chapel at the retreat center. My prayers centered in on trying to develop and deepen my relationship with God in Christ as well as deepen my relationship to those around me, particularly my immediate family. One of my prayers was based on the response to God by Thomas Aquinas about three months before Thomas died. God is to have said that Thomas wrote well of him (his literary output for a low tech society and not having quite lived to the age of 50 is utterly amazing). Thomas said that all he wanted was "You, Lord." That has been my prayer as well. I prayed to put ambition (even if seemingly noble in the cause of Christ) in the "back seat" and prayed to seek God as my prize and may really pray that

"I [may] count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ"
(Philippians 3:8 NASB)

At lunchtime, which I had in silence, was occupied with reading some devotional material which I had printed earlier, some from the Logoscentric blogsite as well as reading about Christ's priesthood in text taken from the book "A Body of Divinity" by the 17th century Puritan minister Thomas Watson. He is one of my favorite authors to read as he had a writing style which used comparisons from Scripture or nature to make a point. He could turn a phrase with the best that I have read. For example, in speaking of the sin which Jesus bore for us on the Cross, Watson wrote:

The sight of Christ’s bleeding body should incense us against sin. Let us not parley with it; let not that be our joy, which made Christ a man of sorrow


The balm-tree weeps out its precious balm, to heal those that cut and mangle it; so Christ shed his blood, to heal those that crucified him. He died freely.

It was a warm, beautiful clear day so I walked the grounds at the center for some of my prayer time and spent an hour sitting by a rather quickly flowing large creek. While sitting by the creek, I read from George Marsden's biography of Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards - A Life).

Also, I spent some time in my room and then in the library working on the some writing which I needed to do (I decided to spend at least two nights a month in writing a book which I've had rattling around in my mind and spirit for the last few months on the topic of restoration as found in the Bible).

The day was such a tremendous blessing. I am grateful that the same God who let me sample just a little of the peace of eternity during the retreat is the same God I meet in prayer everyday outside the retreat.

While not everyone's schedule and circumstances allow for this kind of daylong retreat, I highly recommend for you to try to find (or make) the time to do this. It is a great way to deepen your relationship to God in Christ.

(Photo courtesy of