all you laypeople out there, stop reading. if you are a clergy person, you will be very familiar with what i am about to say, but if not, if you are a layperson, you may just want to surf on over to someone else's blog right now, because i'm about to be all vulnerable and stuff.
here's the thing: sometimes, as a pastor, it is easy to substitute religion for relationship. let me much more specific. it is easy to allow study of the scripture and prayer to become a job and not a joy. it is easy to fall into a pattern or routine where all my scripture reading is sermon preparation (because i have to) and all my praying is obligatory and even public. in such a pattern, a relationship with God is soon replaced by a religious regimen. i know people don't want to believe that this could possibly be true of pastors, but i told you to stop reading up there (see above).
are you still with me? okay. so i was on a men's retreat with my church this weekend, and it was just what i needed to be reminded that i need to be getting up early - before the wreckage of the day begins with two carpet crawlers tearing up everything they can get their sticky little hands on (cade broke two of my cds this week. broke 'em clear in half. he has no respect for my music library, and apparently isn't a big fan of folk/americana, because he targeted that particular genre.) - and spend some time with God. so this morning i woke up early and settled into a chair with my bible and a journal, and i had chosen a text to read (psalm 90), and i was going to go all lectio divina on that sucker. now, if you don't know what lectio divina is, it is a specific way of reading/praying a particular passage of scripture. it is an ancient practice that i have found to be quite useful (that is, when i actually use it). but it is a bit of work. it takes focus and mental and spiritual energy (which isn't a bad thing - that's part of the value of it). so i was all ready to really engage this psalm and wrestle with it and squeeze some drop of meaning out of it for my life right now.
and then i started reading it. and i couldn't read it fast enough. and tears starting welling up in my eyes, because i realized that God was giving me this amazing gift. as i started a new commitment of getting up early to get back into this pattern of "keeping the ordinances," as john wesley called it, i didn't have to work at this text at all. God gave me a psalm that i didn't need to squeeze a drop out of; it rained down on my spirit. i felt drenched by its goodness, like it had been written particularly for me. its not that i had some new revelation about my life or anything, its just that, as i read it, it felt like someone had put already put into words all that i wanted to say to God. it felt like a joy to be reading scripture, not a job. it felt like i was coming home. it felt like a father's embrace. so i spent the rest of the time wiping my eyes and thanking God for giving me this psalm and giving me this new start.
reading scripture will still be part of my job, as will teaching it and praying for people and talking about God and so on and so on. this is what i do, and what i love to do and what i am called to do. but it needs to come out of a deeply centered relationship with God first. as john wesley said, in one of his three simple rules, we must do the work of staying in love with God. when we do that, then we can be so much more effective at loving others, which is what ministry is all about.
and so as i begin this new exercise in keeping the ordinances and staying in love with God, i pray with the psalmist in 90:17: make my efforts successful. yes, lord. make my efforts successful. amen.