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May 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 29, 2012 – Psalm 23:2

He leads me beside quiet waters. Psalm 23:2b

INTRO: We are making our way through Psalm 23, noticing how it is the essence of contemplative prayer

Sometimes we come across well-meaning yet misguided Christians who criticize contemplative prayer
– some criticize it for being “Roman Catholic” – as if that in itself were a mark against contemplative prayer
• but it is and it isn’t Roman Catholic

The reformer, John Calvin, argued that Christians need a knowledge of God not as speculation that “flits in the brain” but “takes root in the heart” and “Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not fo us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself.” Institutes of the Christian Religion

– other critics have confused contemplative prayer with new age meditation — it isn’t

Many of the critics are old school, among whom a favorite preacher is Charles H. Spurgeon (19th Century London)
– regarding our verse this morning, Psalm 23:2, Spurgeon said:

“What are these ‘still waters’ but the influences and graces of his blessed Spirit?
‘In sacred silence of the mind
My heaven, and there my God I find.’
That silence is golden indeed in which the Holy Spirit meets with the souls of his saints.”

Spurgeon saw in this verse “two elements of the Christian life, the contemplative and the active”
– this has been a classic model of the spiritual life among Christian mystics, who have taken Mary and Martha as the classic example of the contemplative and active life respectively (Cassian, Conference 1. 8)

According to St. Augustine: “Two virtues are set before the human soul, the one active, the other contemplative; the former shows the path, the latter shows the goal; in the one we toil that so the heart may be purified for the Vision of God, in the other we repose and we see God . . .”

Contemplative spirituality attempts to fuse both “elements” — the contemplative and the active
– we can remain busy in our lives, yet carry an awareness of God within us whatever we do

Let’s take another step in that direction

Our next destination: He leads me beside quiet waters

Last week I pointed out that Psalm 23 visits six spaces
– the question is, what thoughts or feelings these would these spaces evoke in the first who heard this psalm?
– the “quiet waters” would evoke a state of calmness and tranquility (“quiet” is also translated “resting place”)

We need to remember that it is our Shepherd who brings us here

In Mark chapter 4, Jesus and his disciples were caught in a storm on the Galilee. When they thought they were going down, the disciples woke Jesus, crying, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” I’m not sure what they expected him to do, but they certainly did not expect him to get up and rebuke the wind and say to the sea, “Hush, be still” (vv. 38-39). When the wind died down and it became perfectly calm, the disciples were even more afraid of Jesus than the storm, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (v. 41). This was the good Shepherd, taking care of his little flock

– in contemplative prayer, it’s our internal winds and waves that our Shepherd must calm

“Quiet waters” – sometimes we look for these places in nature
– because we need their calming effect – we need the stillness
– but I’ve visited quiet places where my inner agitation becomes so great I’m on the verge of going berserk

The human nervous system was designed to be reactive
– it constantly responds to stimulus – outside the body and within
– but not everything the brain learns to do in response to stimuli is healthy
• there are specific ways of reacting that cause damage — to our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our friends and family
We can train our nervous system to react in more healthy ways
– but to do so requires stillness, because we have to become aware of and observe its reactions from a quiet place
– I was playing one time with word reactive and found that by moving one letter it became creative
• the nervous system is reactive, the soul has the option of being creative

In contemplative prayer, Jesus leads us to a place of inner stillness
– have you ever tried to get a bird to eat out of your hand?
• you have to hold still – barely breathing
• Spurgeon said, the Spirit “is a dove, not an eagle”
– as a kid, I was always drawn to puddles after a rain
• I noticed that even in mud, the water in puddle could be clear
• but if you stirred up the mud, the water became dirty clouded
– the same thing happens with our hearts and minds — stillness brings clarity to our thoughts and emotions

Why do we have to be “led” to the quiet waters?

Because this inner quiet or stillness is not an achievement
– we don’t work our way into it
• its typical, starting out, to try to fight off distractions
• this usually backfires – fighting distractions gives them more power
– we don’t work our way into stillness, we surrender to it
– stillness and quiet are what exists prior activity and sound
• they’re the empty stage before the backdrop, props, or actors appear on it
• they’re the blank canvas waiting for paint, the pristine page before words are scribbled across it
– to be still is to stop doing – to be quiet is to stop speaking
• stillness comes when the wind stops howling the waves crashing against hull of our mind
• it is reached by working at it, but by ceasing from work
He. 4:10, “For the one who enters [God’s] rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His”

“He makes me . . . He leads me . . .” Jesus takes charge of our souls
– the whole point is that we keep our soul in one place long enough for God’s message to reach us – for God to reach us

The Hebrew word translated “lead” is nahal
– a similar word is nahag, but it has the opposite meaning of lead, nahag is  “to drive”
– we have a hard time letting Jesus lead us to quietness and stillness, because we are so driven
• sometimes we are driven for good reason – such as imminent danger
• but it is especially in those times that we need the inner stillness

King Saul had orders – but the enemy troops were growing and his troops were deserting (1 Sam. 13:5-8)
– he waited as he was told, until the last day and then he broke (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:9-14)
– he lost his kingdom because he could not follow orders
• and he could not follow orders because he was too agitated and impatient

To sit quietly and trust Jesus to lead us to stillness is not an escape into an imaginary world
– we’re not running from the realities of our circumstances
– our challenging situations, our work and responsibilities do not go away
• the stillness is for gaining perspective and getting prepared to deal with our real-life issues

Suggestions for settling into stillness

1.) Is there any physical discomfort you can easily resolve?
– if sitting in an uncomfortable position, change positions, but slowly and with attention to what you’re doing
• there is no reason to interrupt your communion with God
– if you have muscle tension or soreness, can you relieve it by stretching?
• some headaches can be relieved or resolved with stretches — you can find good examples online
• again, remain in contemplative prayer as you stretch
– are there other discomforts that can be resolved by over-the-counter pain relievers?

2.) Pain that cannot be resolved — intense or chronic pain
– focus your attention on it, keeping in mind that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
• notice the sensations of your pain
– after a while, shift your attention to part of your body not in pain and notice how it feels
• after each time you exhale, silently repeat the name of Jesus, presenting your pain to him

3.) Is something disturbing your stillness that has to do with a relationship with someone?
– explore how it feels in your body and how you interpret the feeling
• do you interpret the feeling as worry? upsetting? resentment?
– present it to God
• realize, no one else is creating this disturbance in you — it’s the way your nervous system is reacting to stimulus
• if you can see your situation from a different point of view, you can change your response to it

4.) Do the same with any other concern that disturbs you — financial, work-related, etc.

5.) Simplify your life

6.) Know yourself – who you are
– let go of feeling you need to conform to the expectations and opinions of others
– ignore whatever does not pertain to you – “But that’s not me”
• it is easier to stay in stillness if you know that it is not necessary to react to every thought or feeling

CONC: What do we hope to gain from finding this inner stillness?

When resting beside quiet waters, what do we hope will happen?

  1. That the quiet waters will become living water
    – that by surrendering our distractions and trusting in God, we will find ourselves in his presence being filled with his Spirit
  2. That whatever we go off and do afterward, the inner stillness remains within us, a calm center of trust in God from which we are able to make wise decisions and perform right actions
  3. That in the way we live, work, treat others, and face our challenges, we are enabled to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)

For we do not stroll beside the quiet waters alone — we share the company of our Shepherd

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