George Mueller writes in his Autobiography that the Christian’s first duty is to get his soul happy in the Lord.
“I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.
The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessings out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.
The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, my soul invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.”
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Luther too treated the lack of joy almost as an emergency. “First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or I take my little psalter, hurry to my room and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.
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I have been reading The Gospel of John this year, (what a rich inspiring book) and have been struck that the Risen Christ’s first words, first commission, to his disciples, who basically had failed their Finals after three years of apprenticeship, was not a task, nothing to do with doing but with being.
“Peace be with you,” he says, and he offers those who failed, those who fled, those who denied knowing him, the friends who vanished, a gift, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Why did he offer these fickle friends a gift? Oh, he couldn’t help it. Such was his nature!
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Sometimes our faith is so doing-ey, so active. It can almost feel like a burden!
But it’s not meant to be like that. When Jesus, in the Last Supper discourse, tells his disciples the secrets of the universe, he is concentrating, interestingly, on their emotional states, their inner world. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.” “Ask and you shall receive, and your joy will be complete.” “Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you.” He is not stressing doing, but the emotional states in which they are to dwell and linger. The joy, peace, trust and love which would prove that they were his disciples. His last injunctions were not about doing, but being.
I went through a rough period when my children were young. I was exhausted, my writing froze, my marriage was turbulent and tempestuous, and my house was a mess. I worked with a sense of stress, failure, guilt, falling behind, and not achieving goals.
I wouldn’t be able to work or live like that anymore.
Now, if I am upset, or angry, or sad or depressed, I basically don’t work. I pray, either while walking, or gardening, or tidying my house, or I just lie down and pray until sanity returns. Have a prayer-nap—i.e. pray until I drift off for a brief timer-regulated nap. (I know it sounds self-indulgent, and perhaps it is, but having trained myself to pray myself to sleep, it has become natural, and a quick way of returning to peace.)
I was cross and grumpy the other day, and it just took a short walk in our woods with all the birds singing (we are lucky to have a small wood/orchard as part of our property) to restore joy and well-being to my soul. Even Milton, most hard-working of poets, wrote that is an offence against nature to stay indoors studying in May, when nature is so gay!
I love writing, and I love blogging, but I guess it comes second to my own peace, happiness and joy, and when these have leaked away or are threatened, I just slow down and take the time to get my soul right with God before I continue with my day.
And believe me, I am far more productive as a result!