boy listening to sea shell

Go Outside and Listen

Listen. One of the pandemic’s benefits has been an increase in the amount of time spent in nature. In fact, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development used the pandemic to study the benefits of time in the fresh air.

The results were even better than expected. Not only did spending time outdoors improve general well-being, but it also altered and improved brain structure. The areas of the brain impacted affect mood, concentration and working memory. Spending time in nature could not be a better idea.

Christian mindfulness practices are all easy to adapt to the outdoors. One of simplest is mindful listening to the quiet around you. Is silence ever really silent? Tuning into the sounds around you is a great way to stay in the present moment. And hearing those sounds offers opportunities for prayers of gratitude and worship for the world God made.

The practice is simple.

  • Go to a place outside where you can feel safe and relaxed.
  • Close your eyes, if you’d like, and listen to the sounds of your own breathing first.
  • Thank God for this opportunity to be in His creation.
  • Listen to the sounds as they occur. Hear them come and go.
  • If you identify a sound of something you love (a robin, for example), praise God for it.
  • Notice how this impacts your mood and your body.
  • Close with a time of worship by thinking about the creation around you.

It’s like your mother said: Go outside and play. It’s good for you.

Pray for Your Pastors

But I do more than thank. I ask – ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for Christians. Oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him – endless energy, boundless strength!

Ephesians 1: 17-19, The Message translation

Praying the same prayer for nine consecutive days is an old practice called a novena. We all need to do a good old-fashioned novena for our Christian leaders and pastors.

Dealing with all the issues surrounding pastoring in a pandemic has worn them out. Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1 is a good one. (I’m going to pray it for myself and others working in lay positions at our church as well.)

A novena is not … and never has been … a “magic” formula. But concentrating on the same prayers … slowly and deliberately …. for nine days in a row can reveal the voice of God to us as well as send blessings to our pastors.

Resource: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

“The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer speaks of Christian mindfulness without uttering the phrase. Comer, a pastor and podcaster from Portland, Oregon, is clearly writing to a congregation much younger than my Baby Boomer self. But his concepts are eternal.

In the book, Comer gives an excellent overview about how we all got so speeded up. Then he presents principles for winding ourselves down to human speed. His view is that we need to do three things in life:

  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Be like Jesus.
  3. Do what Jesus did in his life in our own surroundings and circumstances.
This 30-minute video outlines his thoughts.

I first heard his ideas on “John Mark Comer Teachings Podcast,” a listen-worthy collection of his sermons. It can be found on most podcast apps. There’s real wisdom in his words, even if the language seems very Portland-ese.

He encourages us to “unhurry” our lives through four practices: silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity and slowing. He also encourages us to develop a rule of life, sharing 20 ideas from his own.

“The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” is really about living a modern contemplative life in family and church. I highly recommend it.

Other resources for Christian mindfulness can be found here on the Resource page.

Beat Burnout

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, burnout is everywhere. The American Psychological Association, in its 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, found a frightening level of burnout that’s no surprise to most people.

The survey found that 79 percent of employees surveyed had work-related stress in the previous 30 days. The occupations reporting the highest levels of burnout were (again, no surprise here) health care and education. But the symptoms of burnout spread across most occupations. The level of negative impacts reported include:

  • 44% had physical fatigue (a 38% increase since 2019)
  • 36% had cognitive weariness
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 26% felt lack of interest, motivation or energy
  • 19% reported lack of effort at work

So what is exactly is burnout? Back in 2019, the World Health Organization defined it as a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It has three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Is this you?

Three Christian mindfulness practices to fight burnout

Just One Thing: Pick one task a day to perform with Christian mindfulness. Pray before and after. Ask God to be present with you as you do the task. Focus your full attention on the work in the presence of God. You could change tasks each day.

Ask for Change: Starting a new job is generally exciting, if somewhat stressful, because there is so much to learn. Use prayer and reflection to think about what new thing you’d like to learn. Or what new responsibility you’d like to take on. Come up with a proposal about how to learn to do those things. Take it to your boss, who may be happy to help if just to get you to stay.

Add a Prayer Break: Adding a five or 10-minute prayer break to your day is fairly easy. Mark it on the schedule, using a code word if necessary. Then stop to pray for your work, upcoming meetings, your co-workers and your organization’s mission. You may feel more purpose and insight when you get back to your work.

Be sure to bring your burnout into the healing power of Christian mindfulness. It will help you decide if it’s time to join the Great Resignation or if you just need to make a change in your current job.

cloud's with light streaming through like the voice of God

Develop a Conversational Relationship With God

“Developing a conversational relationship with God” is the subtitle of Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God.” Some believe that God stopped speaking when the Bible was organized. Willard (and I) think nothing could be further from the truth.

Hearing God’s voice fits into the larger context of walking in a close friendship with him. In fact, Willard believes that God speaks mostly to people who obey His teachings and want to do His will.

As Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Abiding in Jesus minute by minute through Christian mindfulness puts us in a position to hear God specifying His will. We become as Willard wrote “someone who leads the kind of life demonstrated in the Bible: a life of personal, intelligent interaction with God.”

Feasting on God’s word

The Bible fixes the boundaries of everything that God will say to humankind, Willard writes. Indeed, God speaks most often during Bible reading and study. Have you ever had a verse jump off the page to you, even though you’ve read it many times? That is God speaking.

But this can also happen while listening to another person, whether it be a sermon or a conversation. I also believe that synchronicity can point the way to a message. If you hear the same verse repeatedly … in Bible study, in a sermon and in a book you’re reading … it may be God emphasizing something to you.

God also speaks through dreams, visions and events. But most of the time he speaks through a small, still voice that can only be heard in quiet. God’s voice comes in a spirit of peace, joy and good will. So God’s voice sounds like Jesus. And we can only know what Jesus sounds like through Bible study.

Seven steps toward hearing God

This summary may help you as you seek to hear God’s voice.

  1. Begin with a prayer in Jesus’ name for protection from evil influences.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to listen well.
  3. Remain alert.
  4. Reject anything that is contrary to Biblical truth.
  5. Feel welcome to write down the thoughts that come for further study.
  6. Understand that real communications from God are:
    • Biblically sound
    • Glorify God
    • Advance the kingdom
    • Help people
    • Help you to grow spiritually
  7. Thank God for the time together.

Walking with God in Christian mindfulness is a sweet time of communion. We should expect that God will help us learn what we should know and what we should do.

woman picking up cell phone

Look Up

Look Up is an easy Christian mindfulness exercise. Yet it helps us to grow our perspective, gratitude and visual mindfulness.

How easy is it? Just two steps.

Step 1: Look up.

Step. 2: Give thanks for what you see.

When you deliberately look up, you notice many new things. I am short, so looking up sometimes lets me see things that taller people view everyday!

What’s up there? Roofs, treetops, interesting architecture, ceiling treatments, light fixtures, clouds of varying colors and shapes, birds and more.

This exercise improves our awareness of the world around us. And it builds our gratitude for our cozy inside spaces, our cities and neighborhoods and the glory of outdoors. It helps us to get outside of our interior worries.

Give it a try a few times a day, and see what happens!

Find the Silver Lining

“Inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud,” comedian George Carlin used to joke. Some days we all agree with him. Recently I discovered a secular practice called “Find the Silver Lining” that easily adapts to Christian mindfulness.

The practice was from the Greater Good Science Center website. The center is at the University of California Berkeley. It provides research-based tools and training to shift our culture toward a kinder, more compassionate society.

The site has a lot of positive psychology materials:

  • An online magazine featuring stories and tips for building social-emotional well-being.
  • Free e-newsletters.
  • Research-based practices for happiness, resilience, kindness and connection.
  • A cool monthly Happiness Calendar with daily tips.

One of the research-based practices is the Find the Silver Lining practice. It can bring new perspective and even some peace of mind to our most difficult experiences. Here’s how to do it as a mindful Christian:

  1. Go before the Lord to thank him for things you easily appreciate: your health, your church, trees, whatever comes to mind.
  2. Then write about something that has been negative in your life: an event, person or any life circumstance.
  3. Look for two or three things that are the silver livings to that negative experience.
  4. Pray a gratitude prayer for them, and ask the Lord to help you to see silver linings more easily.

The poet Maggie Smith tried the secular version of this practice. You can read about her experience on the center’s website here. More resources for leading your mindful Christian life are found on the Resource Page here.

a man feeling depressed

How to Suffer

If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less. And then you know how to make good use of suffering to create joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022)

Learning how to deal with suffering is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. It helps us to be content and even joyful in times of suffering and injustice. Contentment is an inner condition cultivated in humility. We can have a teachable spirit prepared to bend to God’s will.

Rich Nathan, founding pastor at Vineyard Columbus, taught a sermon years ago that offered a three-part plan to be content no matter what suffering we may endure. Here are his three points.

No. 1: Practice surrender.

The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, has to pass through God’s hands before it happens.  As Elisabeth Elliott put it:  “Whatever happens is assigned.” God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.

Matthew 10:29-30:  Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.

The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself.  Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it?  Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.

We learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, and a real relationship with God.

If we can’t accept this for a lifetime, Rich suggested that we accept it “just for today.”

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

Start being grateful for the littlest things:  grass, sky, trees.  Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.

No. 3: Practice abiding.

This means that you connect with God’s person.  This is the essence of Christian mindfulness. You focus on the present in the felt presence of God. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.

Rich encourages us to welcome the Holy Spirit into areas where we’ve grumbled, where we are discontented, where we are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life. Contentment will grow where we abide in God.

Celebrate Winter Sunset

Sunset in January and February brings more dread than joy. But we can change that when we make the winter sunset hour a time to celebrate God’s presence and care.

In a Fast Company article about staying sane while living in 24-hour darkness, Julia Herbst provides five tips for dealing with winter light (or the lack of it). One of them is “Don’t fight the darkness.” It’s an encouragement to enjoy winter through hygge, which can include Christian mindfulness. (Another is to get a light box or Happy Light, which I totally endorse! Here’s the one I use.)

Britain’s “The Simple Things” magazine suggests stopping the day’s events to enjoy tea and dessert at sunset in the winter. (This could lead to a Backwards Meal, which my kids and I used to do on April Fools Day.)

For those who practice Christian mindfulness, watching the winter sunset while practicing the presence of God is a quiet revelation. God is still there in the cold and the dark earth around us. And He is still making things of beauty for those who take the time to watch. Adding a gratitude practice … giving thanks for five things from the day … can only bring God’s presence closer.

Some may want to enjoy the winter sunset with some beautiful music or a book that makes you feel alive. Reading some poetry also adds an element of celebration to sunset. Here’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.