The Smartest Person in the Room

chess-424556_640I always think I’m the smartest person in the room.

(That’s a confession, not a boast.) And yet, even after a lifetime of following Jesus, I still miss the point.

Most of you who read this blog are educated thinkers who place a high value on an intelligent, reasonable faith. This is a good thing – right up until the moment that it’s not.

Ten days ago, I began The God Challenge, issued by Chip MacGregor in his book, 40 Ways to Get Closer to God. Each day introduces one concept and an assignment. I started out with sincere intentions and I was patient with the process for, oh, four days. Then, I got itchy.

The author’s writing is wonderful but I know this stuff already. I’ve got this. This one, too. Can I skip lessons? Do I get extra credit for finishing faster? Are there bonus points if I push through forty lessons in thirty-five days? These truths aren’t anything new.

You get the gist of my internal monologue – I’m an idiot. (Yeah, I know. I thought I was better than this, too.)

Then, one, bright morning as I sat in my car sipping a coffee and reading that day’s assignment, a thought occurred to me. Maybe results come not from the knowing but from the doing.

Oh, right. (The long arm of God reaches the back of my head, again.)

But the assignment that day was child’s play. Make a list of everything for which I was thankful. Wow. That’s deep, I thought. I know I’m supposed to be thankful. I think grateful thoughts. Do I actually have to make this list?

Then, somewhere on the tails of the sunrise, I heard God chuckle, I maybe even glimpsed Him running through a field waving to me as if to say, “Just come out and play, already, Lori.”

So I did. I began to write. And I felt a shift in the force.

By the end of the list, I was weeping, big fat drops of joyful tears onto my journal as I remembered all that God has given me; saw the words overflowing the page. Maybe “child’s play” is exactly what I need more of these days. Suddenly, I heard God’s belly laugh ring out across the fields and I laughed with Him. And we were closer than we’ve been in a while.

Closer to God – what does that look like? We know we want it but do we have any idea what it involves?

I asked myself that question all that day – a day that didn’t “magically” turn into a perfect day because of my time with Him. It was as demanding and draining as the one before except that I had the memory of that moment to call back to.

What did I imagine life would be like closer to God? Would I be all calm and Zen and admired for my wisdom and peace? Would I have insight into life that helped me solve problems? Would more of my prayers be answered? Would I have faith to move mountains and curse fig trees? Would I suddenly know how to talk to people about Jesus?

Do you see a disturbing pattern about these questions? They’re all just variations of the question “What’s in it for me?”

Sometimes, my brain is my biggest stumbling block.

God is worth knowing – period. That moment we shared in my car – that was pure joy. The wall between the worlds was thin and I felt myself a citizen of heaven. I performed the simple act of naming all that God has given me and expressing my gratitude for it and, in that act, I shared a moment with the God of the Universe.

There is a declaration in the Old Testament that Jesus repeats in the New Testament. “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.’” Luke 10:27a

Too often, I have a cerebral faith. I worship my understanding of God, my insight into scripture, or flashes of wisdom that hold the promise of moving my life forward. Each time I pick up a new book on Christian living, it’s as if I’m yanking on the arm of a spiritual slot machine, thinking that one time, the intellectual cherries will all line up and the pay off will be a perfect, spiritual life.

I miss the point.

Something about the straightforward actions of the assignments in this book has stripped me of that illusion and reminded me of why I started this journey: I am in love with God.

It’s not all in the knowing but also in the doing, the loving, and the being. He wants all of me.

I’ve spent a lot of time loving Him with my mind. That’s not wrong, it’s just incomplete. I also love Him with my heart. But He seeks, too, my soul and my strength. I think I’ve been withholding both by ignoring their value to Him.

Disciplines such as fasting or scripture memory exercise my strength. Serving others and expressing gratitude expand my soul.

In an old Star Trek episode, Captain Pike (pre-Kirk) encountered the Talosians. This was a race of people with vastly superior brains who had developed incredible intellectual powers. Captain Pike uses his “primitive human emotions” to prevent the Talosians from exploiting his mind and shows them that giant brains aren’t always the answer to every problem.

Maybe what I need this week is a little less theology and a little more Star Trek. (Wait, did I say that out loud?)

God loves our minds and I still value an intelligent, reasonable faith but I can’t forget that sometimes God is waiting to surprise me in the simple, quiet disciplines that require my heart, my soul, and my strength.

What does it look like to be closer to God? I’m hoping to find out. I may have to work muscles that have atrophied from disuse and do a little less reflecting, a lot more doing, and add some playing to my praying.

What are you learning from the God challenge? Are you ready to share?

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    The Conversation

  1. daisymarie says:

    What I’ve learned is that I’m going to check out the book…because it sounds like what I need too. I’ve been learning to stress and over-analyze less and trust and play more. Not easy when the latter hasn’t been very blessed. I’m ready for it now!

  2. Trust and play! I love that. Maybe it’s a new hymn for the times. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts, daisy marie! Please let me know your experience with the God challenge!

  3. Lori, did you mention something about our being a lot alike? This post resonates as if written by my twin and brought me to tears. Thank you.

  4. I hope they were good tears, Carol Anne! Always glad to meet a sister. Visit again and leave more comments. I’m interested to hear what your experience with God is along this road!

  5. Cathy Baker says:

    This is my first opportunity to check out your new series. To say I resonate with this post is an understatement. I don’t “play” well either but always blamed it on being an only child. 🙂 I look forward to your future posts and plan to pick up my own copy of Chip’s book thanks to your terrific post.

  6. Welcome back from the beach! Praying for your poetry. I’m eager to hear your response to the God challenge! I miss you, woman.

  7. Carmen says:

    Oh my goodness! It’s like you walked into my brain and told my story. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking, and longing for. I actually had to look back in the post and reconcile myself to the fact that it’s been about me. That was not my intent, but I was definitely thinking those things–so there it is. I am in love with God, there’s no doubt about that. Thanks for the revelation on what’s been going on. Now to get back to where I want to be…maybe my long lost joy is there too!

  8. The way God’s been putting this with me is I need to “be” instead of “do”. He keeps shaking me out of the performance mentality where everything in my day is about doing something for Him (or by extension for my family or my church or my ministry or my… notice how it all starts with “my” and not “His”?).

    The “play” mentality is part of what He’s encouraging in me, but I find it so … argh, frivolous! At least, that’s my first thought. I *am* learning.

    When you talked about the benefit being in the DOING of those simple things… that rang my bell hard. Because after many years as a Christian, it’s easy to come to a place where you’re so well informed about “the right way to do things” or “what’s good for you” that you think just by KNOWING what’s good, you’re on the right track. But just knowing isn’t enough. Unless you do it, you’re “self-deceived”, you’re a “hearer only”.

    Ah, but what I meant to say was that it’s like martial arts. No matter how good you get at advanced moves, you still need to do the basics. Over and over and over for the rest of your life. Heh. And really, if you’re doing it right, you should enjoy it!

    Thanks for the post. Reminds me… I have a date with Him and my journal in the morning. He’ll be waiting, I’m sure.

  9. Carmen, your comment is like a mini-blog post, insightful and witty on its own! Praying you find your joy again!

    Teddi, don’t tell me you do martial arts, too? I’m not training these days but I earned my black belt at age 44. Lots of parallels to the faith! Keep your date with Him and enjoy His laughter.

  10. Wow, I wish we could all get together and form “Cerebral Faith-ers Anonymous” or something like that!

    Lori, I wish I could tell you how many quotes from this article I have formatted and made part of my computer’s “wallpaper!”

  11. You rock, Betsy! I love that you said on FB how you knew the name of the Telosian episode of Star Trek! Sisters!

  12. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Lori, thank you for an excellent post. What you write is always thought-provoking and you have added additional insights to Chip’s. And after all, that’s what a good book does–prompts us to apply it, think our own thoughts, use it in our own way. So I will spin off what *you* wrote. When you talked about making a gratitude list being child’s play, I thought wow! That surely was not always the case for me. How often had I grumbled at God, making a complaint list instead, unable to find one thing about which to really be grateful. At one time in my life, I would not have considered such an exercise child’s play, but either drudgery or mockery (because I wanted to be happy, but wasn’t). You can see that my heart was in pretty bad shape. But I will say that many years ago, when my daughter was young and I was complaining about having given up a career to raise her, God showed me to keep a joy journal. He spoke to me through the example of the grumbling Israelites, with whom He was not well pleased. I was truly sick of griping, and I knew what an offense this was to God, how utterly sinful it was. So I began writing about my blessings in my joy journal, taking joy whenever I could in all God had given me. It absolutely transformed my life. I guess it was like play! But it was serious play. We must never lose sight of the many gifts God bestows on us each and every day. And a journal (another Chip lesson!) helps us to remember. I personally am not as fond of listing blessings as I am about writing about them more in-depth……in prayers of gratitude and praise to God and in exploring them in my life. I think actually writing *about* the blessings instead of just writing them down, takes us even deeper into the heart of God. ANd I might add that my journal is also a repository of confession of my sins, foremost of which has been at times: ingratitude! Another thing you said about loving God not just w/ all your mind, but heart and strength, focused me on the word ALL. Isn’t that the key to worship? Loving God with our whole self, our whole life, with ALL we are? Oh how I long to be able to do that!
    Turning a corner, I’m a little confused about how you are orchestrating the challenge. I know you are not posting daily, but are we supposed to be on a particular day to keep your pace, and then we will be able to jump in whenver you post? Will you say what day you are on so we might more easily follow? Just didn’t know how you are doing this. Thanks again for the book recommendation. I have mine on Nook and love it!

  13. Love your feedback, Lynn!

    As far as the challenge, it’s just to DO IT and share about whereever you are in the process in comments as we go along. I’m on day 12 but I may hit an assignment that takes me more than one day or someone else may only be able to do an assignment every other day. The important part is to do it. Feel free, on any of these posts that relate, to share insight you’re experiencing!

  14. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Thanks Lori. That really helps. I just wasn’t sure how this progresses. =]

  15. (I would never have come up with the name “Talosian,” though.)