The Challenge of Staying Spiritually Awake

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One of the greatest challenges facing followers of Christ today is the challenge of staying spiritually awake. I believe it is the core component to cultivating a beautiful life in Christ. Personally, when I strip away all the layers, conflicts and issues I face, staying spiritually awake–yes, alive and aware to the living, loving presence of God–this is the great challenge to my spiritual life in Christ. I recently wrote about my new favorite book, An Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling. In his remarkable first book, Alan quotes from another favorite author of mine, Richard Rohr from The Naked Now. This section about staying spiritually awake I found particularly helpful. I hope you find the following thoughts encouraging as well…

Alan notes that Richard Rohr used a number of phrases to describe the nature of contemplation, of staying spiritually awake. Rohr’s words are in bold print, with Alan’s thoughts following. To stay spiritually awake…

“I drop to a level deeper than the passing show.”
We’re tempted to call that “passing show” real life, but it isn’t really. All of the megaconcerns on the surface level are insignificant in light of the eternal reality God’s people know. Some things that have me incredibly worried here and now would not even register in my consciousness if I were more aware of the Father’s eternal kingdom. To gain that awareness–to be able to live my life on two planes–I can choose to deal with the realities at hand with continual prayer, with a mind and heart set on higher things, with an eternal perspective.

“I become the calm seer of my dramas from that level.”
Some of these descriptions sound like the work I’ve done in therapy where I recognize some of the childish and adolescent emotions within me, becoming separate enough from them to discern them and choose, instead, to live from a mature, adult perspective. I can experience a peace that does not reflect the stir of the surface, but comes from a deeper place.

“I watch myself compassionately from a little distance, almost as if the ‘myself’ is someone else–‘a corpse,’ as St. Francis put it.”
To “watch myself compassionately from a little distance” sounds so inviting. It would be dying to the “me” that has been misshapen in this God-disregarding world. I would learn to live less on autopilot. I would learn to care for those immature parts of myself that are anxious and fearful about life. I would make some space within where I could receive God’s affection and take it deeply in.

“I dis-identify with my own emotional noise, and no longer let it pull me here and there, up and down.”
My feelings, though real, aren’t to be my primary reality. My feelings are noisy, they are demanding, they are pushy–but they aren’t the last word. I need not be trapped in emotional noise. I don’t need to try to escape from my emotions or numb myself to them, but I can stop handling the reins of my life other to them. I can choose instead to live my life under the mighty yet gentle reign of Christ.

Alan offers so many wonderful thoughts here. I have picked up this one page several times to reread and reflect on the truth of what he writes. You can purchase An Unhurried Life from the Amazon affiliate link below.

Questions: Can you relate to Richard’s and Alan’s words here? What helps you stay spiritually awake?

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  • http://www.cherylcope.com/ Cheryl Cope

    I think I understand where your are going with this as some people seem to be asleep but may I suggest that being “awake” is not enough. I prefer the term “hot”, as in fervent, zealous…boiling hot….zealous and fervent in spirit, in prayer, in love, in repentance and in good works. (There are scriptures for each one…) And all of this is opposed to the lukewarm church in Revelation that is vomited out of God’s mouth.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      I would agree with all those wonderful adjectives Cheryl…fervent, zealous, hot…only when we are awake can we even begin to move in the direction you suggest…thanks for your insights!

  • tanyam

    I’ve wondered why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hones in on the emotions — not just the actions. Not just adultery, but lust, not just murder, but hate. Can you rein in those emotions, should you even bother, or is it what you do that counts?

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thank Tanyam for your question. At the most basic level, Jesus always focuses on the heart. It is from the heart that flow adultery, lust, murder, hate, greed, etc. The heart is the seat of the emotions, while the mind is the executive center (Dallas Willard). The issue isn’t so much our emotions because our emotions aren’t good or bad…they just indicate the condition of our heart (happy, sad, joyful, fearful, angry). Our emotions are gifts from God that work similar to the instrument panel on our car…they tell us how all the key parts (engine, gas, etc.) are running. When we experience a difficult emotion (fear, pain, depression), that is a signal to turn our hearts and minds to Christ.

      We are to take every thought captive in Christ (mind), so that our imaginations don’t run wild to incite unholy desires or actions. Once we begin “to feel” like something is going to give us something other than God’s best, we are now tilting toward temptation, which James 1 has a lot to say.

      One of the reasons Jesus got so angry at the Pharisees was their obsession on external behaviors and not first attending to matters of the heart. In Christ, we are now new creations with good hearts in him. That’s why we are to set our “hearts and minds above…” (Col. 3)

      What we do counts, but it all begins with our heart. Focus on living out of your new heart in Christ and the actions will follow.

  • Jan V

    I received my copy of An Unhurried Life on a day when I was feeling emotional triggers from my perceptions, right or wrong, that I was being hurried along in an onerous task. Quoted in the book was Percy Ainsworth, a pastor from the 1800s who said,
    “…But you may in Christ find rest for your soul. You will rest in your work, knowing that duty is eternal; rest in your service of others, knowing that sacrifice is eternal; rest in your purest earthly communion, knowing that love is eternal. This is the hasteless life, and those that ‘believeth in Christ’ will live it.”

    I like Rohr’s words too. “I drop to a level deeper than the passing show.” It seems to me that discomfort in the soul leads us back to God and God being given His true place in our lives – the hot place, not the lukewarm or tepid place as Cheryl quotes – brings us peace and joy and things that are worth eternal value.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      I absolutely agree Jan…I keep coming back to Richard Rohr’s wonderful quotes. God desires communion with us. He uses those things that unsettle us to awaken our hearts to Him.

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