Monday, February 16, 2009

Teachable Moments

Educators and psychologists talk a lot about teachable moments.

Teachers and people helpers long for those small windows of opportunity when attentiveness and learning and receptivity can best take place because circumstances have conspired to create interest in insights that will satisfy a thirst for information and meet a need in the present on the part of pupils or counselees.

It's intriguing to think that even God crafts scenarios and designs settings where individuals are put into position to more readily desire, sense, and grasp divine revelation and truth. Most people go through life oblivious to the spiritual dimension or frantically trying to brush aside its stirrings. The Bible suggests that God uses certain situations and events and occasions to raise our alertness and awareness to what he is communicating.

For instance, in those times when we are sensitive to, and appreciative of, the wonders of nature around us, God is speaking to us of his existence. Of his power and creativity. Of his kindness in fashioning a world of beauty for us to enjoy. Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:20 indicate that the Lord planned and shaped this massive, majestic universe as a way of introducing himself to people. When we gaze upward on a starry night or stand in awe at the brilliance of the sun we are being addressed by a lofty Creator who is transcendant to everything he has made and who holds us accountable for the knowledge that we are answerable to him because he formed us, too. Granted, admiring the moon or being enthralled with the depths of the oceans will not provide the facts we need in order to have a right relationship with God but the intricacies and marvels of creation do render us without any excuse when it comes to knowing about him. That walk in the woods or that scuba diving excursion is a platform from which God can speak. If we pursue what we perceive, he'll see to it that we get additional insight.

Maybe you haven't thought about it but birthdays also provide a stage for the sovereign Lord to get your attention. That annual event has a way of reminding us that time is passing, and quickly, too. None of us knows how much we have left. Makes sense, then, that we'd pause to reflect on how best to use the years and months and days that remain. Psalm 90:12 is a prayer that reminds us that our lives are on loan from God and are a stewardship for him. We need to find out from him what directions to take and choices to make. According to Romans 14:7-12 our lives really don't belong to us anyway and we will ultimately have to give an account to our Maker. Birthdays should be days of gratitude to our benevolent God for the incredible privilege of being alive and immersed in a world of such delights and sensations and pleasures and opportunities. But our yearly special day should also be a sobering occasion of pondering the brevity of life.

That's why funerals are such significant teachable moments, too.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 7:2 offers the bold but perceptive insight that it is actually better to visit the mortuary than to go to a party. It often makes more sense to attend a wake than to accept an invitation to a banquet. The reason is because funeral homes and graveside services confront us head on with the reality that death awaits us all. We can conveniently put all of that out of our conscious awareness at a lavish dinner or dance but not when we are in the presence of the deceased and of grieving mourners. The caskets and the tears jolt us, if just for alittle while, with the sure realization that we, too, have an eventual appointment with death and need to be prepared not just in terms of wills and funeral arrangements but in regards to our spiritual lives which survive that last breath.

People can be so busy or preoocupied or independant that God has to use special tools to carve out a place where they are temporarily put in listening mode and become sensitive to his speaking.

For some, a season of sickness, as unpleasant as that may be, turns out to be a life transforming experience of really hearing from the Lord and getting priorities rearranged. Psalm 119:71 is actually a prayer of thanks, if you can believe it, for some period of illness in the poet's life that intensified his spiritual appetite and made him a stronger person. There's just something about being confined or in pain or flat on our back that gets us paying attention to what's most important and moves us toward a reevaluation of our life goals. The Apostle Paul relates in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 that a "thorn in the flesh", probably some physical ailment, may have done more to actually shape his Christian character than a lot of his busy ministry activity because it forced him to deal with some heart issues that needed resolution. The Old Testament figure Job suffered unbelievably but his pain was a factor in leading him to a vastly expanded view of the nature of God.

And it can't be ruled out that God may use the current economic mess to get us to sit up and take notice of his voice which we may have ignored when things were better. The massive layoffs, the business closings, the home foreclosures, and the wiping out of investments all hurt, and painfully so. It's certainly possible, though, that a very, very good God might be whispering to us in all this that we had gotten greedy. That we had put possessions over relationships. That a high percentage of our world neighbors live in deprivation, lack, and loss that we can't imagine all the time and we need to notice them. That maybe we ought to channel more of the resources we do have into charitable and mission causes. It would seem that I Timothy 6:17 and Hebrews 12:26-29 have something to say on all this. Clearly all of us ought to be training ourselves to live with less and to be content with what we have. Surely now is the time for Christians to camp out in Matthew 6:19-34.

Even in the quietness and peacefulness of the night God may be seeking to communicate with us. Psalm 119:148 flows out of the heart of a writer who made space in his soul as he rested through the dark hours for the Lord to counsel or confront or challenge or comfort him. TV off. Traffic noise subdued. Just stillness and calm and perhaps a stream of impressions from a loving God who simply delights in us. Check Psalm 63:6. Instead of taking all our troubles to bed with us, we can settle into relaxing sleep by offering up our cares to a compassionate, protective God.

Had any teachable moments lately?