And after He dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.
I wrote a lengthy reflection on my time at summer camp last month which I’ve shared with my parish as a long article in the monthly bulletin. For this week, I’m going to share it with you in five parts. Today is part four.
How can we intimate with God in our own cities? The first way is to do something we did at camp that can be replicated anywhere. Spend a few moments alone with God. At summer camp, we put a 15-minute block of time on the schedule each day, to nothing else but be alone with God. And before you make your list of requests, (yes, I make a list too), spend a few moments just thanking God for your blessings. It is easier to feel blessed when we are grateful, and harder to feel blessed when we feel greedy or needy. Start off with gratitude. Second, pray for others. And not only pray for them, look for opportunities to do for them, whether they deserve it or not. We are blessed by God when we bless others. We feel blessed by blessing others. It’s like when we teach the campers about the importance of encouragement, and how the one who is doing the encouraging feels just as good as the one being encouraged. We will feel blessed when we bless others. And after we’ve thanked God and blessed others, it will be easier to come to God with our own needs and our own shortcomings. It will be easier to deal with the shortcomings because we will still feel blessed in spite of them. And it will be easier to deal with our own needs, because we will still feel a sense of contentment with God, even if our needs aren’t exactly met the way we want them to be. My night under the stars didn’t change the things I want and still can’t seem to get. It just made me okay with that. It didn’t change my circumstances. But it changed me.
Many of us have never heard the acronym JOY, which stands for Jesus-Others-Yourself. We can get to a place of intimacy, of contentment, of feeling always blessed when we keep this acronym on the front burner of our minds and hearts. When we keep Jesus first, when we bless others, and only after this do we go with our own needs.
The month of August is probably the most challenging month of the year. Because it sets the tone in so many ways for the year that is to come. School resumes and so does the daily routine around it. Sunday school resumes and the ministries of the church gear up. We get yet another opportunity for a new start. The memories of summer will quickly fade into the stress of the present. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Have goals. Work at achieving them. But leave room for Jesus and for others. Because it’s not all about you, or me. It’s about Him.
Pray for intimacy with Him. Work at intimacy with others. We get there when we have a concept of “it is enough,” that someone else is enough despite their shortcomings, that God is enough even when life doesn’t go our way. A be-attitude of being always blessed and choosing gratitude will go a long way to help.
This is the church—the place where we learn and live intimacy with God, the place where we share God with other people. We are the church. The church is not the building, or the budget, or the by-laws. It’s not our Greek culture, or the Greek Festival, renting out our facilities or wondering if we will meet our budget. It is you, the people. We are the Body of Christ. Wherever we gather in His name, so He tells us in Matthew 18:20, there He is in the midst of us. The key thing is that we must gather, and we must do it in His name. Which is why coming to worship and participating in a ministry is so important, because it gathers us in His name, so that we can feel His presence in the midst of us. If we never worship, if we never gather in His name, we will never feel Him in our midst. Which is why so many are having trouble with the church in general. Because we are focused on things that don’t involve worship. And because we as a church are presenting a church that is not worship-centered, I dare say sometimes not even Christ-centered.
There are plenty of places where we gather. A baseball team is a place to gather, so is a bar, a golf outing, and so many other examples. But the church is where we gather in His name. The church is where we find intimacy with Him. There are so many opportunities for this—worship, Bible Study, GOYA, Philoptochos, choir, Orthodoxy 101, Sunday school, JOY/HOPE, college group, young adults, men’s group, community outreach and more. Please take advantage of them.
O Lord, grant me to meet the coming day in peace. Help me in all thing to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealing with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen. (Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow).
Spend time alone with God in prayer today!