Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ah, Sweet Surrender! Author Jan Winebrenner Chats About Prayer and Meditation

Today’s guest is Hachette/Warner Faith author and spiritual teacher Jan Winebrenner. Her favorite scripture – Matthew 11:28-30.

I met Jan Winebrenner a few years ago at a publisher’s sales conference. We exchanged books and it seemed I had made a new friend. But when I got home and read Intimate Faith, I recognized Jan as an emerging talent in Christian publishing. Her writing and depth refreshed my soul. Intimate Faith is never more than a few feet from my desk. Jan is a workshop and spiritual retreat leader who now has a new book out entitled The Grace of Catastrophe. I asked Jan here today to chat about prayer and meditation. Jan, I’m so honored to have you here today. The first thing I’d like to ask you is what is the difference between prayer and meditation?

JAN: Patty, when I’m praying, I’m pretty “Jan-focused” -- I’m thinking about what I need from God. This isn’t a bad thing—God tells us to bring Him our requests. But often, as I begin praying, I’m overwhelmed by my neediness, by my desperate condition, and the urgent needs of the people I love. I struggle often, reaching about for words to articulate what my soul feels. For me, prayer can be hard work. I feel anxiety and pressure. This is the point at which I’m learning to stop. Just stop speaking, stop trying to shape my prayer. For me, this is the time to begin practicing the discipline of meditation. This is the time to be “God-focused.” For me, this is the difference between prayer and meditation.

PATTY: Jan, this is such a great transition from the wisdom we’ve already gained this week from Neta Jackson and Thelma Wells. I like that you’re sharing how we can put feet on the discipline of taking the “me” out of prayers through this practice. I need it very badly!

JAN: Yes, as do we all. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on the idea of God coming to me, of God initiating contact, and God inviting me to come to Him in response. He has always been the initiator, you know, and He always will be. See it in the garden: God coming to Adam and Eve, calling out to them, even when they wanted to hide from Him. He initiated the conversation. Turn a few pages in the Old Testament and see God coming to Cain, starting a dialogue. I love this! God says to this angry man, “What’s going on with you, Cain?” God knows Cain’s heart, his intentions. He tells him, “You don’t have to do this, Cain.” Even after Cain kills his brother, God doesn’t shut off the conversation.

PATTY: And that was just a whiff of the grace to come!

JAN: Right. Throughout scripture we see God coming to people; God first on the scene; God starting the conversation. Open the New Testament and see God’s ultimate Word, Jesus: the First Word—“in the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, God’s perfect expression of love, is the Word that communicates God’s yearning for relationship and intimacy. In every conversation with the infinite God, His is the first word.

PATTY: That eternal grace-saturated invitation.

JAN: These are the truths I’ve been meditating on for several months. When I begin to pray, when I feel the anxiety of life press in on me, or when I just want to talk to God, I stop and think. I visualize Jesus knocking, asking me to invite Him in. I am struck by the humility and gentleness of Jesus, and my heart warms toward Him. I think about Him being the one to start the conversation.

PATTY: Some call this practicing the presence of God. It causes all of the “worried prayers” to just melt away, doesn’t it?

JAN: Yes, moments before, I may have been focused on my needs and my struggles, but no more. I am overwhelmed and pulled out of myself to worship this God who wants to speak to me. I may have just arrived at this quiet place to pray, but God is already here. He arrived on the scene ahead of me and He is waiting to engage His heart with mine. He is already present. He is calling for me, waiting for me. His favorite word is “Come.” Come to where He is already present and waiting.

PATTY: It’s so true. We tend to think that we have to suck God out of some vacuum and summon him like a genie. But it’s actually us responding to his continual call to come to him. However, setting aside the time to respond to him is contrary to the way we live. We live in a hurry-sick culture. How do you deal with these outside pressures that eat away our time, Jan?

JAN: The messages carried in the winds of culture shout at us, insisting that everything depends on the self; that God is absent, or at best, distant. So we must hurry faster and work harder to attain success, to accomplish the spectacular; nothing less will suffice. Nothing in our culture encourages us to listen to God. Even our religious communities can be enemies of our souls if they spit out confusing definitions of success, pushing us toward more activity, more complicated programs. But meditation calls a halt to all the “busy-ness”; meditation pulls us into a quiet place, settles us into stillness. We remember that everything depends on God, not on the self. Our attention shifts off of our efforts and plans; our eyes look up to the sovereign, infinite, all-powerful God, and we listen as He redefines success in eternal syllables.

PATTY: Being married to the ministry, I do see so many very good ministers of the gospel buy into the “American” success story and apply it to ministry. It can be a web of deceit just like anything birthed of flesh and not God’s Spirit. My husband and I have long talks about the people we’re working to raise up so that their ministries are fruitful. But if they aren’t taking time to receive from God, only living life hurrying and worrying, we put the brakes on staff activity and head for the mountains for some “knee time”. I’m so glad you brought attention to God’s definition of “success in eternal syllables.”

JAN: When I choose to meditate on the truth about God’s heart-- that He is ready and waiting to engage with my soul—I move toward Him in response, and away from the pressures and demands of my culture. I move away from the lie that tells me my value is contained in my performance; I move toward the God who loves me and values me because I am His unique creation, His beloved child. I move away from self-directed activity, with its pressures and anxieties, and I move into God’s peace that passes understanding. Is there anything we need more in today’s world?

PATTY: When you say it like that, no, there is absolutely nothing else. When Christ becomes your greatest compulsion, you only hear one thing, don’t you?

JAN: That’s right. In meditation I hear that lovely word, “Come.” And I can hardly wait to pray.

PATTY: Ah, the sweet rapture of surrender! Jan Winebrenner, friends, chatting with us today about prayer and meditation. We would love to hear your thoughts too. How do you take time to meditate on God?

Tomorrow, calling all cracked pots! Women of Faith’s own Patsy Clairmont is dropping by to give us a word to go about how she finds time to grow through intimacy with Christ. You won’t want to miss it!