Reservoir vs. canal


Bernard of Clairvaux said this nearly 1000 years ago...a good word for our century as well:

“If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir
than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it,
but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing,
and thus communicates, without loss to itself,
its superabundant water.
In the church at the present day (1100s),
we have many canals, few reservoirs.”

(in Richard Foster, Prayer, 168).

When I come to God only because I have a Bible study to teach, worship to lead or a small group I'm expected to participate in and have answers for, God becomes a means to an end, rather than the end. It is so subtle, but it is a way of using God for what I want and need - quite often according to my agenda and my own definitions of what I think is spiritual. Operating this way over time leads to a weary depletion and dissatisfaction. I know...I've lived such a utilitarian spirituality. It works for a while - but there is so much more. I also know because my job now is to help those who are tapped out from living as canals learn to let their souls be filled with Love before loving others. The first command to Love Him must precede the second. Coming to Him simply because you know He delights in being with you is a radically different way to have the proverbial traditional "quiet time" (which ironically is rarely quiet).

Learning to enjoy Him for Him - that is how one becomes a reservoir. Coming to hear what He has to say (vs. me telling Him, "this is what I want, how I want it and when I want it by") or even to say nothing - enjoying a wordless being-together - is the way we deepen both our prayer lives as well as our intimacy with God. It is the only way I can give of myself without loss to myself.

Do you know God beyond what you can do for Him or what He can do for you?

The best posture for such is open handed receptivity. No pretense, no demands. Letting go of any agendas, excuses and expectations - the One who knows you and loves you knows how to meet the deepest and neediest parts of your soul. Let God dictate in love how He wants to deal with you. (Psalm 119:124)

Try this today:

  • Take a few deep breaths and as you exhale, say, "Thank you."
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. The purpose isn't to restrict you to 10 minutes, but to allow you the freedom to focus on God vs. wondering, "Is my 10 minutes up?" Do not journal anything during these 10 minutes. And try to not even say anything (verbally or in your head). Whatever happens, sit in the 10 minutes with God - without agenda, without verbal requests or intercessions. Let Him take the lead - even if that lead is silence.
  • If you are distracted during that time, use a phrase such as, "Abba I belong to you" to re-center you towards the Lord. If a person comes to mind, you might just say, "God, I lift him/her to you. You know his/her needs" and return to refocusing on God.
  • After the 10 minutes A) Take a few more minutes to journal what happened in that time. Were you distracted? Did the time seem long or short? Did you want to continue beyond the alarm? Did you sense God saying anything to you? Did God make you aware of anything about Himself or yourself? B) Journal how you felt about your interaction with God (e.g. How did you feel about sitting with God without an agenda or prayer requests?) How did this time open your heart to trust His love?
  • During this time avoid making principled statements about God or yourself (e.g. God wants all Christians to...) Instead, pay attention to what He is inviting you toward.
  • Close by taking a couple more deep breaths and again saying "Thank you."
I'd love to hear how it goes for and I'd highly suggest you grab a buddy or two to covenant together to do and discuss these 10 minute listening exercises. Help each other delve into listening more and talking less - discus how God is using the times to open your heart toward His love.

If you want to delve into some of Bernard of Clairvaux's writings on love click here. (They can be a bit dense, but they are classic.)

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