Force vs. Force

Matthew 26: 51 – 52

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

I want to tell you a little story today. It seems these days, some of my best moments come when I am riding my bike. Recently, on the night before a scheduled bike ride, I invited God to go on the ride with me the following day. On the day of the ride, I was riding along not thinking about anything. It was a beautiful day and if I was thinking of anything it was just about my legs going around. All of a sudden, I heard this thought go through my mind, “Counter force with reason, not force.” What? I knew it was Father, but I wasn’t thinking about anything this related to. I got the sense, though, that this was meant for a Word of the Day even if I wasn’t sure why. So, I said to the Father, “Well, if the Word of the Day is your intention, I will need a scripture.” Immediately, the event from today’s passage came to mind.

The soldiers went to arrest Jesus. Peter instantly countered force with force, but Jesus directed him to put away his sword. Then Jesus gave an interesting piece of wisdom. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. This is applicable to more than wartime. This is a way of thinking. Ancient wisdom suggested a different, less forceful response. Father was saying to me, counter force with reason, not more force. I had about 20 miles to ponder this thought.

In the United States, we tend to apply force as a means to resolve a problem. I remember growing up hearing people say, “If it doesn’t fit, get a bigger hammer.” In other words, apply more force. This was my philosophy as well because that is how we are trained in this culture. It was all fine until I started trying to do yoga. When I was challenged with a pose, I would use more muscle, more strength to try to make the pose work. If you do yoga, you are probably laughing at me right now. It doesn’t work, does it? Eventually I learned to breathe and relax. Who knew? Oh yeah, God did. His attempt to lead us by the quiet waters is throughout the Bible but I am also reminded of the verse which led me into relaxation with Him, Psalm 46: 10, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” For God to show up on the scene we have to back down our amperage and allow Him to be God.

Civilization requires the application of reason. The solution isn’t always a bigger hammer or a bigger gun. Sometimes we can be smarter than the challenge, we can think and discuss and find solutions to life’s problems. I hope you will ponder this today and that it will help you.

Hot Yoga

Psalm 46: 10                          KJV

Be still, and know that I am God.

Today’s Word of the Day is dedicated to my friend, Marco Gravino. This past weekend I attended my high school class reunion. Marco and I attended school together from middle school until high school graduation. I am happy to know and happy to say that Marco is a man of faith. What a joy it is to discover after so many years that people you knew and cared about all those years ago have grown up to have strong faith in God. It is nourishment for the soul.

Marco was, and still is, an athlete. As we talked, we realized that we both have participated in hot yoga. The revelation we gained in yoga is that power is not the answer. In many western societies, the adage, “If you can’t fix it, get a bigger hammer,” is symbolic of our response to problems. We tend to apply power to fix a problem and if that doesn’t resolve it, we apply more power. In yoga, the typical athletic approach of using more force, more muscle simply does not work. When I could not get into a pose, I would muster more strength out of my muscles and try to force my body into the correct position. As all of you who practice yoga know, that is completely counter-productive. Learning to relax into a pose challenged everything in my athletic mindset.

The use of breath is completely different as well. As we muster strength out of our muscles we tend to hold our breath for a big exhalation at the end of an exertion. Yoga, which comes from eastern thought, would have you breathe smoothly and freely. When a pose challenges, you concentrate on relaxing breaths rather than focusing on muscle strength. It is completely counter-intuitive and yet it works.

Marco and I talked about how this is a metaphor for life and Marco said it would make a good Word of the Day to which I heartily agreed. I have found that my life has been punctuated by this tendency to try harder, strive more, push harder. As I am learning to be still and let God be known, I find the secret is very much like yoga. I needed to learn to breathe and relax. This has been the single biggest revelation in my Christian life in the last fifteen years. It has been especially critical in my ability to hear God speak. The New American Standard Version of this verse reads, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Well, “strive” was my middle name. My characteristic response to a challenge was to work more hours, work faster, work harder. In other words, apply more strength and more power. In my attempts to hear God’s voice, this straining and striving actually made it more difficult. I had to learn to be still. I cannot express what a challenge that was for me. First I would get my body still only to have my mind run rampant. Then I would try to quiet my mind. Before five minutes passed I was usually bouncing my leg or off thinking about all the things I needed to do.

The secret for me was in learning to breathe and even learning how to breathe. I found that in my striving mode, I tended to breath shallowly and from my chest. I learned, though, to breathe from my diaphragm and to breathe deeply and slowly. Now, with one deep breath and a full exhalation, I can instantly calm down my physiology and my mind. Sure, it took practice but I have finally discovered that when I am still and quiet, God can be God. There is room for Him in my mind and heart when I pause long enough to breathe. He is waiting to impart wisdom to me but I must be still so I can hear. When I calm my physicality, when I cease striving, then I give Him the space to act for me. He gets to be God instead of me.

Life is happening all around us every day. Life lessons are in the next breath. From learning how to relax into a yoga pose rather than trying to muscle into it, I learned a valuable spiritual principle and life skill. Relax, be still and let God show Himself. Thanks Marco for pointing out how God is teaching and leading us, giving us valuable life lessons in our everyday walk with Him. Be still, cease striving and let God ease you into your yoga pose and your new revelation with Him.