And the night can be so long, so longLately, one of my spiritual disciplines has been saying a simple phrase like “all shall be well.” I find myself returning to such phrases throughout the day, in particular whenever I feel a sense of worry or the nagging twisted touch of anxiety. These words remind of the God and reality in whom I live—and that brings a great deal of peace.
You think you’ll never get up again
But listen now, it’s a mighty cloud of
Witnesses around you—they say
“Hold on, just hold on
Hold on to the end
And all shall be well”
—from Andrew Peterson’s "All Will Be Well"
It recently occurred to me that this particular practice could be considered the fruit other disciplines, in particular longer personal litanies which I began using a few years back to remind myself of what was true and real—that God is who he says and can do what he says. They were often crafted to include verses and biblical truths that resonated with me at a deep level. I’d often repeat these litanies to walk myself back to a right view of the world and my place in it—a world in which God powerfully and intimately works and restores with his Light and Grace and Right-ness, a world in which God takes unbelievable interest and care, a world in which I am hidden in that Love.
Folks like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard explain disciplines as ways God “has chosen to work with us” (Renovation of the Heart), “ways of growing in grace,” actions we take to “place us before God” who then in his grace “takes this simple offering of ourselves, and creates out it the kind of person who embodies the goodness of God” (The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible). The disciplines are not formulas to master, but actions we take to relate with God—because walking with Jesus is not about mastering a religion or way to live but about learning to trust a Person.
The longer I walk this Way, the more I am convinced that trust is key to everything—transformation, to reality, to real Kingdom body-life, to changing lives and the world. I also think it is something we don’t teach very well. I think part of the reason is that too many of us see our faith as a set of doctrines and beliefs rather than a relationship with God. And even though we talk about having a relationship with Jesus, we don’t always know how to go about that relationship. How do you trust God when your spouse is about to lose his job? Or your child gets sick? Or someone you love is killed? Or your doctor tells you that you have a disease? Or your teenager makes the wrong choices? Or someone at work is out to get you? How do trust that God is who he says and can do what he says when everything around you seems to scream it’s not so? How do you live without worry and anxiety and instead walk in peace and assurance, loving God and others as you go?
Willard says, “You can't trust him without believing that he was right about everything, and that he alone has the key to every aspect of our lives here on earth. But if you believe that, you will naturally want to stay just as close to him as you can, in every aspect of your life.” This is where the disciplines come in—those ways that God has chosen to work with us, the ways that help us draw near to him. “By a practiced abiding in his words we come to know the truth and the truth does, sure enough, make us free,” says Willard, referencing John 8:36.
As I’ve practiced the disciplines—everything from litanies to focusing on one verse until its truth sinks into my heart to being in the room wherever I am to confessing my struggles and sins to a sister to formal prayer to wrestling with life with God in informal prayer—one thing I’m consistently awed at is just how close God is. It’s as if the disciplines are an act of opening my eyes and finding he’s so near that I’m breathing his air. Through this drawing close to God, I’ve begun to know who he is, what he can do, how he works. I’ve come to know God as a Person, not a set of beliefs or doctrines. I’ve got to know the whole Story—the one where indeed “all shall be well”—and my place in it. I’ve come to trust him. And that brings Life here-and-now, a Life that I can’t contain. A Life that spills over even in the midst of the mess and pain and uncertainty of life.
This has been a long walk for me—and it’s only just begun. I’m far from living in that trust all the time. But even using a few simple words helps me live there more—and turn back to that trust more often and more quickly than before. And it’s changed me. And its changed those around me, just as I’m changed by the Life that spills from them. It’s a good Way to live. Indeed, not only shall all be well, but (to borrow a phrase from another song) it is well.