One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is “gentleness.” Scripture says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) Other Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit gives each follower of Christ these gifts if we are open to receiving them. It is easy to overlook the value of being a gentle person in our competitive, dog eat dog world.
But gentleness is an important Christian virtue and our lives and the lives of those we touch will be changed for the better if we can learn to be gentle. Our Lord Jesus Christ is gentle. Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Our heavenly Father wants us to follow in Christ’s footsteps and be like Him.
Along with praying “gentle” prayers, God has called us to be “gentle” people. Even though He has given us the gift of “gentleness” as one of the fruits of the Spirit, many of us have not unwrapped this “gentleness” gift yet. We do not live in a gentle world. But we are not to pattern ourselves after the world. There is much that we can be angry about in our world and many Christians become angry and critical on a regular basis.
The new Christians in Paul’s Corinthian church were angry and critical too and that worried Paul. He so wanted his new Corinthian converts to follow Christ and be gentle and loving to one another. He felt like a spiritual father to them since he had brought them to the Lord and he was very upset by their verbal attacks on one another.
Let’s listen to what Paul writes to these new Christians concerning their biting attacks on one another: “You, my brothers and sisters were called to be free in Christ. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:13-15) Another Scripture says: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil talk and their lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:30) There are warnings in God’s Word about how destructive it can be to have a critical judgmental spirit.
How many best of friends have been separated by sharp words and how many good families have been torn and broken apart by critical and unkind judgments from loved ones? How many hurt and lonely people are out there alone now because of biting judgmental criticisms? When we are not gentle and loving with one another so much misery can follow.
God calls us to love one another, pray for one another and be gentle with one another. And to forgive and extend grace to one another. With God’s help we can do it. Let’s commit our minds and our tongues to Christ and ask Him to help us control what we think and say. And we can ask God to give us compassion for one another and a desire to encourage others through our words instead of tearing one another down. God is calling us to be loving gentle people. Let’s answer His call.
We have been studying prayer practices or different ways to pray. One prayer practice that may encourage us to practice gentleness is the practice of Centering Prayer. Centering prayer is based on releasing whatever thoughts enter your mind and to listen for anything that God is saying to you. The goal is to spend time in un-worded stillness and openness with God. To set aside your thoughts and just be present to God. It is your intent to be open to God that makes this prayer sacred. This prayer can be traced back to the fourth-century desert fathers and mothers. By medieval times centering prayer was practiced quite a bit in the monasteries of Europe.
There are several guidelines that are helpful in practicing Centering Prayer. First select a word that connects you to God in love or a word that helps you return to your intention of being open to God when your mind begins to stray. Perhaps words like “Abba” or “Father” or “Jesus”. Allow this word to be your “prayer word”. Then as you begin a time of Centering Prayer, offer a brief prayer asking God for help and speak of your intention to be present to God. Next turn your heart toward God. Simply keep your mind open to God. And if or when you begin thinking of something – no matter what it may be – gently say your prayer word once as a way of releasing whatever slipped into your mind and then return to being with God in silence.
Most teachers of centering prayer suggest sessions of twenty minutes but there are no rules. The goal is to gently sink into God’s loving presence by surrendering and emptying yourself. Accept silence as a form of communication with God. Learn true spiritual rest. Do not have any expectations when you practice Centering Prayer. Do not ask what you are getting out of it. This isn’t a self-improvement project. The goal is to spend time with God and make yourself available to God. We don’t have to feel it but we do have to practice it. We are to walk in faith without seeing. Contemplative prayer –or Centering Prayer- requires a gentle trust that the Spirit is guiding the process.
I find that I can practice centering prayer in a Taize’ worship service. The main purpose of the Taize’ worship service is to make it easy for the worshipper to be quiet and open himself or herself to God in silence. The Taize’ service is a very simple worship service with no long sermons or announcements or special music productions or applause. An offering is not taken and there are no attendance record keeping or busy work to take the focus off of worship. Taize’ services are often held in the quiet of the early morning or in the evening and the church sanctuary is most often lighted by candlelight. The worshiper is there to worship God and listen for His voice with no other distractions. Communion is often celebrated. Simple Scriptures are sung or chanted and played and repeated over and over very slowly by several musicians or cantors, while the worshiper can sing along or sit or kneel and silently pray or meditate on the Scripture songs.
Another gentle prayer tradition is that of walking the Labyrinth. If you find a church that has a Labyrinth do try to prayerfully walk it. I have never walked a Labyrinth that I haven’t felt God’s presence in a special way. All of the paths eventually lead you to the center. The Labyrinth is a model or metaphor for life. The Christian life is a journey or pilgrimage with God. We do not know where the path will take us. We meet others along the way. The twists and turns of the Labyrinth mirror our personal spiritual walk. But eventually all of the winding paths lead to the Center.
You can ask God a question as you begin your Labyrinth walk and listen for an answer. Or you can pray for yourself on the way in. Experience God’s love when you reach the center. And pray for others on the way out. There are many ways to walk the Labyrinth but the main thing is to be aware of God’s Presence with you. Our lives are often so busy that we need to stop and spend some time with God. And I suggest that you try out some of these “gentle” prayer traditions.
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from David G. Benner’s book, “Opening to God” and Billy Graham’s answer in the newspaper (May 1, 2015) to a woman who ask if she could do anything about her habit of hurting other people with her criticisms.