Posts Tagged ‘disciplines’

Life to the full

May 16, 2008

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)

The spiritual life is not a disembodied life. We are not redeemed souls trapped in damnable material bodies.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus (and our own in the future) should be enough proof of that to quiet any objection.

We are whole.

Too often I’ve viewed the body as an enemy to be battled and overcome. “For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

But my body is also the temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m to love God with heart, mind soul and strength. And how exactly am I to love my neighbor if not in concrete, material action?

I know this is not news to most of you, but It seems to infect a lot of what I see and hear. Don’t we seem to separate the intellectual from the material? I know I do. I tend to keep my theology as academic, and idea oriented as possible. The blogosphere is a perfect place for this tendency. I was reading the comments at another blog and came on this,”It’s nothing personal at all. I was just interacting with ideas.” I know what the guy meant, but it stunned me when I read it because it was a summary of a lot of my life with God. “Nothing too personal, please. I was just interacting with ideas.”

If spirituality includes mind, soul, heart and body, here are some new questions I’ll be asking folks I meet with.

Are you; getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well?

Do you have a sabbath time of rest and recreation?

Do you actually do stuff with (and for) family, friends, neighbors?

I, as much as I don’t want to, will be asking myself these same questions.


Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 5)

April 9, 2008

   I was going to write the next post, in this series, on solitude, but I just got back from meeting with a friend of mine who reminded me of the importance of spiritual direction in it’s many forms.

He and I are roughly the same age, and (I would like to think) roughly in the same area of spiritual maturity. We talked for about an hour and a half telling our own stories, asking questions and listening to responses – both from each other, and from the Spirit of God.

My friend said something in the course of our time together that I know was from the Spirit. It was a word that spoke to my heart and my circumstances. It was a word that came from listening to me, and then listening to God, discerning where he was at work in me. He simply asked me a question, “Did I see any connection between this thing and that one? I hadn’t, really, until then. But there it was as plain as day. And boy, did I need it.

Now, I won’t go into details about what we were talking about, both because it was about my own personal circumstances, and because I don’t need to for this to illustrate what I am talking about.

My friend had done what any good “soul friend”, or spiritual director does.

1. Listen. Both to me, and to what the Spirit was pointing out.

2. Ask questions. Questions prompted by things I had said, asking for clarification, expansion, and connection.

3. Not have all the answers. And even if he thought he did have the answers, having the good sense not to share them, letting me come to see it myself, and then…

4. Let me think it through with God.

I need folks in my life like this. I need folks who know how to listen and discern where God is at work in me and around me. So do we all.

If you don’t have someone like this in your life, stop whatever you’re doing and find one. Pray that God will bring one into your life ASAP.

Yes, it really is that important. But don’t take my word for it. Edward Sellner tells this story of St. Brigit,

A young cleric of the community of Ferns, a foster-son of Brigit’s, used to come to her with dainties. He was often with her in the refectory to partake of food. Once after going to communion she strikes a clapper. “Well, young cleric there”, says Brigit, “do you have a soul friend?”. “I have”, replied the young man. “Let us sing his requiem”, says Brigit. “Why so?” asks the young cleric. “For he has died”, says Brigit. “When you had finished half your ration I saw that he was dead”. “How did you know that?” “Easy to say, (Brigit replies) from the time that your soul friend was dead, I saw that your food was put (directly) in the trunk of your body, since you were without any head. Go forth and eat nothing until you get a soul friend, for anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head: is like the water of a polluted lake, neither good for drinking nor for washing. That is the person without a soul friend”.

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 4)

March 24, 2008

seedling4.jpg   In the last post I compared our responsibility in our own spiritual formation to that of a gardener in his garden. The gardener has plenty to do, but the growth itself he has very little to do with. All he can do is provide the most favorable conditions and care for growth to take place. The way to do that is to do the things that good gardeners have done for ages. He needs to learn and practice the wisdom of those those who know more about gardening than he does.

It’s the same for us who are trying to cultivate a life in Christ. Learn and practice the wisdom of those in scripture and those saints who’ve lived  in the two thousand years since. All the while remembering that what our efforts in the spiritual life do, as Henri Nouwen points out, is to create some space and some time in our busy lives for God to shape us into His image. 

The Disciplines

Most  Christians are pretty familiar with the disciplines of reading and study of scripture, prayer, fasting, worship, service,  but I’d like to talk about a few that aren’t so well known. My reason for choosing these and not others is just my own preference, and the way they have shaped my thoughts on the christian life.

Practicing the Presence

Apart from scripture itself, and then A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”, Brother Lawrence’s classic “The Practice of the Presence of God” has probably affected the way I look at Christian spirituality more than any other writing. I recommend it (and “The Pursuit of God”) without reservation. It simply makes more sense, as a way of living, than any other book I’ve read outside of scripture.  

The simplest and most profound of his thoughts on the spiritual life is this. “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him.” I know, it doesn’t sound like much. But as I’ve thought about it I’ve realized what a revolutionary way of living it actually is, and how thoroughly biblical, both in doctrine and practice it is. I’ve also noticed how different it is to the way the average Christian I see, including me, lives.

One of the most basic ideas in scripture is that God is always, and everywhere, with us. There is no place where we could go that He is not already. Well, if that is true, then maybe I ought to start living like it is.

Some folks will object, not to the truth of it, but that it’s so elementary and basic. Surely there’s lots of stuff more important we should be doing.

Before you dismiss it though, look at a few things it can do.

  1.  It makes all of my life spiritual. All of it. From the grand to the menial, I now do it in the conscious presence of God. There is no sacred-secular divide.
  2.  It takes scriptures that sound very mystical and spiritualized and makes them ultimately practical. “Pray without ceasing.” is now a do-able reality, not a pious ideal. “Whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, do to the glory of God.” is now an ordinary meal shared with God, the provider, whom I thank for it. Not some special, religious ceremony I have to perform. 
  3.  I begin to see Him at work all around me. He feeds the birds of the air, not in some ethereal, poetic sense, but right there in my front yard. He clothes the flowers of the field. Each one of them. And then as we walk together, he shows them to me, if I will just pay attention. 
  4.  It broadens my very narrow understanding of prayer. In addition to prayer being a set apart, special time where I bow my head, close my eyes and talk to God, my whole life becomes prayer, an ongoing converstion. In fact, for me, one of the biggest benefits of this ongoing conversation with God is that I have to, at some point, shut up. Listening and watching have become much more valuable to me than speaking. (Not that I always do what is more valuable)
  5.  It makes the “contemplative” person one of the most practical, down to earth folks on the planet. If I am consciously living my days with God Himself, listening more than talking, paying attention to what he’s doing, and then doing the things he places before me in my ordinary life (for this is what a true contemplative does in my opinion) then I will love those around me in the most practical, humble and useful ways there are. A very real way of living life the way Jesus did. “I only do what the Father tells me to do, I only say what I hear the Father saying.”
  6.  It makes me honest. If God is right there with me, knowing everything I know, hearing and seeing everything I say, do and think, then it makes no sense to try and fool him. I can quit trying to “get right” before I can talk to Him (as if it were possible), stop pretending to be more holy than I am, and begin to be honest with myself and talking plainly with Him. 

Before you think that I have attained any competence in this, let me tell you that it is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. I just can’t do it consistently, at least not yet. Simple does not mean easy, as we sometimes think. But time after time I keep coming back to this simple practice as one I must keep on trying to do.

The next post I want to talk about solitude.

Ways And Means, The Jesus Way (Part 2)

November 26, 2007

“Following Jesus necessarily means getting his ways and means into our everyday lives. It is not enough simply to recognize and approve his ways and get started in the right direction. Jesus’ ways are meant to be embraced and assimilated into our habits. This takes place only as we pray our following of him. It cannot be imposed from without, cannot be copied. It must be shaped from within. This shaping takes place in prayer. The practice of prayer is the primary way that Jesus’ way comes to permeate our entire lives so that we walk spontaneously and speak rhythmically in the fluidity and fluency of holiness.” –Eugene Peterson (The Jesus Way) 

The first law of spiritual formation is this, “You will become like whoever you spend time with.”

It’s really a law of human personality, the way God made all of us. Children pick up all kinds of mannerisms, habits, voice inflections, thought patterns, attitudes from their parents. Husbands and wives -if they are together long enough- begin to think more alike, to finish one another’s sentences, some even start to look like the other. (That’s bad news for you, honey!) 

Most of this shaping happens at an unconscious level.

Kristin and I have been married for twenty one years. Before we got married, we (or at least I) used to joke that she loved to clean up, and I loved to mess up. It was a perfect match. 

I don’t know when, or how it happened, but I changed. Messes bug me now. Now I clean up after myself, the kids, myself, the dog…oh yeah, and myself. On occasion I’ve been known to vacuum or dust without being asked. Just the other day I even cleaned out my closet. I’ve become more like my wife in other ways too. And for those of you who know her, you know what a good thing that is.

We spend a lot of time together as a family, just by virtue of living under the same roof. Sometimes I have to be a little more intentional about being there, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. As a result, little by little, day after day, without my knowing they are taking place, changes happen. A shaping of lives is going on (for better, and for worse, I’m afraid) all the time. And even though it’s going on all the time, by the time I can see change, much time has passed. But then, real, lasting change always takes a lot of time.

That’s how it is spiritually, but I have to be much more intentional about spending time with Jesus. Even though he has made me for himself, old habits die hard. And I’ll waste all kinds of time on stupid stuff, instead of what matters. So I need to keep watch, and practice the Presence, trusting that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion.

But that’s not all.  If I would be an “imitator of God”, as a dearly loved child, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved me (Eph. 5:1), then I have to study the ways of Jesus, try and understand what he did, and what he said. Maybe more importantly, what he didn’t do and didn’t say. And then I have to do the things he tells me to do. I’m not talking about the walking on water kind of stuff (Although, you’re welcome to try. Just video it and put it on YouTube so the rest of us can watch.), but the simple habits and ways of living that helped him grow in stature and favor with God and man. 

By the way, habits and patterns of life don’t change us, but they do create a space for the Spirit to work in our hearts. Kind of quieting down the clamor of the world so we can give our attention to the One who says, “Put on my yoke and learn from me”, and allowing him to make us new.

Primarily, this happens as we live life with him in prayer. As we ask questions, listen to his words, watch what he is doing and has done, we learn his ways. Jesus, himself, said that’s what he did. “I only say what the Father tells me to say. I only do that which I see the Father doing.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Jesus even if it takes a lifetime to learn.

Pay Attention!

November 19, 2007

I’m pretty much convinced that the main part , if not the whole, of what I am to be about as a Christian is to pay attention.

Let me say it again. I am convinced that what I am supposed to do, as a follower of Jesus, is look, listen, examine, think on, be on the hunt for, the ways God is moving, acting, speaking, teaching in my everyday life, and then to respond to what I hear Him say.

Everything in this world is after my attention. From billboards to newspapers, to radio and TV, to my children, to my church, to my work, to my (fill in the blank), they all want me to pay attention to what they are saying. As a matter of fact I can’t think of a better way to keep people from hearing God’s still, small voice than to make everything around them so loud and so busy that they hear forty different voices screaming at them while they go to this meeting and that practice. It’s no wonder we’ve got attention spans two seconds long. We’ve got Cultural ADHD, and it’s no wonder our kids are showing signs at an early age of the same disease. They caught it from us.

 We don’t know how to slow down, be quiet and listen for the voice of the One who made us, and calls us to come to Him and learn how to live what he calls “life to the full”.

As a matter of fact I don’t think we really want to hear His voice. I think we’re afraid of what we might hear. We’re afraid we might hear nothing, that no one is out there and that we are the biggest fools in all the universe, “most to pitied”.

 And I think we are afraid we might actually hear something, that God might actually show up. That He might show us that everything we’ve spent our lives building up, bank accounts, retirement benefits, reputations, image enhancements, whiter teeth, …etc., are worthless and bankrupt, just so much wasted time.  

 “Behold”, “Listen”, “Be still”, “Keep silence”, “Rest”,  Scripture is full from beginning to end with these, and many other calls to a more contemplative life. Don’t be afraid of the word contemplative. The real contemplative is one who is learning to pay attention to Reality, and to be thankful, and do what He tells him to do. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. In other words, true comtemplatives end up being the most practical people you’ll meet. Because when you spend time listening to Him, God often points out simple things He’d like you to do in order to love others for His name’s sake.

So, if you catch me going a thousand miles an hour in a thousand different directions, knock me up-side the head and remind me to pay attention.