God Revealed

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.

light revealed

We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.

darkness

death

We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.

Rembrandt

Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.

God revealed

If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.

young and old

If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; sketch of a triumphant Christ from a German Luther Bible; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2018

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edited from the archives

Creation and Life from Silence

I apologize for being absent last week. Perhaps none of you even noticed, but in the six years of writing in this space I have missed posting only a handful of times as I want to be faithful to what God has asked of me. I was sick almost the whole week, and am grateful to be (almost) well and writing again.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

We are surrounded by words.
words

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Buy me! Eat me! Need me! Love me!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In our ears and in our eyes, in our hearts and in our minds, words penetrate us every where and every time.
power
Words are losing their power.
Words are losing their meaning.
Word
In the beginning and out of the silence God spoke.
God’s words had power. Power to create.
God’s words brought (and bring) life.
silence
Our words used to have the same power.
We had the power to create beauty and joy and peace, to bring life to others.
When we only speak out of noise, only bring words out of other words, our own words lose their life-giving power.
Only from the silence can we speak words of creation.
Only from the silence in which we have listened to the Word can we speak words of life.
The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses. ~ Henri Nouwen
We must find regular times of silent listening. We must be quicker to listen and slower to speak when out in the world of words.
listen
When we pour out words, our words lose their power.
When we Christ-followers pour out words, the Word in us loses His power to create life through us.
I don’t understand why He allows His power to depend on these weak vessels, but He does.
silent
Words people speak have dynamite in them and a word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. ~ Frederick Buechner
Practice silence.
Practice regular times of going away to be silent before God. Practice being silent when surrounded by others.
Be silent.
From your silence the Word of life will speak, bringing life to yourself and to others.
Wait in silence.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.

Art credits: Times Square photograph by Daniel Wildman; billboard photographs by Jay Simmons; street signs photograph by Michal Zacharzewski; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Shaken Awake

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

We are a drowsed and sleep-walking people.
Asleep
We are lulled by false comfort, by the false distance of God.
We are deceived into believing that we can avert danger, can assert control over the forces around us.
We have no such power, and some have been shaken to their core by that realization.
 They have woken up.
Awake
Wake Up
We must wake up.
Only if we awaken from this sleep that claims us will we be able to truly live.
Only when we do not cling to false securities can we raise our eyes to Him who is our only security.
God allows our world to fall into difficulties and ugliness so that we may awaken to God’s healing presence in our world.
God is Here
It is time to wake up and get to work.
It is time to put things to rights, time to work to restore our world, to bring God’s kingdom rule to bear in our world.
Those who have experienced an awakening know that it is time to repent, time to change.
Those who have been roused by the quaking of their world become unshakable in their decision to stay alert.
Stay Alert
We who remain asleep build our imaginary worlds in which we dream presumptuous dreams of comfort and security.
We must be shaken.
We must be shattered so that the light of God’s coming pours through every crack.
Light of the World
Only when we awake to our own frailty and failings can the Light of the World reach us and give us a taste of the glory and abundance that can be ours,
the abundance and joy we can have in Christ if we will only remain awake to His presence in our lives and alert to His work through us in our world.
Awake
We must wake up, we must watch with readiness and work with fervor for the coming of our God to put things right and banish the night.

Art credits: photograph of light streaming through the trees by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Trusting the Spring

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Here in the Midwest, the calendar declares it to be spring several weeks before it actually appears to be spring.

snow on flowers

It is not unheard of to still be shoveling snow in April.
It is sometimes difficult to trust the calendar more than what my own experience is telling me.

snow flowers

Last year was a hard year.
Nothing major happened, simply quite a few little frustrations and disappointments.
No victories to speak of.
Discouraged
Frustrated
Perhaps you had a similar sort of year.
The sort of year when you feel as though you have made no progress toward becoming like Jesus,
the sort of year when you missed out on what you had hoped for,
the sort of year when the people around you seem to be moving away from what you dream for them.
A hard year.
Hard Year
A dear friend recently pointed out to me that throughout this hard year I kept showing up.
I kept trying to obey even though I thought I was failing.
And God was pleased.
I have to keep reminding myself of that. God is pleased when we keep walking with Him, even when we feel as though we are walking backwards sometimes.
God doesn’t need us to obey perfectly.
He wants our obedience more than our strength.
“I think of what the Desert Fathers said of the spiritual life. We are always beginners. We fall and we rise, we fall and we rise. (Continuing in the spiritual life) means continuing to show up for life – even when we’d rather not, even when we think we can’t.” ~ Judith Valente in Atchison Blue
This life is a struggle, and the spiritual life even more so. We must live a cruciform life in order to become like Christ.
cruciform life
God has promised that He will transform us into the likeness of Jesus. We can trust Him to keep that promise.
We can trust Him to keep that promise even when all that we are experiencing tells us that we are farther than ever from any resemblance to His Son,
just as we in the Midwest can trust that spring is truly here even when all that we experience tells us that winter is here to stay.
trust the spring
So for all who have had a hard year, just keep showing up.
We rise and we fall, we rise and we fall.
And someday we will rise never to fall again. We will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
spring will come
He promised.

Art credits: photograph of tulips in snow by Gavin Spencer; photograph of crocuses in snow by Traute Klasser; photograph of Christ Carrying the Cross statue by Asta Kr; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018.

Four Corporate Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Welcome back!

welcome back

This is the last of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed the previous two posts, you can read about the Four Inward Disciplines here and the Four Outward Disciplines here.
I’m going to post my introduction and disclaimers again, so if you read those last week, feel free to skip ahead:
Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.

Spiritual Disciplines

Confession

Because of the cross of Jesus, the Discipline of confession is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit. Part of what makes confession difficult is that we tend to view other believers as saints rather than as sinners. We think that everyone else is much closer to maturity and we are alone in our sinful state. When we believe this in our inner being, we hide our true selves from each other. If, however, we can trust that all are in the same situation, we are freed to “hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters…In acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.” (Foster)
Confession can be done in a formal manner. After the confession, the one hearing the confession speaks a word of Scripture, such as “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1.9). Then the one confessing is told in clear, authoritative words that he is forgiven and set free from his sin in the name of Christ.
Confession can also be done very informally. You can, of course, confess to the one you have wronged. You can also pray over your life and write down sins that God brings to your mind, then take that list to a trusted friend (choose carefully one with spiritual maturity, wisdom, and the ability to keep a confidence) and confess those things to them. The friend should then tear up your paper as a symbol of absolution and pray a prayer of healing over you.
When you make a confession, you should begin by inviting God to examine your conscience and show you areas that need His forgiving. Be sure to be specific rather than making generalized confessions. Sorrow is also necessary to a confession. Not necessarily the emotion, although that might be involved, but a deep regret at having wounded the heart of the Father. One last component is a resolution to avoid sin. “In the Discipline of confession we ask God to give us a yearning for holy living, a hatred for unholy living.” (Foster)
Foster makes one last note on confession: that we should be sure there is an end to it. Rather than falling into a permanent habit of self-condemnation, confession should end in joy and the celebration in the forgiveness of sins.

Worship

To worship is “to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community.” (Foster) It is the response to the love of God. It is how we are a priesthood of believers, reflecting the praise of creation back to the Creator.
Part of worship is preparation, going through your day with a sense of expectancy that God is there and that you will see His presence. Try to spend every moment aware of God, speaking with Him, thanking Him, thinking of Him. When you have heard God speak in many ways throughout your everyday life, you will expect Him to speak to you in worship as well. When you have allowed God to be in charge of your everyday life, you will expect Him to be in charge of your worship as well. Be sure to worship in private so that when you enter the corporate worship service you are ready with a holy expectancy.
In his book, Foster gives a few steps to help in the experience of worship. First, learn to practice the presence of God daily. Try to pray without ceasing, and be sure to have personal times of worship and Bible study and confession. Second, have many different experiences of worship. Worship alone, worship in small groups, and worship in large gatherings. Third, find ways to really prepare for the gathered experience of worship. Go to bed early the night before, arrive early to pray over the leaders and those seated near you, pray for God to help you let go of distractions. Foster gives four other steps that I do not have the space to repeat here, but those I mentioned should help get you started.

Guidance

I long to be a Spirit-led person, and I imagine that you do as well. Yet even if I become directly guided by the Spirit, this will never be sufficient until there is also a knowledge of the active leading of the Spirit together. There is an emphasis in our culture on individualism that does not exist in Scripture when it speaks of the people of God. So many stories in the Bible speak of God leading people as a people, not as individuals.
When you feel the Spirit leading you in a direction, ask a few trusted friends to pray with you and seek the will of God together with you. When you have trouble sensing the direction in which God wants you to move, gather a group of people who know you well, have spiritual maturity, and are able to be honest with you, and let them pray over you.
There are many churches that practice Spirit-directed unity. Issues are approached with the understanding that the mind of the Spirit can be known, so the church gathers to pray and talk. No decision is made until all of the members are of one mind. Sometimes this takes a long time of patient waiting and praying, but they keep at it until all sense the same direction from the Spirit. It is a beautiful picture of how Christians are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3).

Celebration

Jesus entered this world in celebration (“I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all people.”) and left this world giving His joy to His disciples (“These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”). “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong…We cannot continue long in anything without it.” (Foster) All of the Holy Habits should be characterized by thanksgiving and joy. Foster says that he believes joy is the motor of the Disciplines, that without joyous celebration to infuse the others, we will sooner or later abandon them.
Joy is found in daily obedience to Christ. Without obedience working itself into the ordinary fabric of our lives, our celebrating is empty. When we obey, however, when our families are filled with love and service toward one another, we all are filled with joy and celebration.
Paul tells us in Philippians to rejoice always by first having no worry for anything, just as Jesus told us. We are to trust that God truly has the ability to care for our needs. Paul then tells us that we are to speak with God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. We can rely on God to provide for us and therefore we can live in a spirit of celebration. He also, though, tells us to set our minds on all that is good in life. When we determine to dwell on the excellent and the lovely, when we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be full of joy.
This decision takes an act of will, which is why celebration is a Discipline. It is not something that just appears in our hearts, but the result of a conscious way of thinking and living. How do we celebrate? Sing, dance, shout! Make noise in worship and adoration. Laugh. Enjoy clever puns and good comedy. Savor the creative gift of imagination, both in ourselves and in others. Delight in the arts: sculptures, paintings, music, plays, all of these are gifts. Make family events and holidays into times of celebration and thanksgiving.
We made it!
We’ve reached the end of this series on the Spiritual Disciplines. Next week I won’t be so lengthy, I promise! I hope, though, that some of this was helpful to you. I pray that you will choose one or two of these to begin experimenting with. These are the practices that, when made into habit, will allow the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. I will leave you with one last quote from Foster to sum it all up:
We have seen how meditation heightens our spiritual sensitivity which, in turn, leads us into prayer. Very soon we discover that prayer involves fasting as an accompanying means. Informed by these three Disciplines, we can effectively move into study which gives us discernment about ourselves and the world in which we live. Through simplicity we live with others in integrity. Solitude allows us to be genuinely present to people when we are with them. Through submission we live with others without manipulation, and through service we are a blessing to them. Confession frees us from ourselves and releases us to worship. Worship opens the door to guidance. All of the Disciplines freely exercised bring forth the doxology of celebration. ~ Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline

Four Outward Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Welcome back!
Welcome
This is week two of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed last week’s post on the four inward Disciplines, you might want to read it here first.
I’m going to post my introduction and disclaimers again, so if you read those last week, feel free to skip ahead:
Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.
Outward Disciplines

Simplicity

Simplicity is an inward heart-attitude that results in an outward way of life. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of commands and exhortations regarding our attachment to money, possessions, and status. We are to be detached from the world because of our secure attachment to God. Simplicity “reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” (Foster) This Discipline frees us to receive God’s provisions as a gift to be shared freely.
The central idea behind simplicity is to seek God’s kingdom first and trust that everything necessary will come in its proper turn.
Practicing simplicity first looks like recognizing that everything we have is a gift from God, that we are completely dependent upon Him. It looks like recognizing that only God can truly care for everything we have. Yes, we can lock the house when we leave, but we cannot keep the burglar from breaking a window. It finally looks like recognizing that all we have is to be available to others. “If our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.” (Foster) Startling words. If, however, we trust that God is who Jesus says He is, then we can be free from fear and able to share freely.
Foster describes ten principles for the outward expression of simplicity. I will relate the first three to give you a start on practicing this Habit. First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Purchase cars and clothes for their utility rather than their fashion or prestige. Drive your cars and wear your clothes until they wear out and stop using them to impress people. Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Soda and chocolate, television and social media are all examples of things that can be addictive. If there is anything you find you cannot do without, give it away. Simplicity is freedom, not slavery. Third, develop a habit of giving things away. If there is some possession to which you find yourself becoming too attached, give it to someone who needs it.

Solitude

Many of us have a fear of being alone that drives us to noise and crowds, podcasts and television. Solitude frees us from this fear by giving us an inner fulfillment wherever we are, whether by ourselves or in a mass of people. We know that we are never alone. When we practice the Discipline of solitude, we gain the ability to carry that peaceful solitude with us anywhere.
In solitude, we choose to be alone in order to hear the whisper of God. Jesus sought out solitude during His ministry as a regular practice. In order to practice solitude, we must also practice silence, which always involves an attitude of listening. When we have learned the Discipline of silence in our practice of solitude, we learn when to speak and when to be silent in the presence of others and thus gain control over that most powerful part of our body, the tongue.
Practically, begin to take advantage of the little moments of solitude all through your day. The few moments in bed before the rest of the family wakes up, the drive to and from work, the nap times of your children, a quick walk outside alone. Find a place in your home and dedicate it to solitude so that everyone in your family knows that when someone is in that place, they should be left alone. Spend time there with God. Take a whole evening and withdraw from company to listen to God. It is the Discipline of solitude that allows us to know Him more.

Submission

This is one that can be and has been horribly abused in our world. Rather than being a law we are required to follow, however, the Discipline of submission sets us free from the burden of needing to always have our own way. Submission allows us to value other people, to love them unconditionally, to be able to give up our rights for the good of others. It sets us free from anger and bitterness when someone doesn’t treat us the way we think they should treat us. In practicing the Habit of submission, we are following Jesus’ statement that “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Foster rightly points out that the limit of submission is the point at which it becomes destructive, such as a wife being asked to punish her child unreasonably or a child being asked to aid an adult in some unlawful practice.
We must yield ourselves first, of course, to God Himself and to the Word of God in Scripture. Next we submit to our family. Make allowances for each other; commit to listen well to and to share with those in your own home. We then submit to our neighbors as we meet them in our daily lives. Small acts of kindness are opportunities to practice submission: sharing a meal, shoveling their driveway, chatting with them about their day. We submit in many other ways to many other groups of people, and if you want to dig into this Habit a little deeper, go to Foster’s book.

Service

As Jesus demonstrated submission at the cross, He demonstrated service when He washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper. Anyone who has any authority over another person (which, I would argue, would be almost all of us) must practice the Discipline of service to those under our authority. Service comes from a relationship with the Triune God deep within us, which frees us from serving from self-righteousness. We listen to divine urgings without striving to impress. We find it impossible to distinguish between small and large service. We rest in the hiddenness of our service.
In our busy, daily lives, service often is made up of small things. This can be more difficult than large acts of service, as small acts require constant sacrifice. Taking a meal to a family who just had a baby, running an errand for a neighbor, even guarding the reputation of others by refusing to participate in gossip, these are all acts of service. We can sit and listen to a friend, invite someone into our home, or simply treat those we meet with courtesy.
There is a prayer that many people use that might be helpful as you begin to practice this Habit of service: “Lord Jesus, as it would please You bring me someone today whom I can serve.” Use this prayer as your own experiment with this Discipline!
I pray that these descriptions and ideas are helpful to you in this quest to know God more, to be transformed into His likeness. Join me next week for the last essay in this series, the “Corporate Disciplines”.

Four Inward Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.
Inward Disciplines

Meditation

Our world is full of busyness, full of hurrying, full of distraction. If we are to move deeper into the things of God, we must learn the Discipline of meditation. Foster describes Christian meditation as the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word. We engage in specific meditation exercises at specific times, but for the aim of bringing that reality into all of life.
It is helpful to practice this Discipline every day, for it does take Discipline and practice to get better at focusing yourself. Find a quiet place, free from distractions. Find a position that is comfortable. Sometimes you can close your eyes; other times you can look at nature or other works of beauty.
Meditation on Scripture is a good way to begin. Take a verse, or a phrase, or even a single word, and dwell on it. Mull it over. Seek to hear the God who spoke that word speak to you. Use your imagination to place yourself in the scene.
There are more ways of meditating, and Foster describes them in detail. Most of all, be patient with yourself. You are swimming against the tide of culture. It is well worth it.

Prayer

Prayer is one of the non-negotiable Holy Habits.
Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us…The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. ~ Foster
In his book, Foster sticks with intercessory prayer (praying for others) while acknowledging that there are many other forms of prayer.
We must learn to pray. It does not come naturally. You are free to question, experiment, even fail. I must admit to you that intercessory prayer is a very difficult thing for me. I have seen many prayers go unanswered, at least in the way that I and those who prayed with me hoped, so I will admit that I do not understand this kind of prayer. I can only, in this space, summarize what Foster says and let you question and experiment and come to your own conclusions.
Once we understand that praying involves a learning process, we are able to continue to try without giving up. If our requests are not granted, we seek to discover what went wrong, whether we prayed wrongly, or something within us needs changing, or persistence is needed. Then we try again.
One of the most important pieces of learning to pray is listening. If we are not listening to God, are not attune to His Spirit, our prayers are vain repetitions. Foster says that as we listen, as we meditate, it is when we have an inner sense of compassion rise up, a compulsion to intercede, that we have a yes from God to pray for the person.
Pray simply. Pray while imagining a healed situation. Pray while imagining Jesus standing over the person and healing them. Every night I have begun to go in to each of my children while they are sleeping, place my hand on them, and ask Jesus to flow through my hand and heal any emotional trauma and hurt feeling they might have received that day. It is, I suppose, my current experiment.

Fasting

Our culture today is completely opposed to any form of self-denial. Fasting, therefore, unless done as a form of weight loss, seems obsolete. Jesus, however, seems to assume that those of us who follow Him will fast regularly (although it is not explicitly commanded). There are both full fasts (abstaining from all food and drink except for water) and partial fasts (a restriction of diet but not total abstention) mentioned in the Bible. Mostly fasting is private, except for a few times of public fasts for specific purposes.
Fasting must center on God. It must above all be God-initiated and God-focused. Secondary benefits must never replace God as the center. Foster writes that more than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is hugely helpful for us who want to be controlled by the Spirit alone. Fasting is a reminder that God alone sustains us.
Begin slowly if you have never fasted before. Try a partial 24 hour fast, perhaps from lunch to lunch, which would mean that you are only skipping two meals, and drink fruit juices. As you go about your normal day while fasting, pray and worship. Make every task sacred by the hunger you feel; allow your physical hunger to awaken you to the presence of God. After trying a partial fast several times, try a normal 24 hour fast. Drink only water, but lots of it. If you can, use your meal time for meditation and prayer.
If you feel that God is calling you to a longer fast after this, I would use the recommendations in Celebration of Discipline as a guideline.

Study

Lastly for this week is the Discipline of study. Paul says in Romans that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Discipline of study is the primary way in which we renew our minds in order to transform them. If we do not know the truth of God, if we do not know Him and His promises through the study of His Word, we cannot be changed to look like Him.
Foster writes of four steps of study. First is repetition, which regularly channels the mind in a specific direction. Second is concentration, which centers the mind and focuses the attention on what is being studied. Comprehension is the third, which brings us to a new level of insight and discernment. The last step is reflection, which defines the significance of what we are studying and allows us to see things from God’s perspective. All of this requires humility, the acknowledgement that we are only the student, dependent on God for understanding and insight.
Study is different from devotional reading. Study seeks to understand what the Scripture means; devotional reading seeks to apply what it means to me.
There are many methods of study. Take a major book of the Bible and read it straight through, noticing the structure and flow of the book. Jot down thoughts and areas of difficulty to return to later. Take a smaller book and read it through each day for a month. Write down what you find. Use Bible dictionaries and commentaries, many of which can be found online or at your library. Study some of the classics of Christian literature. Once again, Foster gives many more ideas for how to practice the Discipline of study which I do not have the space or inclination to repeat.
Still with me? These are all Disciplines that Foster categorized as “Inward Disciplines”. Next week I’ll summarize the “Outward Disciplines”. I pray you will meet me here.

Sorrow Wrapped in Joy

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My third baby girl turns five on Monday.

IMG_3228

She was a New Year’s baby, the first of the year in our county.  In my own opinion, it would be difficult to find a better way to bring joy and hope to a new year than with a perfect baby.
Newborn
She passed her Papa on her way to us.
Papa
My dear friend, Martha Cook, said it well:  And so your Papa stood at Heaven’s Gate.  He saw as she passed by.  He blew a kiss.  “Samantha,” he said, “God is sending you to the best of families.”  Then he turned and entered into the arms of the God he served.  Well done.  Well done.
It is a truth of this world that joy is wrapped up with sorrow.  You cannot have one without the other.
It is the way of this world and it is the way of our God.  He loves us, knowing that the joy of His love will be enveloped in sorrow.  He loves us while He bears our grief and our sorrow.
Weeping in Gethsemane
If God Himself bears both joy and sorrow, how can we expect anything different?
Yet we do.  We expect joy without sorrow, love without grief.  When the grief and sorrow come, we shake our fists at this God and ask why?
And we should ask why, but a why of a different kind.  Why, God?  Why would You choose to love us when we continually turn our faces from You?  Why would You choose to take our grief and sorrow upon Yourself?  Why did You come to our rescue instead of leaving us to the fate we brought on ourselves?
On the Cross
We will not, in this life, have joy without sorrow.  We can either try to live this life with God or without Him.  With Him, the joys are brighter and the sorrows are lighter.
Walking with Christ
So breathe in and breathe out.
We receive what You give; We give thanks for what You give.
Our Living Water
Above all, we give thanks for You.

edited from the archives

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Going to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Christ and Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

This Flickering Hope

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

 

O Come
Flame
We cry out and we plead
O Come
Flickering
We need You. We hope for You.
O Come
Hope
Our hope is a flickering flame.
There are no bonfires of hope in a world like ours, only flames that flicker.
Sometimes our flame flickers so much that it seems, at times, to go out completely.

Hold on

Yet even if the flickering grows faint, hold on. It will not be extinguished altogether.
He promised.
…a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.
Hold on.
He will come
He promised He will come and set things right.
He is at this moment working through us – through you – to set it right.
Emmanuel
His promise was proved by His coming the first time. As a baby.
As Emmanuel.
God with us.
God with us
He established His Word as true by making His Word take on flesh and dwell among us.
God with us.
Emmanuel.
O Come
O Come
We raise our arms to the heavens in a desperate cry of
O Come
He replies, I did come and I will come again.
Emmanuel has promised.
Hope

This Industrious Advent

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It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is expectant.
hush
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is heavy.
waiting
It is the upraised conductor’s baton before the explosive opening salvo.
advent
Don’t let the quiet waiting deceive you. The very idea of the God who spoke light into existence becoming an eyeless embryo swimming in the dark of a womb is astounding.
Don’t let the season itself distract you. The caroling and feasting, the decorating and gifting, it all tries to smother the startling significance of advent.
bling
Candy cane 2We must try to “restore that quietness, that inner peace, that willingness to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to do nothing but fling bling and tinsel at us right through December.” ~ Malcolm Guite
Find your quiet moments and stay focused.
quiet
Advent celebrates a visitation to our world. A visitation that will happen again.
The visitation of our God upon this little planet of ours happened once and will happen again and we are to work to bring it about.
It is not a passive waiting. It is a heavy and expectant waiting. A waiting into which we are welcomed.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done…Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet. ~ J. B. Phillips
This advent is a waiting in which we are to pray and work for the spreading of God’s kingdom, for His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
This advent is a waiting in which we are to be awake and alert so that His coming will not be a horror to us but an unending joy.
It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is focused.
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is industrious.
advent
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017