The Tension in Which We Live

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God promised to give Abram the land.
Abram
God promised Moses the same.
He brought Moses right up to the edge and promised the land to Israel.
Moses
God promised Joshua the land
and asked Joshua to fight.
Joshua
His promise was to give Israel the land
and He also asked Israel to fight the battles for the land.
Joshua led Israel in battle
and Israel fought for the land.
And yet God gave it to them.
Joshua's fight
As Israel fought, God caused the enemy to flee.
As Israel wielded their swords, God sent hailstones that killed more than the swords.
As Israel ran and sweat and grew bloody and bruised, God made the sun stand still.
God gave them the land
and Israel had to fight.
It is a tension within which we, too, are required to live.
God has promised to make us like Him
and He has asked us to work.
Our fight
God has promised to transform our lives
and He has given us disciplines to practice.
God's battle
It is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, so that no man may boast
and
Faith without works is dead
God, who saved us and called us…not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace
and
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We live in this tension.
This tension
As we sit in silence and solitude, God transforms our hearts.
As we meditate on God’s Words, God changes us into the hands and feet of the Word.
As we whisper faltering prayers, God grows fruit and works miracles.
God gives us our inheritance
and we are asked to fight. Our beautiful tension
It is beautiful, this tension in which we live.

Art credits: God’s covenant with Abraham, Bible primer; Moses Viewing the Promised Land by Frederick Edwin Church; Crossing the Jordan, Bible primer; Joshua at Gibeon, 5th century mosaic; all other photographs by Made Sacred, copyright 2018

My Wilderness Time Confession Part Two

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Last week was the first half of my own experience in attempting an extended time of silence and solitude. If you missed it, you can read that here. If you missed the previous posts on the necessity of practicing the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude, I wrote here about the necessity for silence and solitude in a world inundated by words; I wrote here about why silence and solitude are necessary for our souls as well as for the souls that surround us.
I pray that writing about my own feeble beginnings with this Habit are encouraging to you. As I wrote last week, for any who, like me, are just beginning to explore this idea of retreating with God, of spending “wilderness time” with Him, I don’t want you to come away with the idea that I am any good at this. I am experimenting and stumbling in this new Discipline, yet am convinced that the practice of it is worth my fumblings. Whichever new Discipline you are determined to begin, do not be discouraged when you are not proficient from the beginning.
 silence
For my second period of retreat with God, I went to a local church. I almost left before I even went in because of signs threatening dire consequences if I parked there. I could feel a war waging inside of me, but I had nowhere else to go so I entered the church with a quick prayer that my car would still be there when I returned.
A lady in the church showed me the sanctuary and was very hospitable, making sure I had what I needed, even offering to find a minister with whom I could speak if I so desired. After assuring her that I truly did simply want solitude and silence, I sat in a pew and again tried to simply be still.
solitude
Waiting
obeying
I find that I am most drawn to the presence of God in the presence of beauty, and so my eyes and my heart were drawn to the stained glass on either side of the sanctuary. It was a rainy day, which made the figures in the glass difficult to see, but I attempted to discern the story each section was telling. I asked the Spirit to speak to me through each Biblical story depicted. I again struggled to still my thoughts so that I could hear God.
There was a striking cross on the wall at the front of the room, with a glowing light coming from behind. My eye, however, was drawn to another cross. It was a plain, rough-hewn wooden cross, lying on its side on the floor. There often seems to be an inner beauty to a rugged cross that is missing from one that is more ornate.
listening
hoping
Henri Nouwen suggests using just one word or phrase over and over in an attempt to bring your mind down to your heart. I used a phrase from Elizabeth Goudge’s writing: “Lord, have mercy. Into Thy hands. Thee I adore.” Again, either my thoughts took over or I repeated that phrase in vain, without any success of emptying myself so that God could fill me.
I don’t know what to expect, neither do I understand exactly for what I am hoping. I pray that I will know it when it happens.
praying
searching
I ended my wilderness time by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. Included in the service was a liturgical confession spoken by the entire church. This drove home to me both the terrible heft of my sin and the truth that all of us in the Church are sinners together, falling short of the glory of God. I will never understand the reasons why Jesus bore our consequence, and all I can do is to offer my thanksgiving to our Father.
I went forward to receive the ashes. The priest marked my forehead with the ashy shape of the cross, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “You are marked by the cross and the forgiveness of Christ.” The weight of that struck my heart and, at least in that moment, I understood that if I never in my life hear from God except through Scripture, He has given me more gift than I deserve.
silence and solitude
Whether or not I ever have the joy of having a tangible experience of God’s presence, I trust in His promise to always be with me. He asks me to spend time in the wilderness with Him, and so I will obey, whether or not He ever chooses to allow me to experience His presence in ways that I can comprehend.

Art credits: all cathedral photographs are by the talented Kirk Sewell; candle photographs are copyright 2018 by the mediocre Made Sacred

My Wilderness Time Confession

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Before I wrote a few essays for Lent, I had been writing about the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude. I wrote here about the necessity for silence and solitude in a world inundated by words. I wrote here about why silence and solitude are necessary for our souls as well as for the souls that surround us.
silence and solitude
I thought it might be helpful (and amusing) for you to read about my first experience with an extended time (eight hours) of practicing this Discipline of silence and solitude.
For any who, like me, are just beginning to explore this idea of retreating with God, of spending “wilderness time” with Him, I don’t want you to come away with the idea that I am any good at this. I am experimenting and stumbling in this new Discipline, yet am convinced that the practice of it is worth my fumblings. Whichever new Discipline you are determined to begin, do not be discouraged when you are not proficient from the beginning.
“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.” Judith Valente in Atchison Blue
As it was my first time to spend so many hours alone with God, I strove to hold my expectations  for this wilderness time lightly, but I will confess that I came away disappointed. I had hoped to experience God in some way, to feel that I had truly met with Him, but I ended my time feeling more like I had failed. I was encouraged afterward by my professor who confessed that he, too, struggled when he first began this Discipline. It was encouraging to know that I am not the only one who didn’t have intimate moments on the first try, that I only need to persevere. This is one of the few areas in which my stubbornness can serve me well.
wilderness
I began my time wandering a path through some woods that are a short drive from my home. It was cold and snowy, and I was struck by the stark beauty of the bare tree limbs against the bright blue sky, the kind of blue that only seems to happen in the crisp cold of winter. I spoke to God as I walked and tried to listen. The silence all around me helped, but it was difficult to still my thoughts. I considered the imagery of walking a path as I wandered, praying that the Holy Spirit would guide me in this pursuit of Him.
retreat
silence
I sat for a long time on a large stone, watching a stream that was mostly frozen over. Just below the icy surface I could see the water racing furiously. My mind kept trying to consider how I could use this experience in my writing, and I kept trying to rein it back in. I felt fairly disgusted with myself for trying to use my wilderness time for non-spiritual gain, but I simply kept confessing my struggle to God and asking His Spirit to help me keep my thoughts on Him.
As I walked, I came across an outdoor chapel. There were large logs lined up in rows for seats, so I sat and tried again to be still. A rough-hewn cross was set up at the front of the chapel and I tried to keep my eyes and my heart focused on it. I don’t know how long I sat there, but after awhile I felt that I should kneel before that cross. So I obeyed and began confessing my sins as I knelt. For a brief moment, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for all that the cross meant, for Christ’s death and forgiveness. Then I was distracted by the creaking of the trees in the breeze and the moment was lost.
solitude
My path took me across the road to a cemetery. It is almost impossible to wander through a cemetery and not be filled with thoughts of life and death. As the path meandered around the tombstones, I read the messages of hope inscribed on many of them, messages of hope in the coming life for those whose lives are hidden in Christ. The small stones with dates that spanned only days or months were weightier than those whose dates spanned full lifetimes. I spoke with God about my own children, asking Him to give me the courage to remember that they belong to Him and not to me.
Seeking God
Just next to the cemetery is a chapel. It is a small, white, clapboard building, with a simple beauty to it. There are two aging family Bibles set under glass and I wondered what sorts of people had handled those pages, what tears and laughter had fallen over those words. I sat in the wooden pews for a long time and attempted to just be.
I tried so very hard to empty out my own thoughts so that I could hear God speaking to me. It is difficult to know what to expect when listening for an unseen Spirit. I am a very solid introvert, and a mother of four little ones, therefore I cherish my snatched moments of being alone, yet my introvertedness also gives me a rich inner world and I often have a difficult time stilling that world. I did not succeed this time. It is difficult to quiet my thoughts and listen to a voice deep underneath my own self. I left the church and walked slowly back through the woods to my car.
Discipline
I had to break my wilderness time into two parts. As this post is already too long for most of you to reach the end, I will share the second half of my time next week.
Blessings.

Art credits: Photographs of snowy woods with cabin and snowy woods with fence are by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

The Tension in Desiring Solitude

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I am nearing the end of this first year of a two year long journey through my Spiritual Formation course of study.  It has already been a difficult and beautiful journey.
Aren’t most beautiful things in life also difficult?
Hard Beauty
In my most recent class I learned much about solitude and silence. I recently wrote a piece that shared a little of what I learned; I’d like to share a bit more today.
As a part of this class, I read a book by Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart. Perhaps you are already familiar with his writings, but this was my first Nouwen book. I am already hungry for more.
He placed great emphasis on what must be the origin of our words, which spoke deeply to my own writer’s heart. His stress on carrying our solitude, silence, and prayer out into the world around us spoke deeply to my mother’s heart.
I want very much to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my writing.
I want desperately to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my parenting. 
Let the Little Ones Thirst
Nouwen writes that our words must be birthed out of silence, in the same manner as God’s Word.
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.
This is my prayer and my hope, that my words will be witness to the Word. I am learning that for my words to have meaning, for them to bear fruit, they must come from a place of solitude and silence.
Words out of Silence
My tendency, like many other writers, is toward verbosity. I love language, love how words work and play together, love to craft a sentence in just the right way. Often I err on the side of long-windedness.
Nouwen, again, writes directly about this tendency:
As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit.
I am intrigued by the idea that too many words weaken our faith.
Perhaps convicted is a better word than intrigued.
I am convicted by the thought that when I am not certain of my own convictions regarding this huge, holy, and terrifying God of ours, I write more than I ought in an attempt to enshroud my doubts in eloquent language.
Words out of Solitude
I am convicted by the thought that when I am doubtful of the Holy Spirit’s ability to reach someone’s heart, I pour out my own words in an attempt, as ridiculous as it is, to be the Holy Spirit myself.
Nouwen speaks, it seems, directly to me:
Sometimes it seems that our many words are more an expression of our doubt than of our faith. It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.
I am convicted by my own “wordy unbelief”.
Nouwen unequivocally writes that solitude and silence and prayer must result in a greater compassion towards those whom God has placed in our little piece of the world.
As a mother who stays home to school her children, this profoundly moves my heart. I understand that my children need my presence in their daily lives, and I desire that my children know God, that they thirst for Him. It is difficult sometimes to trust that leaving them for a period to spend wilderness time with God is in their best interest.
Parenting out of Solitude
Nouwen’s emphasis on the service aspect of wilderness time is helping my heart to agree with my mind:
Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.
Nouwen also writes of the way our world creates for us a false identity.
He says that we fall into the world’s version of best because we want to be perceived in a certain way by those around us. He teaches me that solitude (and silence and prayer) is the way in which I encounter a God who loves me enough to offer me a new self. It is this new self that has the capacity for having compassion on the broken people around me.
It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.
It is in the wilderness that I become deeply aware of my solidarity with my children, with my husband, with my neighbors.
I am quite often a prideful and self-righteous person, and I desperately need this “solitude that molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry.”
I need to become more gentle; I need my very life to become ministry. Everyone around me needs this too.
I am far from understanding all of this, far from being able to put it all into practice. 
Yet I will continue reading as I struggle to understand the importance of wilderness time, as I search for what it looks like to spend long stretches of time alone with God.
I will continue to seek ways to put these ideas into practice, even with little ones running around my feet.
Will you continue to join me in this journey?

Value in Our Lenten Suffering

I am relaxing with my family away from the internet this week. To follow last week’s post on Lenten suffering, I have pulled this related post from the archives. Read, be blessed, and go enjoy your own family and friends.
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.

 

Where in the world but in Christianity?
Where in the world could you find a premise about life that ekes value out of suffering?
Beginning
Beginning
Suffering happens. There is no denying this. But to find value in this suffering that is common to us all?
The ancient Jews had come to understand this.
Isaiah. Jeremiah. Daniel. The Psalms.
This theory of the way life works finds its fulfillment in Jesus, of course.
…He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
To be made perfect.
This is our goal, our telos, or vision of life toward which our whole being is aimed.
To bring glory to God and to be God’s rulers on earth.
How? By being made like Jesus.
And it is our obedience in the middle of our suffering that brings this about.
Whether we are suffering from what others have done to us, whether we are suffering from grief or pain, whether we are simply suffering because our faithful lives are out of step with the people and powers of this world, when we are obedient in this suffering, we are made like Jesus.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Obedience in little things, every day, is practice for the urgent things, the catastrophes.
Obedience daily prepares us, is the only thing that can prepare us, for obedience in suffering
We celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Our hope is for the glory of God.
His glory is both the divine stewardship of this earth entrusted to us and the return of His presence to His people after our long exile.
Our hope is to be made like Jesus.
To be made perfect, as He is perfect.
End as it was created to be
End as it was created to be
This is the value in our suffering.
This is what makes it all worth it in the end.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Art credit: All photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2018

God’s Lenten Love

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.

 

Lent is a time of self-denial, a time of sacrifice.
Lent
self-denial
Lent is a time of giving up, a time of letting go.
Lent is a time of death.
death
sacrifice
Perhaps it seems strange that a God Who claims to be Love would ask for His beloved to practice such harsh disciplines.
The difficulty often lies in our idea of love.
We see love as sweet and soft, as gift giving and hugs, as making someone happy.
God’s love, however, is a fiery love.
fiery love
fierce love
God’s love is a love that cares so fiercely about His beloved’s joy that He refuses to leave anything in His beloved that might diminish that joy.
God Who is love asks us to die to ourselves because He knows that you cannot have glory without suffering.
He knows from experience that you cannot have resurrection without death.
Lenten love
letting go
Lent has already begun, but it is not too late to begin practicing how to die to yourself.
Fast for a meal or two; give up television for an evening. Use that time to read God’s words and pray.
Set aside thirty minutes to practice solitude and silence. Go somewhere you can be completely alone and try to still your mind and listen to God.
These habits take practice, so start small.
giving up
Let God’s Spirit teach you how to deny yourself, to give up, to sacrifice.
resurrection
Learn how to die.
Only then can God give you His resurrection.
Lent
Learn how to Lent, and God will give you Easter.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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.