What I Know

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This week I’m dusting off an old essay I wrote after my brother’s wife, Kristina, died of breast cancer just after watching her firstborn celebrate his first birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, probably because a woman with whom I used to sing is fighting the same thing. She is a mother of several young children and is watching the cancer spread rapidly all through her body. What do we do with circumstances such as these? Well, I don’t know much, and often there is nothing that we can say, but my thoughts from seven years ago haven’t changed much. I haven’t posted this since 2013, so here you go. Peace.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

A Prayer to the Light of the World

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My Lord, sometimes the words You speak seem cryptic.
You said that You are the light of the world.
light of the world
I don’t know what that means.
Does it mean that You show me the way to live or that You show me my sin?
Perhaps it means that You help me not to fall flat on my face as I stumble through life.
The king who fell flat on his face for a woman and yet still was Your king said that Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
O Word of God, show me the way I should walk and I will follow that path.
lamp to my feet
Master, You said that whoever follows You will not walk in darkness.
This world is full of darkness. Sometimes it is hard to believe that You can keep all of it at bay.
Hard to believe, that is, with all of my heart.
The darkness feels so weighty. Perhaps if I could ever truly follow you I would find that all darkness had been banished to my peripheral vision.
O King, show me how to follow and I will not stray to the right or to the left.
light to my path
Giver, You said that whoever follows You will have the light of life.
I don’t know what that means.
If it is a gift from You, however, I know that I desperately desire to have it.
Your blessed brother said that through You the Father is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of God’s glory with great joy.
O Sacrifice, if this blessed assurance is what it means to follow You, my eyes will remain fixed.
O Light, if being the Light of the world means that I have a way to walk through life, that the darkness of this world is defeated, that I will make it safely to the end of all things in Your care,
follow the Light
I will step full into the Light and never again glance back into the shadows.
my Savior and my Lord.

A reflection on John 8.12

Art Credits: final photograph is by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

Less a Command than a Promise

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I keep coming back to the idea of trust these days.
abandon
It is difficult to trust God in so many different areas sometimes.
We sing songs that speak things like take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory. In a song I recently played at church, Grateful, there is a line that says, Whatever comes I won’t complain.
Do I really mean that?
Will I truly tell God that He can have my life for His glory? Am I able to tell God that He can give me cancer, take away my sight, or, as it says in Job, “stretch out (His) hand and strike (my) flesh and bones” if doing so will bring Him glory?
strike my body
Perhaps.
After all, this life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Of what importance is my body compared to my or anyone else’s soul?
strike my family
trust
What about my family?
They are just as much a part of my life as my physical body. Am I able to tell God that He can have my family, do to them what He wills, even take them away from me if doing so will bring Him glory?
This is much harder.
Could I say with Job, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised?
Frightening questions.
care of the Lord
Yet why should I be afraid? Isn’t this the same God of Whom was said, “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”? Isn’t this the same God Who “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
Yet it IS frightening. It is so difficult to truly and deeply trust God.
Yet one thing that I am learning is that when God gives commands, He also gives power.
Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Carmelite nun, writes of when the Lord appeared to His disciples after the resurrection and said to them, “Peace be with you.” and she writes,
It has occurred to me that this salutation of the Lord must mean much more than the words suggest, as must also His telling the glorious Magdalen to go in peace; for the words of the Lord are like acts wrought in us.
When God commands us to be Holy as He is holy, when He commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, when He commands us to trust in Him with all our heart,
it is less a command than a promise.
Frederick Buechner puts it this way:
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.  And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us.  He has been in the wilderness for us.
Because at its heart the gospel is about God moving toward us, doing for us what we are incapable of doing on our own.  
So trust God.
And when you can’t trust God, ask Him to carry you the rest of the way into the promise of that trust.
I think we will find that God has not only moved toward us but has lifted us up and carried us the rest of the way toward Himself, even in the middle of our fear and doubt.

Art Credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki; Santa Teresa de Jesus by Alonso del Arco; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

The Poison and Peace of Words

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Our words have power.
It was so from the beginning.
The Word
The Word spoke and it was done. The Word breathed and life was bestowed.
We are created and we have His image and like our Father, our words make things happen.
Just as His words go out and do not return empty, neither can we throw heedless words to the wind. Just as all He speaks has deliberation and purpose, so should we have careful thought bolstering what we say. So should we speak with wisdom, with peace.
The Word peace
Too often we talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words. And our words are not of grace.
Poison
When we who pray the Lord’s Prayer also write ugly in online spaces, when we who sing of God’s love also snip at our family at home, when we who praise His servant-love also speak short and proud to those who serve us,
we pump poison into our world.
We forget that those on the receiving end of our arrows are just as beloved as we. When truth is forgotten, we who are called to reign and serve, to glorify and praise, we set the name of our King afire in the eyes of this world.
fire
Words exist for a different purpose.
God’s Word created man. He created man and then God’s Word became a man. He put on flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word flesh
The Word incarnate.
The Word came so that the incarnation can continue, so that our lives can become incarnate, the whole of life an incarnation of the Word.
The Word came to be wisdom and peace, and that is what we should speak into our world, with our mouths and with our lives, into this space we are given to influence.
The Word peace
So speak with wisdom and with peace rather than with poison and with fire.
the Word harvest
Our harvest of righteousness is waiting.

 

Art credits: Holy Night by Antonio da Correggio; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer; all other photos copyright by Made Sacred 2017

 

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Giger who writes weekly on her blog, Made Sacred (madesacred.com).

Our Manner of Death

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Death
We all will experience it.
Does it matter?
Does it matter how we die?
death
Death is something we all must think about, especially as physician assisted suicide becomes more and more accepted in our world.
If, as I argued last week, there is a created order to all things and therefore the way we think about and live out all things matters, then it matters how we think about death and dying.
If we do not, our culture will.
And we may not like our culture’s decisions.
dying
As life becomes more individualistic, so does death.
Most of us, when asked our preferred manner of dying, would say that we would rather slip away peacefully in our sleep without any warning.
For most of Christian history, the answer would have been different.
A common prayer was A subitanea morte, liber nos, Domine – From a sudden death, deliver us, O Lord.
Why? Christians understood that they existed in community. They understood that they were interwoven with the people around them and they wanted the chance to say their goodbyes, to make right any lingering feuds.
We seem to have become more frightened of death.
God in our death
There are two extremes in our culture, neither of which seem to fall within the confines of our Christian faith.
The first is to preserve life at all costs.
The quality of that life receives no consideration; doctors are asked to keep people alive regardless of the misery in which they may be existing.
It is a fear of death that keeps people clinging to a pale semblance of life.
The second is to end life prematurely.
It is autonomy run amok, autonomy that says I have the right to do whatever I wish with my life, including the right to end it, autonomy that rejects our creatureliness, our dependence on God.
It is a fear of a life that is “less than” that sends people seeking the oblivion of death.
trust in our death
We, as Christians, can accept death. We can recognize that God holds all times in His hands, that there is a time to live and a time to die, and when it is our time to die we are held close in those hands.
I have watched one I love recognize this and choose quality of his last days over the miserable clinging to a side-effect filled life that might have gained him a few months in the span of a full life well lived.
We, as Christians, can resist death. We can use the power of medicine to heal and see it as a gift of God for gaining more time to love those around us and to do His work, to bring His kingdom rule here on earth.
I have watched many I love fight for life while there was still hope and accept whatever was given to them by the hands of God.
death in God's hands
What we, as Christians, cannot do is to accept either extreme of avoiding death at all costs or aiming at death with all purpose.
Death
We must all consider it.
Does the manner of our death matter?
Culture is making its decisions.
Will we make ours?
IMG_6555

Thanks to Dr. Todd Daly for his research and thoughts on this topic.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

The Implications of a Created Order

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There is a created order.
order to nature
order to family
order to government
order to food
There is an outward created order. This is what scientists attempt to discover.
There is an inward created order. This is what poets attempt to discover.
The truth of this created order is what we Christ followers attempt to discover.
discovering the created order
If it is true that there is a created order to everything (and I do believe that this is indeed what Scripture indicates), then the way we think about everything matters.
Every aspect of the way we live matters.
There is no separation between God and work or family or government or health or…
anything.
If there is a created order then there are implications for all spheres of life.
order to home
order to agriculture
order to family
There is a way we were meant to consume food and material things.
There is a way we were meant to grow crops and tend animals.
There is a way we were meant to shepherd our imaginations and order our emotions.
If there is a created order then we should be seeking the truth of how we should follow that order in more areas than simply our churches and our private worship.
order to home
order to study
order to the earth
We should be seeking to know and have the mind of Christ, to see all things through Christ’s eyes.
Living a cruciform life involves all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
order to music
order to art
order to chores and service
order to nature
order to death
order to neighborhoods
order to government
order to food
This takes a great bending of our wills.
It is a bending that I, admittedly, am not ready to undertake in all of my crevices.
I think it is worth contemplating, however.
Perhaps the contemplation is the precursor to the work of bending my will so that I am able to live out this created order in all things.
This beautiful, created order.

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?

Four Corporate Disciplines

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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.