I highly recommend reading through Keith and Kristyn Getty’s book, SING! It present some great thoughts about why and how we sing. They especially spend time talking about singing as a church and singing in the family.
Here are a few questions they pose in their book. They are worth considering.
Can you recall your earliest memory of singing? How did it make you feel?
What to you experience during congregational singing – feelings like joy, fear, self-consciousness, freedom, etc.,?
How do you feel about singing not only songs you like but songs you need to sing?
You can find SING! here.
Building on a previous post, here is a quote worth considering from as book I will recommend in tomorrow’s post.
You need to grow your appetite for good soul food – for congregational singing. You grow it through focus, and by follow-up. When you are in church, and you stand to sing, consciously focus on what is going on, so that your attention does not flicker. When we sing, it is not that God suddenly arrives (He is in all places, at all times). He is never absent – but very often, we are…. Ask God to help you focus; think about the words you are singing and the images they are painting; respond in prayer to lines that particularly strike you; be mindful of those around you, enjoying being part of something greater than just yourself…. If you find your attention has, after all, flickered, don’t give up – refocus.Keith and Kristyn Getty, SING!
Perhaps one of the most important helps in practicing the discipline of singing is also one of the simplest. Thinking!
It is easy to be immensely familiar with a song and yet have never ‘listened to the lyrics’. It is easy to sing a song simply because we know it and have sung it many times before, and yet never really thinking about what we are saying. Yet, this is perhaps one of the most important ways to make singing helpful as a discipline. Think about what you are singing! What does it mean? Is it true? Do I really believe this?
The great thing about songs is the lyrical poetry that portrays Biblical truths in compelling ways. Sometimes the language is poetic, sometimes it is full of analogy, sometimes the words are unfamiliar or strange. We can easily pass over these truths as ‘irrelevant’, or ‘confusing’, even ‘familiar’ but when we sing with out thinking such truths come alive.
Engaging your thinking while singing helps to shift the truths from your lips to your head and often then deep into your heart. Sing God’s truths into your heart [Colossians 3:16]!
Perhaps one of the most important and simplest hints for the pursuit of community is about serving others. The Apostle Peter talks about this.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies– in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”1 Peter 4:10-11
Don’t miss Peter’s emphasis on the call to serve one another. This is why God gives us gifts, not for our own identity and self-importance but for the sake of helping and building one another stronger.
So often and so easily, our pursuit of community is about self-satisfaction. We seek to gain something from community for ourselves. Community becomes selfish – it is about my likes and dislikes and expecting everyone else to match me. Or, when something upsets us or offends us we walk away and find another community.
It is challenging to thing about how we approach community – do we do so selfishly, or do we come with a readiness to serve others. It can make all the difference to community.
One of the great habits towards practicing the discipline of community is hospitality. There’s a number of key times that the New Testament calls us to practice hospitality.
“Seek to show hospitality!”Romans 12:13
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”1 Peter 4:9-10
It is worth asking, exactly what is this idea of hospitality?
One way to think of it is about inviting people into your home and sharing a meal together. Jesus own example was one of hospitality around the meal table. Quite a number of Jesus’ key interactions with the disciples and others were around meals. There is something about sharing a meal that allows people to go much deeper into their relationships and interactions. In the context of gathering together, even over a coffee, there is a chance to interact and practice the discipline of community.
“Long before the church had pulpits and baptistries, she had kitchens and dinner tables…the primary gathering place of the church was the home…something holy happens around the dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary.”Max Lucado
At the same time, hospitality is not just about having friends into your home. One of the New Testament words actually communicates the idea of brotherly love for the stranger. It is comprised of two Greek words related to ‘philo’, meaning brotherly love, and ‘xeno’, like our idea of xenophobia – a dislike of people from other cultures. So part of our concept of hospitality is to be friendly to the stranger – to the people that we don’t know well, or don’t naturally click, the people that we might consider un-likeable.
There are all sorts of ways to practice hospitality. Michael Frost suggests shaping a habit of hospitality such that one endeavours three hospitable pursuits each week. At least one of these expressions of hospitality should be to someone outside of the church community. It is a helpful way to shape such a habit into our lives. Especially since, hospitality is a really helpful way to pursue the discipline of community.
The story is told of an attendee of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.
Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.
After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.
As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and “dead as a doornail.”
Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.
Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”
It is interesting to think through the centrality of community right from the beginning of the Bible, the very start of creation.
Theologians often talk about the community that exists within the reality of the Trinity – three persons that are one God. Each member of the trinity plays a role and has responsibility; all the members of the trinity are unified and together. You would not be the first to connect the existence of community in the trinity with the concept of mankind being created in the image of God. Humans also exist with this imprint of community.
We see this played out in two ways within the context of Genesis 1-2. First, we see a sense of community between man and God. There is a depth of relationship between Adam and God [Genesis 2:15-19]. God also creates Eve and the accompanying community between humans [Genesis 2:20-25]. In fact, God created Eve because there was no compatible communion for Adam up to that point. We often talk about these two directions of community as VERTICAL [between man and God] and HORIZONTAL [between people].
In the beginning, this community is perfect and good and complete. We see evidence of that between Adam and Eve [2:25] and between man and God [3:8]. But sin destroyed this. The closeness and wholeness of community is torn apart. Adam and Eve hide are ashamed and self-conscious before each other [3:7] and they hide from God [3:8]. Community is devastated.
The stories of Genesis continue to demonstrate and show the tearing apart of both the vertical and horizontal community that man had originally been created to experience. Ultimately, though, the story of redemption throughout the Bible is about restoring this community. Jesus provides a way and means to such restoration, while the final chapters present a re-painted picture of the original created community restored.
The story of community is central to the Bible. From isn’t creation, to its ruin, and finally, to its restoration.
In a discussion of helpful hints for the pursuit of Christian community, perhaps the most obvious to think through is Sunday Service attendance. Sundays are a chance for the church community to gather together as a whole.
Sunday gatherings provide an opportunity to demonstrate community – we see and show that there is a larger community of people sharing a common bond through Jesus.
Sunday gatherings provide an opportunity to focus on, and worship God. Central to that should be a practice of Gospel and Jesus centered emphasis. Therefore it plays a role of pointing us to Jesus.
Sunday gatherings provide an opportunity to pursue deeper community. The typical Sunday service seems to lack the depth of community that one can have around a kitchen table, but opportunities to pursue deeper community often flow from connections and occasions that arise from the community shaping contacts made at a larger gathering.
Often the practice can become very traditional and occurs with little thought to intention or purpose. But it is a key means by which we can practice Christian community. It exists to help us ‘meet together’ while also existing to point us, and others, to Jesus. The Sunday gathering is a vital part of the Christian community.
Today’s suggestion around the discipline of being still and rest focuses on the practice of silence.
The gurus warn against putting a methodology to silence.
“The person who views the disciplines as laws will always turn silence into and absurdity, ‘I’ll not speak for the next 40 days!’”Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
‘…silence will be richly rewarded if they do not set any conditions on how they expect this encounter to take place or what they hope to get form it, but simply accept it as it comes.’Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
So for fear of trying to advise you in something we are warned against systemetising. Let me at least point you in some starting direction.
First suggestion Silence amidst solitude. Take the time to seek for a solitary, quiet place to practice silence. Even Jesus, in Matthew 6:6 talks of escaping into a quiet, remote room [or closet] to pray; and Jesus, judging by the numerous accounts of Him escaping the business of life to spend time with God, was a master of silence and stillness. Try to set a specific time for such solitude. Put away the gadgets; go off the grid; find a quiet, solitary place, minus all possible distractions, and practice listening to God.
Second suggestion Silence amidst noise. Solitude is not something we can practice often – a mother at home with a room full of kids can’t just drive down to the river and hope that no one burns down the house. But that doesn’t mean we give up on silence – or maybe more specifically, listening. Even amidst the audible noise that continues around about it is not impossible to mentally switch off all that is unnecessary and seek to listen. I’m told it was Susanna Wesley – the mother of John and Charles – who taught her children to give her space whenever she covered her head with her apron. Even amidst the noise it is wise to practice silence by intentionally listening to God.
Third suggestion Silence amidst other disciplines. Of course, there is the opportunity to tie the practice of silence with other disciplines. The discipline of prayer, for instance; even the discipline of meditation. If silence is about listening, then reading and consciously seeking to listen to the Word of God would be a wise practice. And just so in our prayers. Rather than filling prayer with our own words and thoughts – silence causes us to take a breath, to pause, to stop and to listen – even to listen for what we should talk with God about. So silence is something easily/wisely intertwined with the other disciplines.
My final suggestion would be to start small. Don’t think that you can just set aside a whole 8 hours tomorrow to be silent. You might be able to succeed at being verbally silent – but our minds have a way of wandering and being easily distracted rather than focusing on God and listening to Him. So, I would suggest starting small. Start with a few minutes, master that and then add on a few more minutes. Don’t think that you can lift the biggest dumbbell straight-out – there is a sense in which we have to practice this discipline of silence and learn this art of listening.
This week’s spiritual discipline topic is about being still and resting. The Biblical practice of Sabbath first right into this topic. Although Sabbath was expected on the seventh day of the week, the principle of taking a ‘sabbath’ to rest and focus on God is key. It is well worth thinking how it could be intentionally practiced in addition to any traditions and practices around the ‘Sunday’ practices; above and beyond your Sunday habits. Think of it as a ‘Sunday on steroids’.
First, pick a day to cease from everything that would otherwise drive your week. I would suggest sometime mid-week, make it an exercise of giving God priority rather than your ToDo list or your work commitments!
Then I would suggest you go away. Go somewhere you won’t be able to be distracted by others or distracted by the odd jobs that catch your eye. Escape to a place of solitude. My uncle used to go for walks in the hills; the church fathers used to escape to the desert. We are very blessed in Mildura; we don’t have hills or a beach, but we do have plenty of desert and a stunning, serene river. Escape to somewhere quiet.
Hand in hand with that is the need to switch-off. I mean literally; switch off the phone, don’t check the emails, ignore facebook – realistically if we take them with us they will soon become a distraction. Switch them off. Technology is great, but it can run our lives at times too. Switch-off.
The big question then is what to do for that whole day [of half-day, or whatever time you have allotted]. Because the idea of going away and taking a Sabbath seems to be very daunting to many people. But it seems to me to be kind of like the first few times you embark on something new; at first we are often apprehensive and unsure but the more it happens the more normal it becomes. Still the big and obvious question is what do you actually do on a day when you cease from what you would otherwise do??? We’ve already talked about many other disciplines that could be incorporated into a Sabbath day. Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, listening, journaling, silence, walking, imagination, even sleeping. (sleeping is about subjecting yourself to God’s order of creation rather than fighting our God-given needs.) On a Sabbath day, you do whatever needs to be done to cease from everything else and to spend time with God.
Do it all in the context of submitting to God and Meeting Him. Trusting Him, worshipping Him, loving Him, obeying Him, seeking Him, listening to Him, talking with Him. Be very intentional throughout the day about actually meeting with God. Isn’t that what it is all about – it is a practice to bring us to and remind us of God’s presence and our dependence.
Hopefully that gives you a starting place. If it is something you would plan to try [which I strongly encourage] I would be very happy to help further. But there is a starting place with some practical steps towards the discipline of rest. “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10
For today’s helpful hint to turn times of suffering into times of spiritual discipline I want to suggest looking for Jesus. That is the whole Footprints poem isn’t it – that in our darkest most difficult moments we weren’t walking by ourselves but we are carried along and helped by Jesus. But if we are only complaining about our lot or looking for a way out; if our initial response smacks of ‘why me’, then we might miss the chance to see Jesus reach out His hand to pull us out of the water again.
“One night I dreamed a dream. I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me I looked back at the footprints in the sand. There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life. This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.””
Expect Jesus! Listen and learn from Jesus, just as the Apostle Paul did in 1 Corinthians 11 & 12! Look for Jesus and His comfort and His grace!
For today let me offer a simple, maybe familiar, but nonetheless important hint for turning suffering into a spiritual discipline. Prayer! It seems obvious, but it is easily missed. Especially in the midst of difficulty. Suffering can be very polarizing; it can drive us to God or it can drive us away from God. Remember yesterday’s quote from John Ortberg, “Suffering always changes us, but it does not necessarily change us for the better.” By intentionally turning to prayer in all shapes and forms of difficulty we shape an important habit. We need to be intentional and committed to prayer in the big trials and disappointments of life as well as the small. And not just a quick prayer sent off for God to catch on your way past. Make a commitment to relentlessly persevere in prayer. Relentlessly persevere in prayer in the midst of suffering!
I know! It is strange to consider suffering as a spiritual discipline. But, just like the well-known spiritual disciplines, suffering has the potential to bring us to God. As John Ortberg observes, “Suffering always changes us, but it does not necessarily change us for the better.” So, over the next few days I want to make some brief and simple suggestions to help us turn our suffering into a spiritual discipline exercise.
First, begin with the mini-trials. You don’t go lifting weights like the Olympians cold-turkey. You start small and you build up to it. Just so, don’t wait for a nuclear war, or to be fired from your job, or for your family to disappear before you start turning the trials of life into spiritual disciplines. Life is full of mini-trials; the little things that make life tough. The traffic jams down Deakin avenue; the long lines in Woolworths; the neighbour that plays music too loud; the class clowns and bullies; the colleague that just doesn’t seem interested in getting along; a bout of the common cold. These can all become spiritual discipline opportunities.
In 2 Corinthians 11-12, the Apostle Paul talked about weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. These sufferings included beatings and shipwrecks, yes, but also his simple concern for his friends. Elsewhere he seems to talk about his stage-fright and poor communication skills [1 Cor 2:3-4].
There are everyday situations, mini-trials, that we can turn into spiritual discipline exercises. Start there! Start with the mini-trials. Practice responding to these with an intention to draw nearer to God. All the while remembering that, through Jesus, God heals.
This weeks Spiritual Discipline focus is on Suffering.
You can listen to the sermon exploration here.
But allow me to add to that an extra thought for today. Especially considering the much needed rain over the past few days. John Bunyan once wrote,
“The dark clouds bring rain when the bright bring none.”John Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress Introduction
In other words, it is a picture of the darkest times bringing something profitable and refreshing. It is not easy to hear in the midst of the lightning and thunder; but to see the rainbow that follows, the glorious greenery on parched lands, the smell of freshness, the revitalized flora. They are all things that don’t come with blue skies and sunshiny days. Perhaps it can be much the same in our own lives. The dark times bring growth when the easy times bring none.
I thought I would share a tid-bit of historical story that relates to the topic of confession. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 thesis on the church noticeboard in Wittenburg, Germany. This began a massive reformation of the church. He was prompted to do that because the church of his day went around telling people that if they paid enough money to just see a sacred icon, or if they bought a piece of paper that told them they were forgiven any future sin would be forgiven [see final story below]. He was deeply concerned because his parishioners no longer felt the need to confess their sins. Why should they, they literally held a ticket to heaven – a piece of paper they paid for which promised them an entrance to Heaven. So why practice confession any more? So the first statement of his 95 thesis, “When our Lord and master, Jesus Christ, said repent! He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This was an attempt to remind the church of the importance of continual repentance and confession. So that the individual never forgot their need of Jesus.
Quite aside from the rightness or wrongness of his expected practice of going to confession, Luther was concerned that his parishioners no longer recognized the need for Jesus’ forgiveness. So he began by preaching a series of sermons. He explained, “…the paper they purchased meant nothing if they were not genuinely contrite for any sins they had committed. And if they were genuinely contrite, the paper still meant nothing, because God forgave their sins anyway.” [Metaxas, Martin Luther, p. 103]
The Catholic practice of indulgence selling was essentially a money making ruse. But there is a somewhat humorous story, whether fact or legend, relating to Johannes Tetzel. Tetzel was a well-known indulgence peddler, famous for reportedly saying that an indulgence would grant forgiveness even if they purchaser were to ‘rape the mother of God.’ The story goes, “After Tetzel had received a substantial amount of money at Leipzig, a nobleman asked him if it were possible to receive a letter of indulgence for a future sin. Tetzel quickly answered in the affirmative, insisting, however, that the payment had to be made at once. This the nobleman did, receiving thereupon letter and seal from Tetzel. When Tetzel left Leipzig the nobleman attacked him along the way, gave him a thorough beating, and sent him back empty-handed to Leipzig with the comment that this was the future sin which heh had in mind.” [Metaxas, Martin Luther, p. 106]
Today I want to re-highlight a helpful resource. It is a book of collected and edited puritan prayers. I highlighted it as a helpful hint for the discipline of prayer. Today I want to post two prayers from the book that beautifully demonstration the discipline of confession. Note the admission of ingrained failures and the corresponding joy that is reflected in these prayers.
O God of Grace,
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute, and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with the jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness.
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for thou dost always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, Father, forgive me, and thou are always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it, ever evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.The Valley of Vision, p 136-137
MAN A NOTHING
I am a shell full of dust, but animated with an invisible rational soul and made anew by an unseen power of grace;
Yet I am no rare object of valuable price, but one that has nothing and is nothing, although chosen of thee from eternity, given to Christ, and born again;
I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, of the vanity of creatures, but also of the sufficiency of Christ.
When thou wouldst guide me I control myself, when thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself. When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself. When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself, when I should submit to thy providence I follow my will, When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself; I fault and correct they laws to suit myself, Instead of thee I look to a man’s approbation, and am by nature in idolater.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee. Convince me that I cannot be my own God, or make myself happy, nor my own Christ to restore my joy, nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction, for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower, when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away, when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart; show mw that none of these things can heal a wounded conscience, or support a tottering frame, or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross and leave me there.The Valley of Vision, p. 166-167
If you would like a copy of The Valley of Vision, you can order them here.
In addition to yesterday’s suggestion towards deeper self-examination, today’s hint for confession has to do with sorrow. It is very easy for our confession and repentance to be more about self-preservation than genuine sorrow. Such sorrow is not merely an emotion but a genuine abhorrence towards our failure. Abhorrence that is not motivated by fear of punishment or desire of blessing, but an abhorrence fed by the realization and recognition of how my failures would offend the heart of God. It is almost a form of empathy. This seems to be Paul’s focus in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 where he highlights two forms of sorrow. One is worldly, the other godly. One is healthy the other is not. One leads to growth; the other leads to death.
As you practice the discipline of confession take the time to acknowledge the seriousness of your failures. Of course, it is equally important that we match our sorrowful abhorrence with a joyful confidence. Knowing that, through faith and trust in the work of Jesus, we have complete forgiveness before God. Our confession does not separate us from the love of God but we have peace with God [Romans 8:1, 31-39; 1 John 1:9].
When it comes to the discipline of confession we can’t fudge it. By that I mean you need to take the time to reflect and dig out the specifics of your failures. It isn’t enough to just admit to a failure in general terms. “I’m sorry for my anger,” is too vague to be really helpful.
“A generalized confession may save us from humiliation and shame, but it will not ignite inner healing.”Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
It is important to be specific. “This morning I was angry and I yelled at Bob,” is a much better example. It helps us to identify the ways in which we actually fail.
Even better, go a step further. Confess the deeper motivations that led to these specific actions. “I was angry and I yelled at Bob because I wanted to be in control.” Here is where we begin to see our idols – the things that are most important to us. It is only when we begin to identify them that we can learn how much they fail us and remember the greater beauty of Jesus.
The more specifically we can confess our failures and what led to those failures, the more specifically we can acknowledge God’s forgiveness and seek for His help.
“Confession is about admitting concrete sins. People usually justify themselves by making a general acknowledgement of sin. But I experience the compete forlornness and corruption of human nature, insofar as I ever experience it at all, when I see my own specific sins.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
There’s a moment in the life of Jesus when he is asked by some bright spark, why He doesn’t expect His disciples to fast like so many of the other Rabbis expected of their followers. Although Jesus talks about fasting, and He Himself practiced it, it obviously wasn’t as prioritized as other groups of their day. The story is in Mark 2:18-20
Jesus response with an analogy, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” [Mark 2:19-20]
In other words, gorging yourself on MacDonalds 10 minutes before arriving at your sister’s wedding reception is not a good idea. Especially if you were so full that you couldn’t eat another bite during the actual wedding feast when everyone else was eating and celebrating [and for free]. Typically, once everything is in full swing, no one fasts during a wedding feast. The bridge and groom are there, that is why everyone has come, so everyone is eating. That is what Jesus is saying, no one fasts when you have everything you need, when your whole purpose is fulfilled. At that point His disciples have everything they need right here with them. “I’m the bridegroom,” Jesus says, “I’m here!” What more could they ask for? What could be more important? What could be more filling? What could be more satisfying? What do they have to fast for? But when the bridegroom leaves then they will fast once again.
There is a lesson here for us. Sometimes we live as though our wedding feast is still in the here and now. Because we have so much available to us; so many options of things that we can pursue as our purpose and fulfillment, we hardly notice our lack. We have so much to feed on, so many things that promise to fill us and satisfy us, so many bridegrooms promising us a feast, that we forget that it is Jesus that is the true bread of life!
Fasting can still be a useful reminder, to our minds, bodies, hearts and motivations, that our real satisfaction is not to be found in the here and now. We cannot find our satisfaction in the Created world. We need to look to the Creator.
If we buy into the lie that we have everything that we need in the here and now we will forget the desperate importance of seeking Jesus. Fasting helps remind us of our focus, and helps us focus on seeking Jesus.
For today’s post I want to share a few quotes regarding fasting. The first is from John Piper. I used this in the sermon on fasting, but it is well worth pondering.
“Do you have a hunger for God? If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting.”John Piper, A Hunger for God [online book ]
The next one comes from John Calvin. Similar to John Piper, Calvin makes an intriguing observation about food and satisfaction becoming a distraction from our hunger for God.
“…whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer. Their sole purpose in this kind of fasting is to render themselves more eager and unencumbered for prayer…with a full stomach our mind is not so lifted up to God.”John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3 Chapter 12
Andrew Murray adds a helpful thought about fasting being a way to learn and express dependence on God. More specifically, he identifies the impact that an outward action can have on a person’s inner attitude.
“We are creatures of the senses. Our minds are helped by what comes to us in concrete form. Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain to the Kingdom of God.”Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer
Finally a quote from John Wesley. Wesley habitually practiced the discipline of fasting and expected his followers to do the same. He encourage them to fast twice weekly. Although Wesley’s intentions seem right, his enforcement became somewhat legalistic. His insight here is nonetheless helpful.
“Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it. It is not all, nor yet is it nothing. It is not the end, but it is a precious means thereto; a means which God Himself has ordained, and in which therefore, when it is duly used He will surely give us His blessing.”John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, vol 5 – Sermon on the Mount
The spiritual discipline of fasting is not just about willingly abstaining from something, it is also about intentionally feasting on God. Whatever the motivation for your fast, whether desperation or a renewed passion, there should also be an element of meeting with God. Which means, there are other disciplines and practices that go hand-in-hand with fasting. Especially the discipline of prayer. In many ways the two should be inseparable – they go hand in hand. You fast so that you can feast on God – and it would be somewhat ignorant to ignore the role that prayer has in feasting and focusing on God. To simply go without food and then not focus on God through something so available as prayer misses the whole point of this spiritual discipline.
Practically speaking it is well worth beginning your fast with prayer. Asking God for strength and self-control while also expressing the motivation and need for your fast. Then, throughout the fast, whenever you are reminded that you are fasting, use this reminder as a prompt for prayer. When it comes to finishing your fast, your first bite of food for instance, take some time to thank God for His provision. You will find that there is a greater sense of joy and appreciation for the simple, everyday things of life when you have gone without them for a time.
So be intentional about praying and including the other spiritual disciplines to help focus on God. Hunger, in particular, is a constant reminder to pray; while, at the same time prayer and meditation and silence and the other disciplines, are all things you can do in place of what you are fasting from. Begin with prayer, finish with prayer, and use every reminder and opportunity during the fast to meet with God through prayer.
When it comes to the spiritual discipline of fasting the practical question of how is a big issue. Unlike Bible reading and prayer, we are typically not as familiar with the practice of fasting. So our first helpful hint is quite practical. Begin by answering three things: why, what, and when.
First, why are you fasting? What is it that motivates the fast? There is something to be said for being intentional about why you are going to fast and focus on God. Is there a particular need? Are you burdened by something specifically? Are you desperate for guidance? Or maybe it would be to simply hunger and feast and to grow with God. Why are you going to fast! What is the hunger that makes you want to feast on God? Answering this why question before you start is important in the midst of the fast.
Second, what are you fasting from? If fasting involves intentionally abstaining from something, what are you going to give up? You can’t change the boundary posts half-way through. Generally, you want to pick something that is an important and normal part of life. Something that is going to be a loud reminder that you are intentionally going without it. Food is the typical suggestion. Food is such a normal and necessary part of life that it works just fine. But it doesn’t have to be food [remember Daniel 10:3]. Technology, facebook, chocolate, coffee – they can all serve the same purpose just so long as it presents an interruption and a challenge. That being said, I would strongly suggest that you try food; it has been the staple fast for centuries.
Third, when will you fast? Again, you need to decide this before the outset. If you begin by thinking you would like to fast for one week but you will see how you go, then you will most likely end up exiting before that week is up. There are no rules for how long a fast has to last, it is simply choosing an appropriate length that will test your ‘hunger’. It is worth starting small. If fasting from food, you could fast 24 hours from lunch time to lunch time [starting at lunch only misses two meals]; taking a whole day generally ends up being 36 hours [dinner the night before till breakfast the next day]. Start simply. Just make sure the length of time is appropriate for your situation – what you can sensibly handle, the motivation for the fast, and what you are fasting from [fasting from chocolate for one day probably isn’t that much of a test]. Most importantly, make the decision before you start rather than playing it by ear.
The following ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ tool may be helpful to get you started.
I am fasting and praying towards _____________________ (spiritual renewal, guidance, revival, problem resolution, special grace to handle a situation, finances, ministry, family, salvation of others, etc.)
So I am fasting from (foods, meals, media etc.) ________________________.
I plan to fast on _________________________ (day, date) for ___________________ (morning, daylight, 12/24 hours, number of days)
Today’s helpful hint for using prayer as a spiritual discipline is a simple resource suggestion. Over the years I have been immensely blessed by praying the prayers in a book called “Valley of Vision”. It is a collection of prayers penned by various Christian stalwarts throughout the centuries.
There is nothing wrong with using pre-prepared prayers. If you pray them with the depth of your heart and the intention of meeting with God they are just as good as ad hoc prayers.
Nehemiah gives us a great example of prayer. The way he approaches God in Nehemiah 1:5-11 gives us a blueprint for how we might pray. This is by no means the only way to pray, nor is it they key to prayer, but it is a helpful process to think through.
First, Nehemiah acknowledges the greatness and majesty of God.
“O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants….”Nehemiah 1:5-6a
This is a great place to start in our prayers. Recognition of who God is and how that impacts our lives and attitude, especially our approach, towards Him. Nehemiah acknowledges that God is great and that He hears Nehemiah’s pleas.
Second, Nehemiah confesses his failure and the failure of his countrymen to acknowledge that greatness of God and live accordingly. Especially their failure to uphold their covenant with God.
“…confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”Nehemiah 1:6b-7
It is important to reflect on our failures throughout life, and to repent of those failures. Confession and repentance is an act of humility. It acknowledges that we fail to practically live worthy of God. It helps to put our hearts in a right attitude before God.
Third, Nehemiah remembers God’s promises.
“Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.'”Nehemiah 1:8-9
This is a really key part of Nehemiah’s prayer. He doesn’t end at repentance but he shifts to matching his failures with God’s promises. If we simply end with repentance we can become very defeated; if we only focus on the promises we can become blindly arrogant. Both confession leading to repentance and promises that lead to rejoicing are necessary together. Note, also, that the promises relate to the failures. In light of the people’s failure to obey the covenant and their resulting judgment, Nehemiah recalls God’s promise of restoration.
Finally, Nehemiah asks God to work in light of the promise.
“They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”Nehemiah 1:10-11
It is because of God’s promise to restore the people that Nehemiah can confidently ask God to be with him and grant him mercy before the king. Nehemiah’s doesn’t begin with the asking; his asking has flown from his worship, repentance and reflection on the promises.
This is very similar to using the acronym ACTS to guide our prayers. The acronym stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. But there is a significant difference between this practice and the ACTS concept in that each of the movements relate to the one before. Just like Nehemiah’s prayer. Each shift in Nehemiah’s prayer is not a standalone theme. Nehemiah’s prayer flows and fits together. He acknowledges God’s majesty, his failure to keep this majestic God’s covenant, God’s promises to restore his people, and then he asks God to help in light of His promise.
This is a helpful format when praying individually, but especially as a group. Someone focuses on praising God, someone focuses on confessing, someone focuses on remembering God’s promises, and someone then requests God’s help. But take the time to reflect and meditate on how each of those stopping points influences the one to follow and how it all fits together.
Today I want us to think about the importance of the positions we adopt when we pray. There are two extreme errors in the context of this topic. One the one hand, we could make the mistake of thinking that our bodily position affects the effectiveness of our prayers; on the other hand, it would be ignorant to suggest that our positions don’t impact our prayers at all. CS Lewis makes some intriguing observations in this regard.
“The body ought to pray as well as the soul.”CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm
Add to that a thought from Screwtape Letters. You have to read Screwtape oppositely as Lewis writes from the perspective of one demon advising another.
“[Humans] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers…they constantly forget…that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.“CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Lewis challenges us to at least consider how the positions we adopt when we pray might impact our approach to prayer. I have found this to be very true [and not just in my prayers but also in my meditation]. My approach to prayer is far more serious and intentional when I’m on my knees. Although I can pray at any point and anywhere, even walking down the street, and God listens just the same, adopting a physical position for prayer makes an impact on my personal focus and attitude.
Let me be clear, the position you take when you pray doesn’t mean God is going to hear you any less or more, but it can have an impact on your own approach to prayer. As such, it has an immense impact on how effective prayer can be as a spiritual discipline.
So, hear this as an encouragement to adopt a bodily position that reflects your motivation for prayer. On your knees is a great start!
As an added extra here is a picture of John Wesley’s prayer room. He had a small room built just off his bedroom which he devoted to prayer and meditation. He would kneel at this desk and here spend time meeting with God.
Today’s hint for using prayer as a spiritual discipline is something simple. Prayer walking! By prayer walking I don’t mean some complicated deeply spiritual process of covering a residential block in prayer, I simply mean praying while you walk.
There is a lot of benefit to walking while you pray, or praying while you walk, depending on the initial context. Being out and active is healthy and helpful [which we may get a chance to address in the coming weeks], but it also gives you an opportunity to be immersed in the world around you.
Typically, when you are walking, you don’t do much else other than to walk and to think. Why not walk and pray – there is plenty of time available, there is plenty of inspiration and things to pray about, and I find there is something helpful and focusing when you are walking. It isn’t uncommon to go for a 20 minute walk and yet for most of us we may struggle to sit and pray for 20 minutes. Purposely combining the two creates a great opportunity.
We live in a beautiful part of the world [Mildura], with perfect weather, almost ideal all year round for walking. Prayer walking can be a helpful prompt for prayer. At the same time I think it is important to spend significant time praying in other places and circumstances also. Praying while walking can be helpful and convenient but prayer is much more than convenience. Tomorrow’s hint adds an important alternative perspective.
For today’s helpful hint I want to talk about PrayerMate. I can’t recommend this app more highly. It is extremely helpful and a wonderful resource. It is a cross platform app that keeps a list and organizes your prayer points. It then provides you with a list of things to pray for each day. Let me mention a few of the highlights that I find especially helpful.
PrayerMate allows you to not only enter prayer points, along with explanations and links [eg SMS links to say you’ve been praying for someone], but it allows you to categorize them into various list groups. For example, I have a list of all the families in church; the list is set to pray for two people from that list each day. I also have a list of various missionaries and organizations. You can edit these lists and customize the groups as well as the individual prayer points to pop up more or less frequently.
Another really helpful part of the app is the provided prayer suggestions. There are a whole range of organizations and groups that publish prayer points through PrayerMate. It might be a mission organizations that lists things to pray for [operation would works through every country each year]; it might be a group that provide helpful prayers simply to bless others. I have one that includes 31 things to pray for your children. Another one, under my church list, is “17 things to pray for your church”. Some of these lists might simply be a thing to pray for, some of them provide extra explanation and commentary, some of them even include a prayer for you to use. These published lists are really helpful.
PrayerMate has a whole range of features and is by far the best tool I have found for this purpose. Check it out here. Hopefully you will find it just as helpful as I do.
Imagination is something that we often neglect in prayer, yet imagination can play a very helpful role. It is very closely linked to the art of listening, but because silence is awkward we feel the need to talk. We launch into a diatribe telling God what we want and think and love without stopping to listen. What is it that God wants? What is it that God is burdening me with? What is it that God might be trying to tell me? Our imaginations can help with this need to listen.
For instance, before you start saying anything – picture what it is that you are praying about. It may sound a little weird but in a sense that is a lot of what prayer is – we think or imagine what we want and we talk about it – just, in doing that we don’t often spend time on the imagining part we quickly shift to the talking and hope that our imagining catches up. And yet I wonder if there is value in taking the time to listen and imagine before we fill our prayers with words.
Similarly, it is our imaginations that end up distracting us in our prayers. Rather than trying to shut them down and ignore them or force our prayers to a higher level of spiritual elitism– maybe we need to stop and wonder if they aren’t the very things that we should be praying about – the things that are filling our imaginations. Maybe they are things we need to pray for, or they could be things we need to pray against.
By way of example, say you are praying for a missionary in China. Take the time to picture in your mind what life might be like for them; imagine being in their shoes. What would you pray for? Be specific.
Or imagine the meeting your are about to lead. Take the time to ponder how you dream of the meeting flowing. What attitudes and responses would you like to see? What things should be accomplished? How might this impact people’s lives? Ask questions of your imagination and use those answers to inform your prayers.
Now, I should also add a warning to this. Imagination does not equal the voice of God. We need to be careful not to put too much credence on the things that are easily manipulated by feelings and surrounds. Our imagination can work for us by helping us to pray, but it can also work against us by distracting us or by letting our prayers devolve into dream fests. We use our imaginations to pray unwittingly. I’m simply advocating that we use them to help our prayers.
Today’s suggested helpful tool for practicing the spiritual discipline of prayers is one that I have used often. It may seem strange and irrelevant at first, but it is helpful.
Start by sitting in a straight chair – feet flat, shoulders square, back nice and straight. Begin with your palms facing down and resting on your thighs. With your palms down you use it as an opportunity to confess [think of it as rejecting and disowning] all the things that are not good or that you are struggling with in life.
For example, ‘God, I’ve been really struggling with pride lately.’ But don’t talk in general terms, make it specific, ‘I’ve been proud about how good a cook I am and it is making me critical of everyone else.’ [whatever it is that might be your struggle].
After spending time confessing and rejecting, turn your palms up. Leave the still resting on your thighs. Now adopt an attitude of receiving. For example, ‘God help me to love everyone no matter their failings.’ Begin asking God to change and help especially as it relates to the areas in which you confessed.
Now, I don’t think that they way you sit and they way you hold your hands is going to make any difference to the effectiveness of your prayer [we may get a chance to talk about this later in the week], but I do think it can make a difference to our approach and the focus of our prayers. So, using this suggestion can be helpful in using prayer as a spiritual discipline tool.
George Mueller was a man well known for being devoted to prayer. Such devotion to prayer didn’t mean he just spent hours on his knees talking. A significant part of Mueller’s prayer life was spent listening. Which is important to note, because sometimes we can spend far more time talking at God and not enough time listening to God.
Considering last week’s focus on reading Scripture, this is a good place to start integrating listening and prayer. This is where George Mueller is helpful. The following is Mueller’s diary post from 7th May, 1841.
It has recently pleased the Lord to teach me a truth…I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.
When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart…my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it) about the things that he has brought before me in his precious word…when we pray, we speak to God.
There is thus far less to be feared from wandering of mind than if we give ourselves to prayer without having had previously time for meditation. I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials, in various ways, than I had ever had before…. How different, when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!George Mueller, The Autobiography of George Mueller.
Can I also add to that a further insight from an old church leader, Ambrose, talking about the mingling of Scripture with prayer.
And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.”St. Ambrose
Why not have a go. Open your Bible, listen to what it says and how it leads and prompts you to pray, then pray. The Psalms are a great place to start.
For the next two weeks our spiritual discipline theme is prayer. I thought we could start with a challenging and thoughtful insight from Charles Spurgeon. It is based on Job’s statement in Job 23:3-4:
“Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.”Job 23:3-4
“In Job’s uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afﬂicted child of God is once more to see his Father’s face. His ﬁrst prayer is not, “Oh that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!” nor even, “Oh that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave, and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!” but the ﬁrst and uppermost cry is, “Oh that I knew where I might ﬁnd HIM— who is my God! that I might come even to his seat!” God’s children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heavenborn instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. “He that hath made his refuge God,” might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when he feels that he has been afﬂicted by God, resents the inﬂiction, and, like a slave, would run from the master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven, he kisses the hand which smote him, and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of that very God who frowned upon him. You will observe that the desire to commune with God is intensiﬁed by the failure of all other sources of consolation.”[Charles H. Spurgeon, “Effective Prayer”]
My final hint for helping your practice of Bible Reading is an old idea called Lectio Divina. It is Latin for “Divine Reading”. It is an old monastic habit that I was introduced to a year ago. It involves a series of steps that can be done individually or as a group. Typically there are four steps: reading, meditating, contemplating, praying.
Here is a suggested process:
Prayerfully ask God to speak to you through the Bible.
Read the passage slowly and thoughtfully.
Reflect: ‘what word/phrase/theme caught my attention?’[as a group you can share the word/phrase/theme without comment]
Read the passage again slowly and thoughtfully.
Reflect: ‘where does this passage touch my life experience?’[as a group you can share your answer without comment]
Read the passage again slowly and thoughtfully.
Reflect: ‘Through God’s Word, what is God inviting me to be and respond to Him? How is He inviting me to change?’[as a group you can share beginning with the phrase, ‘I believe God want me to…’]
Reflect: ‘what word or phrase is God wanting to speak through me to others?’[as a group you can share the word/phrase without comment]
Prayerfully respond to how God has led you and taught you [as a group pray for the person to your right] continue to pray throughout the day.
The practice of journaling is immensely helpful for engaging with the Bible. Many of us struggle with memory, attention, and concentration when it comes to reading Scripture. Writing down thoughts in a journal helps maintain attention, fosters concentration and aids memory.
Journaling especially helps you to sort through your thoughts and clarify how God might be teaching or speaking to you. It is also exciting to be able to look back over the years and remember what was impacting your heart and mind at different stages of life.
There are a number of practical ways you can journal. A simple notepad would suffice for writing down your thoughts – one without lines means you can draw all sorts of mind-maps and connected thoughts.
Another helpful tool for journaling is a wide margin Bible. You can only make small notes with small print but it is a good way to engage with Scripture. There are plenty of nifty wide-margin to choose from in the Christian bookstores.
Personally, I make frequent use of Evernote. It is a cross-platform note taking program. I have a digital notebook for my devotional thoughts. I copy in the verse, write out some thoughts, and add some tags for when I want to go looking back on those themes. I also highlight those passages in YouVersion so I can look back on those notes when I come to that passage in the future. [YouVersion also has note-taking capabilities.]
I’ve heard of others writing out the entire passages of Scripture that they are reading through, which helps them to meditate and think through the words.
So there are a few different ideas for complementing your Bible reading with the practice of journaling.
When we use Bible Reading as a spiritual discipline we need to be careful that the exercise doesn’t degenerate into merely reading words on a page, but that it helps us meet with God. Our minds and memories are easily distracted. Meditation is one of the most helpful tools for concentrating on reading our Bible and helping its truths sink deep into our hearts and souls.
This concept of meditation is a frequent practice and call throughout Scripture. Here are a few examples:
Joshua 1:8, “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.”
Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 63:5-6, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.”
Psalm 77:12, “I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty deeds.”
Psalm 145:5, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works I will meditate.”
Essentially meditation is the practice of using the truths of God, especially as we hear them from reading Scripture, to lead our thinking. When we have talked about meditation on previous occasions I have defined it as “Stopping, Pondering, Meeting”.
Stopping involves intentionally stepping away from the craziness and busy-ness of life in order to consciously and intentionally meet with God. It requires an intentional element of focusing on God.
Pondering is about churning a thought over and over in our minds and hearts. Such thinking is repetitive in that it takes a verse, truth, statement, or idea and ponders it over and over.
Meeting is perhaps the most important element of this kind of meditation. This is not about simply stopping and escaping and planning or pondering any old thing; this is about stopping and intentionally meeting with God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about the importance and practice of meditation. “In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God’s Word for the Church, but also God’s word for us individually. We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally.” [Bonhoeffer, Life Together]
You can listen to more helpful insights into the practice of meditation here.
Just thought I would share this to wet your appetite and create a hunger and thirst for God. This is from the third chapter in AW Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God.
“God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is. Such worship…can never come from a mere doctrinal knowledge of God. Hearts that are ‘fit to break’ with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eye upon the majesty of Deity.”
It is important to remember that the Spiritual Discipline of Bible Reading is not just about reading words on a page but about consciously engaging with God. Begin by acknowledging His presence and asking Him to meet with you. Ask Him to open your eyes and speak to your heart. Then read with a desire, not just to learn, but to listen to God. Our motivations and intention for reading the Bible make a big difference to our approach.
When it comes to actually reading the Bible one the of the big questions is how much should I read and how do I choose what to read. Should I just read a verse for each day? Should I read large chunks? Is it just a matter of random passages or is there a particular structure?
St. Augustine offers some wisdom regarding quantity of Bible reading. In a chapter entitled “How we should proceed in studying Scripture” he suggests that we need to have a broad overview and familiarity with the Bible as a whole before we can hope to properly understand the smaller and complex portions. Then we can slowly steep deeper and deeper into the increasingly complex portions of the Bible. His primary point is that we can’t properly understand the obscure parts if we don’t grasp the context or the more familiar parts. [On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 9]
Augustine’s advice is helpful when it comes to what we read. Both large and small portions are important. Large portions help us to gain a bigger perspective and context for what we are reading – but it can be hard to memorize and meditate on large portions. Smaller portions are helpful for day to day engagement. Therefore, my point is, read larger chunks of Scripture so that you take care to consider context [and so you aren’t still reading through Jude six months later], but engage with smaller portions throughout the day.
This is where reading plans can be of immense help. They give some intention and structure to what you read. I highly recommend the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan. It generally provides 5 passages a day; a few chapters from the OT, a chapter from a NT epistle, a reading from one of the Gospels, and a Psalm. Reading from a variety of passages each day helps to connect all of the Bible together and offers a number of literary styles to meditate on. This particular plan also includes five or six rest days each month, so you don’t fall behind if you miss some of the readings.
The YouVersion app, mentioned in yesterday’s helpful hint, has an immense range of reading plans. Some of them last a few days, some of them are plans for an entire year. Some of these plans simply link you to the daily reading, while others also include helpful devotional thoughts or videos. Along with the “Discipleship Journal Reading Plan” YouVersion also includes a year long ‘Reformation Reading Plan’, which I found beneficial.
Though these are practical suggestions, what is of most importance is that you seek to meet with God through the reading of His words.
YouVersion has a range of Bible translations to choose from, is free, and easily accessible wherever you are. It has a nifty audio option where you can have the passage read to you – which always seems to highlight things you miss when you read it yourself, and for those that find reading difficult, having passages read to you is a helpful option. I make frequent use of the highlighting feature [often in connection with Evernote, which I will talk about in a few days]; every year I use a different colour, and it is intriguing to come back to passages that I have highlighted previously.
One of its great features though, are the reading plans. There are a whole range of plans you can choose from – whole Bible plans, book reading plans, thematic plans. Some of them include mini devotions [even in video form]. They could last from a few days to a year’s worth of readings.
Additionally you can link together with friends, you can design and publish verses with neat little backgrounds, you can find helpful verses for a range of topics and references, and you can search for particular themes and words.
If you don’t already have the app I thoroughly recommend it to you. The YouVersion app is my helpful hint for today.