Categotry Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

Providing “how to”s in using the spiritual disciplines for personal growth and transformation

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Prayer That Strengthens the Weak

Categories: Devotional Insights, Spiritual Disciplines, Tags: , , , ,

prayer1Not too long ago, after one of weekend worship services, it seemed like there were a lot of intense prayer needs…people dealing with significant, personal, heavy issues. I listened to one dealing with a custody hearing, sat with one going through a legal suit case against them, prayed with one dealing with depression, and physical health concerns, and these were introduced to me within 10 minutes! I confess that hearing these, I was overwhelmed and my faith fluttered when I wondered what I could do. So then I prayed, and even then, it was hard to feel that it wasn’t more than just words.

Later, I heard from those facing the court cases, that the worse didn’t happen. God came through. In one situation, as they were approaching the judge, something happened that turned what could have been devastating into something that has preserved life and hope…and honestly, I am hoping and praying for more than that!

The title of this post is not about the prayer that strengthened those I prayed for but strengthened the one who prayed for them: ME! Ashamedly, sometimes I find myself saying to others, “Hey, the least I can do is pray for you!” What a crock!

If the US Air Force accepted my invitation to execute a military “shock-and-awe” maneuver in my backyard to destroy a nasty nest of Army ants (you gotta love the imagery) they would bring firepower that was more magnificent and vastly superior to any insectarian defense or assault the vicious beasts could mount and to any insecticide ammunition I have under my kitchen sink!

Asking the USAF for help would not be the least I could, that would the most extravagant, maybe even audacious thing I could do! Consider that when we pray, we are inviting the divine and infinite source of power in and beyond this universe to move and accomplish His perfect will in our life or the lives of others. That is so far above “the least we can do”! Praying for people is less about what we want to do to help, but the privilege we have of inviting God to bring His strength and power to the table.

Now I know that there are times where God doesn’t come through the way we wish He would… all the time! We might be ashamed to admit, that our faith in God is sometimes dictated by His performing the way we want Him to, when we want Him to. Thus when He doesn’t comply with our requests, we tend to lose faith in Him and pray less. Tragically, that is where weakness sets in.

In hearing the praise reports of these friends who needed God to move and then experienced His movement, it revived my faith in Him, gave me hope in spite of those times that other prayers weren’t answered my way, and somehow, reignited the conviction that though I am not sure what He is up to, He has no doubt about what He’s doing and why. God is good (all the time) and is working all things out (always) for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

The “least I can do” is fake it but still mouth the request. The best I can do is ‘faith it’ and sincerely trust in Him to do what only He can! Sincere prayer is where faith in God is strengthened, not solely by His fulfilling my request as we asked, but more, by the wonderful reality and promise of His Presence, His Purpose, and His Power that will ultimately brings His version of good into our lives. Given the choice, I definitely want His version of good!

Lord, forgive us for weak prayer that is really more about weak trust in You. Help us to lift up our requests to you with a clearer focus on Your Imposing Nature and Divine resources than on our imposing circumstances and desperate conditions. We agree with Jesus: our spirit may be willing but our flesh is so weak! So, may we submit ourselves to You for renewal.

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Scripture Meditation: “Overcoming Obstacles”

Categories: Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , ,

When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the challenges you face that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment...more drudgery than delight?

stillness-2

TRANSFORM THOUGHT:

When it comes to regular consistent biblical meditation, what are the obstacles you encounter? What are the challenges that mutate this timeworn, soul refreshing discipline into a soul stressing disappointment…more drudgery than delight? Why, at times, when we do it, does it seem to be less than worth the effort so that it becomes more something we “gotta do” than something we “get to do”?

When I talk to fellow followers of Christ, and the subject invariably comes around to the quality of our devotional life, I hear (and sometimes personally repeat) the same phrase: “I know…I don’t read the Bible as much as I should!” When I consider the context of my own walk, I would daresay that statement is probably an understatement…things are worse than mentioned. I realize now that it does little good to deluge people with tips and tools to succeed in this area when those very resources fail to deal with the underlying problems that are beyond the scope of these aids designed to…uh…aid!

This is really Part 2 of a previous post I published (“Stop and Consider”) where I referenced a quote cited in a version of Zondervan’s Quest Study Bible that highlighted the difficulty of meditation for Western culture in contrast to the East. Here is a portion of that quote:

“The author of this psalm [Psalm 119] was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”

Look at the very last sentence. In that previous post I addressed what we must value if our devotional times in Scripture meditation are to be beneficial and transforming. In this post we will deal with what we must vanquish.

Let’s also clarify what I mean by “scripture meditation”. Again, from that post,

Scripture meditation is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.

In this post I will not deal with the personal barriers we need to overcome, but those obstacles that stem from our Western cultural mindset that inhibit our personal pursuit of depth and intimacy with God. Three of the cultural obstacles to meditation I believe need to be overcome are our concepts of time, self and Scripture.

Our Concept of Time: We Westerners are very results oriented. We want results and we want them now and if not now, then soon, but preferably yesterday! We are ingrained with the priority of time stewardship. Our motto: “Don’t just sit there — do something!”  We sometimes unconsciously believe that we waste time if we are not “doing” something, making the most of our time with performing industry rather than pursuing intimacy. The problem: intimacy – knowing deeply and being known deeply – can’t be done well in the fast lane. Scripture meditation, knowing God more deeply, requires time in ways that are mutually intentional and beneficial but maybe not in rhythm with a “get it done now” mindset.  Scripture meditation may be considered among one of the best investments of time we engage in…if truly knowing God is a life priority.

Our Concept of Self: We have been trained to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re taught things like “God is our co-pilot” (which would actually make us the pilot…scary!); or “God helps those who help themselves (a very unbiblical concept bordering on spiritual heresy); or the 10 2-letter words that could change a life: “If-it-is-to-be-it-it-up-to-me” (and where exactly is God as Master in that?). Our culture prizes performance, productivity, and power or better…control. Meditating on Scripture is more about being under control than being in control. It is to abandon ourselves to the mastery and mystery of God as we explore His Word allowing It to explore us. In Scripture meditation what God has said is more vital than what we want to see. What we get out of it is not as important as what He put into it. We therefore meditate to discover what he has expressed from His heart with His kingdom being in the center of our pursuit.

Our Concept of Scripture: I say “Scripture” because that word is divinely designated. “Bible” is our term for the collection of these divinely inspired revelations. Our problem: we see the Scripture more like a book and less like the “breath” of God presented in textual form. The Bible is the most significant book ever written, but it is hard for us to see it as transcendently more than any other published manuscript. For many, the Bible is like the auto manual in the glove compartment of our car, the rules and regulations of a game or sport, the bylaws of a corporation. We know they’re important we’ll consult it when we need to fix or resolve an issue. With the way we check newspapers, emails, e-books, twitters and tickers, I am convinced that if we really believed that the truths of Scripture were divinely ‘extra-terrestrial’ in its source, infinitely powerful in its force, and thoroughly pervasive in its application to all of human life beyond the boundaries of time and space, we would no longer go to the Scripture merely for what we could get out of it but for Who is ready to meet us there and What He has already put into it for our ultimate well-being!

I struggled with including notes on “Our Concept of God” but realized…that’s a whole blog-post unto itself!

TRANSFORM TIPS:

So what do we do with this awareness and what are ways to move practically over these obstacles? A few ideas come to mind:

  1. In the same way you might set an appointment with an individual, actually set an appointment with God on your daytimer, Palm Pilot, calendar, etc. Invest intentionally in a period of time to meditate on Scripture. When scheduling it, give yourself a good buffer. I find that few things erode the success of Scripture meditation as effectively as a tight schedule with a pressing appointment on the other end. Focused thinking on divine truth is rendered null when “what I gotta do next” dominates “what I need to do now”. When you make the time, take the time to make it worthwhile. Begin with at least 15-20 minutes and adjust as needed.
  2. Adopt a different picture of Scripture. Try to move away from seeing it like a rule book. It’s helped me to see the Scripture as field of buried treasure. I have also imagined it as a divine invitation – God beckoning me to explore the depths of His heart and mine. Some have suggested seeing it as a “Love Letter”. I choose to see it more as an  “Autobiography of a Dearly Beloved One”.
  3. Take time prior to meditation to personal confession of any sin. Make your heart sensitive and open to what God may reveal as any spiritual barrier in your relationship with God that may hinder your intimacy.
  4. Thoughtfully pray Psalm 119:18 and ask God for help to see and understand as you read and meditate.
  5. Rather than trying to cram an entire chapter in one devotional sitting, consider focusing on a few verses at a time. Consider methods like “Lectio Divina” an ancient contemplative way of prayerfully meditating on Scriptures. (click here to download a brochure on Lectio Divina)
  6. When selecting Scripture, avoid picking your favorite passages. Meditate through Scripture systematically. Begin at the beginning of any of the books of the Bible and work through it, a few verses at a time. I am currently working slowly through the book of Colossians. I usually begin by reading the entire chapter in one sitting to get an overall picture and context. Then I meditate on as many as 4 verses at a time…with no rush or pressure to do more each day unless directed to do so.
  7. With your practice, take time to journal your thoughts and reactions in a journal or note pad. Consider taking a 4X6 notecard, writing the focal passage for meditation. Take the card with you and at certain times during the day, write down ideas, insights, and thoughts that come to mind about the passage.
  8. Without robbing your place of employment from your time at work, schedule 15 minutes during the day to conduct “focused thinking” about a passage of Scripture, no more than 3-4 verses.

These aren’t necessarily guaranteed to give you the results desired but they may get the ball rolling in your pursuit of the kind of truth that transforms. Ultimately, overcoming meditation obstacles remains a project best undertaken with God than for God…and that is precisely the essence of the kind of approach to meditation instrumental in facilitating transformed lives through the catalyst of a transformed mind: it is best done with God.

I love the illustration of our relationship with God seen in the letters of the word “guidance” where the “g” stands for God, the “u” stands for You and the “i” I. The word then reads “God, U [and] I dance”. In this rhythm of intimacy through meditating on Scripture, accept the invitation of God to the dance and then…let Him lead!

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Scripture Meditation: “Stop and Consider.”

Categories: Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , ,

...as long as we try to access the divine Whisper of divine Affection on the run, we may only hear the wind and not the Spirit.

stillness-2Transform Thought:

From the statement on meditation taken from the Quest Study Bible that I referenced in my “Soul Food” blog, I want to look at 2 aspects in greater depth. I will deal with the other in a subsequent blog. The first point of consideration comes from the following paragraph:

“In some ways meditation doesn’t easily fit into the Western culture. We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering. The author of this psalm was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”

Zero-in on the line, “We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering.” Sure does sound like good, ole fashioned, Western philosophy to me!

It’s been said that we remember what’s important to us. Try this one: we meditate on what’s important to us. In my teachings I have explained the art and discipline of meditation employing the picture of a cow chewing its cud again…over and over…again. That action describes “rumination” and applies to mental activity as well. Specifically regarding meditation, it can be a very deliberate practice engaging the entire mind and heart. (More on that later).

The statement points out our tendency toward NOT ruminating, not deeply, intentionally, considering because our gravitational preference is toward activity. The way I see it, we value INDUSTRY over INTROSPECTION, COMMOTION over CONTEMPLATION. As a matter of fact we sometimes rush TOWARD action to AVOID considering!

Years ago while bustling from one place to another, a friend of mine walking with me and observing my actions for over a year, out of the blue asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks. “Jonathan, what’s driving you?”
He noticed my tendency to a rapid gait, rapid speech, and like manner in many things. This prompted the question. I remember that day as the beginning of several weeks where I was constantly returning to that scene and then re-asking myself the same question: “What is driving me?!”

You may be wondering, “Wasn’t that a simple enough question? How could that have taken several weeks to answer?”
Answer: (Yep, you guessed it!) I was too busy to stop and consider it seriously. I came to a painful recognition that I had begun to value what I was doing for Jesus more than who He is. In Matthew 7, Jesus confronts a great group of people at heaven’s door. They came with expectations that their entrance was guaranteed on the basis of their effort, their eternal security locked in by their temporal industry. They offered their resume of religious duties, the likes of which would surely convince God that He is now obligated to let them in. Jesus responds to their demand with a chilling response: “Depart from me, evildoers, I never knew you!”

Wow! These people spent so much time doing what they considered to be good enough but never considered what Christ truly wanted. His response reveals the central priority of His desire: for us to be in mutually intimate harmony with Him. What, however, is more chilling, is that in all their activity, they never even realized that were not attentive to God on His terms. They were living for their work but not living for God. Jesus’ statement implies that there never was a relationship and just because they were deeply involved in some pretty significant work, this did not draw them one step closer to God nor the security of eternity with Him. Apparently God is more interested in what comes out of heart than what comes from our hands.

Look at a portion of Jesus’ message to the church of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation.

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Revelation 2:2-4

Here, INDUSTRY trumped INTIMACY. Sounds like these folks needed to take time and consider the Whom they were so busy “doing” for. Hmmm…sounds like they aren’t the only ones!

In Psalms 46 in the midst of tremendous, calamitous chaos, the world convulsing with cataclysmic tremors, nations seething with rage, and the Lord dispensing divine wrath and judgment, this same God, who is also our refuge and strength, says,
Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)

In one sense of the word, this passage could be translated,
“Stop your striving. Experience the truth of who I am as God”.

This statement has a lot packed in it but one thing it calls us to: stopping and considering; deliberately, stepping away from the hustle and bustle, surrendering to stillness, sometimes best done in solitude. When it comes to meditation, we must decide to be in a place where the cacophony of the world and the static of our life is reduced to low enough decibels that we begin to hear the still, small voice of God. But as long as we try to access the divine Whisper of Divine Affection while on the run, we may hear only the wind and not the Spirit.

Consider this: the Bible is more than just a book about stories. It is a book about 1 story, His-story, being lived out through the many stories of humanity. It is a sacred book of the divine self-disclosure of God Himself in relationship with mankind in any dimensions. For us to access the depths and riches and wonders of the mind of God, we most certainly will need the tutelage of the indwelling Spirit, but we also need to come in humility, sit down at the table of wisdom, and feast on the kind of truth that enlightens the mind and satisfies the soul. This “Soul Food” is rarely good or beneficial when we are cramming it in us with other foods – traffic, ESPN, American Idol, reconciling check books, fretting over expenses, etc. – because divine “soul food” must be the main course, not the side dish.

So what do you think? Is it time to cease the striving and settle into the work and wonder of knowing God through His own “authorized biography”? Is it time to Stop and Consider?

Let’s follow Jesus’ example who had to be one of the most, if not the busiest man ever but never seemed to be in a rush, never seemed to be stressed. Lived life in rhythmic harmony with His Father. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus did not merely find time, but made time to be with His Father. That relationship empowered and sustained Him in the stewardship of life and accomplishment of the will of God. Keep in mind: it is stillness together with Christ that holds us together in Christ. But as this article indicates, that ain’t natural for us. It is a state of being that must be learned, practiced, and defended against the regular, incessant, voices of this world seducing us away from true fellowship of peace and rest with God.

Transform Tips:

Years ago when I was the director of a youth camp for a church in Miami, Florida we instituted a “Time Out” everyday during camp week at 4:30pm for 5 minutes. Adults and students alike were to dedicate this time to stopping, stillness and silence. This meant for 5 full minutes (an eternity for teenagers!) no swimming, no playing, no selling food at the snack shop, no walking, no talking. In a camp of 300 Jr. and Sr. High School students this miracle happened each day! They could use the time to pray, sleep, dream, reflect, hold their breath, anything…just to learn the value that they could “turn off”. It was pretty amazing for folks visiting the campus at around that time to walk around and hear no noise and see nothing human moving, like a spell had been cast over us. Then promptly at 4:35pm motion and activity whirred back into rhythm and life.

Maybe we could practice our own “Time Out” each day for a week…in a place where you won’t get fired! A time to remember that we are more than human doings, that we are human beings called into fellowship with the Holy God.
Here are some other suggestions of “Stopping to Consider”.

  • Determine a time and place with the optimum environment for stillness and silence. Consider this a sanctum, a sacred place to meet with God and then meet with Him there.
  • Before you start to meditate on the Scripture take several minutes in silence and consider Whom you are talking to or simply to disconnect from what you were doing or need to do. Consider taking a brief walk, savoring a cup of tea or coffee right before diving into hearing the voice of God in His Word.
  • Pray Psalm 119:18 to God but say it in your own words. (I was going to write it out, but thought “Nahh. They’ll have to stop and look it up!)
  • As you read the Scripture, take time to think through, read the entire chapter in one sitting but ruminate on 1-2 verses at a time rather than the whole chapter.
  • Journal your thoughts and reactions. I have found that writing is a discipline that forces me to slow down and adjust to the rhythm of careful thought and heart-felt contemplation.
  • Don’t wait until the end of your Scripture meditation to pray to God. Take time throughout your meditation to pray to God in response to what you’re considering. Dialogue with God as He “speaks”.
  • Close your time with prayers of praise and gratitude and confession and requests for divine guidance before moving on to intercession for others.

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Scripture Meditation: “Savoring True Soul Food”

Categories: Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , , , ,

Frankly, meditating on Scripture is one of my favorite topics and disciplines. Though I have been doing this for over 40 years, I still consider myself a student who has neither yet perfected nor reaped the full benefit of this timeworn discipline and, in a manner, art.

Oven Fried Chicken by mooshee85

Transform Thought:

Frankly, meditating on Scripture is one of my favorite topics and disciplines. Though I have been doing this for over 40 years, I still consider myself a student who has neither yet perfected nor reaped the full benefit of this timeworn discipline and, in a manner, art. Let’s be clear: when I speak of meditation, I am not referring to the Eastern discipline of “emptying your mind” but actually of purifying and satisfying your mind and soul by filling it with divine content.

One of the clearest descriptions of meditation is “focused thinking”. Scripture meditation, therefore, is focused thinking on and about the Word of God where the intention is for us to understand and apply revealed truths to our lives in humble response to God. The rewards include a greater understanding of Scripture, increased sense of personal well being, a more satisfying communion with God, and a transformed life as it is being conformed to the character and purpose of Jesus Christ. These alone provide exciting incentives to make it a discipline to feast on.  In Scripture meditation, thinking nice thoughts is not the goal. Living in true fellowship with God and others is. Look at what the psalmist says about one who meditates on the Word of God:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.  Psalm  1:3

When someone tells me that they can’t meditate, I have learned to ask them if they have ever worried. When they answer that they have, I tell them that if they can worry, they can meditate! Worry is focused thinking on problems or circumstances in such a way that affects your mind and heart and, eventually, your behavior. Scripture meditation happens when a student of the Scripture, humble and open, takes the time, to come to the Word of God and engages it with their mind and heart as they read and study for the purpose of deeper fellowship with God and nourishment to their soul. Meditation enables Scripture to become the true soul food.

My daughter, Christine, and I were working through a meditation exercise using Scripture when toward the end of it, she read an instructional guide for Scripture meditation from one of the “help” pages in her Quest Study Bible published by Zondervan. I reviewed it and exclaimed to her that it was one of the clearest, most helpful, simple, yet profound explanations I had heard encountered.

“How Does a Person Meditate on God’s Word?

Meditation [on Scripture] is a combination of reviewing, repeating, reflecting, thinking, analyzing, feeling and even enjoying. It is a physical, intellectual and emotional activity-it involves our whole being.

In some ways meditation doesn’t easily fit into the Western culture. We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering. The author of this psalm was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.

I especially loved the context clarifying the distinction between the Western and Eastern mindset as the pilgrim approaches meditation. In my opinion, the Eastern avenue seems to open up windows and doors for heart and mind of the Christian pilgrim to embrace more of the mind and heart of God, the mysteries of His infinite fullness. Our traditional, formulaic ways, usually, restricted and hindered by time, space and inner preoccupations, result in a more cerebral, lifeless, approach and result! But that’s for another day, another blog so…

I do know, however, that due to our cultural conditioning and predispositions against stillness, many would legitimately admit that they do not know how to meditate. One blog post won’t cure that (omen of more posts to come on this topic) but I have included here the brief article here from the Quest Bible along with their list of meditation techniques. I threw in a few of my own.

Transform Tips:

There are a variety of ways to meditate on God’s Word. Techniques include:

  1. Avoid just diving into the task before asking God for insight; prepare your mind and heart to receive it.
  2. *Take time to read a verse or passage over and over.
  3. *Begin to memorize all or part of it.
  4. Take note of the main characters, descriptions, actions, cause-and-effects, in the passage.
  5. Define, clarify, ponder special words or phrases
  6. *Listen! Quiet your hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through God’s Word.
  7. *Consider how it fits with the rest of the Bible and life in general.
  8. *Become emotionally involved-allow yourself to feel what God feels, his desires expressed through his words period
  9. Write down your thoughts, insights, questions, responses to the passage
  10. *Move from meditation to application-connect your thoughts to action. Consider how the truth and power of the Word of God should affect your behavior.
*(Taken also from the Quest Study Bible article)

Remember, it’s actually putting into practice these and other techniques that facilitates spiritual nourishment as you feast on the wonders of His Word . I hope this article helps you to see the Bible as an invitation to that banquet table of divine revelation that can satisfy your mind and soul as you partake of and savor the fulfilling and delightful delicacies of the riches and depths of God waiting for you in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

Bon apetit!