Archive for the ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ Category

I’ve spent the past week reacquainting myself with some spiritual disciplines, namely journaling and Scripture memorization. I was convicted by a quote from Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines last Sunday, and decided to make more of an effort to read, write, pray and meditate on a verse of Scripture each day, one of the goals being to memorize that verse. These have been habits in my life, on and off, for many years. Why it is that these good habits go AWOL from time to time mystifies me.

Now in order to meditate on a verse, one reads it slowly, several times, with pauses in between, according to the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading). In order to memorize, one does much the same thing, though sometimes there is less emphasis on really getting at the meat of the meaning, and more on just learning the words…truth familiar to anyone who has ever crammed for a test and then promptly forgotten every fact in the instant of handing the completed exam back to the teacher.

Obviously the repeated reading for meaning has value, especially when reading a “living” book, one whose depth of insight will always surpass our power to delve. This morning I went over the previous week’s verses, learned but still fresh and vital, and chose a longer passage to work on through the coming week, putting one or two verses at a time on index cards. As well as I think I know Hebrews 12: 1 – 11, there are great riches there, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.

Isn’t it interesting how much context and personal choice impact how we tolerate an activity? If I’m choosing the verses, I can read them over and over. But begin a chorus and sing the words more times than I think is necessary, and I grow impatient. Is there truth to be found? Yes. Can I look for it, meditate on these words, even if my aesthetic sense says we’ve repeated the phrase once too often? Yes.

And so this morning, we sang a worship song, one which I actually like quite well. But we got to the simple statement of Job, “You give and take away, You give and take away…my heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your Name.'” And we sang it again, and again, and again…

I didn’t consciously think, “meditate on this, find the depth.” I know that. I did consciously think, “This is at least one too many times to be singing this phrase.” Yes, I thought that. But the Spirit was talking at the same time, saying, “What has the Lord given you? What has He taken away?” And I began to list things…the “take away” phrase tends to make me weepy with self-pitying (a “look-how-spiritual-I-am-to-praise-You -anyway” pity…)

I began to list things, and I realized something: what God takes away isn’t necessarily a deprivation. Sometimes the taking away is a gift. He may take away despair or doubt, He may remove loneliness, He may eliminate worry or fear. I realized this. The Fourth. Time. We. Sang. That. Phrase. (Which means we actually sang, “You give and take away” eight times.)

What is the value of repetition? It gives the heart time to catch up with the head. The ears and eyes have shorter paths to and from the brain. We see and hear, and we think we got it the first time, or the second. But to the seat of emotion and intuition and synthesis of life experiences…that journey takes more time, more telling, more pondering. More repeats. Ponder that today.

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Warning: you are joining a conversation already in progress. To read where it started, go here and read the post for today, 2/25/08.

Is my spiritual life more about being or doing? Is it resting in the Lord or forging ahead? Is it “letting go and letting God” or “working with all my might, serving the Lord”? I wrote about struggling, and quoted Richard Foster who says, “…with the Spiritual Disciplines—they are…God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. ”  I said that I needed to remember that the work is HIS, not MINE.  

Where, my cyber-brother Rob asked, does that leave our efforts? Is there no work for us to do? I wasn’t trying to say “no”. Not on purpose.  I think my struggle is a perennial one: in my desire to grow more Christ-like, I forget time after time that the best way to do so is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of my faith. (Hebrews 12:2).  Instead of gazing intently into the Word which gives Life, I find myself mirror-gazing, navel-gazing, spinning round and round in the hamster wheel of my mind.  Self-evaluation likely has a place in life, but not first place, prime place.  Since autobiography tends to be fascinating subject matter for its author, it absorbs more and more time…then when I begin to feel disenchanted (again) with my spiritual progress, discouraged with recurring sin and struggle, I forget that the blame is sitting on my doorstep.  I scramble around looking for smoldering fires to put out.

The spiritual disciplines’ first order of business are to keep our focus OFF ourselves and ON God.  By being Christ-centered rather than self-absorbed, I give Him room to work.  I cannot form Christ in myself. But I can consciously, moment by moment, meditate on His Word and converse with Him, practice self-denial and the rest of the disciplines.  That’s my work. Part of my prayer life should be asking for guidance on what other work should be done, at any moment:  “Here is my schedule for the day, Lord. But You can interrupt it if You have a better idea.”

As Rob rightly said, it’s a balancing act, a tightrope walk on a bridge of faith and trust.  It’s so easy to fall off one side or the other, onto passivity or self-reliance.  Having partners and friends on the bridge is one way we can learn to keep our balance.  Thanks, Rob.

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