Simone Weil wrote, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” (Gravity and Grace)
Archives For Disciplines
You decide to take a two millennium poll of Christians on how to grow in holiness and conformity to Christ. In every century, you would find men and women pointing to the classic practices of prayer and scripture meditation; fasting, and giving to the poor. You would also find words like ‘nepsis’ (Greek for watchfulness), or vigilance, or alertness, or guarding the heart, or sobriety.
By SOBRIETY, they would mean moderation with substances – but more so – self-control in all areas. ”Restraint and moderation which avoids excess in passion (drives), rashness, or confusion.”
Here are some quotes and Scriptures, some of which were included in a recent sermon on “Sober Living.”
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 1 Thes 5:6
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thes. 5:8
As for you (Timothy), always be sober-minded… 2 Tim. 4:5
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 1 Peter 4:7
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
“Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart, convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established.”
Symeon, the New Theologian
I certainly don’t model perfect faithfulness, but here are 3 things I hope to keep working on for the duration of my life:
1. A “Rule of Prayer.” Prayer and scripture disciplines are a place of constant reminder. This includes Psalms and other Bible reading and study; the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, and the Lenten prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. (I’ve linked previous posts that give more detail.)
2. No Secrets. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that everything is open and laid bare to God’s eyes. Living transparently with my wife (and close colleagues) is vital.
3. Aggressive Health Maintenance. We are whole people. Keeping the body strong and fit will reinforce the focus of the heart, soul, and mind.
QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU DO TO ‘STAY SOBER?’
Leave a comment.
This week is the beginning of Lent in the Western Churches. As a Christian and as a church, I believe there are many things, such as the Christian seasonal rhythms, that we need to rediscover or re-energize with true meaning. Sometimes this means some un-learning of old thinking. For example:
Lent is NOT about ‘giving up’ things, whether substantial (like Facebook) or small (like Twitter?) Lent involves fasting but it’s not just about food and externals.
Lent is NOT about self-improvement by self-flagellation. It is practicing the spiritual disciplines in earnest – like spring training is to the whole season.
Lent is NOT a Roman Catholic idea – and therefore to be avoided by non-Roman Catholics. It is an early church practice observed by the Eastern Orthodox, many Western churches of all stripes, including the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I am a part.
Lent is NOT about legalistic, empty-headed rules. Though these have appeared at times in history, it is not inevitable that a sacred season become desecrated.
Enough of the power of negative thinking! What is the antidote to shallow stereotypes of Lent?Alexander Schmemann puts it beautifully in his book, Great Lent, Journey to Pascha. (pp. 31-33)
“This ‘something else’ can best be described as an ‘atmosphere,’ a ‘climate’ into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit, which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden thirst and hunger for communion with God.”
He spoke of Lent as a ‘bright sadness.’
“…the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.”
I’m reminded of Scott Cairns poem on repentance (Greek: Metanoia or ‘change of heart’).
The heart’s metanoia
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,
as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time!
(from Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia, in Compass of Affection, Poems New and Selected)
Here is a PDF full of articles and resources to understand and practice the season.
How will you and I enter these 40 days – to prepare again to ‘take in’ the Good News of Christ’s passion and victory through the disciplines of discipleship.
Let me urge you to prayerfully plan how you will fast and pray and read Scripture and be alert to the acts of compassion the Lord directs you to. The resources above can provide guidance. Speak with your pastor or other spiritual guide or friend to help you. ”Keep yourself in training for a godly life!”
(1 Timothy 4:7b, GN)
He is no fool who
gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose!
Last Sunday, I shared the story behind Jim Elliot’s famous quote which he wrote in his journal at age 22 while a senior at Wheaton College. Martyred with 4 of his missionary team mates seven years later, Elliot embodied the self-giving love that is at the heart of Christ and His Kingdom.
The motivation for giving ourselves and our resources come from the heart of Jesus himself:
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life
will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)
For more on biblical principles of giving and the vision of the church, listen to the sermon from Christ Church here at our website.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We were created and redeemed to be connected to God, to God’s people, and to be fruitful in God’s mission in the world.
Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit who would through his new community the Church, do “greater things!”
The beginning church in Jerusalem was not a set structure to be imitated, but it is a model of values and vision that continues to inspire the church of all times and places! It inspires us here and now.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers….And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42,47, ESV)
In a recent teaching, linked at our website, I summarized the inspiring vision of the Church in this way.
We want to be a LEARNING Community
We want to be a SHARING (‘Koinonia’) Community
We want to be a WORSHIPING Community
We want to be an OUTREACHING Community
It means being taught the authoritative Word of God and being life-long learners;
It means knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served;
It means coming together for prayers and worship publicly and in our homes;
It means being a contagious people who live and speak the hope of Good News into our world.
It means being committed and connected – PLUGGED IN to Christ and his community.
Are you plugged in?
If not, what’s the one next step the Lord wants you to take?
I am so blessed to be a part of a church and a denomination that intentionally ‘shepherds its shepherds!’
My summer sabbatical was a beautiful and timely gift and I want to say ‘thanks.’ Let me share a short version of what made it so special. There are principles that all of us can glean. I believe these five sets of goals were realized through this summer sabbatical:
Retreat and Reflection… I began the summer with a retreat at a monastery (SSJE) in Newburyport, MA, worshipping and spending time in the Word and prayer. I also enjoyed meeting with a counselor friend and my regular ‘spiritual director’ at different points in the summer. Our week speaking at Pilgrim Pines was both work and rest, and included times with 2 other pastors discussing some ideas and questions that were timely for Christ Church.
Reading and Riting… I read widely and deeply – on the Psalms, poetry, book-project-related articles and books, and other works for my own spiritual formation. I attended the URI Writers Workshop, and picked the brains of other writers through the summer. I prepared and taught some new material on Experiencing Christ in the Psalms at Pilgrim Pines (These talks will be downloadable at their site. I’ll be sharing highlights in future posts on the importance and practice of the Psalms.)
Writing is work, and this summer gave me inspiration and a “platform” for making progress – with the days needed to go to the library, etc. and discipline myself to write. I also started restructuring this blog site. Continue Reading…
Many years ago, an ambitious project was started with the first edition of Operation World - A global digest of facts and prayer needs for the mission of God in each nation of the world. It is now in its 7th edition.
There is a website of resources and links and available resources to download. You can also connect to be part of this world wide movement of prayer.
I urge you to visit this website. Buy the book or download the ebook version or start by receiving emails on each nation. Let your heart be touched with Jesus’ heart for all peoples! If you need more motivation, read this short article called Understanding Prayer in the Light of God’s Kingdom.
One other free resource, available on-line you should know about and read every other month. It’s called Mission Frontiers, from the U.S. Center for World Mission.
The 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent could be called the Christian disciple’s”Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring” or lengthening) It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus. Sounds a little like a Game Plan! Continue Reading…
Robert Murray McCheyne, after graduating from Edinburgh University at age fourteen in 1827 and leading a Presbyterian congregation of over a thousand at age twenty-three, worked so hard that his health finally broke. Before dying at age twenty-nine he wrote, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.” An illustration of the recent sermon on having a Game Plan for our BODIES!
We have been exploring how to create a “Rule of Life” – an intentional “Game Plan” for our discipleship. Another resource you may find helpful is from SSJE (Soc. of St. John the Evangelist). They have written a booklet you can download called Living Intentionally: A Workbook for Creating a Personal Rule of Life. It will walk you through the process with similar kinds of questions. As a monastic community they have a detailed formal Rule of Life that for the most part contains wonderful principles for any Christ-follower.
The people of God have always had a balance of praying at set times and places as well as “praying without ceasing.” We all need a Rule of Life (or Game Plan) to be disciplined and intentional in our growth as followers of Jesus. Prayer is no exception.
I’d like to list some resources from previous Ruminations postings and books that can supplement the teaching and discussions we are having about prayer.
Praying with the Church is Scot McKnight’s excellent survey of the order and set ways believers in biblical and church history prayed.
Martin Luther’s letter to his barber on praying gives practical advice on the use of the Bible and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.
For the Jesus Prayer, I recommend listening to a modern Orthodox teacher, Kallistos Ware, who I had the privilege to meet at a North Park University talk. Available at Ancient Faith Radio here.
The Jesus Prayer is a recent book on the prayer and so much more by Frederica Mathewes-Green that I reviewed previously. There is now a shorter booklet available, in ebook form or packages of 5 from Paraclete Press called Praying the Jesus Prayer.
A Praying Life, by Paul E. Miller is a recent book on prayer that is one of the most honest and practical I know of.
Remember, if we don’t pray somewhere – sometime, we will probably not pray everywhere – all of the time!