Spiritual Discipline Practices 2014-27

Spiritual Discipline Practices  2014-27

What exactly is Spiritual Discipline in relation to Christianity? Let’s start first with the dictionary explanation of the word discipline itself:

Discipline:  An activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill or behavior in accordance with a rule or regulation.  Do you think we are basically disciplined in our lives?

The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living with rules, and into the depths of inward thinking. We will try to define these in a moment. The Spiritual Disciplines invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm of our mind.  I thought that was so cool when I read it. So that brings us to the word Spiritual.

Define Spiritual!  What do   YOU   think the word Spiritual actually means?

The dictionary states that the word spiritual is pertaining to sacred things or matters such as those being religious or to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature; or belonging to the church, or just plain pertaining to the soul or spirit or God.

From here we glean what a Spiritual Discipline may be or its purpose of liberating us from the stifling slavery of self-interest and fear in living our daily lives to instead being one with God forever. These are words from the author, Richard Foster in his book “Celebration of Disciplines”. He has emphasized that Christian meditation focuses not of the emptying of the mind or self, but rather on the filling up of the mind or self with God. I will mention his book a number of times in this “Disciplines” section of my blog, because it, his book, is so filled with details about the subject.

His book is available at many book stores or on Amazon and I highly recommend getting it. Before I used excerpts from his book, in 2013, I emailed his publisher to get permission to do so for a Sunday School lesson. They do NOT want anyone to be making money on anything that is taken out of any books, so I am good on that requirement.

I believe we can look at the Spiritual Disciplines as the melding of the mind, the soul and the body toward a common goal of finding God.

Let me list some of the Disciplines that we will be discussing, as put forth by Foster and others regarding Spirituality.  There are three types we will explore: Inward, Outward and Corporate Disciplines.  Let’s start with the: 

The Inward Disciplines –

MeditationPrayer  Fasting  – Study

Why would these disciplines be called the Inward Disciplines?

They offer avenues of personal examination and change to develop stronger relationships with God. They enable us to hear His voice and obey His Word

The Outward Disciplines –    

Simplicity –   Solitude/Silence –   Submission   – Service

Why are these classified as Outward Disciplines?

They are easily seen or perhaps noticed by others that help to prepare us to make the world a better place by discovering the social implications of life, and are not meant as pious exercises for the devout.

The Corporate Disciplines –     (Corporate = Pertaining to a united group, such as persons united in one body)

Confession Worship  – GuidanceCelebration

What is corporate & how does this apply to the Disciplines?

They are shared disciplines with others to bring us nearer to one another and to God.

For Protestants, spiritual disciplines are generally regarded to include any combination of what we just listed, but could also mean the following as disciplines:   chastity,  fellowship, frugality, giving such as tithing, hospitality, humility, intimacy,  reflection, self-control, servant hood,  singingsurrender, and teaching. Perhaps even more can be added, if we read of others from Scripture.

Wikipedia states: “A spiritual discipline is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development. A common metaphor used in the spiritual traditions of the world’s great religions is that of walking a path.  Therefore, a spiritual discipline moves a person along a path towards a goal. The goal is variously referred to as salvation, liberation or union (with God). A person who walks such a path is sometimes referred to as a wayfarer or a pilgrim or what I might call being a disciple of Christ on a journey to find and be with Him.” 

Do you believe that Disciplines are challenging or demanding to do in daily life?

Disciplines should not be hard to do, but may be difficult if we allow them to be.  We do not have to be advanced in matters of theology to practice them. Anyone, from long time Christians to recent converts can practice the Spiritual Disciplines.

The biggest requirement is to involve yourself in Disciplines and to have a basic longing for God.  In Psalms 42: 1-2, “As a heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God.”  The key here is again, longing for God.

One word of caution, however, must be given at the outset: to know the actual mechanics of doing the Disciplines does not mean that we are actually practicing the Disciplines  Using Meditation as an example, we could finally learn about how to do Biblical Meditation, but in reality, when trying to do so, we may fail to practice the Meditation in the correct way or toward the real goal of doing the meditation, namely, taking time to be with God.  I was guilty of this myself. I had allowed myself to think that I MUST meditate every day, and try to do so at a certain hour. That is not the intent of meditating, as keeping within a strict, rule oriented way of doing so. My Pastor helped me understand this and guided me toward a better thought process of doing meditation.

The Spiritual Disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality, and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the actual mechanics, for coming into the reality of the spiritual life.   The life that is pleasing to God is not a series of religious duties. There is really one goal for the Disciplines, namely, to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God. God who is “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1: 17).

When we feel we have a need for God, come to understand we are sinners and that we are ready to receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are beginning to have a relationship with God. What do we have to do? Well, God should be included in our lives, or daily lives. It would help if we prayed to God and not just in church, if we go. We could meditate and pray, because God loves to hear from us. Hey, read the Bible and perhaps learn some things. There are great stories in it that have a message for us to learn. Many things can be done to have a relationship, but we have to try them. God is waiting!

MEDITATION Discipline 2014-26

Meditation  Discipline  2014-26

What is Meditation?

What is meditation, its meaning and goals? I have taken the liberty of using data gleaned from a Sunday School lesson I did, which drew from Richard Foster’s “Spiritual Disciplines, which I asked for permission to use, but the publisher never responded to my request.  I highly recommend his book which has detailed and very useful information.

Hopefully, I can get the message across to you for the original question. There are two basic types of meditation, the Eastern and the one I will be discussing, the Biblical/Christian Spiritual Meditation.

Eastern Meditation

You might be aware of the Eastern form with a person sitting on a mat with legs crossed, showing the bottoms of their feet, eyes closed, hands together and saying over and over, OOOOOHHummmmmmmmmm, OOOHHummmmmmmmm, etc, or  whatever mantra or chant he or she is used to saying. Detachment is the goal of Eastern religions or meditational prayers. It is the escaping from their wheel of existence, trying to control their psychological or emotional well beings. That is ok if that is what your goal is; of emptying the mind of thoughts.

Biblical or Christian meditation, however, involves becoming detached from the controlling and hindering influences of the world and instead being attached to the living God through Christ. In this way, we might, through faith and transformed values, experience the sufficiency of the Savior and reach out to a hurting world in need of the living Christ or to ourselves. It is object oriented beginning with reflective reading of the Word , followed by reflection on what was read.

For instance, with Biblical Meditation we do NOT want to empty the mind and ponder infinity by repeating a chant over and over. Once more, it is reflective thinking on biblical trut, so that God is able to speak to us through Scripture and through the thoughts that come to mind as we reflect on the Word. With Biblical Meditation, we hope to personalize the Scripture so that truth can affect how we think, change our attitudes and how we live and take action in life.  No OOOHuuuuuummmm’in in this type of meditation.    

Meditation’s Purpose

What is the basic purpose of Spiritual Meditation?    The purpose of Biblical meditation is to “Hear God more clearly.”  We can do this, in one way, through the process of meditating and many cases combining it with Prayer. Meditation can be incorporated with many of the other Spiritual Disciplines in the Inward, Outward and Corporate areas, which I  discussed the blog Spiritual Disciplines.  Also, remember, Spiritual Meditating is not like the eastern culture of meditating as we just discussed.

In the midst of an exceedingly busy ministry Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to “a lonely place apart” (Matt. 14: 13). He did this not just to be away from people, but so he could be with God, His father. What did Jesus do time after time in those deserted hills? He sought out his heavenly Father; he listened to Him, he communed with Him. And he beckons us to do the same. Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word.

I absolutely and firmly believe all of us CAN, yes CAN get to the point of hearing God speak to us and in doing so, being able to obey what He tells us. There are NO mantra chants to do, no hidden ways, mental exercises or flights into some kind of cosmic thinking to do. God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit wants our fellowship and desires to hear from us, through prayer, and then speak to us through meditation, as an example. One thing needed though for this to happen, is commitment on doing it.

To Hear from God???

There may be a fear factor involved in hearing from God.  The Israelites did not want this type of intimacy and in the time of Moses told him, “You speak to us and we will hear, but let not God speak to us, lest we die”, as written in Exodus 20:19. This is when God gave them the Ten Commandments.  There was thunder and lightning and trumpets blowing and the mountain was in smoke, so it was daunting to them.  God can whisper in your ear and does not have to shout to be heard.

The verse from Exodus shows why meditation is so threatening to us. It boldly calls us to enter into the living presence of God for ourselves. It tells us that God is speaking in the continuous present and wants to address us. Jesus and the New Testament writers clearly state that this is not just for the religious professionals— the priests— but for everyone. All who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord are the universal priesthood of God and, as such, can enter the Holy of Holies and converse with the living God.

I used to think “Why did God speak to those in the Old Testament, but doesn’t do so now, today? Did He get laryngitis or has He forsaken us as his children?”  If God is alive and active in the affairs of human beings, why can’t his voice be heard and obeyed today? That is what I used to think!!!!

God’s voice can be heard and is heard by all who will know him as present Teacher and Prophet. How do we receive the desire to hear his voice? “This desire is a gift of grace. Anyone who imagines he can simply begin meditating without praying for the desire and the grace to do so will soon give up. But the desire to meditate, and the grace to begin meditating, should be taken as an implicit promise of further graces.”  One of the amazing ways to hear God talk to you is very simple; read Scripture. By doing so, we form the biblical foundation for meditation.  Combine this with prayer and just see what you hear!!!!

I may continue this later with ideas on HOW TO meditate. For now, stop, read this and consider what I have said.  The how to, is not that hard, but I found that I HAVE TO DO certain things to make it work.

PRAYER- Discipline 2014-25

PRAYER- Discipline2014-25

When I discussed Meditation in another blog, the Discipline of Prayer is mentioned a number of times. Prayer is part of the Disciplines of communing with our Lord God.  The thing is, Prayer is a learning process. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11-1) they were asking Him to help them talk with God better. ? I have taken the liberty of using data gleaned from a Sunday School lesson I did, which drew from Richard Foster’s “Spiritual Disciplines, which I asked for permission to use, but the publisher never responded to my request.  I highly recommend his book which has detailed and very useful information.

Getting closer to God

Do we get “closer to God”, when we pray?  I believe so. Therefore, when we pray we are set free to question, experiment and sometimes fail in our endeavor to be closer to God in prayer, because we are learning, and always learning.  It has only been the last few years that I feel comfortable to pray aloud at a gathering, because I never did so before.  Our Lord wants to hear from us, even when we stumble in the process.

I taught an Adult Sunday School lesson on Prayer in 2010.  I went back and looked at the files and found that I spent a lot of time on that lesson.  I think I will draw from them and have a shorter but meaningful telling about Prayer as it relates to the Disciplines.

Why do we pray?

I personally do not believe that you NEED a reason to pray, but we do have reasons many times.  We pray for ourselves, for others, for events to happen or not happen, etc. Our prayers for ourselves could be for a countless number of reasons. I think of depression, loneliness, wanting something, thanking God for something, confessing our sins to God, etc.  I really think that having a better personal relationship with God, is the reason you should pray. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God and obeying Him. Our Holy Bible is full of versus about prayer, and is an excellent source on the subject.

Does God always get back to us?

Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own

Gods Will For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray. It’s like saying, “You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play the lottery….”.

A Lack of Prayer Do we HAVE to pray? A lack of prayer might mean that this demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer. It would be in the best interests to pray instead of not praying, what is there to lose?

Whom are we to pray to—– the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?”  When we pray, who do we pray to?  All prayer should be directed to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that we can pray to one or all three, because all three are one. To the Father we pray with the psalmist, in (Psalm 5:2), “Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray”   To the Lord Jesus, we pray as to the Father because they are equal. Prayer to one member of the Trinity is prayer to all. Stephen, as he was being martyred, prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

We are also to pray in the name of Christ. Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to always give “thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). This really is following y the ELCA guidelines in their belief in prayer.

Jesus assured His disciples that whatever they asked in His name—meaning in His will—would be granted (John 15:16; 16:23).

Similarly, we are told to pray to the Holy Spirit and in His power. The Spirit helps us to pray, even when we do not know how or what to ask for (Romans 8:26; Jude 20).

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the best way to understand the role of the Trinity in prayer is that we pray to the Father, through (or in the name of) the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All three are active participants in the believer’s prayer.

The above gives an idea about prayer, but there are other things we could talk about regarding prayer. I shall save the below for another discussion.  These are good questions that people ask about prayer and are, I think, important. Let me know what you think about these areas about prayer.

Who NOT to Pray To Perhaps??

Where do we pray?

How to Pray

When should we Pray

Unanswered Prayer

FASTING Discipline 2014-24

FASTING Discipline   2014-24

First off, how many of us have fasted?   The facts are, not too many people have ever fasted or do so, on a regular basis, which is somewhat normal for society today.  I do not mean DIETING fasts, but instead Spiritual Christian Fasts.  What do you think is the difference?  

What is fasting?

Not eating to lose weight could be called a fast, but that is a dieting fast, somewhat.  Or, many times, a person can fast during Lent, by restricting certain intakes of food stuff.  For medical reasons, some people may not be able to fast from food altogether. They may choose to abstain only from certain foods, like sugar or chocolate, or from something other than food. In truth, believers can fast from anything. The doing without something temporarily, such as television or soda, as a way of redirecting our focus from earthly things toward God, can also be considered a spiritual fast.

As a point of information only I fasted during Lent one year. We did so as a sacrificial Spiritual Lenten reason. We discussed when and how we would fast beforehand. Our decision was to fast on Monday’s and to do so by restricting our food intake. We drank water only except for the evening dinner time when we indulged ourselves with a cup of broth. During the day we involved ourselves in prayer and meditation. I will say, that by 4:00 PM, I was starting to feel the hunger pains in my stomach, but that went away eventually, especially after drinking fluid.

Spiritual Fasting in the Bible

There are many references in the Bible about Fasting. We will not go into detail about them, but the handout will show some of them from the New Testament. A cautionary statement though is to state that in the Scriptures there are absolute fasts that were done that involved no food OR water and for various time periods. That can be dangerous, especially if there are medications that need to be taken, or age or diseases that would preclude doing such a thing. The body can do without water for three days, but not much more than that time period.

Do we earn God’s favor by fasting?

Spiritual fasting is not a way to earn God’s favor by getting him to do something for us. Rather, the purpose is to produce a transformation in us—a clearer, more focused attention and dependence upon God.

Should we fast and proclaim this to anyone?

Fasting is never to be a public display of spirituality—it is between you and God alone. In fact, Jesus specifically instructed us in Matthew 6:16-18 to let our fasting be done privately and in humility, else we forfeit the benefits. I explain about my fasting to make a point of when I did so, and not a boasting of our actually doing so.

 Is Fasting a Commandment from God?  Sticking with the New Testament, Jesus did not say, “If you fast”, neither did He say, “You MUST fast”, but instead said, “When you fast” Matthew 6:16-18.The second crucial statement of Jesus about fasting comes in response to a question by the disciples of John the Baptist.

Perplexed over the fact that both they, John’s disciples, and the Pharisees fasted, but Jesus’ disciples did not, they asked, “Why”.  Jesus replied, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matt. 9: 15). That is perhaps the most important statement in the New Testament on whether or not Christians should fast today.

What is the Purpose of Fasting?           

Referencing Matthew 6:16-18 again whereas it states, “16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands.

Fasting must center on God, not on ourselves.  It MUST be God-initiated and God-ordained.  Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights— these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.

What can we learn from fasting?

More than any other Discipline fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.

In Psalms 69:10, David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting”   Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear— if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.

Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”

(Matt. 4: 4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Col. 1: 17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!

Fasting helps us keep our balance in life.   How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them. Paul writes, “‘ All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6: 12). Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.

The practice of Fasting  This is where I would go into detail on how to fast, how often, what to eat or drink, etc.  The purpose of these Spiritual Disciplines is to introduce you to the Disciplines, but not necessarily go into each one in depth. You can do so in the future if you are interested.   If you want some ideas, get and read Robert Foster’s book,”Celebration of Discipline” that I drew many of the ideas from to write this blog.

STUDY- Discipline 2014-23

STUDY-  Discipline    2014-23

The next and last Spiritual Discipline in the Inward Disciplines is that of Study. The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study. I must remind  you again that Richard Foster wrote the book,

I think it would be easy to “gloss over” this Discipline as not being worthy as a Discipline.  The apostle Paul tells us in (Rom. 12: 2). “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

What do you think happens when you study?

Study is a way to learn and be changed. We may pray to the spirit, sing out our praises to our Lord, live as obediently as we can, be filled with revelations perhaps, but still be unchanged. Why?  Because we may never have taken up one of the ways God uses to change us:  namely study.  If we get to know the knowledge of truth we can be free as stated in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”.  Ignorance of the truth can hamper and confuse us in the spiritual walk of life.  This all may sound good or even confusing to a degree so let us look into just what study is.

Do you think study helps us in life?

Through study, we can move in a certain direction as a kind of experience in life.  So, with study, there is concentration, perception, repetition, and ingrained habits of thoughts that are formed. These habits of thought that are formed will conform to the order of the thing being studied. What we study, such as the Bible,  determines the kind of habits that are formed, which is why Paul urges us to focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious.

The application of study is a process that is different than that of meditation for instance. Meditation is devotional, whereas study is analytical.  Meditation will relish a word in Scripture, for instance, and study will clarify the meaning.  They are two distinct experiences.  Study will set the framework from which meditation will function. Through study we will be changed, perhaps slowly, but changed never the less. We will learn, and through the learning be able to meditate on the words read and studied.

What different ways are there to study?

We can have different ways to study; verbal and nonverbal. The verbal way of studying would be in the reading of books and attending lectures or Sunday school lessons, which make up half the field of study.  Nature and, most important, the observation of events and actions are the primary nonverbal fields of study and one that we can learn much from.

 

What is the primary task of studying?

The principal task of study is the perception into the reality of a given situation, encounter, book, etc. We can go through a major crisis, for example, without any perception of the real nature of the tragic situation. But if we carefully observe and reflect upon what occurred, we can learn a great deal.  In doing so we are studying the situation.  We can study before an occurrence, and that is studying also.

What steps are there again to studying and how do they relate to Spiritual Growth?

They are:  Repetition, Concentration, Comprehension, and Reflection

Repetition:

This is an age old way of learning something. Going over and over again, to get it engrained in your mind. When we read the Bible, we get channeled into a specific direction.  Pastor Laura had me read the Book of James each day for a month.  That is repetition, but is only the beginning.

Concentration:   

Upon reading the Bible over and over, learning will increase because it centers the mind and focuses the attention on what is being studied.  Our mind is centered on what we are reading, absorbing input from the written Word.  The key is not to be distracted and get off base while reading, but instead keep your mind on the subject at hand, because that leads into the next area.

Comprehension:

Reading the Word in Scripture, will give us the “knowledge of truth” as I mentioned in John 8:32 because with comprehension the knowledge comes out. After reading James many times, it was amazing to realize that what I read before was now understandable in a new light from the reading days prior. Insight and discernment occurs and the true perception of reality of what was read, happens. After we have read over and over, concentrated on the Word, and start to comprehend, then something else develops.

Reflection:

We start to see the significance of what we are studying in the Bible. We start to see things from God’s perspective and in understanding the subject matter, we start to understand ourselves.  Jesus speaks often of ears that do not hear and eyes that do not see. When we ponder the meaning of what we study, we come to hear and see in a new way.

What to study?????   !

The Bible is a great start and it can be studied in many ways.  Someone won an award once in church one time for reading the Bible in its entirety over a short period of time. That in itself was amazing, but I always wondered, did he go through the steps we just outlined of the four areas beginning with repetition. I doubt it.  He got the award, but it was not meaningful.  Reading the Bible a section or book at a time is a worthwhile undertaking and if you end up reading all of it, that is great.

What are some other books that could be read that will give you meaningful insights to Christian thinking?

A few are:

The Confessions of St.  Augustine                            “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A Kempis

Brother Lawrence’s  “The Presence of God”        Blaise Pascal’s   “The Pensees”

Martin Luther’s  “Table Talks”                                     “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

St Theresa of Avilla’s “Interior Castle”                     St John of the Cross, “Dark Night of the Soul”

The main thing is not to worry about what you have NOT read, but instead, remember that the key to the Discipline of Study is not reading many books, but experiencing what you do read.  I believe that from reading the various classics of old and those works from more modern writers, we will learn. From learning we will be able to better understand the Christian culture of belief we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

SIMPLICITY- Disciplines 2014-22

Simplicity      – Disciplines     2014-22

How do you define Simplicity? 

The base root is the word “Simple”.  In Ecclesiastes 7:30 it states, “God made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising”.  The Christian Discipline of Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life style.  Nobody in this class can profess to have a simple inward thinking and not have an effect on how they live, which is the same way of your thinking. Just cannot happen.

When you have an inward simple reality, you are liberated outwardly. Your manner of speech is more truthful and honest. The quest for status or position in life is gone, because we don’t need those things any longer. We offer ourselves and our goods to others, to the church, for instance, and where needed by others.  We will no longer fear what others will think of us, but instead do things because we feel we must do them for the sake of those others.

What about today’s life styles and simplicity?  

I would imagine that EVERYONE craves things, at times, that we neither need nor enjoy.  We buy and buy items we do not necessarily want, but do so to, at times, impress people we know. When we purchase items that have a planned obsolescence, where that ends, psychological obsolescence takes over.  Some are ashamed to have last year’s style of clothes or a very old but reliable car, and are made to feel ashamed by owning them (especially by the manufacturers). The media tells us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.   We must take exception to the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn. The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity is not lost — just something that we have to recapture today.

Does the Bible teach about Simplicity?

It all depends on who you talk to about the Bible and the simple life. The Old Testament is rife with warnings about the exploitation of the poor and the accumulation of wealth.  The world we live in belongs to God and cannot be held perpetually as stated in Leviticus 25:23. The Ten Commandments have the one about covetousness or the lust “to have” which can lead to stealing and oppression, if taken to the nth degree.  Jesus taught or condemned the mammon or wealth and declared it the “rival God”, as “You cannot serve God and Mammon”, as stated in Luke 16:13. Other Scripture readings are Luke 12:15; Luke 12:33; Luke 12:16-21; Matthew 13:45-46 and Luke 6:30 as some of the other examples of the teachings of Jesus.

What should we do then regarding material things?

OK, does that mean we should become paupers and do without STUFF?  NO!!!! God wants us to have adequate material provisions in life. Forcing oneself into poverty is not right in the eyes of God and should be renounced as being contrary to God’s will. Scripture declares that the creations of God are good and to be enjoyed. And extreme asceticism is not to be condoned.

Asceticism or the severe self-discipline and abstention from all form of indulgence, usually for religious reasons and it renounces possessions whereas Simplicity puts those same things into perspective. There is no place for the “good things in life” with the ascetic, but Simplicity rejoices in this gracious provision from the hand of God.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

What is the “Outward Expression” of Simplicity?

I said before that you cannot have an inner reality without an outward expression and to experience the liberating spirit of Simplicity WILL affect how we live.  With this thought in mind, we must discuss the specifics or this Discipline would be just theoretical.  Therefore I will suggest ten controlling principles for the outward expression of Simplicity. These are NOT laws, but instead an attempt to define the meaning of Simplicity today.

 Buy things for their usefulness rather than for their status. Would it be prudent to buy or own a home with 22 rooms whereas 6 or seven would do well for two people?  Joann and I live in a house that is too big for us, and we will be downsizing to a smaller place sometime.   Buy clothes that you need without the need to impress others.  IF you haven’t worn a certain item of clothing for over a year, donate it to Dorothy’s Porch, regardless of the original cost.

Reject those things that you are addicted to in life. This could be almost anything, such as drinks of any nature, chocolate, videos, books or as simple as money itself. Refuse to be a slave to anything but to God, as His servant.   Easier said than done, I am sure and not something we want to rush out and start or stop doing. Keep this in mind, addiction is something beyond your control, and that is where God comes into your life as the forgiving grace and healing power of God to help you with your control.

Give things away. I don’t mean the tie or scarf you got for Christmas you never wear, but that is still OK to give away. It would mean more though to give something that means much to you as a present to someone else that truly needs it. We gave a TV enclosure, TV and DVD to someone whereas I could have made some money on it selling it on Craigslist.  The feeling we had in knowing that the items were truly appreciated was overwhelming to us.  Get rid of things and De-accumulate and in the process, simplify, and simplify your life.

Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.  New gadgets, such as the I-Pads, Smart Phones, Kindles, and other such toys are examples of having the “newest model” for the sake of having it. These new features seduce us into buying items we do not need, but only want.  We, who live in the U.S. comprise 6 percent of the world population but we consume 33 % of the world’s energy, so gadgets are an unnecessary drain on the energy resources of the world. Our children and grandchildren don’t need the cheap breakable toys made today. Look for the durable and educational ones and/or make some yourself.  Ever notice how the small kids play in the boxes that the gifts came in?

Enjoy those things that you don’t own!  How do you do that? Well, the beaches at a Lake , the  parks at a local  Park District, the libraries that abound, are some ways to do this. If you own something we feel we can control it, if we control it we will get more pleasure – these are illusions. Free things can be enjoyed without owning or controlling them.

The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Ps 24:1) Develop a sense of appreciation for the creations of God and His Glory. Enjoy nature, the birds, the bees, the bugs, the flowers, and the rainbow of colors of nature.  Again, the park systems of Lake and Geauga are teeming with adventures to be had, and things to enjoy.  Get closer to the earth and closer to God in the process.

Use extreme caution before incurring debt by being simple and prudent.  The advertisements to buy now and pay later, (over and over again) is something to be skeptical about today. Usury in the Bible referred to any kind of interest, and it still applies today.  Jesus denounced usury as a sign of the old life and admonished his disciples to “lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35).  Do not be held in bondage to the schemes of those wanting you to buy from them and paying later.

Be honest in your speech.  In (Matthew 5:37) “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes” or “No”, anything more than this comes from evil”. Make integrity and honesty the biggest characteristics of your speech. It is best to reject half-truths or ways of talking that obscure and done to impress rather than to inform and illuminate.  After my accident, I found that if I told the truth in my speaking to others, I did not have to try to remember those things that were untrue and it was much easier to live that way. I remember years ago when I was in sales, I lost orders due to telling the truth about shipments being longer than the customers desires, but then I found that in the telling, the customers got to know I had integrity and could trust me when I told them something.

Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.  The best way to give an example of this is to think of those things that are things we purchase.  Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should we buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us? Do we oppress our children or spouse because we feel certain tasks are beneath us?

Our oppression takes on the thought of racism, sexism, and nationalism. The color of the skin still affects one’s position in the company. The sex of a job applicant still affects the salary. The national origin of a person still affects the way he or she is perceived.

Lastly, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.  Job, position, status, family, friends, and security— these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention. It is all too easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things, but we must try.   Simplicity: May God give you— and me— the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number-one priority of our lives. To do so is to live in simplicity.

It may not; no  I really think it IS NOT easy to live the simple life. You have to go out of your way to do so.  It can be done, but you have to have a commitment to do so. I suggest you try it, but start slow, make goals and work towards it. I bet you might be surprised at the results.

SOLITUDE/Silence – Disciplines 2014-21

Solitude/Silence – Disciplines    2014-21

Is it possible to be in a state of extended silence or of living in complete solitude today?

It could be that a fear of being alone drives us toward noise, crowds, TV’s, etc.!  We have radios strapped to our arms, ear buds in our ears and other ways of “keeping in touch, or having the comfort of distractions.”  Solitude is more of a state of mind than a place, such as an inner sanctum of quiet.  It is an inner fulfillment rather than a loneliness of emptiness.

A hermit, on top of a mountain in a cave can quite possibly never experience solitude. He could be alone, but he may not have the inner solitude of the mind. We should not fear being alone if we possess inward solitude for we would know we are not alone. What I mean is this, whether alone or among others, we can always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart that especially includes Jesus Christ.

Why would we call Solitude or Silence, an OUTWARD Discipline?

Solitude can have outward manifestations whereas there is a freedom to be alone, not to be away from others, but instead, to hear the divine Whisper better.  That is outward!!  Jesus did this many times.  He spent 40 days alone in the desert (Matthew 4-1-11). Jesus chose the twelve and before doing so spent the entire night alone in the desert hills (Luke 6:12).  After hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart (Matt 14:13). After feeding the five thousand he “went up into the hills by himself” (Matthew 14:23). In Mark 1:35, Jesus, ‘in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place..”  Other passages such as (Luke 5:16), (Matthew 17:1-9), (Matthew 26:36-46) all show that the seeking out of solitary places was a regular practice for Jesus as perhaps it could be for us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life Together” titled one of his chapters “The Day Together” and the following chapter “The Day Alone.” Both are essential for spiritual success. He writes, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

Therefore, we must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.

Do you think Solitude has to have Silence?

Actually, without silence there is no solitude. You do have to involve yourself in the act of listening, even though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech. To refrain from talking without having your heart listening to God is not silence. There is an old proverb to the effect that “all those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear. Control rather than no noise is the key to silence. Under the Discipline of silence and solitude we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. The person who views the Spiritual Disciplines as laws will always turn silence into an absurdity. In the Book of James (3:1-12) he discusses this subject very well.

Silence is a two edged sword.  If we are silent when we should speak, we are not living in the Discipline of silence. If we speak when we should be silent, we again miss the mark. Only when we learn to be truly silent are we able to speak the word that is needed when it is needed. I am trying to learn this myself, and have to mentally tell myself, “Be quiet!” when listening to someone speak their minds, especially when it is so important to that person doing the speaking.

Do you think it is hard to stay silent?

One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? Truly, God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust. Control of the tongue can mean everything. Have we been set free so that we can hold our tongue? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.”  We have to learn how to be silent, and sometimes that is by being silent in a spiritual way.

The Dark Night of the Soul

We could at this time go into a discourse of solitude that comes from St John of the Cross, a man living at the time of St Theresa of Avilla in Spain in the 13th century. St John of the Cross wrote about “The Dark Night of the Soul” which goes into a privileged opportunity to draw close to the Divine in a special way.

When solitude is seriously pursued, there is usually a flush of initial success and then an inevitable letdown— and with it a desire to abandon the pursuit altogether. Feelings leave and there is the sense that we are not getting through to God. This is a normal reaction to the Spiritual way of life that includes all the Spiritual Disciplines.

When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness.  Recognize the dark night for what it is, if you can do so. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.

Does it happen to all of us and is it a short or long term happening? Well, it is complex and I would rather not get into this aspect right now, other than to say it can occur and would be glad to go over this time of inward darkness with anyone of you that feels you are experiencing something of this nature.

What to do and how to do involving Solitude?

Don’t start by trying the big solitude moments in life, instead go for and enjoy the little ones that happen. The early morning moments when you first awake and are in bed is a good one to enjoy before the rest of the family is awake. The morning cup of coffee or tea before going to work are moments of solitude, except when there are kids screaming in the background, of course. At night, when it is nice out, slip outside the covers of your bed and go outside and take in the silent night, looking at the clouds or stars.

Progress to another level. Find a “quiet place” just for you, that is where you can be silent and alone. Decree a special chair that is yours and state that “This is my chair, for me, to be alone,— let me alone, please”, when in it. Outside your home, find a place to be by yourself, in the park, in the corner of your yard, or anywhere that you can claim as your own. Remember though what I said before, “Solitude is more of a state of mind than a place”, so it is where you most feel comfortable to have the inner self be by itself.

What do we get out of practicing the Discipline of Solitude/Silence?

We will be more sensitive to others and have more compassion.  We will find that we will cherish a new freedom to be with other people. We will be attentive to their needs and hurts. Thomas Merton stated, in his work “The Sign of Jonas”, “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

I would strive to begin the Spiritual Discipline of Solitude and Silence to be closer to God and to be exposed to His Presence. This Discipline will open the door to “listening to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, and loving all-embracing silence” (Catherine de Haeck Doherty).