Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Discipline of Worship


What does this bring to mind for you? Do you see church building on a Sunday? Do you see people singing together or maybe do you "hear" music that lifts up God's name? Of course, these things are an aspect of worship, but you maybe be surprised (and/or challenged perhaps?) to consider that when God says worship, he isn't just talking about Sunday morning or singing all five verses of "Just As I Am".

When the word "worship" is used in scripture it is usually used in a context of a life of choices and actions. It is part of a life-style of God-driven decisions.

Consider when Joshua says to this Israelites, "choose this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:14) and note their response "We will worship the Lord our God and obey him."  (24:24, NLT). God's people people understood that a life of service was worship to God. To worship God meant that they had to chose whom they would serve.  Joshua challenged them that if they were to make such a bold statement that it mean giving up their idols and their way of rebellious living. Worship means service. To worship God means that you are living a life of service to him.

Look at Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." (NIV) The word for "worship" in english was originally "service" in Greek.  Offering our bodies as living sacrifices is an act of worship, a reflection of a life of service to God.

See how Paul follows up this challenge, this "spiritual act of worship" involves more than just singing on Sunday morning ..."Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (vs.2)

To imagine that how I think reflects whom I serve and worship, what a challenge!

When we are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices as worship, we are being called to living a life that is fully committed to service to God. It considers how every aspect of our life reflects whom we serve, how every word shows who we worship. To consider that my life is the worship that I give to God gives a whole other sense of importance to me.

Emily Freeman, in her wonderful books Grace for the Good Girl shares these thoughts that bring me to tears every time I read them:
"We breathe in air and breathe out worship. We receive love and extend worship. We embrace children, offering worship. We comfort, we laugh, we mourn, we dance, we read, we dream, we exist - all worship. We pay bills, we run on the treadmill, we enjoy a good movie, we make dinner, we welcome friends with open arms - worship, all worship. We send money and offer prayer and sit with a lonely neighbor in Jesus' name. We wait for love, we long for home, we pour out our hearts and hope and fears and longings; we create with words and photos and colors and food, all beautiful acts of worship."

In what ways are you worshiping this day?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Discipline of Service

Have you ever considered what the role of intimacy plays in serving others?

I hadn't really considered it until starting to study the spiritual disciplines. As with all the disciplines intimacy is that factor that takes our efforts from a "to-do" list for the Christian life to being something that changes us. When intimacy motivates us it changes our focus from checking things off our mental list to an inward drive that we cannot help but submit to.

Consider your most intimate relationships, your husband, children or best friend. A to-do list is not your motivation to talk to them daily, spend time with them or serve them. You need not ponder long on what you should do for them on a given day, you just know. You are moved by the power of your connection to them, not because you "should".

When we are intimate with God, we have a connection to him that draws us naturally closer to his children. We love others because we love him. We serve others because we love him.

Often our intimacy with God and others reflects in how we serve each other, especially in moments of crisis. Moments of crisis are those times when we find ourselves vulnerable and often frustrated. We may feel overwhelmed, anxious and panicky. So do others. These moments allow for God to show himself through the service of others, when we both accept the leading he offers and accept the service of others.

When we serve and allow ourselves to be served in these moments we can find that we draw near to God and his people. Have you found that to be true?

Here are some friends that shared their experience with service:

Brook said, "When I lost my voice after thyroid removal surgery. Literally people I'd never met watched my dog for a few nights, people that I NEVER spoke with anymore contacted me through facebook with person stories/information and being able to physically feel the prayers of people was powerful. You just feel it almost in a physical way.

Amy said, " I miscarried at home while I was caring for my then 18 month old. It came on so suddenly and forcefully! I called my neighbor, a nurse, who immediately ran over to help care for my kid and tackle my immediate medical needs. I think it would have been more than I could bear at that moment to keep my head in the crisis, alone, all while dealing with the heartache. I am forever grateful to her."

Erin said, "When my father's condition in ICU suddenly turned even further south at midnight, I remembered my friend saying, "you know I'm your middle of the night friend, right?" I KNEW I could call her to come to my aid at any time. She rushed right over, stayed with my kids through the night and took them to church for me the next AM. I was able to be with my family right after and for unlimited, non rushed time for hours after his death. I also had another friend take my kids, and constantly let me know she was in no rush to return them to me for the days he was in ICU before his death. This is time I could never have gotten back, had I missed it for caring for my children. My friends are such a blessing to me!"

Jennifer said, "When I had PPD, I had one of my mentors show up at my door and force me to take a nap while she watched my baby. I didn't know how to accept help. Her persistence in that moment made me realize that there are times when you absolutely have to admit weakness and accept help. I have learned through paying-it-forward that when you are the one serving that you receive the bigger blessing. It makes me sad to think how many blessings I denied those who wanted to serve me in the past."

Misty said, "In our first year of marriage I was diagnosed with Graves' disease. I took iodine radiation to destroy my thyroid. Immediately I spiraled downhill. I was so weak and tired. Had lots of muscle spasms. I could barely get out of bed. My wonderful husband served and showed more compassion than I have ever experienced. He worked and yet came home during the day to make sure I was okay and eating. Most of the time I was sleeping when he would get home from work..he would make dinner and wake me to eat. Jody made sure I had everything i needed and more. I don't know what I would have done without him. God gave me the most amazing man that took his wedding vows seriously."

Cyndi said, "I have many dear friends who have been there for us.. In 2009, we had no income due to the financial crunch... One sweet friend wanted to pamper me.... She offered me a day of pampering: a haircut, mani/pedicure. She offered to give me $100... But said it had to be used frivolously. Then she decided to use gift certificates"

 1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each of you should use whatever gift he has been given, by doing so you are administering grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do it with the strength God provides so that  in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." 

God uses service to administer grace to his children. Service is no small thing.

Have you ever been served, especially in a moment of crisis? Did it draw you closer to God in that moment of vulnerability? What role has service on your behalf done for 
your relationship with him? 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Discipline of Solitude

This was first published on April 26th of 2011. I smile to know I was tuning my ears to hear God's challenges for these disciplines. The challenge for silence and solitude is as great today as ever before!


I am always amazed with how God takes a heart, and through the Spirit guides us to learning more of one aspect of Him at a given time. My heart has been especially open to considering quiet and stillness lately.

I have discovered a book that I have actually had sitting on my shelf for awhile now. I have no doubt that reading it now is perfectly timed for the lessons I have gained from it :) I am reading the classic "Celebration of Discipline" by Robert Foster.  I have found some wonderfully inspiring encouragements in those timeless lessons.

I have been challenged by all the disciplines: meditation, prayer, study, submission, service and fasting (so far)..but one of them has really stood out to me. The Discipline of Solitude.

He speaks of our fear of silence, our fear of being alone. He speaks of how we have replaced quiet solitude with noise, filling our ears and thus our minds and hearts with other than godly things.  He contrasts solitude versus loneliness,  "Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment."

He stresses the importance of quiet to the spirit of solitude..."without silence there is no solitude."

He clarifies that it is not just the absence of noise or speaking, but a state "listening to God." He says, "Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without the heart of listening to God, is not silence."

He challenges me when he asserts that using words or noise for the sake of filling silence can take us away from listening to God, or being in a state that allows us to hear Him.   I am totally guilty of that!

I didnt realize how much so I was guilty of it until feeling challenged in this area - I started realizing how often I dispel quiet moments with music, talking or with allowing my mind to wonder. More specifically, how I dont take advantage of the moments in my day where I can take hold of silence, if even for a moment.

I found that when I did have a moment or two (which happened more often than I realized!) where the noise is dispelled for a blessed moment (naptime, or when the kids are outside and occupied) I look to turn on music, reach for my phone or jump on the computer. I didnt really realize how often I am guilty of this, and have since realized how many little moments in my day that have potential for quiet, silence and solitude.

It may be literally 2 minutes, but it DOES happen ...who knew?

He especially challenges me when he talks about when we use words to dispel quiet. He goes so far as to reference Ecclesiastes 5:1, "To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools." 

 Hm. How often have I given a "sacrifice of fools"  when I try to get my words out and heard? Uh, ouch. He continues the assault on my pride when he states "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? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust."  Ouch again.

Yesterday, I really tried to embrace this idea. I resisted filling up my quiet moments with noise, and found I had more moments that I thought possible to meditate, pray and consider things of God. I prayed more for family and friends, I thought more of things that were "pure and lovely."

Honestly, that was way easier for me that will be the next opportunity I have to chose between keeping my trap shut and sharing my vast wisdom with someone. But, he challenges through Thomas a Kempis, "it is easier to be silent altogether than to speak with moderation."  Sheesh, my toes hurt. :)

I am going to keep working on this - truly the moments of quiet and listening were well worth the "sacrifice" of noise.

What do you find more difficult...embracing quiet or being quiet? ..being okay with less noise, or keeping your tongue stilled?

Discipline of Simplicity


It has become somewhat of a buzz word for many of us in the bloggisphere the last few years. I think it's largely because we all love the idea of making things more simple, I think we all crave a little more simplicity in our lives.

This blog was largely due to my desire to embrace a form of simplicity all those years ago. My bible study, Everything You Need (currently out to publishers, fingers crossed!) was really inspired by a desire for the more simple life. So, I felt like when I started reading Foster's take on simplicity in Celebration of Discipline I shouldn't have been surprised by what I found there. I was a bit more surprised and challenged than I thought I would be.

I have considered simplicity to be something that I did purposefully to make room for the things that should be the most important in my life. It includes getting rid of things, organizing my home and schedule, learning to say no to things and creating a hard line of priorities that I direct my daily tasks. I think it is those things, still.

Foster, however puts a God-spin on the concept when he challenges that godly simplicity is to seek God first.  Seek God more than stuff, more than acquiring wealth, more than reputation, more than a job, more than a nice car, more than an image, more than security, more than ...anything.

To seek God and his Kingdom first means that we weigh everything on a scale of worthiness. Is our pursuit of wealth, achievement and more stuff worthy of the Kingdom of God? Do we have the time, money, energy or desire to do what the Kingdom of God asks of us?

I know for me as I learn to incorporate these spiritual disciplines into my life my biggest struggle is finding the time to do it. I want to practice mediation, study and prayer but I struggle with finding the energy, motivation and resources to make it happen. A lifestyle of simplicity allows us the resources to make it happen.

If we were to, for example, look at our schedules be brutally honest about which things are helping to advance God's Kingdom and which are not, I wonder what we would find? What if we asked ourselves how God would have us spend our money, or be entertained? If we are seeking God first, and we were willing to take another step what things would we let go of?

Would our schedules change? Would our spending shift from more for ourselves to giving to others? Would we consider more carefully what we were entertained by, what we studied on a day in and day basis through that entertainment?

We can just think of simplicity as just organizing and decluttering, or we can look at those things as ways to free up resources for the life God has for us. The implications are eternal, but the rewards are very much for the here and now.

What kind of changes would you be willing to make in order to live a life of simplicity for his sake?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

a little tip: A Study Bag

I originally posted this in June 2011. I updated it a bit, but it's still a great tip so wanted to pass it on while we are focusing on study this week!


I am in my hiding place again today, and I brought with me something that just dawned on my as being a wonderful tool.  Even after my hiding place goes away (a.k.a., when the neighbors get home from vacation) I am going to keep using this tool as a great way to store and tote my study stuff.

The last two days I have been using a "study bag".  This morning, it was so great to grab my coffee that I had set up on an automatic timer, my Study Bag and head out the door to go hide :)

I am recalling now, Emilie Barnes, in her book Spirit of Loveliness encouraged a woman of God to have a "prayer basket". This is a basket that holds all you need for your prayer time, so that these quiet moments with God can be anywhere that you can carry your prayer basket.

The same idea, I filled up my Study Bag with the things that I would use in my quiet time, and the things that would help me get my mind working in the right direction this day.  I used my every faithful Organizing Utility Tote by Thirty One. I chose this one because it can handle my slue of books without falling apart. It also has a ton of pockets, so I can put my pens, highlighters, small notebook and phone (for when my hiding is more than my family can bear :).

I didnt read or even look at all the books in my bag in one sitting, but because I never really know which way my quiet time will lead I make sure to have lots of options :)

Currently, on the menu is: a couple versions of the bible (today, its the NIV and NLT),  What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancy (because our study on grace has really sparked an interest in the topic!), Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis (for Sunday School), a couple books by Dallas Willard (havent started these yet), and my scripture study notebook.

[Update: Currently I have the Celebration of Discipline, 7: an experimental mutiny against excess (bible study and book!), Intimate Faith: a woman's guide to the spiritual disciplines, and of course my NIV and NLT! to see what I was looking at/studying/thinking about about 2 years ago!]

Having this bag ready to go helps me be able to take my quiet and study time anywhere in a moments notice - to a hiding place, to my bedroom, or to Starbucks for a cup of coffee with God :).

I am also loving that I have a place to store my stuff, instead of all of it just being stacked all over the table all the time :)

The only problem, is that the bag I am using  for my study bag is the one I use ALL the time for other stuff also ...SO, I think I just found a great excuse to get another Thirty One bag! :)

What do you do to make your study time mobile? What do you use in your study time?...what versions of the bible do you use? What books are you reading right now? Tell us about your study time ..I would love to hear all about it!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Discipline of Study

{study produces JOY. Like any novice, we will find it hard work in the beginning. But the greater our proficiency the greater our JOY. - Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline}

Do you study? I mean really study?  You may be surprised that you do, even if you are not a big "book person".   Based on the defining characteristics that Foster offers in his explanation of true "study" in Celebration of Discipline you may be studying any number of things on a regular basis. 

According to him, to study something means that you return to a thought/idea/book/topic over and over again. Study is firstly defined by repetition in a given area. As you repeat an idea to yourself you begin to concentrate on it.  By doing those things you then start to comprehend the topic/idea/words you are studying. To really study you then reflect. You ponder, consider, mull it over, or as my daddy says "put in your hmm box."   

What is in your "hmm box" ..what are you "studying"? Think about it ...
  • what ideas, thoughts, blogs, books, shows do you find yourself going to over and over again? What topics do you find yourself "repeating" ...organization, homeschooling, history? Think about what shows you watch ...if you return to the same type of shows, are you okay with the fact that you are "studying" their content? 
  • what do you concentrate on? What do you think about? What directs your thoughts? 
  • what do you feel like you understand? you have a good grasp on organization, teaching small ones, the world news or the way a criminal mind works?
  • Finally, what do you reflect on? What do you ponder, consider or really think about on an ongoing basis? 
Studying is a natural thing for most of us, even if we dont realize it!

Foster challenges that "ingrained habits of thought that are formed WILL conform to the order of the thing being studied. WHAT we study determines what kind of habits are formed, which is why Paul urges us to focus on things that are true, just, pure, lovely and gracious."

{"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - think about such things." Phil 4:8}

How important the topic of our true study!

Of course when we direct our minds to things of God, whether his words, his faithfulness, his acts in our lives and in those around us we are studying him. We are learning to put things together and build our understanding of Truth, and how that Truth is reflected in our life. When are concentrating on how he shows himself in the world around us we are being students of God work around us.

Scripture is a wonderful place to start to get our mind thinking in the right direction. God's words say it the best:

{"All scripture is inspired by God teach us what is true, to make us realize what is wrong in our lives, it corrects us when we are wrong and it teaches us what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do his good work."  2 Tim 3:16-17 NLT}

{"All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."  2 Tim 3:16 NIV}

Tell me...what do you STUDY?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Discipline of Fasting

Ah, the discipline of fasting. One of our favorites, right?

No? Yeah, me neither.

Of all the disciplines I find myself resisting this one the most. I think it is because unlike the others I have a harder time finding that wonderfulness amidst the discomfort of change. While it is a struggle to find time and proper focus for meditation, and to always pray with the right heart and spirit neither requires a significant amount of active self-denial.

I know there are rewards, but the struggle to get there is not really a good time. At least not initially.

Even so, I have been greatly challenged by my study of this discipline. I am learning more and more of this discipline, and especially coupled with the disciplines of both prayer and meditation I am challenged that it will indeed draw me closer to God with practice.

First, I have had to cement what the actual concept of fasting is. I found several great definitions, but my favorite by far is by Jen Hatmaker in her book, "7: a mutiny against excess". She says of the spirit of the fast "[it is] an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move."

She goes on to say, "Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer to God, but it assists us in offering ourselves."

 So like prayer and mediation, fasting creates a space for God to speak with us. It focuses us with intensity on hearing his voice, calling to attention not only our hearts, spirits and minds but our bodies as we withhold something from it. Whether it is food, media, sleep or speaking when we abstain from something that our body is used to we are use our self-denial to create a bridge to the heart of God.

It is like we are saying in essence, "what you have to say to me is so important that I am going to stop using resources to those things until I hear what you want me to hear."

Whether fasting for a meal, a day or 40-days we can find ourselves learning to listen more attentively to God during that time and space we give to him. When we offer up something that we see as necessary for our life and living in exchange for a more intense God meeting, we will be blessed for it!

One aspect of fasting that differentiates it from other disciplines is the purposeful, intentional nature of it. While you can pray in passing, and meditate for a moment it takes some mental and spiritual planning to fast. In scripture fasting has a reason, often mourning (Nehemiah 1:4) or guidance (Acts 14:23). Since a prayer offered in a time of fasting is one with some serious weight behind it, it must have a purpose and be led by the Spirit.

There is much to still learn of fasting, but I pray that you will consider this discipline as you seek to know God better. We will talk more about this discipline very soon!

Have you ever fasted? What did you feel you learned from that experience?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Discipline of Prayer

Of all the disciplines, Christians are likely the most familiar with the discipline of prayer. Prayer is fundamental to the Christian walk, and we can participate in it no matter if we are at the beginnings of our journey or at the end. Prayer is foundational to growing a deeper relationship with God, just like communicating with anyone is necessary to move past just a shallow acquaintance with them.

We have to talk to God, or our friends or our spouses if we are going to get closer to them.Of course we know that.

Yet, even having been a Christian for 25+ years I still have to admit it's a struggle for me to have a consistent, effective prayer life. I mean, I do the prayer that is ongoing, sort of "small talk" with God pretty well. I breathe prayers constantly, asking for him to bless me, my family and those around me but I fall very short when it comes to the deep conversations where I feel very connected to God.

I think the biggest part of that is that I have a very hard time focusing my mind on this task. I do good praying in passing, but the mentally focused prayers are harder in coming. The kind of prayers that are 100% focused on the tasks of surrender, intercession or praise are less frequent. Making these part of our day in and day out relationship with God takes purpose, and practice.

Oddly, we have to learn to talk to the One who knows us better than anyone. ever.  AND, he knows those that we are prayer for better than anyone. ever. We have to learn how to pray in a way that is uninhibited and open, while purposeful and effective. It takes practice.

The cool thing about prayer is that it can be done any time, any place. It can be inspired by a whispered breeze or a clap of thunder. It can be motivated by seeing someone in pain, or feeling a sense of absolute joy. Prayer is the way we share our lives, our feelings, our hurts, our dreams and our wishes for others with God.

Imagine trying to build a strong marriage on small talk. It ain't happenin'. Depth and meaningful conversation is a must. So, we gotta learn it. Part of that is learning to develop the habit of focused prayer, even if they are short conversations these conversations can be meaningful ones.

Here are some ideas how we can incorporate life into our prayers, and prayers into our life:

  • Time Cues - using specific times of day to remind us to pray. Whether it is immediately on waking,    during lunch, before bed or in the car before you go into work, we can use specific set times in our day to call our minds to prayer. You can set your alarm on your phone, and assign as specific topic to pray for in those moments on a daily basis. 
  • Activity Cues - how about using specific actions as cues to pray. You could pray for those who have nothing to eat when you are fixing dinner, or for those who ill when you are getting reading the morning. Perhaps when you see a red light you can pray for your children, instead of get frustrated at wasted time (guilty as charged). What if every time you took a shower you praised God for all he has given you, or offered up your hands in service whenever you enter your place of employment. Our daily activities can remind us to include God in those things, each and every one. 
  • Flash Prayers - in Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster introduces the idea of praying for others that we  may not even know with Flash Prayers. These prayers are ones that are directed to people around us, prayers for protection, peace and for blessings on their lives. These are short, but possibly powerful ways to intercede on someone's behalf.   
  • Using our Imagination - we talked about this a bit here, but to really emphasize how much of an impact our imagination can have on prayer should bring it to mind again. I know for me engaging my imagination in my prayer life has had a powerful impact. Praying for someone to get well, is so much different and more powerful when I picture them in their unwell state, and pray specifically for them as they look in my imagination as restored and healthy. When I use my imagination I pray things I may not have before. Picturing a struggling marriage, and engaging my mind to consider what that looks like can lead me to consider what emotions needs to be quelled, what struggles are possible and specifically what I want to request of God on their behalf.  It's powerful!
  • Praying Scripture - praying God's words back to him is a great way to soothe both our own spirit and give him praise at the same time! Especially when moving from meditation to prayer we can continue our heart's conversation through the words God has already spoken - what a perfect way to know you are praying God's will!
Foster offers up some other interesting thoughts related to prayer that we will look at in the week ahead. Meanwhile, purpose in your heart that you will pray in a focused way at least once each day this coming week. Keep up those prayers in passing, but also offer up a moment for purposeful speaking to God.

If you have been practicing the Discipline of Meditation with us, then consider how that time will prepare your mind for this kind of purposeful prayer time, even while we continue with our day!

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according 
to his will, he hears us"  1 John 5:14


Monday, March 18, 2013

Using Our Imagination

We use our imagination all the time. When we read, when we watch TV, when we are considering the wonderful things in our future and when we are fearing for the worst. We engage our imagination from the time we are less than two years old to when we are heading towards our graves.

Imagination is a God-instilled blessing, but how often do we utilize it for use with God related things?

Jesus used it all the time when he told parables. He sought to engage his listeners in his lessons by engaging their minds and giving them something to hold onto aside from just words. Imagination helped them understand stuff. It does the same for us.

In Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline, he says that "God so accommodates, so enfleshes himself into our world that he uses images we know and understand to teach us about the unseen world of which we know so little and which we find so difficult to understand."

When we are seeking to bring God into this real world around us, our imagination can help us see him here acting and carrying out his will all around us. Since so much of the work God does in our lives is unseen, at least with our physical eyes we have the gift of our imagination to fill in the gaps.

Imagination can change how we read even the simplest lines spoken by Jesus. Take, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35).  A powerful idea all by itself, but when we add in experience with grief and try to imagine the depth of pain that he must have felt to "weep" what a different picture we may get.

In prayer, imagination can give us direction as to what to pray for. This is a new one to me, but speaking from experience (albeit new experience) utilizing my imagination has added a new level of sincerity to my prayers for others. Picturing my children grown as I pray for them, or seeing my husband at work as I pray for his day has caused me to pray differently. When I picture the sick person my heart is moved to compassion over, I pray more specifically for them. When I strive to visualize the broken marriage I am praying for, and then what their restored relationship will look like when covered with forgiveness I pray more intensely for that to happen.

I think keeping a mental focus is the most difficult part of prayer for me. Sadly, even while talking to the God of all the world I fall short when it comes to talking to him for more than a moment or two. One thing I have learned is that when I engage my imagination I find it easier to stay mentally in the game. I am not reciting a to-do list, but I am seeing specific details of those requests and giving flesh to my appeal to God. 

Do you use your imagination to help you focus, pray or meditate? Share here, or on the Women of Discipline facebook page.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Discipline of Meditation

This discipline may be one of the most difficult for us to wrap our minds around. Our world hardly encourages quiet and contemplation with it's innate noise and distraction. When we are caught up in the tide of the life of business we have created, we may even laugh at the idea of having a moment to 'meditate' on anything.

It is, however, so very much an important part of the God-life. Meditation is something we do to recreate a space for God to speak with us, or more appropriately for us to hear him. According to Foster in Celebration of Discipline,  "What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart."

It's making a space for God's voice in the midst of the chaos of our lives.

You may be a lot like me in that your idea of "meditation" may be influenced by a more eastern notion of the practice. You may picture a half-naked indian guy sitting on a grass mat, humming with his eyes closed, with his hands resting on his knees. I do. But, that isn't exactly what David is talking about when he says, ""Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long...I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes." Psalms 119:97 and 99

Or, what God had in mind when he said to Joshua "Keep this book of law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it." Joshua 1:7

Meditation is about calling our mind, spirit, body and heart to attention for the purpose of hearing God's voice. Whether we are focusing on God's words or his works in the world around us, we are demanding of ourselves a purposeful redirection of our facilities. Before you can learn to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:30) you have to learn to see and hear him with all those parts of you.

 Learning to listen to God through meditation is not as difficult as it may sound. It is not relegated to just those super-spiritual people that we look up to, but don't feel we can ever hope to measure up to. Meditation is something that we can do in a moment, if we are focused enough to do so.

Foster gives some great insight into how we can make this sort of focus a part of our daily lives. He gives us several ways of bringing our hearts, spirits and minds into focus. It requires stilling our body for a moment, and then preparing to listen...

* Reflection on Scripture - of course God speaks to us most objectively through his Word. Whether a passage, a verse, a phrase or even a single word God can speak words directly to you. Have you ever had a time when you feel like God must have something specific to say to you because you see the same verse or verses a number of times in a short time period? Have you noticed the same words coming to mind over and over again? In a moment of meditation we can take the time to really focus on those words, to reflect on how God can instruct us where we are or even find new insight that we did not have before. Reading and memorizing scripture is a wonderful way to focus our minds and spirits on God's laws, day and night.

* Re-collection - Foster outlines a method often used by the Quakers called "re-collection". This method allows for one to redirect their focus from the things of the world that weigh and distract, to things of God and his will for us. He says to use a "palm-down" to symbolize a surrender of all things weighing on our hearts. We can give to God the things distracting our focus be it an ungodly emotion, an unmet expectation, a fretful concern over something or someone or anything that needs to be given up. Then, we can follow that with the "palm-up", where were receive the blessings, peace and hope that comes with surrendering all those things to God. When we empty ourselves of the things that overwhelm us, we must fill ourselves back up with the right stuff.

* Reflection on Nature - How often do you all the singing of the birds, the color of the leaves, the sound of water rushing or the wind speak to you as a messenger of God? Scripture is rich with references to God's creation and ways it sings its praises to its Creator. Reflecting on the aspects of God revealed in his world can help redirect our minds to his ever-lasting character that is at work in our own lives.

* Reflection on Events - God reveals himself to those who are willing to look for him. It takes some effort to find God in the events of the world, as well as our lives at times. But, when we desire to do so he will show us himself there. Reflecting on the situations going on around us, in our micro-world as well as more globally, we can see his hand at work.

One other thing that Foster encourages us to do is to use our imagination when we pray, read scripture and meditate. This warrants a bit more attention, so I will add a little bit about this later in the week.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to take a moment today and this week to simply make space for God to speak with you.

Be still. Listen. Reflect. Ponder.

Practice. This one does not come naturally in our world.

If you are willing, share here how God has talked to you during your meditation time. Have you gained new insight when being still?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Discipline: Introduction

Welcome to the first week of our learning about our spiritual disciplines using Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline as a guide!  I say "as a guide" because I won't lie, I am gonna go my own way on a few of these disciplines. I will do that not because I don't agree with anything, but because I just have my own crazy take on some of them and of course, I gotta share it! ;)

This week we are just getting used to the idea of these so called "disciplines". This concept is actually one that is somewhat novel to our modern mindset, when few of us would consider our daily habits as anything more than just that. We may or may not even think of any of these as "disciplines", or even think about a "disciplines" being anything besides a broad description of a field of study. By "we" I mean me, when I first read this book.

The notion of "disciplines" being the day-in-day-out ingrained habits of a person is a new one to me. Even more so the idea of my Christian life needing to develop spiritual disciplines, in order to achieve the kind of relationship that I know I desire to have with God. I mean I understood that I had to have godly habits to be godly, but the idea of actually have to purposefully develop habits besides just prayer and reading my Bible was a new idea. Of course those are part of the spiritual disciplines, but so is fasting, meditation, celebration, simplicity and confession, according to Foster.

These disciplines (plus a few more) are ones that help us develop more than just a "go to church" kind of relationship with God. These spiritual activities are what we do on a real life, every day basis that helps grown us closer to our Creator. It's more than just reading a few verses and saying a prayer (not to diminish the importance of that at all), but about learning to love God like He wants us to.

Look at Mark 12:30 with me ...

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

In order to love anyone with our heart, our mind, our soul and our bodies we have to do more than just touch base once a day and hangout one hour a week. That kind of love requires intimacy. It requires developing a deep connection with someone. It requires working together, struggling together and sharing together. It requires sharing our body, mind and spirit with another someone. 

Marriage is such a perfect example of this level of love for someone. When we marry a person we begin a new level of our relationship with them. We could have acted like we were married before the wedding, but until that commitment is made out loud and in black and white the real fun hasn't started yet. Right?

From then on out we are married, by all accounts. We are legally married, socially accepted as a married couple and can truthfully present ourselves as such in the world. Presenting ourselves as married though, and having a deep abiding relationship with our spouse is two totally different things. 

We can "be married" with a kiss and a signature. But, unless we work on a daily basis to develop that relationship heart, mind, body and spirit we don't have much more than a piece of paper keeping us legally bound to each other. 

Developing a deep, loving relationship with our man requires intimacy. Not just the physical kind, but the communication kind, the heart kind and the spirit kind. We share our thoughts, feelings and bodies. In this aspect of our relationship with them it is just him and you. Nobody else. 

Then, you have to learn how to live together. You have to share a home, a budget, responsibilities and plans. You have to do all the day-to-day stuff that means you share a life together, and not just a name. 

Then, you have have to bring other people in. You add in kids, you hang with other couples, you go to seminars, you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with other couples (and their kids), and you may look to other couples for guidance for your relationship. 

All along the way you develop a deeper relationship, as you share experiences, develop memories and learn the in and outs of how to love each other. You learn what to say and what not to, when it's okay to make certain comments and when to shut up. You find out more about their dreams, and maybe they help develop some of your own. You share a home, children, friends and a life. 

Of course this is the ideal marriage relationship. They aren't all like this, sadly. But, a deep relationship with God can be ours by practicing all the same principles with Him on a day to day basis. These principles are the spiritual disciplines.

Foster breaks up the spiritual disciplines into three categories:  inward disciplines, outward disciplines and corporate disciplines. 

Each of these correspond with the idealistic marriage relationship. First, we develop intimacy with God through meditation, prayer, study and fasting (the inward disciplines).
Then, we learn how to express your relationship with Him on a daily basis, through simplicity, solitude, submission and service (the outward disciplines). Then, we grow deeper and stronger in our relationship with Him when we allow others to be part of it through worship, celebration, confession and guidance (the corporate disciplines).

We can either show up to church on Sunday and Wednesday and just be a "Christian", OR we can grow into a deeper, more meaningful, real life relationship with Him that is true to the command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."  

Which would you like to choose? 

If you would like that deeper relationship, then come with us on this journey to developing this disciplines! I can't wait! 

See this post to find out how you can participate with the Women of Discipline, a Facebook group of women who can encourage and uplift you along the way, as you can them.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Women of Discipline

One of my favorite books of all times is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If I were stranded on a desert island I would want the Bible (of course!) and a copy of this book (there are a few more that I'd love but if I get books on deserted island I don't want to be too demanding ;). It has been around for a bit, its original copyright being 1978.

It's an oldie but a goodie.

Celebration of Discipline is a book about learning how to do this God thing in real life. It's how we live our our Christian life in a day-in-day-out kinna way. I love that it presents the disciplines that we would expect to be part of the Christian code (i.e., prayer, study, fasting) as well as some that you wouldn't necessarily think of as part of it (i.e., simplicity, solitude, celebration).

Foster takes 12 disciplines that have been practiced by Christians for hundreds of years and presents them in a practical way that inspires a Christian of any maturity level. I have read through this book going on three times, and have been encouraged and inspired each time, even as my own relationship has grown and evolved over time.

While always being one to verbally praise this book (I have written several posts that we will revisit as we go), I have never had a chance to share it in a class format. I am so excited to get to have that opportunity starting this next week with a group of ladies at my home congregation in Tennessee!

We will learn and encourage each other as we learn of the disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, worship, celebration, service, confession and guidance. Each of these disciplines are part of the day-to-day activities we must participate in order to be more than just Christian woman who show up to church on Sunday mornings.

We will learn together how to define each of these, and how we can learn to make them a natural part of our God-inspired life.

Of course, learning is always more fun as a group! So that we can benefit each other this way, we would love to encourage as many women of God as we can to be apart of this journey we are beginning this next week. If you would like to learn with us, you can do so a few different ways.

First, check back here every Thursday for an overview of the discipline we will be focusing on each week. Then, if you would like to participate in our learning and encourage us along the way you can join our Facebook group called Women of Discipline. We would love to have you!

" For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline"
2 Timothy 1:7

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Christians Do "it" Wrong

Funny that this is the topic that I choose to open with after several months of blogging hiatus, but so it is. As the title suggests, I would like to propose that Christians aren't living out the dreams God has intended for us in terms of sex.

It's a challenge I have felt for a bit, but it seems like lately the need to speak out about it is increasing. Christians have allowed the world to affect their sex-lives. We have allowed the world to influence the purest of gifts, the most intimate moments between a Christian husband and wife.

At a point in time when marriages and the family are being attacked from every angle possible, Christians have allowed Satan to access our thoughts and  bedrooms to the detriment of both. You see, because sadly Christians don't look at sex much different than the world does.

Oh sure, we want to keep sex for marriage. But, aside from that how do we think differently about sex itself?

Consider some of the worldly views of sex:
  • It is the pinnacle of the human experience. It's the best feeling you can have, it's worth going to the ends of earth for. It's worth giving up relationships, throwing away careers, destroying reputations and losing integrity over. It's that great.
  • Married sex is boring. Monogamy is old-fashioned. Virginity is laughable.
  • After marriage, women aren't interested. They shouldn't do it if they don't want to.
  • Men are sex-crazy, and their need for sex makes them animals
  • Pornography is normal, and acceptable. Whether it is visual or written, if it inspires that great feeling then it's harmless and can't hurt anyone or any marriage. 
  • Bridges Over Madison County is the kind of sexual excitement we all deserve, even if we don't go for it
Sadly, it seems that often Christians change their stand on sex only in so much as we outlaw sex outside of marriage. But, we still look the same when it comes to the view of sex inside marriage. We clearly want sex to stay at home, but what of the other views of marriage that can prove so distructive not only to our own marriages but also affect our children's view of sex and marriage?

Reading facebook statuses/comments, listening to conversations, reading blogs and talking to other Christian women I know that many of our views of sex inside of a marriage are the same as that of the world.
  • We withhold sex and use it to manipulate our husbands, just like the world does
  • We allow pornography into our homes for the benefit of our husbands, if it helps us not be obligated
  • We allow ourselves to read/watch impure things because it excites us and helps us feel more interested
  • We buy into our husbands needs being animalistic and demanding
  • We call the shots, if we aren't interested then it ain't happening
  • We live, talk and act as if sex meets only the needs of a man - and they are selfish for needing it.
Is our view of sex so different than that of the world?

Sex has become this ugly, dirty thing that even Christians don't talk about. And we are the ones who are supposedly doing it "right"!
 The truth is that sex as the world sees it is so far off track from how God designed it.
  • It was designed to be a union between a man and his wife. 
  • It was designed as a way to both exhibit self-control, and unselfishness
  • It was a blessing of our bodies, a supplement to the closeness we feel othewise
  • It was a demonstration of our affection for the one we chose in our youth
  • It is pure. Not defiled. Not ugly. 
But Christians treat it like is. We treat it like it's something to be avoided before marriage, and something we do not talk about after marriage.  The world has altered our understanding of sex, and what it is meant to accomplish for us.

It is not the pinnacle of the human experience, it just helps demonstrate it. It is not for meeting the natural needs of a man, but an opportunity of both a man and woman to meet each other's needs. It's not about getting what a person needs, but giving to someone else what they need.

As Christian woman we have to change how we are doing things. We have to recognize that the world has influenced our view of sex, and it is ruining it for us and our marriages. When we buy into the world's take on it, we miss out on some amazing benefits of this precious gift.

May I gently challenge ...
  • When we see it as a way to manipulate our husbands we are being selfish.
  • When we see and condemn a God-given aspect of our husbands as ridulous and barbaric, we are not honoring our men as we should
  • When we allow our husbands to be tempted by something like pornography so that we don't have to give of ourselves, we are handing them over to the enemy
  • When we allow any one, any book or any movie to do for us what we should allow our husbands to do for us, we are withholding something that belongs to them alone. 

Women of God, we need to change "it". We need to change the way that we view this sacred gift. We need to kick the world out of our bedrooms, and allow our intimate moments to not be marred by its ugliness.

Dear sister, when we do things the way God designed them we will always, always find ourselves in a much better place than even the most wonderful experience that the world has to offer. I promise.

Believe it or not, this passion is born from my own desire to prepare my children for the world's ugly view of sex. I have realized that if I want my sons to wait until they are married, then as a Christian community we have to make sure they believe it is something worth waiting for!

Our children are under attack girls. Our baby boys and girls are being stalked like prey. Until we start changing our strategy from "just don't do it" to something a bit more convincing, Satan will win this battle. 
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