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
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails