I lied. This is going to have to be split into two posts, totaling four. Oh well, gives me a chance to be clever with titles.Well, if you’ve “endured” with me so for, I’m impressed, a tad bit punny, and quite honored. I start this post after having taken Eucharist in Durham Cathedral, which is without doubt one of the best ways to begin this kind of post, because it’s all about going out and doing. I have previously touched on the nature of existence and how that then leads into a certain perspective of God’s kingdom, today (and tomorrow) I hope to address the practical (praxis) applications with which this then manifests. (Ways to chip at the veil, if you will.) This post will deal with private methods, tomorrow shall deal with public. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to put things into lists for aesthetic reasons well before practical ones. In any event, that serves some good particularly here and, since this post is all about (spiritual) practicality, I’m in the mood to list.
(Note: these are not in order. No order. There is no order. None. End of story. This is also NOT exhaustive. This is the length and willingness of my attention span. You are either about to be very impressed or grossly underwhelmed, subsequently.) I’ll also point out that some very epic men (and women) have written much better and thorough books on this subject. Two that stand out are Celebration of the Disciplines and After You Believe. Read; do; be blessed.
I. OPENNESS First, you have to be willing. I know that sounds like an obvious and rather simple principle; but, how many times do you find yourself in a coffee shop, on the bus, in your house, and the last thing you would ever want to do is talk to the person next to you? (If it’s in your own house, you’ve got some serious work to do.) An amazing guy I know and who I have no doubt will one day do some seriously epic things on the musical worship front named Nick Arbuckle wrote a blog post recently about this, which you should read (and subscribe to him in general), in which he talks about discovering a need for openness and what that can lead to. It’s pretty simple, of course, but how can God use you if you don’t want to be used? There’s a lot to be said for waking up in the morning and deciding, first thing before you get out of bed, that you want to be used by God that day, used for His glory and not your own. First and foremost, do a spiritual check-up: am I open? (You’d be surprised, as I have often been, how much we’re closed.)
I. SILENCE I love to talk. If you know me, if you’ve been around me, if you’ve had me in class, if you’ve stumbled on a subject I have the slightest interest, you know that I love to talk. Now by the mercy of our Lord I started to learn in Uni when to shut-up, but I still struggle with making sure everyone at the table gets their two cents in. (Side-note-apology: I’m really sorry when I think of all the times I’ve done that to people; if I have yet to apologize to you for that, please forgive me.) How much more so, then, do you think I spend time jabbering before the Lord? Now, I want to make a distinction here: this is prayer, sure, but it’s not focused prayer. It’s this sort of mental dialogue I have going with the Saviour in which I keep Him constantly informed as if He didn’t know what were going on. What I have learned to do, what I am still learning to do, is to be quiet before Him. I mentioned going to Durham Cathedral to take Eucharist. Today I spent my time beforehand preparing by just being quiet. He didn’t speak to me. He speaks to me sometimes in silence. It wasn’t about that, it was about the discipline of saying, “Lord, your servant is listening,” and, tying into the openness mentioned above, being willing to hear if He were to speak. Silence can be a hard one for some of us, but learning to do and then being comfortable with it also makes us comfortable to be in all sorts of places spiritually. We have learned to be quiet before the Lord so that we are not frightened when He may be quiet before us. We learn to depend on our assured hope over our moment-by-moment emotional highs. Silence can be incredibly powerful.
I. PRAYER I don’t feel I did a pretty good job with this one, but here it goes. I do not mean the running narrative that I have going on in my head that I need to learn to still from time to time; I mean the committed, dedicated moments of true intercession before the Lord. Now, do not get me wrong, I am a huge, huge, huge supporter of the idea that you can go throughout your day praying all the time, but I have also known the tragedy of subsequently losing specific, set apart moments with the Lord because of that. It’s sad to wake up one morning and realize that you really don’t talk to God anymore, you talk at God. Prayer shouldn’t be like that. Start by finding ten minutes in the day, preferably at the same time (like when you wake up) where you offer up to the Lord specific things, where you ask Him to make you more and more like His Son, and where you present all the problems as well as your unconfessed sins. Place yourself before Him in that space and see how it grows. From there, see about expanding that time or making multiple, dedicated times throughout the day. What is key and important here is to offer up specific requests to God, to trust Him enough that you pray for specifics anticipating answers for specifics. That of course doesn’t mean that praying for a purple pony gets you one, but as you pray, praying at the same time to be more like Christ, than your prayers become more and more the kind of prayers God would have you pray. Maybe Jesus wouldn’t pray for a purple pony and the desire will be taken from you. (Silly, but you get the idea.) Start simple. It’s a relationship. You’re learning the language of God. Maybe even just start with the Lord’s Prayer, but pray it meaning the words or, if you don’t yet know what the words mean, praying that He will show you in your daily life what they mean. What would happen, what could happen, if we all committed to truly, consistently, pray? (Especially for our churches, our cities . . .)
I. WORD Scripture is so amazing and powerful. I cannot tell you how many times I have neglected to remember this very, very simple truth. Having it within you, though, internalized and a part of your everyday existence, causes you to be able to go through the day with His heart spoken over you. If you haven’t been in the habit of finding time to daily feast on His goodness in this way, start very simple and read a chapter of the Psalms, a chapter of Proverbs, and a chapter of one of the Gospels (like John, John for the win) and see how it shapes your perspective on the day. Keep a journal of your experience, of what stands out to you, of what happens to come to mind throughout the day when you commit yourself to be in the Word. It’s His very Word. How epic is that? Why do we (I) forget that so much? Importantly, don’t stop short there. Word isn’t just isolated to Scripture, but also to the words of fellow Christians. Reading good books on discipline and studies written about Scripture are excellent tools to help you grow -- I’ll write a post someday recommending specific ones -- to keep focused, but there are also great comforts in getting to know the hearts and minds of people just like you. Christiana Gibson’s blog has just started, but she’s already presented herself with such transparent honesty that it’s like you’ve known each other for years. There’s also the sensational -- I’ve decided this is just the only way I know how to address her in writing -- Anna Blanch, who keeps a blog over at Goannatree, which caters more to the academic set but is still a refreshing and joyous read. (Also, I’ll be pointing to a specific post for you to reference some point in the future.) Then there’s one of my best friends, Grant Shellhouse, who has an amazing ability to clearly explain large Scriptural concepts. There’s just something -- well, it’s the Holy Spirit -- within us that loves to hear the Word of God in all its forms. It just responds by nature, crying out, “This is it! This is good!” The overall point, the essential point, is that we all have a tendency to mirror what we’ve been feeding ourselves. If we’re feeding ourselves junk, it shows; if we’re feeding ourselves well, it shows. If we’re to have a hope of presenting ourselves to the world as imitators of Christ, than we sure have to know who Christ Himself was. Seek first Scripture, then seek those who love it, see how that helps shape and change your every day from the mediocre to the extraordinary.
Addendum: I have left out someone from this list of bloggers that needs further recognition. Matt Moser, whom you see down there in the comments making a very important point that I will have to touch on tomorrow, has a blog that I knew nothing about. (That is, I never clicked his little Twitter icon and followed the hyperlink.) You can find his blog here.
I. FASTING Oh yes, I went there. I want to be careful with what I say here as to present it appropriately. The picture I used for this post is the recreation of a cell (think home) of a Carthusian monk of Mont Grace Priory. Carthusians fasted a lot, I mean a lot. Some of them at least once a day. What’s the point of a fast? You replace the time you would spend doing whatever you are fasting from with prayer and reverence before the Lord on behalf of the thing you’re fasting for. I’m currently keeping a fast right now, along with my best friends, and I can tell you that it’s been a really challenging and amazing experience. Now, first and foremost, you only fast when it’s appropriate to do so. If you don’t have a sense in your spirit that you should be fasting, than don’t do it. Second, fast in quiet. I admit that I’ve struggled with this one, because sometimes I have to figure out a very discreet way of telling someone I’m fasting as to not make a scene at a dinner or lunch. What I’ve found, however, is that this simply means to not make it the center of attention. Yes, I may be fasting, but that’s not the important part, what is important is why I’m fasting. The prayers and focus that I’m offering during my fast on behalf of the thing that I am praying for is the significant thing and should not be defiled by me drawing attention to it. When you fast, as Christ commands us, don’t make it the big event. Just do it. Doing it can be amazing. Sometimes nothing “happens” per se; sometimes you don’t even get the “answer” to what you were fasting for, but if you followed through (openness) then you can be confident that whatever His purpose was in leading you to fast was accomplished. Rejoice in that! And, if you’ve never before fasted, pray and ask the Lord if now you’re supposed to. Fasts aren’t just for or restricted to Lent; fasts are amazing times where the Lord can speak to you in ways that He hasn’t before.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping it up with how all of this ties into public life. Ah, but one more to go . . . but a lifetime to live them out . . .