Tag Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

Where Spiritual Disciplines Lead Us

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I’m a big fan of practicing the spiritual disciplines (though I myself consistently falter in each of them). It’s vital for believers to read, study, meditate, and memorize Scripture. Communion with God through prayer and worship is also essential. However, we do well to remember the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

Brian Hedges writes that “the disciplines are meant to turn us into missionaries, not monks. The disciplines start in the closet, but end in the street. True Christlikeness is measured not by the breadth of your knowledge or the length of your prayers, but the depth of your love for others.”

“Christians feed on Scripture,” writes Eugene Peterson. But “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

Similarly, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis write, “Biblical spirituality does not take place in silence; it takes place bearing a cross. It is not a spirituality of withdrawal but a spirituality of engagement. You do not practice it on a retreat in a secluded house; you practice it on the streets in the midst of broken lives.”

Paul writes: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves. They are designed for God to transform us in living lives of love, humility, obedience, and sacrifice in a world of pain.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2).

 

 

Do We Measure Spiritual Growth Superficially?

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Do we measure our spiritual life in superficial ways?

This question, written by John Ortberg, is one that I continually have to ask myself. And I think it’s one every believer needs to consider.

So let’s think about it. How do you know if you are growing spiritually? Does it mean you read the Bible every day, write in a journal, and pray for your family and neighbors? I do believe praying and reading the Bible are important, I’m not saying they are not, but is that the end goal?

John Ortberg writes…

For many years I thought about [spiritual growth] only in terms of a few special activities. If someone asked me how my spiritual life was going, my first thought would be how I was doing at having a quiet time–praying and reading the Bible each day. If I had prayed and read the Bible for several consecutive prior days, I was likely to say that my spiritual life was going well. If not, I was likely to feel guilty and downcast. So prayer and Bible study became the gauge of my spiritual condition. As long as I did those two things I could go though the day confident of God’s approval (The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 42-43)

Our spiritual life should not be measured, therefore, by our reading the Bible through in a year or praying for 30 minutes a day. “The real issue,” writes Ortberg, “is what kind of people are we becoming.” “Practices such as reading Scripture and praying are important” continues Ortberg, “not because they prove how spiritual we are, but because God can use them to lead us into life.”

The question we need to be asking ourselves is: “Am I growing in love for God and people?”

I’m always reminded of my grandfather when I think about loving God and loving others. His motto was: “You gotta love people!” No doubt he read the Bible and prayed, but it wasn’t his Bible reading plan that had a huge affect on me. It was his life. I’ve had the opportunity, because of seminary, to read much more theology and Biblical studies than my grandfather ever did, and yet, I still have so much to learn from him in regards to loving others.

Don’t misread what I’m writing here. I think one ought to spend one’s life seeking to understand the Bible. If you have opportunity, read theology and anything else that will help you to grasp God’s Word. I think my grandfather loved others because of the impact of Scripture upon his life. It was through God’s Word that he arrived at a deep understanding of the grace of God. But let’s be careful in assuming that our knowledge of Scripture, along with our daily Bible reading and praying, are marks of our spiritual maturity.

We do well to constantly remember the words of Jesus…

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:36-40)

Are we growing in our love for God and others? It is this question that should provide the mark for our spiritual maturity!

Do You Plan To Read The Bible In 2015?

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Have you considered reading through the Bible in 2015? If so, I hope you have thought of a plan to do so. I have found that a reading plan and guide keeps me focused. Fortunately, there are plenty of plans available from which to choose.

ESV Study Bible has several plans online which can be synced to your phone, emailed, or printed out.

Professor Grant Homer’s Bible Reading System has you reading 10 chapters a day from 10 different places. There is a Facebook group for this plan as well.

Reading the Bible in Canonical Order is one in which you read all the books of the Bible in canonical order in one year. Each day’s reading is about 3-4 chapters in length, with the exception of the Psalms.

The 4 Step Plan is 1)Choose a book of the Bible; 2)Read it in it’s entirety; 3)Repeat step #2 twenty times; 4)Repeat this process for all books of the Bible. I particularly find this plan appealing.

Read The New Testament in Greek in a year is a quite challenging plan as well and will be for those somewhat skilled in the Greek language.

There are also Bible apps that have Bible reading plans built into them. Bible.com is a great place to check to get the Bible on your phone, computer, or any other electronic reading device.

Though there are many plans to help you in reading the Bible this coming year, the key is in you choosing one and sticking with it. Blessings as you do so!

Scripture Metabolized

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How do we approach Scripture? Do we feed on it? Does it transform us? Eugene Peterson, in his book Eat This Book has an encouraging and challenging thought in regards to the role of Scripture in the life of the believer…

Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nourishes the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hand raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.

(Eat This Book, p. 18)

How Do You Read The Bible?

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When we think about reading the Bible, do we ever imagine that there might be a danger of reading it wrongly? Consider the words of Eugene Peterson in his book Eat This Book

Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble. The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with the command, “Read it.” That is quite as foolish as putting a set of car keys in an adolescent’s hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, “Drive it.” And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that intoxicated with the power that technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently.

For Peterson, a way to read Scripture that “guards against depersonalizing the text into an affair of questions and answers, definitions and dogmas; a way of reading that prevents us from turning Scripture on its head and using it to justify ourselves,” is the lectio divina. 

The lectio divina comprises four elements:

  • Lectio – we read the text. This reading of the text involves listening to the text. “Just because we have read it,” writes Peterson, “doesn’t mean we have heard it.” And we must be careful not to “assume too much” of the text but to “listen to the counsel of our Christian brothers and sisters who tell us, ‘Read. Read only what is here, but also be sure that you read it the way that it is here.'” This involves developing good hermeneutics. This reading does not bypass the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.
  • Meditatio – we meditate the text. “Mediation,” writes Peterson, “moves from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text.” It is not about making things up, but instead weds us “to a historic faith…that trains us to read Scripture as a connected, coherent whole, not a collection of inspired bits and pieces.”
  • Oratio – we pray the text. Peterson declares that “Scriptures, read and prayed, are our primary and normative access to God as he reveals himself to us. Prayer detached from Scripture, from listening to God, disconnected from God’s words to us, short-circuits the relational language that is prayer.”
  • Contemplatio – we live the text. “Contemplation,” says Peterson, “means living what we read, not wasting any of it or hoarding any of it, but using it up in living. It is life formed by God’s revealing word, God’s word read and heard, meditated and prayed.”

For Peterson, the lectio divina is the method of reading which guards against us turning the Scriptures into an academic book or a book such as Aesop’s Fables. He wants us to enter the text and allow the grand story of Scripture to rewrite our own personal stories. This, for Peterson, is reading the Bible rightly!

Beating The Gospel Into Our Heads

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“Most necessary it is,” wrote Martin Luther, “that we should know this article [the gospel] well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Why would Luther say such a thing? Are we that hardened and forgetful? Milton Vincent, in his book A Gospel Primer, lists 31 reasons why we need to “preach the Gospel” to ourselves daily. For reason number 2, “My Daily Battle,” he writes:

The gospel is so foolish (according to my natural wisdom), so scandalous (according to my conscience), and so incredible (according to my timid heart), that it is a daily battle to believe the full scope of it as I should. There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemnings of my heart, and the lies of the world and the Devil than to overwhelm such things with daily rehearsings of the gospel.

So why do we need to continually hear the gospel and have it “beat into our brains?” Because of the daily spiritual battle in which we are engaged. The soft whisperings of the enemy, the world, and at times our own conscience, speak loudly to our souls that we are just not good enough nor obedient enough to warrant God’s favor. As a result, we begin to waver and doubt.

Therefore, we need to fight back. The apostle Paul wrote for us to take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:13-18).

As you read Paul’s words, I’m sure you noticed the bolded words “truth”, “righteousness,” “gospel,” “faith,” “salvation,” and “word of God” These words are basically synonyms for the gospel. So what Paul wants for his readers is for them to arm themselves with the gospel message. It is the good news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that protects, guards, and allows us to stand firm.

According to Scripture, those who are “in Christ” are “delivered from the domain of darkness and [are] transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13). There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” for we have “been set free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-2).

Because of the wonderful truths of the gospel, may we pick up and read, meditate, and memorize God’s word today and discipline ourselves to do so daily. I like what Jimmy Davis writes in regards to the spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, etc….): I don’t read my Bible to get the Father to love me. I read it to hear him say he loves me in the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. 

Let’s beat the gospel into our heads!

 

 

 

 

Reading The Bible For Transformation

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“The purpose of knowing Scripture is not to help us get a 100 score on the heavenly entrance exam,” writes John Ortberg in his helpful book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. “It is,” he suggests, “to help us become equipped for good works.”

Bottom line: We should not just read the Bible for information (though this is obviously necessary), but transformation. And according  to Ortberg, a great way to do this is by reading Scripture meditatively.

Ortberg suggests 5 ways by which to read the Bible in meditation that helps lead to transformation. I find these quite helpful.

1. Ask God to Meet You in Scripture

Before you begin reading, take a moment to ask God to speak to you. Then as you read, anticipate that he will do so.

2. Read the Bible in a Repentant Spirit

Read the Bible with a readiness to surrender everything. Read it with a vulnerable heart. Read it wisely, but understand that reading for transformation is different from reading to find information or to prove a point. Resolve that you will be obedient to the Scriptures.

3. Meditate on a Fairly Brief Passage or Narrative

It is important to be familiar with all of the Bible. In times of study we will need to read broadly and cover a great deal of material. But in reading for transformation we have to go slowly.

Some churches give people the idea that the only way to transformation is knowledge. There is an assumption that as people’s knowledge of the Bible rises, their level of maturity rises with it.

The goal is not to get through the Scriptures. The goal is to get the Scriptures through us.

4. Take One Thought or Verse with You Through the Day

Mediation is as slow as the process by which the roots draw moisture from the flowing river to bring nurture and fruitfulness. Find time therefore, throughout the day to think on a specific verse. This can be while waiting at a stoplight, eating lunch, sitting in a waiting room, etc….

5. Allow This Though to Become Part of Your Memory

Memorizing Scripture is one of the most powerful means of transforming our minds. What matters however, is not how many words we memorize, but what happens to our minds as we immerse them in Scripture.

(I encourage you to purchase and read all of John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted as I have found it very helpful.)

Resolved…

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Jonathan Edwards, during the years 1722 to 1723, while a young man, composed a set of resolutions for himself. For Edwards, these resolutions were a way for him to gauge his relationship to Christ as well as to provide a set of goals for his life.

Throughout his life, these resolutions were his constant companion as he resolved “to read over these resolutions once a week.” Stephen  Nichols thinks we might benefit from doing the same. He writes that the Resolutions are as relevant today as they were when [Edwards] first penned them so long ago. Reading though them on a regular basis may very well help us also to live with all of our might to the glory and praise of God.

While each of Edwards’ seventy resolutions are valid and worthy of reciting, there are a few that personally seemed to rise above the rest.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

7. Resolved, never to do anything that I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully an constantly what that one thing in me is that causes me in the least to doubt the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of them.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fifth with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life ling, that is, with the greatest openness I am capably of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my should to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything, and every circumstance.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

As you can see, though written almost 300 years ago, these resolutions continue to challenge and speak to the heart. Though Edwards did not write these resolutions to be published, we benefit greatly because they were.