Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Best of 31 Days Link Party

When the Nester invited all bloggers to take the 31-Day challenge, over 700 of us responded. The complete list of bloggers writing about their passions is amazing.

Image courtesy of Nesting Place

To tell the truth, there have been so many 31-Day series that many of us haven't been able to keep up! This party is a chance for catching up.

If you wrote a 31-Day series this October, please link your favorite post of the series below. Is there one post that stands out as a particularly good representative of your series? Link that below. It doesn't have to be Day One or your "landing page"--just link anything that will give us a good flavor of your series.

If you will, please enter the permalink to your favorite post, not your blog's home page. Please visit some of the other participants--you might find a new series that you really need to read! And please include a link back to this post, so that others can join the fun.

I look forward to getting a taste of lots of great series!





Spiritual Formation: Day 31

31 Days


Writing about spiritual formation for 31 days has been an eye-opening experience. When I started this series, I thought I had a lot to say. I've learned that talking about anything for 31 days straight is hard work! And I have a new appreciation for the authors who have made teaching their life's work.

Some of you may be eager to learn more, and I'd like to point you to the best resources I've found. There's quite a lot written about spiritual formation these days. Some of it is very good, but some of it is not. Here is a list of books that I've found to be the very best.

By Richard J. Foster:
Celebration of Discipline
PRAYER: Finding the Heart's True Home
Streams of Living Water

By Dallas Willard:
The Spirit of the Disciplines
The Divine Conspiracy
Renovation of the Heart

By James Bryan Smith:
The Good and Beautiful God
The Good and Beautiful Life
The Good and Beautiful Community

By John Ortberg:
The Life You've Always Wanted

Thank you to everyone who joined me on this 31-day journey. May God guide us all as we seek to become more and more like Jesus!

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

Spiritual Formation, Day 30

I spent a lot of this weekend on college campuses, visiting one son at Duke University and another at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Suddenly it hit me: when I'm on a college campus these days, it's as a parent, not as a student.

I don't feel old enough to have two kids in college, but a quick look in the mirror confirms that I am. Grey hairs and wrinkles don't lie.

All those myths about the fountain of youth are just that: myths. Time marches on, and we all get older.


But that's one of the wonderful things about being a new creation in Christ. Read these wonderful words from II Corinthians 4:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (II Corinthians 4:16, NIV).

Do you hear the triumph in those words? This is why we are interested in the formation of our spirits. Our hair turns grey; our skin wrinkles. Our physical bodies age and decay. But our spirits? They're eternal. The Spirit of the Lord works in us and renews our spirits day by day. There's no fountain of youth for our mortal bodies, but our spirits are renewed every day!

This is good news. Hear it and celebrate it.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:17-18).

Together we pray:
Finish then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
'Til in heaven we take our place--
'Til we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Charles Wesley


**I'm having a "Best of 31 Days" link party tomorrow! If you've written a 31-day series, please join and link up your favorite 31-Day post.**

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 29

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).

"You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians 3:9-10).

Your first freedom is where you will put your mind. Choosing to allow your mind to dwell on that which will nourish your soul is more than important; it's essential.

The Thinker: photo courtesy of wikipedia.com

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

**So today, I ask you: what are you thinking about?**

Friday, October 28, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 28

Yesterday I talked about the corporate disciplines: those soul-training exercises that are done not by individuals Christians alone but by Christians in community with other Christians. I can hardly stress enough how much fellowship with believers is necessary for spiritual formation.

Today I want to remind you of one of the reasons fellowship with others is so important. This is really quite elementary, but it's easy for us to forget, I think. Here it is:

Not one of us knows everything.

Not one single person is perfect. No one knows it all. We all need each other. Those of us who love God, who listen to God, who spend time learning about God and talking to God--all of us need each other.

My friends from evangelical churches revere the Bible and know it well; I have a lot to learn from them. My friends from liturgical churches have a deep reverence for God and are gifted at deep, contemplative prayer; I have a lot to learn from them. My friends from charismatic churches are great at worshipping God in spirit and in truth; I have a lot to learn from them.

Different Christian traditions all have different strengths, and we can be grateful for all of them. Although each of us must choose one church to be our "home base," isn't it wonderful that we can have fellowship across all denominational lines? This is a foretaste of heaven, I think.

More than that, though, we can learn from one another. We honor God and our souls benefit when we pay attention to one another and share our strengths with one another.

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

**What kind of church background are you from? How have you learned from Christians of other traditions?**

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Best of 31 Days: An Announcement

When the Nester invited all bloggers to take the 31-Day challenge, over 700 of us responded. That's right: seven HUNDRED bloggers have been diligently writing about their passions every single day of October. All eight of last year's 31-Dayers included a huge linky party listing all the 31-Dayers. If you haven't seen the complete list, you should take a look! It's pretty amazing.

There have been so many of writing that some of us haven't been able to enjoy as many of the other blogs as we'd like to. And some of us will never be able to get through that long, long list of 31-Dayers. So here's what I'm going to do. On Monday, October 31, I'm going to have a "Best of 31 Days" linky party.

If you've written a 31-Day series this month, please come here on Monday, 10/31 and link up your favorite post from the series. Is there one post that you feel really captures the essence of what you've been trying to say? One post that best represents your series? One post that will make us want to come back for more? Link up that post on Monday!

Hope to see you then!

Note: I'll post the linky party at 9:00 PM Sunday night. I'm looking forward to reading your best posts!

**I'm joining Amanda at Serenity Now for her Weekend Bloggy Reading party.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 27

The spiritual disciplines or soul-training exercises we've been discussing all have one thing in common. They're all things that a person can do all alone.

That's a good thing, really. All of us spend a good bit of time on our own, one way or another. Even if we're usually in a crowd of people or a houseful of children, we're often on our own when it comes to exercising our bodies, minds, and spirits.

But being alone isn't enough. God designed us to interact with one another in many different ways. Even a deeply introverted person cannot do everything for himself. And some aspects of our spiritual development must come about in community.

Spiritual disciplines which require the involvement of more than one person at a time are sometimes called "corporate disciplines"--that is, those things we do as a body of people rather than as individuals.

Some of the corporate disciplines may involve large groups of people. For instance, one of the most important things we do is to worship God. "Worship is the human response to the divine initiative," writes Richard J. Foster (Celebration of Discipline, p.158). Jesus teaches, "God is spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).

Image courtesy of St. Andrews Assembly of God

Over the course of 2000 years, Christ-followers have worshipped God in many different ways. Some of those forms of worship are acceptable to certain believers and objectionable to others. But the form of worship has never been the most important issue. Most important is the object of our worship: we worship God. "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:10). Also important is the attitude of our hearts in worship. We must realize that worship is the act of our spirits responding to the Holy Spirit. We come into the presence of God humbly and adoringly, giving glory and praise and honor to God. The Bible does not prescribe one particular form or formula for worship, but it does require that we worship God alone and that we worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Worship is good for our souls. The action of joining with brothers and sisters and together affirming the goodness and greatness of God is a powerful thing. It is good for us all to be reminded that God alone is worthy of worship. Among many other benefits, worship reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Sometimes our issues and problems feel so significant that they blot out all other thoughts. The act of worship pulls us back into understanding that nothing supersedes God. No power is greater than his; no love is greater than his; no goodness is greater than his. What a relief to be reminded that our great and good God is on the throne!

Others corporate disciplines involve small groups or just two individuals. For example, confession usually takes place with one person confessing sin to one other person. Some churches ordain individuals to serve as priests; those priests serve in such capacities as hearing the confession of church members. Protestant churches cling to the idea of the "priesthood of all believers" as described in I Peter 2, so any believer may hear the confession of another. Regardless of the particular form that confession might take, it involves more than one person. And what a powerful thing it is for one Christian to be able to confess his sins not only to God but also to another human being! "A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 116).

Our spirits are shaped as we journey through life. If we desire that our spirits be formed into the likeness of Christ, we practice the way of living that Jesus modeled and taught. That way of living involves a loving cooperation with others. What a great thing to have fellowship with other people! Wasn't it good of God to design corporate practices that are so nourishing to our souls?

Question : What soul-training exercises do you practice in the company of other believers? How have they helped you?

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spiritual Formation, Day 26

Perhaps the most important of all the spiritual disciplines is prayer.


We often think of prayer as an act of worship--something we offer to God to affirm his greatness and our dependence upon him. And while this is a good thought about prayer, it doesn't go far enough. Prayer is more than worship.

Simply defined, prayer is conversation with God about what we and He are doing together. We talk to God and we listen to God principally not because we fear him or respect him, but because we like him. We love him. We want to spend time with him. We want to talk with him about things that are important in our lives and the lives of others. And we want to know what is important to him. We listen for his voice.

Now, it's an amazing thing to be able to talk to the Creator and Sustainer of everything, the King of Glory, the Ruler of the Universe. If we wished to have an audience with the king or queen of a nation, we probably would not be able to gain it. If it were possible to gain the opportunity to speak with an earthly ruler, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. But God, the Ruler of all, makes himself available to us all the time. Any time. Day or night, in good times and bad, we can meet with God and talk with him about everything. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 14:16).

How do we pray? There are a number of answers to that question, many of them very good. For instance, many Christians like to pray according to the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Each of those facets of prayer is important, and the ACTS acronym is very helpful to some believers. Some Christians particularly benefit from using a prayer book (e.g. The Book of Common Prayer). Some folks use the ancient prayer book of God's people, Psalms. I myself have found it beneficial to "pray the psalms"--that is, read the words of a psalm as a prayer--especially in times of stress. Some churches have special prayer ministries wherein folks who are particularly gifted in intercessory prayer will pray for people. Some groups meet especially for prayer, such as the "Moms In Touch" groups that meet in many schools. Many Christians through the centuries have benefited from the using "breath prayers" (prayers that can be uttered in a single breath), such as "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

As I see it, the form of prayer is not nearly so important as the attitude of prayer. The humble heart, eager to spend time with the Lord, is free to approach God. Prayer "ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father," writes Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline, p. 33). "It is the discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit."

Jesus's friends and followers asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11). His instruction to them was to pray not for show or for other people to see. He gave his disciples a model prayer, and for 2000 years followers of Jesus have prayed these words of Jesus:

Our Father, which art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

The teaching of Jesus on prayer is a reflection of the life that Jesus offered. The familiar words "Our Father which art in heaven" does not mean "distant, fearsome deity who is far away in space and time." Instead, it means "loving father who is right here with us, always near us." Just let that sink in for a moment! Because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is available. Just as Jesus talked to God when he lived here on earth, we can talk to God. Although some people see the recitation of this model prayer (called "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father") as a dry, lifeless exercise, that certainly doesn't have to be the case. The simple act of praying this prayer as a beginning to each day can have life-changing results.

And that's the real aim: life change. As with all the spiritual disciplines, prayer brings us into communion with God, who changes our hearts.

How about you? Do you pray? How has prayer impacted your life?

**Note: There are many good books on prayer, and reading them is extremely worthwhile. The very best I have ever read is Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard J. Foster. I recommend it most highly.

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spiritual formation, Day 25

Today I'd like to talk about one of my favorite spiritual disciplines. Oh, yes! I have favorites!

Unfortunately, the very thing that makes this one of my favorites also means that it can be dangerous and easy to misuse.

Now I've got you wondering, don't I?

It's the discipline of study. Oh, I love to study things. If I'm interested in a subject, I find great pleasure in studying it. I love to look things up and run references and amass information. I find it a very satisfying exercise.


And Bible study?? Study of spiritual things? Oh, yes, please. If I can look things up and run references and amass information about God, so much the better. Bring it on.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of attaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Or for the sake of feeling good about our knowledge. Or for the sake of trying to prove that we're right, or good, or enlightened, or well-educated.

The spiritual discipline of study does lead to knowledge. As we study the Bible, good books, and the world around us, we do attain new knowledge. We learn more about God. But the purpose of study is not so much to know about God as it is to know God. This difference is critical. There are some profound scholars who know all about God and the Bible but have no faith in God at all!

Understanding that we are not working just to amass information, we do well to approach study seriously. Many of us are helped by enrolling in an organized study, such as Bible Study Fellowship or Community Bible Study. Churches may offer weekly classes. Home-based groups may use published materials from trusted authors. Participation in one or more these kinds of groups may be extremely beneficial.

I have stored up your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!

Psalm 119:11-12

At their core, though, the spiritual disciplines are things that each of us must do for ourselves, so simply signing up for a Bible study will not be enough. We do well to concentrate our efforts. For instance, when studying a book of the Bible, it's very helpful simply to read through the book one or many times. If we're studying a short book, we may wish to read the book through every day for a week or a month. We may want to read it in several different versions of the Bible. Then we might read a commentary on the book. We might choose a portion of the book to memorize. All of these methods can be effective ways of practicing the discipline of study.

Even more than the other disciplines, the practice of study requires a humble heart. Students learn from masters when they first admit that the masters know something worth knowing--and then when they approach the learning of that subject with a teachable spirit.

How about you? Have you found a particular approach to study to be especially beneficial?

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spiritual formation, Day 24: Grace Imparted

I was having one of those weeks that felt devoid of grace.

I couldn't seem to get anything done--no projects, not even the normal day-to-day stuff. One of my dearest friends had to put her precious dog to sleep, and my heart ached. My friends from high school celebrated our 30th reunion, and I couldn't go. And then the kitchen sink started leaking.

Ever feel like your entire life needs a vitamin supplement?

To be honest, I was tired and cranky.


But then Jack came home from an extended out-of-town business trip. Preston came home for Fall Break. The sun shone brightly. The leaves turned awesome shades of red and gold. I made a new friend at church. Jack and I went for a long walk. I made pumpkin bread and two batches of cookies for Preston to take back to college with him. So many good things to enjoy.

Just look at that blue sky!

And I was reminded: there is no life devoid of grace. Even when I'm feeling tired and lethargic, the world is still full of God's goodness. Even when I don't have eyes to see, God still has goodness aplenty. He pours grace into my life day after day.

Do you have a story of God's grace to share? I'd love to hear it! This linky party is dedicated to celebrate the gifts, large and small, that God gives to us. (Click here if you'd like to read more about it.)

Imparting Grace







Friday, October 21, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 21

If you put into practice the first two disciplines we've talked about, Solitude and Silence, is there anything you should DO during that quiet time alone?

Many Christians speak of having "quiet time." Often, they think of their "quiet time" as the time during which they do their Bible study or practice intercessory prayer. Both of those are very good things to do, but "furiously busy time" might be a better description of those sessions than "quiet time."

In this furiously busy, at times frantic world, meditation is just what our hearts need.


What is meditation? Simply put, meditation is contemplation or reflection. It is continued thought on one matter. Some Eastern religions are famous for their meditative practices, and rightly so. These folks have learned the value of quieting their minds and calming themselves. But Christian meditation does not stop with the idea of detachment from the world. Instead, Christian meditation is a tool for detaching from the confusion and noise of the world in order to attach fully and richly to God. Richard J. Foster writes, "Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely" (Celebration of Discipline, p. 21).

Christian meditation is the practice of stepping away from the noisiness of our sometimes frantic world, calming our minds, and developing "the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word" (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 17).

So how can we do that? Again, putting things very simply, we first choose to practice. Meditation may come quite naturally to some people. Those who have introverted personalities, for instance, or those with an artistic bent may find meditation a very easy discipline to practice. Those of us who are more extroverted or more action-oriented may find that we must force ourselves into a position of quiet calm. There's no magic way to meditate--you don't have to sit in a certain position, hold your hands any particular way, or have your eyes closed. You might meditate best sitting under a tree, gazing out at the beauty of creation. Or you might meditate best sitting in a chair with your hands in your lap.

Perhaps the most helpful thing I've found is to choose something upon which to meditate. For me, the very best thing is to meditate upon a passage of Scripture. Now, I don't mean to study a passage of scripture, although that's an excellent thing to do. I mean to allow a short passage to speak to you deeply. Remember, Scripture is the word of God, described as "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). It's important to remember that God loves you passionately and completely, and allow his word to communicate that love to you. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ". . . just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation" (The Way to Freedom, p. 59).

I'll give you a personal example of how meditation has helped me. For several years, my family has faced real struggles with health. My 14-year-old son had open-heart surgery in April 2008. Then in February 2009 my husband had open-heart surgery. And then in April 2011 my husband had to have a second open-heart surgery. Of course these surgeries took place right in the middle of our everyday, busy lives. At one point I was so stressed that I wished I could take a class in time management. There was so much to do, so many lists to be made and tasks to be carried out. How on earth was I ever going to get everything done?

Precisely at this time of frenetic activity, I was advised to spend time meditating on the psalms. At first I balked: how on earth was meditating on the psalms supposed to help me get through my to-do list? To be honest, I was frustrated at the very thought of it. But I submitted to the wisdom of my advisor, and I meditated on the third psalm. Let me tell you, friends: in the surgical waiting room, these words meant much more to me than any completed to-do list ever could have: "Thou, O Lord, are a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter of my head" (Psalm 3:3).

Again quoting Richard Foster: "What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart." You see, Jesus is the master builder. We don't have to design or construct the sanctuary; he does that work for us. We only have to give him the space to work.

What about you? Is meditation something you've practiced? If so, how has it helped you?

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 20

The next spiritual discipline or soul-training exercise I'd like for us to consider is meditation.

But today I'm not feeling up to writing. I feel empty myself. So I'll just share with you this passage; perhaps meditating upon it will bless both you and me today.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spiritual Formation, Day 19

Closely related to the discipline of solitude that we talked about yesterday is a practice that is so linked to solitude that it's not usually listed as a separate discipline. Yet it's one of utmost importance, so I'm dedicating a post to it.

Silence.


Oh, mercy. I was on a retreat once and our group's director decided that we would all observe three hours of silence one morning. Now, some folks had signed up for a "silent track" at this retreat; they wanted to be silent. Kind of like monks, you know. Guess who had not signed up for a silent retreat? Guess who struggled the most with those three hours?

Yes, that was me.

I love to talk. That's one of the reasons I like blogging so much--it's like talking to people all over the world. And I love to listen to people talk. People are so interesting! I love to hear their stories and learn all about them. It's fascinating!

But with all the talking and all the listening and all the general noise in my life, guess whose voice I have trouble hearing sometimes?

Yes, indeed. That would be God's.

Richard Foster writes, "Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself. His voice is not hard to hear; his vocabulary is not difficult to understand. But learning to listen well and to hear correctly is no small task" (Sanctuary of the Soul, p. 9).

Why do we not hear God's voice more clearly? I think it's mostly because we're not usually listening. We're talking. We're filling all available space with our own needs and desires and interests. We're busy, for crying out loud. And the result is that we don't give God a chance to get a word in edgewise.

I think perhaps we keep up a steady stream of noise because we have some ideas about God that are not true. We're afraid to listen for his voice, because we don't trust that what he has to say will be good for us.

One of the great benefits of practicing silence and listening for God's voice is that, when we hear it, we'll be amazed at the goodness in it. Richard Foster also writes, "The quality of God's voice is one of drawing and encouraging. The spirit in God's voice is all grace and mercy. And the content of what is being said is always consistent with what God has said before--we have a huge biblical witness upon which to test our leadings" (Sanctuary of the Soul, p. 11).

More than anything else, practicing silence has demonstrated to me that God is completely trustworthy. His voice, whether speaking through the written word of the Bible, the spoken word of a good teacher, or directly to my heart, is always one of goodness. Furthermore, keeping silence has sometimes deprived me of being able to speak up for myself. I tend to jump at the chance to defend and justify myself. When I practice silence, I have to trust God to protect me--and I learn that he is trustworthy in this way, too.

Solitude and silence--what do you think of them? Do you practice them? If so, have these practices helped you? Please share!

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spiritual Formation, Day 18

We've been talking about spiritual formation for awhile now. With this groundwork laid, we'll turn to discussing the spiritual disciplines, or soul-training exercises, we can do.

So often we wish we could be more like Jesus and we even try to be more like Jesus, but we neglect to do the kinds of things that Jesus did.

Once again, let's remember: Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

So what did Jesus do? Is there anything Jesus did that we can do as well?

In a word, yes.

We don't know everything there is to know about Jesus's life on earth. But we do know some things. If we give Jesus his due, we'll consider that he lived his life on earth just as he meant to do. He could have chosen any time, any place, any situation for his time on earth. He lived his life as a man on purpose--both to give his life as a ransom for us and to live his life as an example for us. He is our Savior and our Teacher.

So in the next few days we'll be talking about some things that Jesus did as he lived his life here on earth. We'll also talk about some habits that Jesus-followers down through the centuries have found helpful.

To begin with, let's look at a practice that Jesus practiced often:

Solitude.

Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But even a quick look at the gospels will show that Jesus often "withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16). I think perhaps it is easy for us to focus on what Jesus did when he retreated from the crowds and overlook the important fact that he sought solitude.

Of course, Jesus was not completely alone during these times of solitude, and that is precisely the point: he withdrew from the company of other people so that he could commune freely with his Father. The discipline of solitude is not valuable just because it gives us a break from being around other people (although that's sometimes very helpful!). It's valuable because it gives us freedom to be only with God--and what riches await when we clear our minds to focus only on him!

You may be at a stage of life when solitude sounds like a unimaginable luxury. I can remember times when my children were small that I felt like I had no time to myself at all. If I'm honest, though, I'll admit that there were times when the kids were asleep or safely occupied in an activity that didn't require my presence every minute. Perhaps the same is true for you. Of course, it's tempting to fill every such moment with activity--to do a project, catch up on a chore, call a friend, read some blogs, or whatever. Those activities are all good, of course. But your soul needs some space to breathe, and that's best found in solitude.

I invite you to see what you might gain from taking some time to be alone with God. I know you have a long list of things to do and places to go. I know you may feel as if you can't possibly afford to spend time being still. But I urge you to try it, even if it's for just a few minutes. Remember the words of the psalmist: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Leave your to-do list and quiet your heart. Be still and know--for he IS God, and he will be so glad to spend time alone with you.

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Monday, October 17, 2011

Super-easy fall vase


The other day I wanted to take some flowers to a friend, so I came up with a super-easy and attractive vase to hold the blooms.


Here's how to make your own out of these humble materials:

1. Measure the height and circumference of your jar. Cut a piece of burlap the width of your jar's height and a little longer than your jar's circumference. Mine was 6 inches tall and 11 inches around, so I cut a 6" x 12" piece of burlap.

2. Holding the burlap very straight, hot-glue the edge of the burlap to the side of the jar. Be careful! Hot glue will bleed straight through burlap, so you need to be extra careful not to burn your fingers.
3. Hold the burlap tight against the side of the jar and wrap all the way around. Turn the side of the burlap under to create a neat seam and hot-glue the burlap in place.
4. If you like, add a raffia bow or another embellishment.

5. Cut off the stems of your flowers so that just the blooms show above the top of the vase. Fill the jar with water, add a few drops of bleach to keep the flowers fresh longer, and place the flowers in their cool container.

This quick project cost me nothing but a little time and I think it was a real day-brightener for my friend!

**I'm joining these parties:

Grace Imparted

As I've written these posts on spiritual formation, I've joked with myself that I could have called this series "How to Fail at Blogging" or "31 Days of How to Kill Your Blog."

After all, just because I want to talk about spiritual formation doesn't mean that anyone wants to listen to it. I know this. I've always known that my posts about faith don't generate as much traffic as my posts about homemaking or decorating. Still, I felt called to write this series, so I forged ahead.

Until last week, when I was just about ready to give up. I was just about to tweet something like "Anyone else wish they hadn't done a 31-day series?" when I received a letter.




A reader wrote to say "I've been following your blog for awhile now, and am especially blessed by your 31 Days of Spiritual Formation." She went on to explain that she's going through a really tough time right now, and these posts have been very helpful to her.

Whoa! Did God know that I needed a bit of encouragement right then?

Of course he did. Just as he always knows what we need, and he always provides. It's his grace imparted to us.

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

I'm glad that this series on Spiritual Formation is punctuated each week by a time to stop and celebrate God's gifts. Do you have a story to share? Big or small, every good gift comes from his hand. I'd love to hear about it!

Imparting Grace







Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 15

It bears repeating: spiritual disciplines or soul-training exercises are a means to an end. Our goal is to become like Jesus, not to be good at exercises.




It would be very difficult to talk about the spiritual disciplines without referring to one of the best and most comprehensive books ever written on the subject. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster was first published in 1978, and it remains a most trustworthy guide to understanding and practicing the disciplines.

Before we talk about specific exercises, we need to consider what Richard writes in the first chapter of Celebration of Discipline. He calls the disciplines the "door to liberation." Read these words of his, as fresh today as when they were first penned.

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

The classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world. John Woolman counsels, "It is good for thee to dwell deep, that thou mayest feel and understand the spirits of people (The Journal of John Woolman, Citadel Press, 1972).

We must not be led to believe that the disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation. Far from it. . .

Nor should we think of the spiritual disciplines as some dull drudgery aimed at exterminating laughter from the face of the earth. Joy is the keynote of all the disciplines. The purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.

Freedom from the slavery of self-interest and fear? That sounds like a good state of affairs to me. But trying to attain that freedom through our own efforts is doomed to fail. Listen again to Richard:

When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God's work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God: it is a grace that is given. . . God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.

The apostle Paul says, "He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8). Paul's analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. That is the way it is with the spiritual disciplines--they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The disciplines are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. . . They are God's means of grace.

**There's something important I want to say here about the authors I'm quoting in this series. As you know, we learn about Jesus mostly from reading the Bible. Christians throughout the history of the church have done the same thing, and many of them have developed rich insights into the life of Christ. So from our 21st century vantage point we have both the Bible (always our primary guide) as well as the writings of Christians throughout the centuries. We are blessed to have such a wealth of material at our disposal!

I would recommend one test for any materials that you might use to guide you in your walk. Since our desire is to become like Jesus, I would recommend materials written by people who have walked that path--not people who are concerned simply with studying Jesus or even mimicking his actions. We want our hearts to be changed, and our best guides are those who have experienced or are experiencing that kind of heart-change in their own lives. The authors I'll recommend in this series are all people who are deeply committed to Jesus.**


This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Spiritual Formation, Day 14

Now we move into talking about soul-training exercises, or spiritual disciplines. The best definition of spiritual disciplines I've ever heard comes from Dallas Willard: "A discipline is an activity within our power--something we CAN do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present CANNOT do by direct effort."

Did you get that? A discipline is something we can do right now, using our bodies, minds, and hearts in their present state, that will eventually enable us to do something that we cannot currently do.

This obliging creature landed right on my front door, as if it wanted to have its picture taken!

As we think about this, I want be sure that we understand a couple of things.

#1. The soul-training exercises, or spiritual disciplines, are not the point in and of themselves. They are the things that we can do so that eventually we will be able to do what we cannot currently do by direct effort. Here's an example: A coach might have basketball players run laps. Every day, they may run a lot of laps. But the point is not for the players to become good lap-runners. No, the coach wants the athletes to become good players, and he understands that part of being a good player is having the cardiovascular fitness and stamina to last through a game. He can't wave a magic wand and give his players stamina instantaneously, but he knows that they will develop stamina if they'll do what he says. So he prescribes the lap-running. The players might not like the lap-running, but they trust that the coach knows what he's doing, and they know that if they'll obey his instructions they can become good players. If all the athletes ever did was to become good lap-runners, they would have missed the point. Similarly, if we practice spiritual disciplines as if practicing the disciplines were the point, we might become good practitioners--but we want more than that. The point is for us to become Christlike. The disciplines are a means to that end.




#2. While the disciplines are not themselves the point, they are indeed things that we can do in order to become more like Christ. We cannot change our own hearts. That is the work of God. But we can do some things to put ourselves in the right position for being changed. Consider the caterpillar: it doesn't become a butterfly because it wishes it were a butterfly. And it doesn't change itself into a butterfly. It does, however, do what it CAN do--form a chrysalis--so that it's in the position for the metamorphosis to take place. The caterpillar might really, really want to be a butterfly, and it might wish that it could become a butterfly instantaneously. But that's not how it works. The metamorphosis is God's work, and it doesn't happen until the caterpillar submits to the process of change. Now, we're more complicated than caterpillars, but the same principle is true for us. We don't just wish we were Christlike and expect God to change us instantaneously. There are tried and true things that we can do so that we're living a life open to God's work in us, and that is what we'll discuss next.

Questions? Comments? I love to hear from you!

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days