Spiritual Regimen, Rhythm or Intention

If you’re anything like me, you will know the feeling of setting yourself new resolutions and goals. After hearing a talk, reading a book or meditating on scripture we may feel prompted to act on the message we’ve received.

But how should we respond.

It may be tempting to respond by implementing a Spiritual discipline, such as prayer, fasting or solitude. We may want to commit to a 30 day plan of Bible reading, purity or a couple of months of attending Church whatever the weather.

This is all well and good. I love spiritual disciplines! But as many devoted Christians will have already discovered, after the 10th quiet time, our lives can quickly become full of new spiritual practices. And we soon struggle to maintain our new morning routine, exercise regimen, Thursday Fast, 1-on-1 weekly discipleship meeting, helping out at a local charity shop on the weekends, all the while serving our family with lovingly made dinners each night.

This is why the framework of Spiritual Regimens, Rhythms or Intentions is helpful!

Dr. John Coe, in his course on Spiritual Formation, recognises that as zealous Christians we may be tempted to overload our lives with activities and plans. But we must also remember that we are finite Christians as well (- and his finiteness, should draw us to God, just as much as our zealousness!) And so Dr. Coe suggests three categories of response (and they’re not complicated!):

  1. Spiritual Regimens – This could be a set time period (e.g. a week, month or year) whereby we will stick to a plan/regimen of particular conduct, in order to give God room to challenge and grow us in the area. For example: taking an online course, watching a series of lectures, starting a small group for a book, not buying anything online, etc.
  2. Spiritual Rhythms – This could be a particular discipline, such as Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting from cakes, Netflix or video games, silence, etc. We agree to incorporate such a discipline in our daily/weekly lives to strengthen the “muscles” of our faith.
  3. Spiritual Intentions: This is where we acknowledge, a calling from God to change our behaviour, grow our character, exhibit a virtue. But also acknowledge that there isn’t room in our finiteness, to incorporate yet another discipline towards this end. And so we offer up ourselves in prayer to God.
    • Present – “God, here I am, confronted by the challenge/example/conviction of x, y, z”
    • Recollect – “God, I understand that this is my current status because of everything you have done for me”
    • Honesty – “And yet, I am reluctant for whatever reason to change, thank You for revealing this to me.”
    • Discernment – “God, what are you doing, what is Your will, what is from You and what is not. Please give me wisdom on how to respond”.

It may be after praying in such a way, God will lead us to a regimen or a rhythm. Or it may be the case, that God simply wanted us to talk to Him about it and leave it in His hands. In Spiritual Intentions, we lean upon God’s power to transform us, and rely on His grace to work in our weakness. Yes, there will be times to actively co-labour with God, but there are also times to trust God’s Spirit at work – producing fruit – in us.

There is a real danger when we try and bring about the formation in our own strength, with countless lists of disciplines and plans. Rather, it is better to seek wisdom and ask God how we ought to respond to such truth.

And so next time you are challenged in a quiet time or talk, or even a walk in the park. Consider whether to turn this challenge into a Regimen, a Rhythm or an Intention.

Why do I pursue God’s heart?

I’ve been taking a course online over the last month and a bit, and I hit a bit of a wall. In the course we are taught a little about The Dark Night of the Soul, a season in life where we find very little pleasure in pursuing God’s heart. We may be reading our Bible, praying, worshipping, going to Church and all of this, but to be frank it is: tough going.

We just don’t feel like it.

One of the aims of the course is to explore the purpose of these seasons and help believers understand the work God is doing. So we can be encouraged and encourage others.

The course guides us to consider that God is weaning us of the ‘pursuit of spirituality for pleasure’s sake’.

It is here that I hit a wall. So I stopped reading and started thinking through why this troubled me.

It wasn’t long before I identified my main obstacle.

Belief 1 (from before the course): God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
Belief 2 (from the course): Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature.

So how can I reconcile these beliefs, are they compatible. Is one true and one wrong. What does wisdom say? Pen and paper out, Bible opened up.

I wrote down the beliefs more fully on a notepad:

Belief 1: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, God promises pleasure to those who pursue Him (Psalm 16:11)
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature. Therefore, God uses seasons of “Desolation” to teach us to pursue Him for His sake rather than pleasure. (James 1:2-3)

Then I asked myself some questions: What motivates me to pursue God? What should motivate me? What do I want to motivate me? Is there scripture to back up these reasons.

  1. I pursue God for my sake and He is glorified in this (Exodus 33:12-19)
  2. I pursue God because it is Right and He has taught/convinced me of this (therefore I cannot boast!) (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)
  3. I pursue God for His Glory’s sake and His glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3-8)

Perhaps both beliefs are true, and yet, incomplete without each other. I would phrase slightly differently to demonstrate this:

Belief 1: God is glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, He is gracious to fulfil His promises of pleasure to those who pursue Him.
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake alone is immature, though it is not necessarily wrong. Oftentimes, God will uses seasons of desolation/dark night of the soul, to teach us to pursue Him for His glory’s sake.

I hope this helped. Why do you pursue God’s heart?

God the All

I am slowly working through some puritan prayers, this one impacts me on many levels.

Oh God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creatures power and goodness, when, if thou didn’t not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate.

I know this to be true of myself, although I frequently forget it and tell myself I am a “good person” because of x, y, and z. No, the truth is God is kind to me that my sinful nature does not dominate me to the fullest extent it could. Thank you Jesus.

I know that thou are the author and finisher of faith, that the whole work of redemption is thine alone.

This is something I have been realising more and more recently. I actually don’t have the power, capacity or drive to be a better person, to be holy. I need to rely on Jesus to do this, I need to abide in Him. I need to receive His work of redemption and sanctification and formation, and I need to put to death by the spirit my fleshly attempts to earn redemption, sanctification and formation.

If thou bidst me to decide for myself in any affair, I would choose to refer all to thee, for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss, as I am in danger of doing.

As I pray this, I ask for this particular perspective to permeate my conscious and sub-conscious mind. I long for the wisdom to surrender to Him who is Good, without fear or reservation.

Then prayer turns wholly into praise.

When my mantra in life becomes “He must increase, I must decrease”, all that is left for me is to adore and bless Him.

Prayer Projects

I’ve been taking a free course at Biola Learn , on Spiritual Formation and the temptations of moralism. It’s part of God’s recent dealings with me to dismantle unhealthy patterns of relating to Him, and to replace them with a more grace filled, spirit empowered, cross-entered faith.

Anyway, as part of the course there are these assignments called “Prayer Projects”. You are instructed to find a quiet place and pray through particular issues over a set period of time. It’s a practice that is surprisingly new to me….

But I love it!!!

You’re given a bunch of topics to pray through systematically, and encouraged to spend extended time in God’s presence processing the material.

Because the lecturers expected ‘Prayer Projects’ to be new to most of the participants, they gave us some fantastic Q&A guidelines. Here is one of the Questions with an Answer that I found particularly insightful. I’m sharing because I think it helps address the many feelings of guilt and obstacles to spending long times with God in prayer.

Enjoy!

What might I experience during my Prayer Project?

At the outset, it is important that the Spirit governs the encounter in prayer, and as such each experience will vary. That said, here are some common occurrences that happen during Prayer Projects and how you might respond to them:

Consolation/Joy – This is when you experience a deep sense of joy, of being loved, of being at peace in the presence of God. This is a real gift from the Lord – cherish it! No guidance is necessary for this – the Lord will direct your heart.

Distraction – So very common for all of us in prayer. We start to pray about one topic but find our hearts and minds wandering elsewhere. This is an opportunity to ask the Lord what He wants to do with that thought. You don’t have to try to resist it. Rather, mention it to the Lord in your prayer. (Example: “Lord, I find my mind wandering to ____. What would You want me to do with this?”) Then see how He responds. In general, it is worth staying with the original prayer topic unless you experience a strong sense that you should pursue this new thought.

Fatigue – You might feel tired in prayer, even to the point of falling asleep. If this happens, and you realize that you have been asleep, pay attention to the feelings that arise in your heart as you awake. Talk with God about those feelings, whether they be gratitude at the gift of rest or anxiety about having fallen asleep on Him. This is your honest experience in prayer, and even this can become a topic for conversation with God.

Guilt, Shame, Anxiety – You may experience guilt, shame, or anxiety over what you’re praying about. This is particularly so if you’re praying about something that has been hidden in your heart, something you may not have talked about before. What is most important to remember during these times is that you are completely loved by God just as you are, regardless of whether you feel that or not. The temptation is to hide our guilt and shame and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we might panic before God and try desperately to get Him to reassure us that we’re okay. You are encouraged instead to name your feelings to God. If you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or anxious, tell God exactly that. Trust that if He has brought those feelings up, then He wants to meet you in them. He is using them not to condemn you, but to draw closer to you.

Despair/Darkness – You may have times when you feel like God is distant, like your prayer life is dark. Or you may be tempted to despair, to think that God is not listening to you or is not even present. You may feel so overwhelmed by your spiritual failure that you think that your situation is hopeless. These can be very hard and painful times in prayer. If you are able, continue to pray. Name what you’re feeling to God. Tell Him about the darkness and distance and despair.

Note: You might reach a point where the darkness feels too overwhelming for you and that it feels too difficult to go on in prayer. If you reach this point, then pull back. You may stop your prayer at this point. Find a passage of Scripture instead, especially one reminding you of the love of God (e.g., Psalm 139:1-18, Romans 5 or 8) and read it for the remainder of the prayer time. Please also contact a trusted spiritual advisor, such as your pastor, small group leader, or mentor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. Allow this person to offer you more specific encouragement and guidance for your situation.

For more information please visit: Biola Learn: https://www.biola.edu/learn/catalog

Christ bids a man – come and die

Christ asks me to take up my cross daily, to die to self, die to my own efforts (even those to “work for Him”. To die to it all.

But where does this leave me? Where does this leave me in terms of my commitments and ambitions – shall I not simply become flimsical and waversome in all my resolves?

1) this leaves me on Christ’s cross. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I surrendered this right to being when I was baptised into His life.

2) my commitments and ambitions are naught and meaningless. So is my character, honour, reputation and even my relationships. It is all nothing compared to Christ. Only Christ – this is the call.

3) flimsical? Waversome? Not in the slightest. For His power and love and joy and peace are at work in me (this clay jar) – emptied like Christ – and will be proved mighty and steadfast.

I cry with John, or rather His spirit compels me to cry, “He must increase, I must decrease”

New Book – New Seeds of Contemplation

Can’t promise I’ll be making notes on every chapter, but this is what I’ve just started. It’s a little out of my comfort zone and a little “left field” from what I’m used to.

But it was highly recommended from a friend/mentor I look up and respect! Wish me luck!

Chapter 1 explored ‘What is Contemplation?’. The best summary I found was “Contemplation is the awareness and realisation, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who live in me”.

In other words, its about being aware that Christ is living in us, and this awareness being an experience.

It’s a little over my head, but I’m prepared to engage with it. This will definitely stretch me in my faith!

I’ve included an affiliate link in case anyone is interested and wants to read as well. The book was pretty tricky to get in the UK and I had to wait a month. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

Three things to expect from studying the Pentateuch

We are studying the Bible and working our way through many of the introductions! This morning I’ve looked at an Introduction to the Pentateuch from the ESV study Bible. For those who don’t know, the Pentateuch is the name given to the first five books of the Bible. A lot of information to digest, but overall a helpful article to read.

The three things which most resonated with me were:

1) One of the foundational purposes of the first five books of the Bible is to introduce us to God. Who He is, what His character is like and what His ethical standards are. I was particularly taken with the emphasis on His character. One of the things I’m going to be looking out for as I study these books is: what does this story, passage or moment tell me about who God is? Since one of the reasons I’m studying the Bible, is so that I can become more like Jesus, when I spot something of God’s character I’ll be wanting to pray: “Please, make me more like this!”. For a simple example, when I see God generously provide to Adam and Eve food, clothes to wear, relationships, work and even breath to breathe, (even though they will later betray Him), I ask that God make me more generous.

2) This article also touched on the dilemma of historical dating with accuracy. It explained that whilst it was easy to map out certain dates of events in the Pentateuch, such as the Flood (which apparently can be calculated to the day of the week and year!), it is difficult to map out all of the events, such as creation and the exodus. I have always avoided looking closely at the dating of things in the Bible. I know that there are legitimate Biblical cases for both “old-earth” and “young-earth” creation standpoints and that has always been enough to satisfy me. I think the important things aren’t really to do with the dates. But when I read about this, I thought about the many objections to Christianity made by people who don’t believe it, and a lot seems to centre on the creation account. I was challenged that I may need to make more of an effort to educate myself on this aspect. At least to know the arguments better.

I know from studying Systematic Theology, that there is a difference between Accuracy and Truth. For example I could say: “I live close to my office”, or “I live within 5 kilometres of my office” or “I live 4.75 kilometres from my office”… All three statements are true, but clearly one is more accurate than the others. In this way the Bible can be true and yet not “accurate” (at least to the degree we might expect as 21st century western readers!). “Biblical statements”, writes Grudem, “can be imprecise and still be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology p.92).

3) Finally, the article mentioned that one of the main themes in these books will be the importance of the law and right behaviour. A concept we tend to overlook as Christians, who know we are saved by grace through faith and not by works or our own merits. And yet, Deuteronomy 4:6-8 talks about how it was by observing God’s law that the Israelites could magnify God and communicate His goodness to the other nations. These words are mirrored in the teaching of Jesus who said: ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). Faithful obedience to God is still important for Christians today.

To emphasise this point further I want to share a quote from Dallas Willard, that I saw he tweeted last week:

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone. You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning

Please find below my full notes from this article below:

God, I thank you for the work of other Christians to put together this resource for me to use and learn from. May this post further enable others to pursue Your heart. Amen

To God be the Glory