Rule of Life | Practice #8

How do you feel about rules? When I was young, I didn’t necessarily like them, but I was a rule follower (mostly). Maybe you hear the word “rule” as something restrictive and hard. This spiritual practice invites us to consider a different rule, a rule of life or what some call a rule for life. This is something that you spend time considering and planning. Some people have life verses or a motto by which they frame their life. A Rule of Life is a trellis for your spiritual life to grow and be shaped with the intentional framework which keeps us accountable and offers guidelines for how we spend our days.  A Rule of Life provides a way to partner with God’s Spirit for our own spiritual life and transformation. It helps us in our discipleship, following after God’s own heart. One of the first Rules of Life can be seen in Scripture – in Acts 2:42. In Acts 2 we see the patterns of what the early church did, how they held their spiritual lives together. The Bible says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship , to breaking of bread and to prayer.” These things, this “rule” shaped their lives and their hearts, no matter what the circumstance of a day. Do you have a Rule of Life? You likely do but maybe don’t call it this. What guides how you live your life? A Rule of Life is a simple statement of the regular rhythms we choose in order that we can be with God and present our best selves to Him and for others. A rule helps you set limits and tells God your longings and intentions. A Rule of Life is meant to be written, so you can read it again and again and change it as needed. If the word rule makes you uncomfortable, use the words ‘rhythm for life’ instead. Why not write a rule of life out today. Take your time. Pray, ponder, ask God, pay attention and look for what opens you and keeps you tethered to God. At the end of today’s practice I will list some specific questions which may help you as you try and write your own rule. This is an ancient practice that can be so helpful for us today.

Spiritual Practice: A Rule of Life

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 20:11, 15,16, 19-29 (Try reading in the Message); John 10:10; I Thessalonians 5:24, Acts 2: 42

Practice Includes: Writing out something concrete that helps draw you more deeply into your relationship with God and love God more ; developing regular and repeated relationships and experience or practices that make space for God in the midst of your life; creating a plan to honor your desires and limits; creating/developing a spiritual pathway that suits you and your personality and where you are in your stage of faith; opportunities to review and assess your spiritual journey not with comparisons to others but by your own unique rule for your personal growth; a road map of sorts, for your spiritual life.

Potential Fruits: Living with intentionality and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit for your own life; partnering with the Triune God for deep change and accountability to how you will love; intentionally and practically loving God with all ‘your mind, heart, soul and strength’; choosing a path of spiritual rhythms /practices/disciplines in response to hearing from God and awakening to the awareness of your heart with Christ’s heart for you; having an intentional and obedience- centered life with God.

A few questions to ponder about the practice: what unspoken rules order your life right now?; how or who determines what you wil and won’t do?; how is a rule of life similar and different from a mission statement? ; do you have a life verse from Scripture? If so how might that be a spring board for writing a rule of life? I read in a book and wrote in my journal the following: A rule of,life can be a plumb line, allowing a still point from which you can gauge the intentionality of your spiritual journey. On a regular basis, look at your life in light of your rule. What do you see? Where is God drawing you to Him? What is giving you life? Where does your life feel out of control and not centered in Christ?

Writing a Rule: Consider when and where do you feel closest to God. Pay attention to the experience and practices and relationship that draw you toward God. Include those in your rule; What is most important to you? Where do your relationships need attention and who do you want to become? If you had 6 months to lives, how would you spend your time? This might help shape some of your priorities.; what do you currently do to realize your longings and goals. do you work, pray, study, socialize, workout, etc.? What things hinder and help your spiritual journey?; what practices help you- daily, weekly, monthly and yearly? What are limitations in your life right now? What are the dreams and longings that remain steady throughout all life circumstances for you. What do you want to change?; Choose several practices that surface from your desire for God to do a transforming work in your life that are realistic and suit the realities of your life in this season. 

Rules of Life are meant to be read, looked at, reviewed, revised and adapted. They meant to be a living document.

Rest | Practice #7

The practice we will consider next may surprise you. It follows very well on the heels of sabbath keeping though. You might think, I am at home all the time and all I do is hang around and rest. But I know for myself and hear from so many others, that sleep is interrupted and they are feeling a level of anxiety and dis- ease, even though they aren’t doing their normal “schedule” and routine. We need rest, a deep and true rest. A professor from Fuller seminary years ago named Arch Hart said, “People in a hurry never have time for recovery. Their minds have little time to meditate and pray so that problems can be put in perspective. In short,” he says, “ people in our age are showing signs of physical and psychological disintegration because we are living at a pace that is too fast for one’s bodies.” While we may recognize that truth, there is a truth when we stop the pace, or are forced to do so because of this pandemic, we still can’t find a true rest. We busy ourselves, or our mind and spirit are flooded- with questions, worries, whatever. And so we will look at a spiritual practice you may think you are doing be default, but it takes intentionality.

Spiritual Practice: Rest

Scriptures: Psalm 116:7; Deuteronomy 33:12; Psalm 62:1; Matthew 11: 28

Practice Includes:  Intentionally setting aside time, unhurried time to be rested and refreshed rather than work- Sabbath keeping; stopping do activities that drain you or demand something of you like- cleaning, taxes, work; setting margins throughout the day- breathe prayers help us remember to rest with God; keeping company with Jesus- giving Him your time, your hurry, your busyness, your propensity to work; developing a rhythm of rest and work in your day to day life; resting every day, every week, every year with intentionality- planning for it; patterning your life so that your spirit, body and emotions can push ‘pause’ to just BE. 

Potential Fruits: Being with Jesus; Asking Jesus to help you and look for His invitations to truly rest- like being yoked (see Matthew 11); taking time to delight~ delight in God, delight in your family, delight in the season, delight in God’s creation, delight in the taste of your food; your mind, body and spirit get a ‘reset’; truly resting with God helps us see ourselves and our true identity- as God’s beloved, not because of what we do but rather because of who we are.

A few questions to ponder about the practice: What makes you tired or exhausted?; do you work past your limits?; where  and when do you most deeply rest? who/what helps you rest?; if you were to write down what a perfect day of rest looks like, what would it include?; can you intentionally place yourself in the presence of God and then do something you delight in- go for a walk, listen to some music, take a nap, read a book, etc. how does that feel like rest for you? Can you plan for that a few times this week? Is the spiritual practice of “play” (see spiritual practice #5) related to the spiritual practice of “rest”?

Scripture | Practice #5

Hoping these spiritual practices are offering you a new ‘lens’ into being with God. This is what these practices are intended to do, they aid us in our being with God. We certainly have a ‘with God’ promise in Scripture. “I will never leave you or forsake you…I am with you always.” Isn’t that good news when we are in our homes and maybe feeling alone or isolated these days? Our practice today is one I remember as a child being taught and challenged with in Sunday school…it is simple, MEMORIZATION! You know the phrase, “repetition is a good teacher”? Well that is kind of what memorization is. I know for me, the older I get the harder it is to do memory work! But I also know that there is a Scripture that says, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart”…{Psalm 119} and another that says, “Do not let the Book of the law depart from your mouth, meditate on it day and night.”{Joshua 1 &  Psalm 1}. But I also know even though it is harder for me to memorize Scripture, when I do, I hold that deep within and it is amazing how a circumstance comes up and a verse I have memorized comes to my kind and is an encouragement or brings a special reminder of the Lord’s presence. In Sunday school when I was a kid, we would get gold stars on a chart and when all the spaces were filled, we got a special prize. I don’t know what will motivate you to try this spiritual practice, but maybe if you ask someone to do it with you, a family memory, a life group, a friend…we can “spur one another on”, as the Apostle Paul says. Memorization can be accessed anywhere, any time! It is very portable. It is like a personal google search that you have inside you! I have friends who have memorized entire chapters and even entire Books (New Testament- Paul’s letters) of the Bible. My jaw drops at that. I don’t think I can do that, but I can do some. So here we go.

Scriptural Practice: Memorization 

Scriptures: Luke 24:8; II Peter 1:13; 15; Psalm 119: 11, 97 – there are more, can you find some?

Here are some personal favorites I have memorized and call to mind often:

“God Himself will fight for you, you need only be still.” Ex. 14:14

“Are you tired, Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of life. I won’t lay anything heavy or I’ll-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 [The Message]

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

“ As the deer longs  for the water, so my soul longs for you,  oh God. My soul thirst for God, the living God.”Psalm 42:1-2

“Only be strong and very courageous.” Joshua 1

Practice Includes: Memorizing Scripture, and also spiritual songs & hymns and even poems; memorizing the Books of the Bible in order; re-reading parts of Scripture over and over until you memorize them; choosing a theme in the Scriptures and memorizing verses related to the theme- I.e. God’s presence or provision, God’s comfort or hope, Scriptures about salvation and God’s invitations, Scriptures of encouragement, etc.

Potential Fruits: Being WITH Jesus, the Living Word!; developing a spiritual habit that you can return to and holds you, anchors you in the Bible; recalling God’s encouragement and truths; a practice for now and later; you can do this in community with others and challenge one another.

A few questions to ponder about the practice:

How do you feel about memorization? Does it come easily? Are you willing to try it?Maybe pick a verse a day- or a week if that is overwhelming. Who can you ask to partner with you about this?

What would be the benefits for YOU to try this spiritual practice? 

Even now in this time when we are at home and more isolated, what have you memorized in the past that can be a comfort to you now? 

If you were to choose verses that nourish your soul, what would are they? Have you memorized them? 

Sabbath | Practice #6

How did memory work go? Were you able to take on that spiritual practice and have a Scripture IN you that you haven’t before. I hope so. Just as a reminder, practices take time. We don’t get their benefit over night. But in time, God can use them to help transform us and bring us in closer relationship with Christ. Well it occurs to me since this is the 7th spiritual practice I am sharing, that maybe we should remember what the Lord God did on the seventh day- and look at the notion of sabbath keeping. Keeping sabbath is a spiritual practice and it is not an easy one. Few people in the church I imagine, actually take a full sabbath day, a day where they don’t work and focus rather on being with God and enjoying the things God has given uniquely to them. How does the thought of a full day off from any work to just be with God sound to you? Inviting, overwhelming, awesome, scary? Welcome to a day set apart. Even when we are all safe at home, we can get busy and preoccupied with work. Here is a practice we read about in the 10 Commandments. In the Hebrew understanding of sabbath, this 24 hour period was different than all other days. Jesus is sometimes called the Lord of the Sabbath and He taught that God gave sabbath to us as a restorative and recouperating gift.

Spiritual Practice: Sabbath Keeping

Scriptures: Exodus 20:8-10; Mark 2:27; Hebrews 4:1, 9-11

Practice Includes: Setting aside a block of time to be with the God you love and the people you love; letting go of the tyranny of the urgent and seeking an inner peace; practicing restful activities- a long walk or hike, a nap, visiting someone you love, sharing a ‘cuppa’ with a friend, a family game, reading a book, etc.; resting in God and with God; letting difficult conversations or tasks wait for another day; letting go of your ‘to-do’ list for one day. 

Potential Fruits: freedom from the addiction to hurry sickness, busyness and rushing; keeping company with Jesus throughout a twenty four hour period; obeying one of the 10 Commandments.

A few questions to ponder about the practice: How does sabbath encourage your worship and enjoyment of time with God.; what difficulties and challenges do you have in trying to keep a sabbath?; what happens to you when you go without regular rhythms that allows you to rest as in a sabbath day?

~ Keeping sabbath requires intentionality and planning initially. Getting a good nights sleep is part of a sabbath day. How is God inviting you to prepare and plan a sabbath day and how will you delight in it?

Confession | Practice #4

The great reformer and theologian Martin Luther once said, “There is no better mirror in which to see your need than the 10 Commandments. “ We hear the phrase ‘confession is good for the soul’, but sometimes that is hard to do or we resist it. Confession is part of our own self examination, a look inward at who we are and what we have done. There are many ways confession can happen. In corporate worship we pray prayers of confession often. In today’s spiritual practice we look at our personal sin- what we have done and what we have left undone. In prayer WITH a welcoming God, we share them, we ask for God’s presence and forgiveness. Trust and repentance means we lay ourselves open with an honest desire to let God’s love and grace forgive us and move us on. In our self examination and confession we admit to God our sins, where we blame or rationalize and we share our denials and obsessions. We speak with God seeking grace to change our behavior and asking Him to shine a light into dark places where we don’t always want to look. Psalm 51 is a great one to read slowly and carefully related to this practice.

Spiritual Practice: Confession

Scriptures: Psalm 139:23-24; Psalm 32:1-2; James 5:16; John 3:16

Practice Includes: We admit to God our propensity to deny or blame and rationalize; We ask forgiveness and help to replace sinful habits with healthy one; We confess our sins and in honesty repentance seek to receive the grace of forgiveness and change;

Some potential fruits of this practice: Being transformed in Christlikeness and spending time with Jesus, the one who went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins; replacing sinful habits with healthy ones; receiving forgiveness; admitting to God who we are and who we are not- and asking for help to grow deeper in relationship with Him

A few questions to ponder about the practice: When you confess your sins do you generalize, “forgive all my sins” or do you specifically name them one by one with God? What is the advantage of naming your sins?; What does the lack of specific confession do to your self awareness.; What is it like for you to offer to others and receive forgiveness? Which of your sins hurt those closest to you?; what does true forgiveness feel like?

Solitude | Practice #3

These are interesting days. For some of us who live alone, solitude is something we may be more familiar with than others. And yet even being alone, we find distractions to true solitude. As we are in this season of Lent even now, we remember that Jesus began His ministry with forty days in solitude. These were formative days for Jesus, as solitude can be for us as well. It gives God’s Spirit time and space to do some deep work with us. We need solitude to unmask our false self and open a space for God to reveal things to us we might not be able to see amidst our normal connections or preoccupations. In solitude we can embrace our true identity with Christ- we are His beloved. Solitude can be both a precious and sweet time with the Lord and it can also be a struggle, especially when we are seeking the Lord and don’t feel or sense He is with us. These times of testing, what some have called ‘dark nights’, are known to saints of old and most of us too! Solitude can be found even in the midst of other people. Set yourself a part: In another room, on a walk, for an hour or a day or a weekend.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We are afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.” How might this be true of you today?

Spiritual Practice: Solitude, leaving people behind and entering into time alone with God

Scriptures: I Kings 19:11; Lamentations 3:28; Mark 1:35

Practice Includes: Giving God space and time that doesn’t compete with social media, other people, noise or stimulation; Taking a retreat; Observing sabbath refreshment from constant interaction with others or information and or activities; Addressing your need to be seen or heard- FOMA; Communing with God alone- even while taking a jog or a walk by yourself; taking a retreat or practicing other disciplines alone…such as study or journaling or the examen.

Some potential fruits of this practice: Freedom…from needing to constantly live life in reference to others and from being constantly occupied or stimulated; quieting the internal noise to better be with and hear God; doing as Jesus did and letting the Lord speak and be available to listen and yield to the formative work God longs to do in you; the joy of hanging out with God!

A few questions to ponder about the practice: How, when and why do you resist or even avoid being alone? What are your greatest distractions when you seek solitude? What are ways you best hear God when you are alone or in solitude? What sense do you have of God when you are alone? Why do you think Jesus made stepping aside in solitude part of His regular spiritual practice?

 

Breath Prayer | Practice #2

We all take breath every day.

I often am known to say, “breathe deep the breath of God.” There are many different prayer practices. Breath prayer, sometimes also known as “prayer of the heart” has been practiced in the Church for centuries. The Apostle Paul says to pray without ceasing. Breath prayer is a practice to remind you that each and every breath is a gift from God and to focus on God’s Spirit in a brief and intentional way.

The most well-known breath prayer is called the “Jesus Prayer.”

It combines Luke 18:29 and Luke 18:13. Breath prayers help you pay attention to your breathing. You inhale- breathing in praying, “Jesus, Son of David”, and then you exhale- breathing out praying “have mercy on me a sinner.”

You can design or write your own breathe prayer, or follow this ancient one.

Another example of a breath prayer is:

Breathe in praying, “ABBA” and then breathe out, “I belong to you!” (This is my personal favorite)

…or

Breathe in praying, “Lord Jesus,” and then breathe out, “Here I am.”

Spiritual Practice: Breath Prayer

Scriptures: Acts 17:28; Psalm 62:1; John 14:23

Practice of Breath Prayer includes: Waiting on the Lord in an open and expectant/attentive way; Resting in and with Christ; Attending to the presence of the Holy Spirit with you; Releasing distractions to God and sitting in His presence

Some Potential Fruit of Breath Prayer: You get to keep company with Jesus; Bringing stillness to your life; Learning to listen to God; Living in greater awareness of your union with God; Taking a Scripture and learning it as you breathe it in and out; Resting in God’s presence and will and not your own; Releasing to God what consumes and bothers you; Developing a quiet center not attached to outcomes.

A Few Questions to Ponder: How does the thought of a repetitive prayer strike you? What are the pros and cons of this type of prayer for you? How do you practice what the Apostle Paul said to do- “pray at all times”? How might a breath prayer lead you into deeper communion with Jesus and other types of prayer?

-Rev. Dr. Care Crawford