I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.
I have not spent a week with Trappist Monks, though I know some preachers who have. Neither do I have a spiritual adviser I talk to regularly, although I know other ministers who depend upon a relationship like this. Still, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
I’m tempted to leave this space blank as a tribute to literary silence, but that wouldn’t help anyone very much. In Habakkuk 2 the prophet describes idol worship as a waste of energy, but he concludes that list by saying “But the Lord is in his holy temle; let all the earth keep silence before him.” So often we come into God’s presence and rush to pour out our hearts to him. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it also seems reasonable just to silently absorb his presence and then talk with him. There’s little virtue in treating God like a giant vending machine in the sky and all we have to do is walk in and punch the right buttons to have what we want come down the chute. “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.“
When I was in campus ministry we held a retreat one year that included different stations of spiritual disciplines. One of those was silence. We blackened a room and over 15 minutes nothing was said but every 5 minutes the facilitator read a verse relevant to our theme for the weekend. I’m not suggesting you need to blacken your room, but silence does require the removal of distractions. It’s also a good idea but not a necessity to have a Scripture or thought to guide your silence.
Our time of silence can take place in a blackened room. It can equally occur in a park with kids playing on a nearby playground, or next to a lake just watching the waves. At night, gazing at a the stars is a good time for me to be silent with God.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from Randy Harris book Soul Work (p126). He spent 40 days in mostly silence with some real life hermits in southern Texas. This chapter shares some of his experiences and observations. He refers to silence as “listening prayer”.
As you enter into this listening prayer and being with God, you are going to have all sorts of intuitions, urges, and feelings. Not all of those are the Holy Spirit. You have to be discerning. When you think that God is calling you to do something, one of the things yo do is take it back to God in prayer. The other thing you do is open up to the community for their discernment too. That’s why prayer is both a personal and a communal experience.
When I think God is calling me to do something other than what I’m doing, one of the first things I want to do is to gather four or five people around me who know me well, who love God deeply and who love me. I’;m going to say, “I think this is what God is calling me to do. I want you to start praying over this and I want us to see what we have here.” Because I am so self absorbed, there is virtually nothing that I cannot talk myself into and make it turn into the will of God. And the only protection I have against that willfulness is the wisdom of the community. Continue to pray over it, offering it up to the community for discernment.
Silence is a type of fasting. If you’re not ready for full-blown silence, you might attempt a period of hours or days without something that adds noise to your life: Internet, cell phone, television, etc. (not spouse and kids!) and make the effort to fill that space with some God time.
This one is my own invention, which doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t proposed it, I just don’t remember hearing about it before. 🙂
At practically every church service I’ve ever attended, as soon as the closing “Amen” is said, the conversation turns to family, football, lunch, weather, holiday plans, school, almost anything except the service everyone just experienced for the last 60-90 minutes.
When do you talk about God?
More specifically, when do you talk about your relationship with God?
Is that a weekly, monthly, annual event, or not at all? Who do you talk with?
I think women will generally find this easier. Men generally have a hard time discussing things like emotions and relationships. Unfortunately, spiritual health gets lump into that same bundle. It takes discipline to share our spiritual victories and struggles with others. Yet the biblical picture of the church is of one who aches and rejoices together when one member experiences pain or triumph.
John Eldredge (Wild at Heart, 174-5) teaches men,
Don’t even think about going into battle alone. Don’t even try to take the masculine journey without at least one man by your side. Yes, we need men to whom we can bare our souls. But it isn’t going to happen with a group of guys you don’t trust, who really aren’t willing to go to battle with you.
My take away from that is the importance of investing in relationships to develop trust so that we care share our spiritual journey. Don’t just grab the first guy or girl you see. Choose someone you can trust to provide insight and feedback on your life and relationship with God.
In the book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” (p224), David Murrow states that
Men comprehend relationships in terms of activity. Ken has his work buddies, his fishing buddies, his football buddies and so on. Ken would never approach another man and say, “Hey Roger, can we have a relationship?” Such a request would arouse suspicion, because it’s not expressed in terms of activity. Instead Ken would say, “Hey Roger, let’s go fishing.” Ken and Roger could go fishing every weekend for thirty years and never describe what they have as a relationship.
So if you’re a guy looking to find a spiritual support system, find some other Christian blokes that you can do things with and go for it. But make sure you’re intentional about discussing your faith. It’s real easy to spend 5 hours riding around with someone in a golf cart and never have a meaningful conversation.
HERE is an interesting article I came across on the value of Spiritual Conversations. The article also has some tips on what makes a productive Spiritual Conversation as a mentor.
If we can’t discuss our faith and our relationship with God with other Christians, how on earth do we ever hope to share the Gospel with the non-Christians in our lives?