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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual disciplines’

Nope. Not interested in enduring hardship. Sorry. Feels too much like self-flagellation. Suffer! Suffer! It’s good for you! I don’t want it. But doesn’t hardship come with life as much as joy? It is the human story.

Hebrews 12:7
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Perhaps it’s the coupling of the word “discipline” with hardship that sticks in my craw. I want to roll my eyes and say, “don’t do me any favors.”

I suppose, then, whether I like it or not, I need to examine my knee jerk reaction to discipline. I always think of discipline in terms of mistakes and wrongdoing. I get disciplined because I screwed up. Yuck.

But there is an aspect of discipline that I rarely consider and that’s regimen or training. My son recently finished Navy boot camp and he pretty much hated it. The constant demand for detail, for accuracy, for precision, and of course, long hours and hard work, were more than he thought he could handle. But he made it. He completed the challenge and once it was done, he knew he was better for it. It was rigorous and unpleasant at times, but he learned many lessons from the process.

There is a type of training that comes with becoming truly human. Not the human that is self-absorbed and striving for personal achievement and power, but the human who discovers the paradox of living like Christ. That human is different. And those hardships have to do with letting go.

These are the true hardships and once those are endured, the other perceived hardships like sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, loss of jobs, hunger, whatever . . . they are more easily lived through.

How can I keep this in my mind today? Discipline.

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Photo from Flickzzz

A two-part requirement is implicated in the advice of Phil 4:8 — First I must recognize what is true, virtuous and lovely while I consciously decide to “think on these things.” I must choose to move my mind there. And secondly I must put what I know into practice.

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This is one of those core messages from scripture, a bare bones instruction that can be followed and if, I could exercise such a truth, my world would be better.

This lesson is taught in secular circles as well. My daughter struggles with emotional swings that are fueled by her raging thoughts, sometimes from her difficult past before we adopted her and sometimes from her daily struggles. In any event, these mind games steal her sleep, her well-being, and her confidence. The process of moving the mind to another place is a discipline she is trying to learn, but it’s a slow kind of progress, the two steps forward and one step back kind of schlep through life.

But am I any different just because I understand it better? I do a lot of replays in my mind and I find my mind pulling up old scripts all the time. The holidays are often the worst: “Why does Christmas cheer depend on me?” “Why am I always placating everyone else?” “Why do I end up doing all the cooking, wrapping, cleaning, and planning?” “Can’t anyone help me pick up some pieces of the weight of our responsibilities?” “Will we always struggle financially?” “I don’t want to be poor again.”

Every one of these inner questions is laden with stories and history and images that can replay forever, if I allow them to start. They go from some sort of righteous indignation through a variety of pity parties to fear. It’s a sad, downward spiral. These are the gifts of an undisciplined mind.

And so, I must choose to set these thoughts, and others aside for a time when they can be addressed in the safety of my inner counselor, when my connection to Spirit is strong and lush. Not before.

Another trouble begins however if I don’t remember the second part: the practice of what I know. This is the part that supports my inner health so I’m not just putting my mind and my head in the sand forever. It is the practice of what I know that gives me the ability to move my mind both to AND from the harder elements of life on this earth.

Writing and praying and reading, these are three of the key disciplines in my life.

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Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to pray and to pray often. This is nothing new. What strikes me today is his additional caution to “be alert.” For what? There must be potential danger in the prayers of the spirit, those deeper prayers, the ones that emanate from the union of Holy Spirit and true me.

Ephesians 6:18
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

I started my Christian journey way back in the seventies. This was the time of explosive faith when many believers began seeking the signs and wonders [Acts 2:43]. What started on Azusa Street in 1906 with ecstatic spiritual experiences and the birth of the pentecostal movement, found mainstream acceptance in the charismatic movement that crossed all denominational lines. In both cases, the most conspicuous sign was speaking in tongues, officially known as glossolalia.

No different than my other faith contemporaries, I was speaking in tongues like the rest of them. To speak in tongues for long periods is like chanting or meditating, it clears the mind and allows the spirit to roam freely within. There is a strong feeling of communion with God. I have nothing particularly negative to say about tongues except for some of the abuses that have come out of this phenomenon as well-meaning people have attempted to “interpret” or “translate” tongue messages proclaimed loudly in public [see I Corinthians 12:9-13]. I am less confident of an accurate interpretation that seems to always start the same way: “my children, my children . . . ” or something like. Anyway, how does one interpret things of the Spirit in our 3-D world? I think that’s tricky. But, that’s for another time to consider.

Here’s my point: I assumed this scripture reference to “pray in the spirit” meant we should pray in tongues (many people began referring to tongue speaking as “praying in the spirit,” a more accessible phrase for those who disdain tongues as authentic in any form). And yes, tongue speaking would be included in this exhortation. However, what about the second part of the admonition, “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” I take the word “all” to heart here and believe the Spirit is to under gird and author ALL prayers, whether they are written down, flashed in fear, supplicated petitions, or anything else.

A prayer without Spirit participation has no power and presents no danger to the “dark world.” [Ephesians 6:12] It is only when we engage the Holy Spirit and our own personal spirits in prayer that there is a need to “be alert.” This is where the true place of battle is raging, where the true enemy plays and where the evil of our world is birthed.

I’m thinking there is a particular call on believers who are living in relative comfort compared to the rest of the world. We cannot expect those who are faithful and yet starving and struggling for their daily unmet needs to enter into this type of warfare. We, the wealthy, who have warm homes, cars, food for holiday feasts, and designer clothes, have no excuse for standing on the sidelines of this kind of prayer. I have allowed my busy life to excuse me. This cannot continue.

I want to be “in the game” as they say in sports lingo. I want a reason in my life for Paul to warn me to “be alert” in prayer. (And I don’t mean staying awake.)

Today is the last day of my food fast. After eighteen days, I have also come to the end of the book of Ephesians and I see clearly my charge for this upcoming Advent season and beyond. I began this fast journey when I recognized for the first time how my words and behaviors were grieving the Holy Spirit. The solution is working together with the Spirit in prayer, from within, authentically radiating love and faith and God, supported by practicing the presence and breaking open the barriers that evil causes pain, suffering, and isolation in our world. Amen.

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This phrase about grieving the Holy Spirit has always jumped out at me. Reverend Spurgeon said, back in 1859, that causing grief touches even the hardest hearts. But today, for the first time, I linked the cause directly to my mouth.

Ephesians 4:29-30a
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .

This revelation really clenches it for me: I must include “unconscious talking” into my fast.

I can just imagine the Holy Spirit within me, covering ears and thinking, “I can’t believe she really said that!” And then, crying. Doesn’t crying go along with grief?

Sometimes, there is anger too, and disappointment. There is helplessness in grief, because there isn’t much one can do to change the situation. And with grief, there is pain.

When a person is sorrowing, it is because of loss. And in that loss, there is love. But it’s love that is cut off, stopped, quenched, unresolved, blocked. . . for whatever reason.

So, whenever I speak out-of-hand, or gossip, or judge, there is a loss that happens there too. I am inching further away from my center where the Holy Spirit dwells. And the Holy Spirit is calling, reaching out to me, warning me, crying for me, whispering to me, but I am too focused on the outpouring.

Unlike fasting from food, which is relatively easy since the body is pretty good about reminding me about three to four times a day, “Hey, didn’t you forget something? Food! I need food!” But to fast from blabbing is more difficult. There won’t be any help for this one. It will be about mindfulness. It will be about “practicing the presence” of God. It will be about thinking before I speak. It will be about slowing down. It will be about listening.

And maybe, just maybe, if I can submit to this discipline, even for a short while, I will hear the angels singing after all.

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Why should I rely on God? Hmmm, that should be a no-brainer. You know, God, the who who raises people from the dead? God, the Spirit. God within. God of the kingdom: all there and available to me. And yet, I still try to to work it out alone, to go my own way.

II Corinthians 1:9b-11
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.

The faith walk includes a submission to the Spirit within.

The story of Eve, whether viewed as an actual event or an allegory, is about the decision a person must make, either to broker all knowledge alone and to “be like God” [Genesis 3:5] or to trust God and not necessarily understand everything that happens but follow all the same.

I believe there is world space different than the 3-D world we can see, touch, and smell. That world is Spirit.

But how do I connect to this “other” world? That is the whole point, isn’t it? That is the reason believers have been meeting together over the millenniums. That is the reason for the “spiritual disciplines.” That is the reason for prayer (inner talking and dialogue with Spirit). That is the reason for a Christ, the way.

What’s also interesting in this brief passage is the allusion to the prayers of others has having direct impact on the process. When I pray for another person on his/her journey, circumstances, and perils, I am actually helping that person stay on the path and recognize the way.

Sometimes it’s easier to rely on God to work and do for someone else than for oneself. It’s a good enough place to start. In either case, I must acknowledge God to be God and I may not understand all of that. In fact, I know I don’t. But revelation does not come without commitment and trust.

One cannot believe without a willingness to believe.

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