Archive | May 2013

Divine Reading: Hearing God’s “Still, Small Voice”

Lectio Divina is a Latin phrase meaning “divine reading.” Kevin Irwin defines Lectio Divina as “...a holy reading of the Scriptures…requiring prayerful reflection on the text leading to communion with God in prayer.” Evan Howard writes, “Lectio is not so much about reading a book as about seeking Someone,” or as Basil Pennington is quoted, “…lectio divina is: letting our Divine Friend speak to us through his inspired and inspiring Word.”

As part of the spiritual discipline of meditation, my wife and I practiced lectio divina yesterday before a time of prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines meditation as a time that “...lets us be alone with the Word…We ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us…We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally.”

The practice of lectio divina has four parts: 1) lectio (reading); 2) meditatio (meditating); 3) oratio (praying); and 4) contemplatio (contemplation).

First, one might read a chapter, collection of verses, or passage. Often this is done silently but might also be read aloud, allowing one to hear the words as well. Secondly, one should spend time repeating over and over and reflecting deeply on one or several selected verses. Thirdly, one recognizes that “understanding of the text must come from the Spirit who inspired it;” thus, as John Wesley wrote, “our reading should…be closed with prayer, that what we read might be written on our hearts.” Lastly, one sits quietly before God, having read, meditated, and prayed over His Word or the inspiring Words of one of His servants. During this time of contemplation one follows the teachings of George Whitefield who taught,

“We often pray best when we speak least. There are times when the heart is too big to speak…and perhaps the soul is never in a better frame than when, in a holy stillness and unspeakable serenity, it can put itself as a blank in Jesus’ hand, for him to stamp on it just what he pleases.”

Writing about Carthusian abbot, Guigo II and his twelfth-century classic, The Ladder of Monks, Muto summarizes Guigo’s description of the spiritual practice of lectio divina. She writes,

“Turning to the text in the initial act of reading, we pray that the Holy Spirit will open our hearts and enlighten our minds so that we may imbibe, beyond information, the formative meanings disclosed in the text, reading, so to speak, “between the lines” and remaining receptive to the ways in which the Holy Spirit can use the power of the word to touch and transform our lives. We abandon the potentially arrogant position of being a textual expert and become a disciple who not only reads but also prays with these words, who hears them not only in an auditory manner but also with the ears of the heart.” 

Recently, my wife and I turned to the Epistle lesson for the week, found in the Revised Common Lectionary.  The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of scripture readings, including an Old Testament passage, Psalm, Epistle lesson, and Gospel lesson each week.  Each year follows one of the synoptic gospels: Mark, Matthew, or Luke.  The Gospel of John is interspersed throughout the three years, especially during the Holy seasons like Lent and Easter. Over the three-year cycle, one reads through much of the Bible. Many Protestant churches use the Revised Common Lectionary as it follows the Christian year and helps churches and pastors not focus simply on familiar and comfortable Biblical texts or jump around helter-skelter in the scriptures. You can follow the Revised Common Lectionary at…

http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/lectionary-planning-helps

The scripture my wife and I focused on was Romans 12: 9-16.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevere in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

First, I read the scripture aloud several times, slowly as to hear each word, listening for the word or phrase that stuck out each time I read it.  What word or phrase was I drawn to each time I heard the scripture read?

The phrase that stood out for me was “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”  The phrase that stood out for my wife was, “…persevere in prayer.”

Since these two phrases or scriptures were back to back in the passage read, we focused on the two verses…”Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevere in prayer.”

I lifted these two verses up multiple times and we simply sat quietly, letting the words sink in, applying them to our current situations, issues, and emotions, letting the words speak to us.

Then we prayed, each taking turns, asking God to help us never to be “lacking in zeal,” to keep our enthusiasm, our “spiritual fervor,” for God’s work and His church, regardless of any struggles we might face.  We prayed that God would help us, through His Holy Spirit, to “persevere in prayer.” We prayed that God would allow our enthusiasm, our joy, our zeal to be contagious, helping others to get excited about all God is doing and can do.

Lastly, we sat for a few moments quiet, listening, before we said our morning prayers, lifting up our family, friends, and churches, along with our worries and concerns to God.

It is a simply process, yet extremely difficult for so many of us in our hurried pace and busy schedules.  What is difficult is that we need to be intentional about making the time.  What is difficult is we need to learn to be quiet for awhile and not talk, just listen for God to speak.   What is difficult is that sometimes what we hear through His Word, the phrase or scripture that will immediately connect with us, will also challenge us.  At times we will not like this.

Lectio Divina is a process to “chew” on God’s Word, allowing it to sink in and attempting to hear what God wants to say to us individually through His Word.  As with any practice, the more we do it, the more impactful and successful it will be.

Take time to sit with God this week.  Take time to practice the spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina.  Allow God’s Word to speak to you.  Allow God, Himself, the Creator of the Universe, to speak to you.

Rev. Drew M. Christian

Advertisements

Fruits Of The Spirit Only Possible Through The VINE

Thomas E. Trask and Wayde I. Goodall write,

As any vineyard or orchard owner knows, dried up, dead branches do not produce fruit, for the branches are unable to receive nourishment from the vine. If the branches are healthy and properly connected to the vine, however, so that nutrients can flow through them, they will produce fruit as healthy as the vine to which they are attached. Likewise, we will produce the kind of fruit that pleases God if we are connected to his Son. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). When our lives are totally committed to God and we are determined to obey him, we will bear the fruit of Christ because he is the Vine! We cannot help bearing all the fruit of the Spirit when we remain in him.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer, study (both biblical and devotional), meditation, solitude, silence, fasting, and vigil keeping, lead to a greater outpouring of  the “fruits of the Spirit” in one’s life.  As part of the journey my wife and I are traveling, it is our hope that the “fruits of the Spirit” will become more striking in our lives as we “gaze on the Son” and “drink deep draughts of God.”

This morning, my wife and I took two “fruits of the Spirit” assessments to see which “fruits of the Spirit” were most prominent and which ones might use some work. The first “Fruit of the Spirit Inventory” was created by Richard F. Houts, which has been taught and field tested. The inventory is distributed by the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. The second was a “Fruits of the Spirit Personal Assessment” developed by Epikos Church in Vancouver, Washington.

We will take these two assessments again at the end of our ten-week journey to note any changes.

It was interesting, in my case, that the two assessments contradicted each other.  On one assessment joy scored highest while on another joy scored lowest.  On one self-control scored lowest while on another self-control scored highest.  Meanwhile, my wife’s experience was less contradictory, lifting up patience, faithfulness, humility and love as the fruits she displays most often, and goodness, gentleness and self-control as areas that could be improved.

Remember, we find the “fruits of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5: 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV). These “fruits” are “the opposite of the destructiveness of the flesh (self-centeredness),” according to John Fenton. He writes, “They (the “fruits of the Spirit”) are the result of God’s Spirit, who brings unity out of people who would otherwise be divisive, and creates fellowship among those who might seek their own advantage. We all agree that the Spirit is the life of the church. Therefore, we must be in line with the Spirit, seeking unity with others, allowing the Spirit to produce his fruit in us.

Thus, we have to be connected to the vine.  Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15: 5-8, NIV).

All of us have areas we need to work on. All of us, at times, end up displaying “rotten fruit,” instead of the “fruits of the Spirit” as our “self” battles for control. We must give God control by connecting to the “vine,” and we connect to the “vine” through spiritual disciplines.

It is very exciting knowing that God is ready to enter our lives and fill us with His Spirit, making us more Christ-like, allowing us to experience His “peace that surpasses all understanding.” It is also very exciting knowing that as people see the “fruits of the Spirit” displayed in our lives, they will be attracted to that which shines from within us…they will be attracted to Christ.

Rev. Drew M. Christian

Practicing The Spiritual Discipline Of Prayer

Someone once said that when we work, we work; but when we pray, God works. It is difficult for God to work in someone’s life when they are walking around with their hands in their pockets, believing that they can handle life’s issues on their own. Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not To Pray, is emphatic when he states,

Prayerless people cut themselves off from God’s prevailing power, and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, overrun, beaten down, pushed around, defeated. Surprising numbers of people are willing to settle for lives like that. Don’t be one of them. Nobody has to live like that. Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power in your life.

Through prayer, one enters into what Clement of Alexandria described as a “dialogue with God.” In that dialogue one finds intimacy with the Creator as, not only does one draw near to God, but God draws near to them. In that dialogue, one takes further steps toward becoming like the Son and are involved more deeply in God’s plan for their lives, seeing their plans fade away into the mist. It is in such an intimate setting, alone with God, that one’s heart is opened to receive God’s strength and energy. It is at the feet of God that our lives, having stepped into and been touched by His presence, begin to burst forth the fruits of the Spirit.

One must remember as Richard J. Foster writes, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, that “For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked onto the periphery of their lives; it was their lives.” Yet in the hectic pace many keep, prayer falls by the wayside.

As my wife and I began to intentionally force ourselves to sit down together in the morning and at night to pray, we were blessed. We made sure to not create a “legalistic” rule and therefore did not “beat ourselves up” if we failed to pray one morning as we rushed out of the house or one evening as we fell exhausted into bed after the day’s activities. We simply got up the next day and continued to attempt to be very intentional about prayer together.

TESTIMONY:

My wife and I are in a period of transition. I have been reappointed to Janes United Methodist Church in Rising Sun, Maryland starting July 1st. We will be leaving Rock Hall, Maryland the end of June; therefore, these last two months are filled with packing, mixed emotions, and countless responsibilities as I, as a pastor, attempt to “finish well” at one Charge and “start well” at another. On top of the transition we face, our oldest son is graduating high school and getting ready to go to college in the fall. At this time in our lives, prayer is vital.

One of the major concerns we have had in this transition is where we are going to live in Rising Sun as the church there does not provide a parsonage, but instead provides us with a housing allowance. For several weeks, my wife and I looked at rentals in the area, only to have one door after the next shut. We finally found a rental in a beautiful neighborhood with a pool for our children and committed. Three weeks later it fell through.

We prayed everyday that God would help us with our housing situation. It was brought to our attention that we might buy a home and so we decided to explore that option. On discovering that we were approved for a loan, we went up to Rising Sun to look at a home to purchase.

My wife prayed that God would “shut all doors” except the one He wanted us to walk through. Doors were quickly shut in our search as homes we looked at were too expensive, needed too much work, or were too far from the church.

One home stood out. It was a small rancher, with a basement and garage, in a family-friendly neighborhood, half mile from the church. It was brand new, never lived in, and we quickly fell in love with it.

So we made an offer. It was immediately turned down with no counter-offer made. We increased our offer by $8,000 and that offer was immediately turned down with no counter-offer made. My wife and I were at a standstill. What do we do? There were no other houses available that would work for us. We loved this house and felt God had led us to it. Yet, the door was closing.

Through prayer, my wife felt God telling her to “be still,” to “sit and wait.” Over and over God led her to listen to the song, “Help Me Find It,” by Sidewalk Prophets.

They sing, “If there’s a road I should walk…Help me find it…If I need to be still…Give me peace for the moment…Whatever Your will…Whatever Your will…Can you help me find it.” They sing, “I will trust in You…You’ve never failed before…I will trust in You.” My wife quoted these words to her worrying husband many times throughout the week.

I wanted to up the offer again and fight to get the house. But my wife told me again that she felt God was telling her that we should “be still,” to “sit and wait.” So we told the Realtor to let the seller know we were going to sit on our last offer and begin to look at other homes. And we prayed.

The next day was Sunday and I was getting ready to step into the pulpit at Rock Hall United Methodist Church. Three minutes before I stepped into the pulpit, my phone vibrated and I glanced at the message. The seller had reconsidered, called, and accepted our second offer. I was able to announce to my wife, along with the congregation, that God had answered our prayers. We were to become homeowners in Rising Sun.

My wife reminded this impatient preacher of a scene in the film, The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf, the wizard, arrives on the scene. He says, “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” God, as well, is never late, nor is He early. God arrives precisely on time. And what surperb timing as my wife received a tremendous Mother’s Day gift…a home.

Prayer not only held us together during a stressful time, but prayers were answered and God moved. What is most important to remember is not that God answered our prayers by providing us a home in Rising Sun, but that through the process my wife and I drew closer to our Creator, our Heavenly Father, as well as closer to one another. To draw closer to God and one another is a much greater reward than any house. To drink “deep draughts” of God is greater than any blessing the world can give.

Rev. Drew M. Christian

Adopting A “Rule of Life”

Kenneth Boa, in his book, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation states, “we have bought the illusion that we can be like Christ without imitating his spirituality. If we wish to be like our Master, we must imitate his practice; if we believe he knew how to live, we must seek the grace to live like him.” Furthermore, Boa pulls no punches in stating that it is

absurd to think that we could excel at any sport such as golf or tennis without investing the needed time, training, and practice. But when it comes to living the Christian life, we suppose that we are doing well if we attend church and open a Bible once or twice a week. If believers expended the same time and energy cultivating their spiritual lives as they are willing to invest in becoming reasonably skillful at any sport or hobby, the world would look with wonder at the power of the body of Christ. We desire to know Christ more deeply, but we shun the lifestyle that would make it happen.

Boa’s words struck the heart of this researcher and pastor as he continues,

There is no shortcut to spiritual formation…Scripture encourages us to continually press on toward the goal and to reach forward to what lies ahead so that we may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us (Philippians 3: 12-14). This requires a life-long commitment to the disciplines that Jesus, the apostles, and godly followers of the Way have practiced through the centuries. None of the people whose spiritual vitality we have admired regarded these disciplines as optional, and it would be naïve to suppose that we are history’s first exceptions.

The phrase “rule of life” comes from “the rule that governed each religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Among other matters, it described a pattern of life, a communal spirituality that came to distinguish a particular order from others.” The most famous rule was the Rule of St. Benedict composed by Benedict of Nursia for his monastery around AD 540.

Benedict’s rule dealt with everything from times for prayer, meals and sleep, to how one was to relate to the world outside the abbey. St. Benedict believed that when “we awaken to our life with God, our spiritual senses come back to life. But this awakening must follow a process guided by the sources of the spiritual life,” including scripture, the writings of saints, self-examination, active engagement in the community, and cultivating humility.

Following Easter Sunday, I sat down with my wife and we wrote out a “rule” that we would attempt to follow over a ten-week period. Harold Miller’s, Finding A Personal Rule of Life, was invaluable in giving suggestions for writing one’s own “rule.”

Our “rule” included weeks of reading and practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation (especially Lecto Divina), silence, solitude, fasting and vigil keeping. Our “rule” called for specific periods of time; for example, “Will attempt to pray together 20-30 minutes, twice a day, and individually 10-15 minutes, twice a day, beginning each time of prayer with a Psalm.” The hope is that such intentionality will push us to develop new habits, becoming closer to Christ as we practice “gazing at the Son,” as we practice drinking “deep draughts of God.”

Rev. Drew M. Christian