Tag Archives: spiritual disciplines

Spiritual Athletics To Strengthen Your Relationship With Jesus

During the fourth century, hundreds of ascetics sought to escape temptation by punishing their bodies and living as hermits. The extremes they endured in order to deny the gratification of their “physical lusts” seem incredible.

St. Ascepsimas wore so many chains that he was forced to crawl around on his hands and knees. Besarion, a monk, would not give in to his body’s desire for restful sleep—for forty years he refused to lie down while sleeping. Macarius the Younger sat naked in a swamp for six months until mosquito bites made him look like a leper. St. Maron spent eleven years in a hollowed-out tree trunk. Others lived in caves, dens of beasts, dry wells—even tombs.

The most celebrated ascetic, though, was Simeon the Stylite of Syria. He spent 37 years living on different pillars, each one higher and narrower than the last. His final pillar stood 66 feet high.

Whenever anyone mentions “spiritual disciplines” to me, the aforementioned images come to mind. Perhaps my distaste for them results from the ulcer I once developed while going on an extended fast.

Recently, while researching the meaning of Lent for church, I ran across some online articles explaining that Lent usually involves different spiritual disciplines (like fasting, prayer, silence) that help us keep our sinful nature in check.

Ughh, I thought to myself. Please…you can keep your hair shirt!

But then the realization occurred to me: more than keeping our sinful nature in check, Lent is about connecting to God. For 40 days, we make a concerted effort to deepen our relationship with our Maker. Mortifying the flesh, while important, doesn’t occur by focusing all of our energies on mortifying our flesh. Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that focusing all their energies on not drinking only drives them further toward the bottle.

Drinking deeply of Jesus, though, makes any other substitute seem like a poor knock-off.

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Interestingly enough, those well-known people who mortified their flesh are called “ascetics.” You know what English word comes from “ascetic”? Athletics. Through the spiritual disciplines we engage in spiritual “athletics” that strengthen our relationship with God.

This Lenten season, if you choose to choose to practice a spiritual discipline, focus on Jesus—not your sin.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1–2

Disciplines of Abstinence:

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement:

  • Study
  • Worship
  • Celebration
  • Service
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Confession
  • Submission

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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Glenn Beck (in the black trunks) versus Jim Wallis (also in the black trunks)

Jim Wallis

Glenn Beck

Conservative Fox TV commentator and rabble rouser Glenn Beck and liberal rabble rouser and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis recently faced off in a theological boxing match. Beck threw a right hook saying “social justice” and “economic justice” are code words for liberal wealth redistribution and that they are not biblical ideas. Wallis responded with a left undercut claiming social justice is core to Scripture and said Beck was “strange” or greedy.

It’s not a heavyweight bout, according to Peter Wehner. “Neither man will be mistaken for [theologian] Reinhold Niebuhr,” Wehner wrote. Now in the late rounds both men continue to throw punches but not land many.

It’s too bad though, because justice is a heavyweight issue, one that God seems very concerned about.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Isaiah 57:15-59:21

Philippians 1:1-26

Psalm 71:1-24

Proverbs 24:9-10

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Philippians 1:1-26: Some scholars consider Philippians a support thank you letter. The church in Philippi was close to Paul and supported him. He is now in prison and wants to reassure them their ministry to and through him was not in vain. “I will continue to rejoice for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus . . . Christ will be exalted in my body.”

Imagine how those friends of Paul mourned when he was eventually martyred. Imagine too how they rejoiced when they were reunited after death and they saw and heard how their care and friendship made an eternal difference. Today God uses your prayers, financial support, and love for friends in difficult callings and ministries. Be encouraged. Your “partnership in the gospel” is making an eternal difference too.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Wallis and Beck: who wins the bout? Both and neither.

Speaking through Isaiah God tells us, “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline that, with each hunger pain, reminds us of our need for God’s sustenance.  But in this passage it can also be a more general symbol of an empty spiritual belief that produces little or no true reliance on God or caring for one another.

The religious people in Isaiah’s day knew the right practices (worship, prayer, fasting, ritual cleanliness) a person who loved God and his neighbor was supposed to engage in. Too often, however, these practices were devoid of faith in action. And just like today they failed to grasp the heart of the issue.

“Is this not the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”

See! Social justice, Jim Wallis may claim. And it’s true. God wants our faith to translate into social justice for the poor and homeless and hungry. God has chosen to provide for the needs of others through us.

But what about breaking the yoke and freeing the oppressed? Beck might ask. True again. overdependence, the yoke, is the first step toward bondage and oppression whether that overdependence is fostered by family members, religious rules, the workplace, or governments. God wants no false provider–idol–or false provision to bind us and come between us and our True Provider.

What’s more, might it work this way? What if in sharing my food with the hungry, shelter with the homeless, and clothes with naked, I depend less on my own wealth and ability? Instead I must turn to God to provide what I gave away. I am fasting from my abundance and as I pour myself out, I am filled with faith.

So too the needy (of which I am one, just in a different way). They turn to God for provision and God’s provision comes without expectation of repayment through me–or you. Their fasting, their hunger, is filled and produces faith.

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say,

‘Here am I,’” saysGod to the hungry.

“And if you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed . . .

You will be like a well-watered garden

like a spring whose waters never fail,” God reminds the well fed.

We wish the world were black and white: Beck and Wallis. It’s not. But it’s not a forlorn, indistinct gray either. Fasting, giving, needing, praying in faith, whether expressed from the heights of God’s provision or the depths of our need is bright, colorful, alive. Faith, without which there is no making God smile, is what rich and poor, Beck and Wallis, me and you seem to need most. The good news is God has an endless supply of faith for us.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. What did the four have in common?
  3. What spiritual practice fills you with the most faith?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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In The Stillness

Six weeks ago, I embarked on a 5-day trip to Taos, New Mexico for some extended time alone with God. To my delight, I stayed in a beautiful house nestled on the side of a mountain overlooking the city while some relatives were out of town.

Immediately upon entering the house, I said to myself, It sure is quiet in here. No one yelling. No one telling me what to do. Apart from an occasional dog barking in the distance, the stillness was deafening.

That night as I prepared for bed, I started freaking out. Every errant sound transformed itself into an imaginary wild animal or fugitive attempting to break into the house. As I turned off the lights, I checked to make sure the bedroom door was locked.

Obviously, nothing happened, but I soon realized how ill-equipped I am to cope with silence.

Join me today as we look at the benefit of silence.

TODAY’S READING

1 Kings 19:1-21
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 136:1-26
Proverbs 17:14-15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Kings 19:1-21. After serving as the instigator in a dramatic showdown between Yahweh and Baal, Elijah heard Jezebel had sent men to kill him…so he ran. The explanation of why Elijah ran after such a significant “God encounter” has always escaped me—so if you have some insights, please join the conversation.

Elijah shows us that no matter how powerful or godly a person may appear, everyone stands on feet of clay.

This passage is rife with parallels between Elijah and Moses—both stood on Mt. Horeb (Ex 3) and both possibly hid in the same cleft of the rock as God appeared (Ex. 33).

Acts 12:1-23. Two elements about this story of Peter’s dramatic release from prison struck me as I read this section from the Bible.

  1. The people prayed earnestly for Peter’s release. Verse 5 tells us that “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” In prayer, we ask God to intervene in our everyday circumstances. This may seem pretty basic, but all too often, I witness heartless prayers that seek nothing tangible from God. It’s okay to ask God for something!
  2. The people were surprised when God answered their prayer. After the servant girl announced Peter was at the door, they remarked, “You’re out of your mind.”

Psalm 136. This psalm served as a recitative prayer between the leader and the people. And what is the theme? God’s love endures forever. Sometimes we need to keep reminding ourselves of this because we so easily forget. By tracing various examples of everyday life and Israel’s history, we begin to see the breadth and depth of God enduring love.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

If God could throw lightening from heaven and bring an end to a overwhelming drought, surely he could defend Elijah from lowly Jezebel. Nevertheless, after serving as the instigator in God’s show of superiority over Baal, Elijah was burned out and desperate. He ran for his life in fear of Jezebel’s threats and then pleaded for God to take his life. So fearful was he that Elijah ran to Beersheba, the southern region of Judah on the edge of the desert. Surely Jezebel’s troops couldn’t find him there.

Elijah desperately needed an encounter with God. He needed something that would prove God was there, and that he cared. And where else should he go but the same place Moses had encountered God 650 years earlier?

There, standing on the side of Mt. Sinai (also called Mt. Horeb), Elijah waited for an experience with God he could call his own.

A powerful wind blew across the mountain.

An earthquake shook the ground underneath his feet.

Fire raged all around him.

But God wasn’t present  in any of these “manifestations.”

How often do we ask God for dramatic experiences? Maybe you don’t, but I do. I want him to rescue me, heal me, deliver me. And I want it NOW!

While he has the power to do any of these—and sometimes he does—he usually appears to us in the same way as he did to Elijah.

The NIV translation of the Bible says that God spoke to Elijah in a “gentle whisper.” Most scholars, though, translate the word as “silence.”

A deafening silence.

Interestingly enough, the writer of 1 Kings tells us that Elijah heard it (see 1 Kings 19:13). Then out of the silence, God asked him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah’s answer reveals his good intensions as well as his skewed view of reality. God then gave him direction and courage to continue.

In an age of overstimulation, the idea of being still and silent is frightening. Yet perhaps that’s exactly what we need.

When we turn down the volume of the many voices vying for our attention, we create room for God to speak to our hearts.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How do you feel about spending time alone in silence? What prevents you from this important spiritual discipline?
  3. Why do you think it’s important to God?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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