The need to begin and begin again is universal; it is basic to the disciplined life. In his sermon entitled, "Christian Repentance," John Henry Newman writes, The most perfect Christian is to himself but a beginner, a penitent prodigal, who has squandered God's gifts..." Over and over we must make clean breaks, fresh starts, and new beginnings.
In a recent study of the days following Jesus' death and resurrection, I found it interesting that on the evening of the resurrection, Thomas was the only one of the 11 disciples not gathered together. The other 10 were together, probably consoling each other, perhaps trying to encourage each other, trying to make sense of it all. This was the darkest time in their three-year history with Jesus, perhaps even the darkest time in their entire lives, yet Thomas was absent. Where was he? Why was he alone missing at this critical moment? Could it be that Thomas was so disillusioned by the events of the last three days that he had thrown in the towel?
If you read John 20:24-25, you find hard, bitter words flowing from Thomas' heart. You can almost hear the despair and lost hope. It's as if he was saying,“It wasn’t supposed to end this way. This is too much for me. It’s over. I’m done.”
And yet moments later, Jesus meets Thomas in his unbelief. He meets him at the very point of his defiance. He says to him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
What I find so encouraging is that Thomas’ doubts didn’t separate him from God. Instead, God was willing to meet him in his doubt.
We mistakenly think our doubts separate us from God. That isn’t true! Wherever we struggle with doubt, God wants to meet us there.
- Maybe we waiver at times even believing that God is real. Christianity is under constant assault by those around us as being archaic and irrational. I have a friend who recently said she has to periodlically "reconstruct" the foundation of her faith in God. I've done the same thing. Yet God wants to show himself real to us and is willing to walk with us through that doubt.
- Maybe we have a hard time believing that God has really forgiven us, since we sometimes can’t forgive ourself. God wants to remind us of his perfect sacrifice for our sins.
- Maybe we have a hard time believing that God can really change us. Especially if we've struggled for a long time with a stubborn sin or an obstacle we've been unable to remove in our faith. God never gives up on us and wants to meet us in our discouragement.
Whatever our struggle of doubt is, and don’t worry, we all struggle with doubt in one way or another, know that Jesus’ willingness to engage Thomas in his doubt is the assurance that he will meet us in ours.
My journey of prayer has been just that: a journey. It you had asked me a couple years ago if I was satisfied with my prayer life, I would have said "no" without needing much thought. Yet today, if you asked me the same question, I'd say that it has become a significant part of who I am and what I do in my walk with God. What has changed? I gave that question some thought recently and came up with a short list of the dynamics that have brought about the transformation. Perhaps you'll find them helpful.
Prayer is a relationship. It is not a task, a "to do" or a discipline. It is a natural outgrowth of a relationship I have with God. Because I love God and he loves me, we talk. I try not to miss talking with him. We talk about all kinds of things. I spend time with him alone, but also I connect with him many times throughout the day. In that sense, our conversation mirrors another person in my life whom I dearly love--my wife. As my relationship with God develops and matures, so do our talks. I become more transparent. I listen better. I express my feelings more easily. I receive what he says more willingly. Prayer has become a presence, a sacred experience that is woven throughout my day.
Prayer is a creative experiment. I have used many tools and methods of prayer to see which ones fit me best and help me to connect to God most naturally. I have prayed inside, outside, in the woods, in the dark, prostrate on the floor, with candles burning or gregorian chants playing in the background. I have used scripted prayers, written my own prayers, worshipped with music and worshipped in silent. I have become a prayer enthusiast, realizing that the creative God who made this amazingly diverse world, does not have just one way to enter his presence. It has been wonderfully enjoyable!
Prayer works best with Scripture. As I have grown in my prayer experience, I find myself using Scripture more and more to help me allow God to set the topic of our talk. As I read the Psalms or the Gospels or the epistles, I allow God's Word to direct our conversation. As I read Psalm 121, as I did this morning, I allow it to direct my thoughts to God's care over my life, my own fears and uncertainties, my need for his security, and how I can allow him to be my watchful shepherd in the circumstances and challenges of my day.
As I journaled some of my thoughts this morning, I sensed an inward recognition that God has indeed helped me to grow closer to him over the last number of months. And I also sensed his pleasure in the formation that is taking place.
Last week my wife and I attended the Renovare National Conference in Houston, TX. It was a great few days being exposed to new ideas, insights and practices around spiritual formation. On the first day, I attended an all-day intensive titled, "Crafting a Rule of Life." It was led by Steve Macchia of Leadership Transformations using material from his book of the same name.
For those not familiar with a "rule of life," it provides fences, safety, or perhaps boundaries within which we can roam freely and enjoy LIFE. Not intended to be harsh or burdensome, it's instead life-giving as it brings clarity to the life that God desires for us.
"Discovering one’s personal rule of life will change the trajectory of your life. It will realign your days. It will focus your attention on the Author of life and will create for you the deepest possible connection to God’s assignment for you."
I deeply desire that for my life with God. My wife and I plan to begin this journey together and invite our three adult sons to join us. I'll be posting some thoughts about our experience in this space in the weeks to come.
Over the last few months I've spent some time composing a prayer based on various sources, that I've used in the mornings to jumpstart my daily walk with God. It's a launching pad for me that guides me into the areas I really want to give attention. I'm posting it in case you might want to use it or tweak it for your personal needs.
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Prayer of Adoration
LORD, I lift up my soul to you. Help me to understand your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. My heart says, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I now seek. I will watch for you all day long. Give ear to my words, O God; listen to the sound of my cry as I pray to you.
Confession of Sin
Lord, please bring to my mind my failures of faith and holiness. I acknowledge that I am a sinner and in need of forgiveness. Both consciously and unconsciously, I fail to live up to your truth and righteousness. Trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus as the atonement for my sin...
- I confess both what I’ve done wrong and what I should have done differently:
- I confess my struggles with weakness and temptation:
May your mercy and grace, purchased through the eternal blood of Jesus my Savior, wash me of all my guilt and renew in me the joy of your presence.
Prayer for Spiritual Formation
Lord, grant me the ability and grace to keep you before my mind at all times. Help me to replace destructive thoughts with thoughts that are pleasant to my soul and allow me to apply my thinking to the Word of God and experience the renewing of my mind.
Father, help me to realize that my feelings do not have to be fulfilled. Help me to turn quickly from feelings that lead to temptation and sin. May my feelings be my servant, not my master, and may I cultivate feelings of love, joy and peace and extend those feelings to others.
Father, help me to have a will that is single-minded and joyously devoted to you. Help me to constantly be aware that my heart is open and transparent to you. May I find contentment with the will of God and in the circumstances that have fallen to me, and may this produce gratitude and joy in my life.
Father, I present my body to you as a living sacrifice and act of worship. My body belongs to you. Therefore, I will not worry about sickness, aging or death— for those things are in your power. I will not use my body- my hands, voice, eyes and feet, to satisfy the desires and sins of the flesh. Cause the peace of your Spirit to bring true rest to my body throughout the day.
Father, help me to love my wife and family physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Help me to find and nurture deep connections with others that nourish my soul. Through humility, lead me to abandon all practices of trying to “look good” to others and instead seek ways to serve them. Keep me from being indifferent to the well being of others and help me to remember that all my relationships affect my relationship with you.
I acknowledge my soul as the inner stream of water giving strength, direction, and harmony to every other element of my life. I acknowledge its wounded condition through sin and disobedience, yet I pray that my mind, body, feelings and will can be coherently drawn together by my soul to form a life that is whole and devoted to you. Teach me to hear the cries of my soul and to nurture it wisely with humility and the Word of God.
Intercession for Others
Father, I know that you are committed to me and you’re concerned about my life and world. As I keep company with you, help me to have your perspective on the world around me and the people in it. Help me to listen to your Spirit as I intercede, and I trust that my imperfect words will be filtered through the Holy Spirit. As I pray for people and their needs, I picture myself bringing them to you and leaving them in your care.
Thought you might like to peek at what we're currently offering at Fairhaven Church in our spiritual formation ministry.
EQUIP: To become spiritually formed by the Spirit and grace of God
Fairhaven's Equip ministry is designed to provide the opportunity for every adult, whether seeker or believer, to become spiritually formed by the Spirit and grace of God through study, interaction and application.
My latest message delivered at Faithaven Church as part of the December sermon series, God So Loved that He Gave.
What are the sacred routines of our faith in Christ? i.e. things that we are called on by God to do routinely-regularly, willingly, spiritually, sacrificially?
Let’s start with the obvious…One would be church.
Being in church each week is a sacred routine--which is what is demonstrated in the Book of Acts and what’s instructed in the other Epistles.
What other routines set us apart as Christ-followers?
- Prayer is a sacred routine.
- Bible study is a sacred routine.
- Giving is a sacred routine.
- Serving is a sacred routine.
I use the word sacred because these routines aren’t mechanical or institutional--we don’t do them without thinking. They’re sacred--they’re infused with spiritual meaning because they flow out of our relationship with God.
The ones mentioned above are very basic. Once we can get those embedded in our lives so that they’re part of the rhythm of who we are, then we can move on to other sacred routines:
- Being in community in a small group
- Scripture memorization
- Various other Spiritual Disciplines
Our devotion to God through sacred routines is a doorway that opens us up to what God really wants to do inside each one us!
Spiritual disciplines are activities that are in our power and that enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. We cannot transform our ideas and images, or even the information in our mind [in other words, our "heart"], by direct effort. But we can adopt certain practices that, by indirect action, will increasingly produce that effect.
Even in cases where, through no fault of my own, there must be a struggle between me and others, there does not have to be a struggle within me. I may have to resist others, for some good reason, but even so I do not have to make things come out right. I am not the one in control of outcomes. I do not have to hate those whose course of action I resist, or even get mad at them, and so I can always be at peace within myself as well as toward them.