January 29, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Study

Study is the last of the spiritual disciplines that Richard Foster categorizes under 'Inward Disciplines'.  If one may have a favorite spiritual discipline, this is mine.

I believe all of the disciplines are of equal importance, each contributing to our intimacy with our God and our growth as His children.  Study is the place where we get to know the God who has revealed Himself by His Word.  Knowing the Word fuels our prayer and meditation with right thinking about the God.  Studying the Scripture forces us to grapple with Truth and our misconceptions.  Time spent in study is never wasted time; the same can be said of all the disciplines.

The discipline of study is different from simply picking up your Bible and reading a few verses each day.  You should read your Bible every day, yes indeed!  Study goes deeper.  It is setting aside more time to learn more about a passage or a book, bringing in commentaries and other resources to aid understanding.  Sometimes we read and think we understand, but after reading a few more times, considering the context, and making connections, we find a wealth of truth that we would have missed without extra study.

The Bible says we are transformed by the renewal of our minds and that we should think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, etc.  Where do we find the fuel?  Scripture.  New ways of thinking come from engaging our minds in thinking about the right things!  Did you know the Word of God is alive?  Did you know it is the source of hope?  Did you know it is useful for keeping us in line and showing us God's way, that we might be ready for every good work?  The Bible is more than just another book on the shelf!  We must take time to know it.

And now I must take time to issue a warning.  If you are like me and really enjoy study, there is danger in making the study and end in itself (a danger with any spiritual discipline).  Of course, as we study, we are gathering more knowledge about God.  Knowledge should fuel our worship, not our pride.  May God protect us and meet us as we learn from and about His Word.

My experience with study has been fruitful.  A handful of years back I began to consider working toward being speaker, the Bible-teaching kind.  In the process I realized that I needed to know the Bible to teach it, so I became more diligent and regular in my study.  I confess that I gravitate to this kind of thing, so it was not difficult to convince myself to do it.  But I did have to make the time.  I get up before my family pretty much every day, to have the space to read, pray, and think.  I love my family, but that time definitely is in the running for my favorite time of day.  In fact, I'm enjoying it now as I write!  What I have found to be the most wonderful effect of intentional, regular study of the Word is seeing how Scripture connects to itself and how consistent the God of creation and history is.  I love when the Spirit tickles my brain during a sermon, connecting something I've studied with what is being said from the pulpit.  The more I learn, the more connections "just happen."  Ta-da!  Study enables us to know God as He has revealed Himself.  As we get to know Him, He starts to change us, transforming us more into Christ's likeness.

Study changes our minds, which changes our hearts, which changes us.

I love these words from R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John 5.
"[Jesus's words] will take us into deep theological waters, but those deep theological waters are at the very heart of the faith of the Christian church, and it's because of these things that we come together to worship Him and to honor Him."

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100

January 22, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting

Yeah, so this topic.  I have never heard a sermon on fasting.  I remember doing some fasting in college, where we talked about it a little.  (College is a fun time in intentional Christian community, isn't it?)  But, goodness, I cannot write from experience about the discipline of fasting because it has never been a discipline in my life.  So I'll rely on Jesus and Richard Foster to give this post some worthwhile content.

I love Foster's definition of fasting, (which he draws from the Bible):  Fasting is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes.  He also points out that most often, fasting is a business between the individual and God, though of course there can be very beneficial times of corporate fasting (e.g. The Day of Atonement or a big Parish decision).  Throughout his chapter on the subject, Foster comes to the conclusion that while fasting is not a command, it is an expected and useful discipline in the life of a believer.  Jesus says (Matthew 6), "When you fast ...."  And it is grouped in with sermon points about prayer and giving, both of which we are familiar with as regular practices of devout Christian folks.

I knew about Jesus' words on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount; I had forgotten about another passage Foster cites, from Matthew 9.  People are wondering why Jesus' disciples are not fasting.  Jesus' reply?  How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.  Again here, as in chapter six, there's an expectation Jesus' followers will fast.


I suppose there are two primary reasons.  One, it helps us draw near to God.  Fasting causes us to look not to "the god of our stomach" but to the real, living, sustaining God.  Man cannot live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4) But we try to most of the time.  Routine fasting, like regular prayer and giving, is another opportunity to turn toward God and seek Him first - to repent and believe.  (I dunno about you, but I need all the help I can get keeping my eyes focused on my Lord.  There might be something to this fasting thing!)

The second reason for fasting is related to the first: because we love God.  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  (I John 3:1a)  Truly changed people want to live to honor, serve, and love their God.  All of the disciplines are opportunities not only to "have a better relationship with God," but also means by which we can express our affection for our Good Shepherd.

That second point (which just came to me in the midst of reading the Matthew 6 passage) really puts the squeeze on my affections.  I love food and build my life around it.  Do I love God more?  Enough to set it aside now and then because I do love Him?

A Warning
One strong warning comes with this discipline.  Can you spot it in here?
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  ~Jesus, Matthew 6:1, 16-18
Fasting is a righteous practice, for and to the Lord.  Our hearts are fickle; we're tempted to impress others with our religion.  Religion is not righteousness.  May we be mindful in our celebration of the disciplines to pursue righteousness for God's sake, not to be noticed by men.  Beautifully, these practices are often the very means by which our gracious Lord keeps us grounded and humble!

Foster concludes the chapter on fasting with this,

Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way.  It is a means of God's grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer.

I think he's right.  Maybe 2014 is a great year to give fasting a go!

Have a lovely day, friends.  We'll be hunkering down indoors, waiting out polar vortex number two!

PS  Foster has some specific guidelines for getting started in this discipline, to work your way from one day  of fasting to forty.  Intense, I know!  But also great practical advice for getting started.  I'll be giving away a copy of the book at the end of this little series, but if you can't wait to read more, here's a link to get yours now!

January 15, 2014

The Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer

After a too-long hiatus from Wednesday post about the Spiritual Disciplines, I'm going to be disciplined (har-dee-har-har) about getting these posts up each week.  You're aware, I'm sure, of how many books are available on prayer: types of payer, what prayer is, reasons for prayer, how to pray.  An Amazon search provides a list of options in the thousands!

Pondering this week's post, I thought I could give you a list of books I have found helpful and leave it at that.  You know, because those authors would all be more thorough and eloquent than I can be in a single post.  But some of you will never get around to picking up those books, because you have a billion other things you'd like to read.  I get it; so many books, so little time!  As such, today I want to give you the top things (I think) you need to know about this Spiritual Discipline.*

Heather's Top 3 Prayer Points

  1. We pray to a Person.  When we pray we address and listen to God.  He's alive; He's omnipresent.  He's also able.  Prayer is not sending vibes out into "the universe."  It is communication with the holy, almighty, living God, who has invited us into relationship with Him.  Mind boggling, right?!  Hallelujah!
  2. Prayer transforms us.  Prayer requires that we lay at God's feet all of the concerns, burdens, and fears that plague our hearts and minds.  Prayer also requires that we acknowledge God's worthiness and provision, offering up praise and thanksgiving.  Looking to God, remembering who He is, meditating on what He is capable of, and trusting Him with every aspect of our lives changes us.
  3. Prayer takes practice.  Richard Foster points out that prayer is something we learn to do.  The disciples said to Jesus, "Teach us to pray."  He is our teacher, too.  The more we read the Bible and ask Jesus to teach us to pray, the better we'll get at it.  By better, I mean prayer will become more natural and real, something we do no only at meal times, but throughout the day.

I don't think of myself as a "great prayer."  But I have seen my prayer life change throughout the years as God has worked on my hard heart, teaching me to lean on His grace and trust Him rather than on my own righteousness.  Prayer is not something we're supposed to get right.  It's the way we talk with God.  When I have a friend, I'm not concerned about getting my wording right all the time or putting in a specific amount of time to make the communication "just right."  No, I call or text when I think of them or want to hang out.  I send a word of encouragement because I love them.  Or I get them on the phone and pour out my heart when times are tough.

Relating to God isn't really much different, except (of course) that He has the power to change us from the inside out and answer our prayers in ways our friends can't!  The point of the illustration is this.  Take time to pray, not out of obligation, but to get to know God and to allow Him to help you to trust Him and to get to know yourself.  His availability and power are unmatched!

And He loves you.  (Breathe a sigh of relief as you melt into His embrace.)

Father, like the disciples, teach us to pray.  Teach us our utter dependency on You for all that we need.  Teach us gratitude when we want to complain and trust when we want to doubt.  As we pray, give us hope when we want to despair and confidence in Your love and care for us when we want to crumble in fear.  Thank you that Jesus prayed and taught His disciples to pray.  Remove from our hearts the desire to perform for you and replace it with a strong desire to live in freedom with You.  God, you are so good, so good, to us.  Forgive our sin this day.  Provide for our needs.  Fill our hearts with joy and thanksgiving, so we're ready to love and serve those we encounter today.  Thank you for opening the door for us so we can pray to You.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

*For more thoughts on prayer, pop over to these three posts from last summer that summarize a break-out session about prayer that I facilitated at a women's retreat in the spring.

January 11, 2014

Untitled, Because I Don't Know How To Title This One :)

Happy new year!

Writing, for me, is a funny thing.  When I take a break, I reach a point when I start to wonder if writing is something to which I should devote time.  I begin to believe there's little point in my "wordly" contributions, because so many are saying so much - and with greater eloquence than I.

But to obey, I must write, (and when I do, I really enjoy it).  My main struggles are prioritizing the various responsibilities in my life and fighting the perpetual desire to grab a snack and melt into the couch with my eyes glued to whatever Netflix has to offer me.  Also, when I ponder my "at home behavior," i.e. the real me, I can start to feel like such a fraud; Christian gals with blogs should have it more together and manifest more fruit of the Spirit than I do!

And so the evil one goes to work on us, doesn't he?  (For the record, I refuse to capitalize satan's name, even if it is grammatically incorrect; I can't give him the satisfaction.)  In all of our doubts and fears, there are grains of truth.  Yes.  But the great deceiver weasels his way in and distorts the truth, making us feel that we are beyond hope and our sin outside the reach of grace.  Furthermore, he works to undermine our very identity and calling, making us question who we are, whether anything we do matters, if we are lovable.


Isn't it good to be coming off of Christmas?!  God knew, from (even before) the deception and fall of Adam and Eve that He would have to do something, and He had a plan to rescue His people from that very evil one who prowls around looking for someone to devour.

One of my cousins sent out Christmas cards bordered festively in holly and evergreen sprigs with For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given printed in large font over most of the middle of the card.  I have appreciated having that reminder hanging on my wall as we have lived and moved about our kitchen over the last month.


God sent Jesus.  Jesus came.  Hope is here.

The evil one has no say in the life of God's children.  Are you letting him have a say in yours?  Where is he trying to beat you down?  Lift up your head and say to him, Excuse me, but 'unto us a child was born and unto us a son was given.'  That's Jesus, and He's the boss of me.  I am free from your tyranny, so be gone with you! 

Go on, say it out loud.  It'll feel great!

Well, I share all of this to say, "I'm back!"  Though it has also been lovely to take a break, I've missed sharing my heart with you and I'm looking forward to seeing where the Lord takes us in the coming year.


PS  Any suggestions for titles for this post?  I'll take 'em.