Today’s post is our last discussion of spiritual disciplines. We will be discussing inward disciplines. These are probably the most recognized spiritual disciplines. The inward disciplines function between you and God. They are ways to connect you directly to God. But their jobs are not designed to stop there. Interactions with God should change us, should inspire us. While these spiritual disciplines are primarily focused on building our relationship with God, we should see changes in our life because of the growth of that relationship.
The first inward discipline I want to discuss is meditation. Meditation can be a touchy subject in Christianity because it is tied so heavily to the Eastern religions and New Age thinking. But Meditation has played a role throughout Scripture.
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Meditation holds a firm place in the spiritual disciplines. Meditation is a common practice throughout many religions. Christian meditation differs from the meditation of some other religions because it not only focuses on clearing the mind, it also focuses on filling the mind. It is a process of emptying and refilling.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
It is not good enough to just clear your mind of distracting or bad thoughts because, without proper attention, those thoughts will return. Proper meditation should help tear down some of the walls we have placed up so that we can find ourselves closer to God. We should be clearing our lives of distractions and wrong motives, and then filling them with the thoughts and actions of God.
Mediation on self is all about focus. To fill our lives with things of God we must first be able to see the things of God. Mediation slows down our life enough for us to focus on the things of God: things that He has created and things He has done. As we meditate on our lives, how we act, think, and speak, we can begin to see if our lives are properly reflecting God. This allows us to understand what should stay and what needs to be cleared from our lives. Through self-meditation, we learn what needs to be cleared to allow space for God in our lives.
Meditation on Scripture is all about filling. Once we clear spaces in our lives they cry out to be filled. If we do not fill them with God, they will be filled by other things, some neutral, some bad. Scripture-meditation allows God’s word to speak into our lives and tell us how to model our lives after Him and His son. We were created to reflect God, scripture-meditation is an important step to understanding how to do that.
Mediation is a process that connects the body, mind, and soul to allow us better focus on God and solidify in our mind, heart, and lives what God shows us. Our bodies are meant to move, our minds are meant to think, and our souls are meant to apply meaning. We were not created as static, stationary characters in the Christian Narrative, we were created with purpose and with a desire to do. But sometimes we are moving in the wrong direction. Sometimes we need to slow down and rest as God did on the seventh day of creation. Sometimes we need to quiet our mind so we can hear the words God is trying to speak to us. This is the purpose of Meditation.
Below are some questions for you to reflect upon as you begin to incorporate meditation into your life.
- When do you find it easiest to focus your heart and mind? When do you find it hardest?
- How might the tendency to do everything quickly (e.g. to instantly google answers, to text people and receive an immediate response) affect your ability to meditate and focus on God?
- What are some ways you can meditate in your life? (below are a few examples)
- Sitting in God’s creation
- How can you mediate specifically on God and on Scripture?
- How can you mediate specifically on Other People?
- How can you mediate specifically on God’s Creation?
“And whenever you fast, do not become like the sad hypocrites; for they make their faces unsightly so that they may always be seen fasting by men; truly I say to you, they receive their reward in full. But when you are fasting, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that you may not be seen fasting by men but by your Father, the one in secret; and your Father, seeing the thing in secret, will reward you.”
Fasting can be a very loaded word that evokes many types of reactions. For some of you, it might be as bad as a curse word. For others, it might be a common way of life. Before you continue reading this post, evaluate how you view fasting.
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A quick moment of transparency: I am bad at fasting. I wish I was better, but it is one of the spiritual disciplines that I have to but a lot of effort into.
Besides the fact that we don’t really like giving stuff up, I think that one of the reasons fasting is generally disliked is because we don’t understand why we fast. Growing up, I had no clue why we fasted. If I ever asked, I would get quick one-liners like: “It’s a way of training yourself to say no to sin” or “When you get hungry read the Bible so that God’s words will sustain you.” But what do those even mean? That by cutting off nutrition that my brain needs I can better make rational decisions about whether or not to sin? Or that somehow the words on a page will magically transform into nutrition so that I no longer have to eat?
As my faith grew these answers didn’t satisfy me, so I dug into Scripture. Now I will specifically be discussing fasting from food but these ideas can be applied across the board. The New Testament doesn’t tell us much about why we fast. It tells that we should fast, and a little bit about how not to fast, but it seems that most of the writers of the New Testament assumed their readers knew about fasting from the Old Testament.
About 71% of the Old Testament combines mourning with fasting.
That’s huge! Growing up, fasting and mourning were rarely discussed in the same conversation. But these two ideas, fasting and mourning, are tied together in both the Bible and in Jewish history. Most scholars and historians agree that these two ideas were never separated in the minds of the Jews. So, what were they mourning? On a personal level, it could range from the death of a loved one to sins they had committed. But there was often a more national sorrow that went with many fasts, a sorrow that you can trace throughout the whole biblical narrative. That is the sorrow that the Kingdom of God had not yet come.
We live in a now, but not yet world. When Jesus was on earth, he was living out the Kingdom of God on earth. As the church, we should be continuing to live out the Kingdom of God in this Genesis 3 world. But God’s Kingdom has not come in full. There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in places outside of God’s Kingdom. Times of despair, of loss, of hopelessness, of shame, of sin. Whether these are our own, or they belong to others close to us, there are still places, there are still lives, that have not yet been touched by God’s Kingdom.
Fasting is one of the ways we mourn the fact that God’s Kingdom is not fully here. But it is a very intentional way to mourn.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I 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—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
The spiritual discipline of fasting is designed as a way to propel us into a life within the Kingdom of God, a life that brings others into the Kingdom of God. It is a way for us to see through the eyes of God, and to feel what His heart feels. Fasting is designed to help us experience the state of those who are in need. We choose to deprive ourselves of something to remind us that there are many who are forced to be deprived. In this moment, we allow God to stir our hearts with the same compassion that stirs His. This compassion should lead us to acts of the outward disciplines, acts that help bring healing to the hurting.
Below are some questions and ideas to help you connect to God as you fast.
- Is fasting hard for you? If so, why?
- How would you feel if you were forced to fast from something instead of choosing to fast from it?
- Here are some suggestions to help focus your time of fasting:
- Begin your fast by asking God to come near and share with you His eyes and His Heart.
- Halfway through a fast, meditate on how this deprivation makes you feel.
- End your fast by asking God to make you His hands and His feet as you walk through life.
- Don’t rush into fasting. It is a spiritual discipline, and like all disciplines, it will take practice.
Prayer is a very important spiritual discipline because it is how we talk to God. While not every Spiritual Discipline is for each person, I believe that prayer is one that everyone should practice because it is hard to have a relationship with God if you never talk to Him.
There are many ways to pray depending on the situation, your personality, and what specifically you are trying to communicate. From how you position yourself, to what your prayer focuses on, there are many unique ways to pray. While you may open a dialogue with God at any point during the day, we will be talking about specific types of prayer exercises that may be a little different than you are used to. For this section, we will talk about two different types of prayer. The two quotes are from Adele Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.
“Breath prayer is a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythms of breathing: (1) breathe in, calling on a biblical name or image of God, and (2) breathe out a simple God-given desire.”
The idea behind breath prayer is that you are inhaling a name of God that is meaningful to you and then exhaling a desire that is found deep within your heart. This has become one of my favorite prayers because it is simple to do anywhere and anytime. You don’t have to have a monologue prepared, you are simply focusing on a desire that you want to bring before God. It removes linear thought processes and connects your communication with God to breathing, an unconscious, life-giving process. The repetition of breath prayer, repeating the same prayer again and again for each breath, helps clear out distractions.
Below is first a list of names and descriptions of God and then a few examples of breath prayers.
- Prince of Peace
(In) God the Potter (Out) Mold me in your image –Repeat-
(In) God the Enlightener (Out) Grant me your wisdom –Repeat–
(In) Creator of Humanity (Out) Restore my marriage –Repeat–
(In) God of Peace (Out) Calm my spirit –Repeat–
“Centering prayer is a form of contemplative prayer where the pray-er seeks to quiet scattered thoughts and desires in the still center of Christ’s presence.”
Centering prayer is a cross-over between meditation and prayer. The purpose of centering prayer is to connect to the Holy Spirit which lives inside of us all. During this prayer, you are not listing off your needs to God or suggesting what He should do in your life, you are sitting in His presence, giving Him all your love and attention. Few words are actually said. If the mind begins to drift, words like Father, Savior, Love, Joy are spoken to guide you back into the presence of God.
Centering prayer is very similar to meditation, in fact, it is a type of meditation. But centering prayer is not focused on emptying and filling, it is focused on being in the presence of God, feeling Him close to you. It is not about immediate results and actions, it is about slowly knowing God more, and becoming more like Him, by continuously entering into His presence.
Because of the small number of words used, this type of prayer may not provide you with the same feelings and experiences as other types and that is ok. That does not mean that this type of prayer in ineffective. This type of prayer is to help you to re-center God in your life.
This ends our discussion of spiritual disciplines. I know spiritual disciplines isn’t the most enjoyable subject to talk about, but they are important to developing our relationship with God. Next post we will talk about the second half of this two-way street of communication between us and God. We have talked in detail about ways for us to connect to Him, it is time to look into how He communicates with us!
Feel free to comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!