In our journey as Christ followers, I believe we are called to grow in our relationship with God, but how do we do that? What are we called to do as Christ followers?
I kept going back to what Jesus said when asked what the most important commandment in the law of Moses was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That sounds great, but I kept getting stuck on the how. How do I learn to love God this way and then to also love others? I’m very much a thinker, not really a feeler or a doer. So, loving God with my mind comes a bit easier than with my heart and strength. And what does it mean to love Him with my soul?
In my studies, I heard about and soon began studying about spiritual disciplines and spiritual practices. This is not something new, in fact, this has been around almost since the beginning.
Theologian John Perrine said, “It might be surprising to discover that practices actually formed the heartbeat of Israel’s faith. From sacrifices to festivals, from Sabbath to laws concerning immigrants, Israel was given tangible practices in the Torah on what it looked like to live their calling as a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).”
Now that they were redeemed, the people of God in Exodus needed to learn how to be image bearers, reflectors, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, what it meant to live as children of God in the world.
One way I think we are called to do this is through weekly formational practices. Actually you are participating in one right now. Weekly we gather as a community to participate in formational practices that we take with us into the rest of the week and for the sake of the world. We greet each other, pray prayers, sing songs, read scripture, listen to teaching, we respond, and are sent out with a benediction. All of these form us if we allow them to into those who look more like Christ, who talk more like Christ, who act and react more like Christ.
I read once that we should think of church as a gymnasium – a place we gather together to learn and practice and form our whole selves. My friend Aaron once said, “It’s important to know what Jesus taught and to desire to obey, but we also need a place to learn the practices that will rearrange our lives. Only then can we be transformed by the Holy Spirit into people who naturally think and act as Jesus Christ would if in our place. The invitation is participation. While this invitation requires the complete laying down of our lives as bold and humble living sacrifices, we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone. Answering Jesus’s invitation involves a community.”
Which brings me to another weekly formational practice: gathering in small community groups. A community group is a more intimate place than the large corporate gathering of the church. A place where we can be vulnerable and honest with those we trust. In my group, I decided to change our format to include spiritual practices. We still gather to talk about our lives, discuss our weekly Bible readings, which includes questions, observations, epiphanies. I also asked Rabbi-Ri as I call my dad to share a brief devotion, to hear someone wise share their thoughts. Then we participate in a practice as a group.
This might include a song, a time of meditation, a prayer or a video. Then I offer them a practice for the week, which is usually a prayer for us to pray every day. I’m very grateful my group has trusted me in this format. I believe it has been helpful and formational as we go about our week.
Another way we can be formed is through daily formational practices. I don’t know about you, but I do not wake up with the best attitude and with my mind, heart and soul naturally tuned to be aware of God’s presence. I need to practice. I need to be formed. I need to be taught how to pray just as I was taught how to speak. As children, we are given words to verbalize our thoughts and feelings. We are given words to say, like please and thank you, so that as we grow and mature, our character is formed with an attitude of thankfulness, of gratitude. Prayers and scriptures and practices form my heart, mind and spirit and give me words to say. Otherwise, on my own, I tend to pray out of my selfishness, worry and fear.
My first step in this journey was learning to set aside time and space to pursue and grow in my relationship with God. To do this as an act of resistance to our on-the-go culture of “more”, in which we are pushed to be more, do more, have more.
To be aware of God’s presence – that is what the Tabernacle was all about – God wanting to dwell with His people. How do you get to know someone? You spend time with them. You listen to what they have to say. You hear what others say about them. You study their actions and reactions.
The daily practice of silence and solitude has been formational for me as I learn to be aware of His presence in the stillness and in the quiet, so that I am more aware of His presence throughout the noisiness and distractions of my day. I pray for eyes to see where He is working and ears to hear His still, small voice. I am learning to be still and know that He is God. I am learning to see others, to love others, to react to others as He does.
Is this challenging? Yes. It is a discipline that requires repetition so that these habits are formed in my life. Is it worth it? Definitely, if my desire is to be more like Christ today than I was yesterday.
So here is my invitation to you today to participate in a daily spiritual practice. Each week in our church services, we pray an address and a prayer from scripture together. I encourage you to take these prayers and pray them each day. You can pray it in the morning or the evening or follow the example of the early church who prayed in the morning, noon and evening.
For example, this morning we prayed the address and the Lord’s Prayer. This week, begin your day with this prayer. Maybe one day this week, things start to not go my way or I feel tempted to want to control everything around me, I can pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Or I become anxious that there is not enough and I need more, I can be reminded of the way God provided manna in the wilderness, and I remember to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” and am reminded to be thankful for what I have. There are so many ways the Holy Spirit can speak to you through this practice of daily prayer if you are open and humble and willing to participate in offering your body as a living sacrifice and letting God transform you into someone who looks more like Jesus everyday. If you would like to participate, I have put together a sheet to use at home that has the Address and the prayers on it. You can see it here.
Thank you for letting me share this part of my continuing journey as a follower of Christ.