October 21, 2018
Spiritual Devotions Buffet
II Cor 3:3b-6 (Phillips) & Galatians 6.1-9 NRSV
Our message has been engraved not in stone, but in living men and women.
We train our minds and exercise our bodies to stay in shape. What about our spirits? Does your spiritual fitness program consist of attending worship for an hour each week? Like standing in a swim pool with buddies and exercising your mouth muscles; if you’re at all like the fellow who snored during worship and told the pastor afterward, “I’m striving to be more like God. On the 7th day, God rested,” then the one hour of weekly worship probably does not count as an effective spiritual fitness plan.
Most of us feel like we are too busy and do not have time for spiritual disciplines. We may be like the woman who tried meditation and sat quietly for about 30 seconds, and then fretted, “Come on! I don’t have all day!” Then she picked up her meditation mat and went for a latte. I had thought that meditation was too time consuming, but a few years ago, I gave meditation a sincere effort by doing a simple breathing exercise for 15 minutes a day. The result is amazing—
I used to need 8 or more hrs of sleep. With meditation, I have energy all day with only 5 hours of sleep. Time dedicated to spiritual or physical disciplines prove to more than make up the time spent. Successful athletes have a disciplined daily exercise regimen. Athletes of the Spirit also benefit from spiritual discipline. Many people who practice Christian meditation for at least 15 minutes a day experience new positive energy. 15 minutes of daily meditation can lead to truly abundant life. Meditation can be as simple as calm breathing—though careful not to hyperventilate. Widespread wisdom echoes this counsel: Just BREATHE! Take a deep breath!
We know that empty or unhealthy activities degrade our overall quality of life, and yet… Koiche Tohei, a Japanese equivalent of a Nobel Prize winner for his work in healing distinguishes two kinds of relaxation. Tohei describes dead relaxation as activities such as watching TV, videos, general reading, and social media. These activities actually DRAIN our energy. General socializing or getting together for food or drinks is ordinarily dead relaxation, as well. Dead relaxation drains our energy.
Koiche Tohei promotes active relaxation in order to recharge energy. Meditation and other spiritual disciplines are re-energizing active relaxation.
What did Jesus want to accomplish? How would you pinpoint his goal? Jesus knew that people wrestle with anxiety, depression, jealousy, discouragement, oppression, affluenza, and doubts about almost everything, including God. So, what was Jesus’ purpose?
John the Baptist hollered, Repent! Turn your life around! With more finesse, Jesus also stressed spiritual transformation. When Jesus performed physical healings, he often affirmed, “Your faith has made you well.” He affirmed gratitude in place of arrogance. To the rich man who sought spiritual renewal, Jesus said, give your wealth to the poor. Jesus told Nicodemus, You must be born again/born anew/born from above. Jesus guides us to turn away from non-productive or destructive life choices. Jesus demonstrated how to live as God would have us live—productive, abundant lives. Paul echoed Jesus’ message: “Our message has been engraved not in stone, but in living men and women.”
Athletes of the Spirit need to learn spiritual insight, no matter our age or spiritual maturity. We also need to exercise and practice our faith to excel on God’s team. Of the spiritual disciplines, prayer is basic to getting in shape. Thru prayer, we connect with God in an intentional, intimate way. Meditation opens our minds and hearts to God’s way. Other disciplines, just like a balanced athletic program, can help to keep us in shape as spiritual athletes.
The quote at the top of the bulletin comes from Richard Foster’s book about Celebrating Spiritual Disciplines. I recommend Foster’s book. It is enjoyable to read and this book convinced me that we can enjoy spiritual disciplines; and we can be grateful for this impressive buffet of spiritual nurturance. We can choose from a buffet of Christian disciplines, hopefully picking a balanced diet of receiving spiritual nurture and serving others.
Spiritual disciplines include study and discussion groups that focus on spiritual growth. Believe it or not, there are some questions that cannot be answered by Google. Study of the Bible and other spiritual resources is most helpful if we focus on how the resource we read or discuss strengthen us and how can it’s message influences my attitudes and behavior.
For example, in trying to better understand God, I read Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Buber inspires deeper relationships between people, rather than treating others as objects; and he describes God as the Eternal Thou who embraces all relationships for all time. Buber’s explanation of God as the Eternal Thou and Paul Tillich’s description of God as the Ground of Being help me to more deeply appreciate God’s centrality to life.
The Spiritual Disciplines buffet includes the rich experiences of prayer and meditation and study.
Another spiritual discipline is fasting. Fasting does NOT mean eating fast food! I know fasting is not the great American pastime—unless you are fasting for a medical procedure.
Yet I was involved in planning a citywide inter-religious panel discussion—and guess what Muslims, Christians and Jews all share in common? Fasting!
Church youth groups often participate in annual 36-Hour Famines—Youth get sponsors for their fast to raise money for people who have little or no food. The 36-hour Famine works like a walkathon—youth get sponsors for each hour they go without eating. When I have done 36-hour fasts with youth, I am impressed with how much spiritual insight and humility the fast engenders within me. My experience is that hunger slows down other distractions so that I am more spiritually aware. After a while, yearning for food subsides and is replaced with deep calm. For most youth, their fasting inspires tangible appreciation for the abundance they ordinarily take for granted. As adults, do we take food and other things too much for granted? Fasting could be a valuable spiritual discipline. Please read Foster’s book or talk with me prior to going on a fast because you need to consider important safety precautions.
Another spiritual discipline is simplicity—keeping our life simple. Foster and many world philosophers assert that simplicity is freedom. Yet, are we shackled to our hectic lifestyle or weighted down by having too much stuff or consumed by constantly upgrading our stuff? Have you heard this joke about women?-- All women need is food water and compliments. When I tried to keep up with women’s fashions, I was continually in a state of upheaval. Now that I shop mainly at charity thrift shops, I can relax and enjoy buying and giving away clothes. Marie Kondo became a best-selling author with her book, Spark Joy. She recommends de-cluttering our life; Her method is simple: Only keep things that give us joy …and discarding everything else. Marie Kondo claims that people who purge their homes of unnecessary items experience a surge of energy and joy. Christian simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Simplicity can be a liberating spiritual discipline.
The Bible summarizes: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Are we too busy with our stuff, to take time for spiritual reflection?
Another spiritual discipline is solitude. Solitude enables us to see and hear, rather than feeling compelled to fill silence with our own babble. Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds, which turn out most often to be dead ends, which is that dead relaxation that Tohei warns about. Similar to meditation, solitude affords inner fulfillment. Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude.
From confidence gained from the spiritual discipline of solitude, we can move productively into community with other people without being hampered by need to escape loneliness.
Another spiritual discipline is submission. Like fasting, solitude and simplicity, submission is counter-cultural. Yet submission frees us from always needing to get our own way. Submission to God’s way is the ultimate win-win. Submission to God also teaches us to be more gracious with other people to accomplish a win-win, as well. The Presbyterian Church is founded on the principle that where two are three are gathered, God’s vision is more likely to be found than if only one of us calls the shots without input from others.
Confession is yet another counter-cultural spiritual discipline. Confessing our faults is not popular. Yet acknowledging our faults is psychologically and spiritually therapeutic. Jesus taught us to prayer regularly, Forgive us our sins, trespasses/debts. Confession brings an end to pretense and humbles us. Confession makes us own up to our fallible humanity Confession gets us out of denial so we can be healed and transformed. It inspires us avoid ethical lapses in the future. Confession leads to new life.
Worship is another spiritual discipline. Is our worship merely rote habit or is our time for worship truly reflective and giving glory to God?
Celebration is even a spiritual discipline. We assume celebrations are common in America today. Besides post athletic game victory bashes, how often do we really celebrate? Real celebration requires something for which to be consciously grateful. Celebrations rejoice in the grace of God. What do we celebrate?
Spiritual disciplines also include giving back. Such giving might be in the form of inspiring others to discover Christ, guiding others in their spiritual pilgrimage, volunteering in the church, serving poor or disadvantaged people, advocating for oppressed or people in harm’s way, or companioning sick people. Whatever your gifts, they can be channeled fruitfully. A spiritual discipline of serving blesses yourself and those whom you reach with your gifts. Statistics prove that older people who volunteer in meaningful service live healthier lives.
Richard Foster ends his book about celebrating spiritual disciplines by saying, The apostle Paul knew that he had many heights yet to conquer. Rather than being discouraged, however, Paul was inspired to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3.14) The same opportunity and challenge is ours today.”