Spiritual Disciplines: Undoing What I’m Overdoing


Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity(This evening, I’ll randomly select three of you who’ve been kind enough to share the word about An Unhurried Life with their Twitter, Facebook or blog friends to receive a special thank you (a signed book and a copy of my favorite little prayer book). I appreciate all of you who have already helped out. Click to learn more).

I was reading my journal from earlier this year (which is something I like to do since I’m so good at forgetting things!). I came across an entry that helped me again:

“I awoke this morning thinking about something John Ortberg said about fasting at a recent conference. He said that fasting is a very helpful (and strategic) discipline related to sins of excess (lust, gluttony, etc.). When I am struggling with over-doing something, it is good to practice some form of under-doing something (whether the same thing or another thing). I can feel my body cry out that this would diminish my life. I immediately think of Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 about making his body serve God’s purposes. He uses the extreme language of “I beat my body.” Fasting would be a way of training my body to rely on God for what it needs, rather than running the show with its cravings and longings.

I can treat the impulses of my body as I’ve treated certain thoughts and feelings that I discern to be immature and fleshly. There are times when thoughts and feelings I have seem more childish or juvenile than adult. This is perhaps true of bodily impulses as well. I can easily imagine an impulse of lust being a seventeen-year-old version of me with hormones racing. I can say “No” to those impulses that aren’t adult, mature, loving, holy and whole. This is but one way I choose life.

I can do this by the readily available grace of Your Spirit, Jesus. Thank You!

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Solitude Just For Introverts?


Koi at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

Koi at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

I train a lot of Christian leaders. Many leaders consider themselves extroverts, even if only functionally so because of their work. Some of these resist practices like solitude and silence because they assume those are for introverts, not extroverts.

I prefer not to position these practices in those terms. I believe practices like solitude and silence, as well as community and bearing witness are disciplines for everyone. Jesus practiced them all, and invites me to join him.

So, as an introvert, it may be true that I have more of an orientation towards being alone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I find solitude easy. Solitude and silence is still a discipline for introverts. It is a discipline for each of us for our own unique reasons. Privacy is not the same as solitude. Being alone for my own purposes is not at all the same as being alone and attentive to God. Jesus extended the invitation to come away to a quiet place to get some rest to both reflective John and bombastic Peter.

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An Unhurried Life: Solitude Slows Me Down


UnhurriedLife_sm

I’ve enjoyed watching which quotations in the Kindle version of An Unhurried Life are surfacing as most popular among those of you who are the first readers.

One of them, on page 23 (or Kindle location 272), is:

“The practices of solitude, silence and listening to God started to slow me down and enabled me to focus my attention more and more on coming to Jesus and following him rather than talking about Jesus and slaving away for him.”

Elsewhere in the book, I mention this practice as it was introduced to me by one of my mentors and a founder of The Leadership Institute, Wayne Anderson. He called these times “EPCs” (which abbreviates Extended Personal Communion with God). Rather than our just being alone and quiet, he emphasized the relational reality of such time with Jesus in solitude and silence. We enter into Jesus’s invitation to abide in the shared love of Father and Son. It’s like being in the presence of loving couple or community and feeling included rather than excluded. And this emphasis helps to highlight the priority of the Father’s heart for loving relationship rather than frantic service. (Humble, grateful service is a fruit of such relationship).

My experience still is that making time to linger unhurriedly in places of solitary, silent communion with God through Jesus are the very least urgent but usually the very most important activity in my life. From these rich roots, I experience greater creativity and energy, deeper peace and courage.

Buy your copy of An Unhurried Life on Amazon.com or your fine local bookseller.

More Fruits of Solitude (Pt 2)


I’ve mentioned in this blog that I lead quite a few days of solitude and silence for Christian leaders every month. It is my most favorite and fruitful ministry. Sometimes these days are for an unrelated group who gather for a single day together. Sometimes it’s a leadership team from a particular Christian ministry. I’ve often said that one of the greatest “fringe benefits” of my ministry is that I have days like these regularly because my work is to provide them for others. When I lead these days, I often write in my journal during the time alone and quiet before God. Below are a few scattered notes from such a day a while back.

On distraction. I’ve discovered I haven’t much power over whether or not I will be distracted in these days alone with God. Noises or interruptions will come from outside of me. Thoughts or feelings will arise from within me. I don’t know how to stop this. What I do have some control over is how I respond or react to these involuntary distractions. I can choose to get wrapped up in solving, wrestling with or otherwise engaging them, or I can decide not to bite the bait and simply let them pass. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s good work when I do it.

On the creative benefits of solitude with God. What have been some of the practical fruits of this regular practice of time alone and quiet before God? What good things have come for me or for others in them?

  • Creativity – drawings, poems, prose, songs.
  • Wisdom, insight and perspective.
  • Peace and rest.
  • A greater and simpler awareness of God with me.
  • A sense of fresh encounter with God
  • A sense of being loved and favored by God.
  • A heart at restful attention with God.
  • When shared with others, a deeper sense of community and unity, even with others who are very different from me.

On the Benedictine vow of stability. This vow is simply a way of saying that there is usually great virtue in staying put, rather than moving on. Do we need to hear this in our dramatically mobile culture? How many marriages have been abandoned that could instead now be much more fruitful through perseverance and willing work? How many have stepped away from one church fellowship just when conflict or challenge could have resulted in new places of rootedness in and reliance on Jesus?

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More Fruits of Solitude


Bethlehem, Church of the NativityOne of my favorite ministry opportunities is providing what a mentor, Wayne Anderson, called “EPC”s (Extended Personal Communion with God). I wrote about this in chapter 10 of An Unhurried Life. Recently, I led a day like this with a group of leaders. After a few hours alone and quiet with God, we came back together to debrief our experiences.

As I was listening to the creative and unique ways that God had been present to each one, I realized that what I enjoy far more than being a speaker or presenter is being a facilitator of vital encounters with Jesus. This skill is not so much about putting words together in a way that is entertaining, interesting or captivating. (I won’t discount that God often gives me a one-liner that seems to help others, but I enjoy those more when they come in an interactive moment rather than in a one-way lecture).

I really feel I’m at my best in those interactive moments like a debrief. Someone shares a story of their encounter with God, and a thought comes that seems to help put that encounter into some context, or helps others identify with and enter into it. It is these encounters and this interaction that seems to be a catalyst for people actually practicing the presence of Jesus rather than talking about his practice.

I like having unhurried time and space like a retreat where people open more to God, then I can come along and help them more deeply understand and appreciate those encounters.

Here’s a practical insight that came during this particular debrief. One of the participants shared that they felt drawn to begin fasting. I shared that when we practice disciplines of “not doing” something, like solitude (no company), silence (no conversation), fasting (no eating), secrecy (no seeking recognition for our good ) or simplicity (no unnecessary spending), it causes our desires to become focused. When the desire for conversation inevitably surfaces in the midst of silence, I can say, “I do want conversation, but I want Jesus more.” Or in solitude, I can say, “I do want company, but I want Jesus more.”

In fasting, this is where I learn deeply that we do not live only by the bread we eat, but by everything God communicates to us. “I do want food, but I want Jesus more.” Disciplines of abstinence bring focus to our desires. When I find my desires scattered here and there, it may be good to ask which disciplines of disengagement is Jesus inviting me to practice to bring focus to my desires.

 

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Following Jesus Into Solitude


IMG_1066One of the writers who has provided me rich counsel in cultivating Jesus’s own rhythm of work and rest has been Elton Trueblood (1900-1994). Below is my paraphrase of a quotation from his book, The Lord’s Prayers (1965).

At times, Jesus would invite His disciples away from the demands of ministry and take them with Him alone and quiet in retreat. The gospel of Mark shows Jesus inviting them: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31).” Is there any better rationale than this for busy people in serving, healing, teaching and ministering professions getting away for regular times of retreat? These times of stepping away are no sign of failure or actual loss, but are an opportunity to regather resources for the good work given us by God. We return to the work of ministry renewed, revitalized and ready again. Such a rhythm results in greater progress than is produced by continual labor. Every busy person should see their lives in chapters. Some chapters involve active and hard work. Other chapters involve rest and preparation. In our hectic, busy world, it grows harder to find times and places to be alone and quiet with God, but it is still possible. Such a rhythm requires significant personal leadership and a conscious, deliberate plan. The rhythm of times away from our work enables us to bring far more to our work when we return. Being released from the pressure to produce, impress others or “be on” can be an enormous relief.

UnhurriedLife_smBy the way, my book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest (IVP, June 2013), is now available for preorder on Amazon. And in case you’d be interested in the original Trueblood quotation, here it is:

“Sometimes Christ separated the Apostles from the strain of human encounter by taking them apart with Him, when their need was sufficient. “And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while'” (Mark 6:31). Here is the support for the requirement that busy people, especially those in the serving, healing, and teaching occupations, should engage in. periodic retreats. These withdrawals do not involve failure, or any backward motion, but rather a gathering of resources for renewed encounter. They are really advances rather than retreats. Every busy life should be lived in chapters, including chapters devoted to work and chapters devoted to preparation for work. With the world‑wide increase in population, the experience of absolute solitude is becoming daily more difficult, but for most of us it is still possible, providing it is included in a conscious and deliberate plan. Most people in public life would accomplish far more if each could have one week in the year when he does not see even one other human being. The relief from having to impress, or even to please, is potentially healing.” (Trueblood, Elton. The Lord’s Prayers. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 30.)

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A Chosen Desert


I’ve learned a lot from the early Christian desert tradition from whom the monastic movement emerged. Here’s an insight about practicing solitude and silence from a more contemporary desert dweller, Carlo Caretto (1910-1988):

“…if you cannot go into the desert, you must nonetheless ‘make some desert’ in your life. Every now and then leaving [others] and looking for solitude to restore, in prolonged silence and prayer, the stuff of your soul. This is the meaning of ‘desert’ in your spiritual life.

One hour a day, one day a month, eight days a year, for longer if necessary, you must leave everything and everybody and retire, alone with God. If you don’t look for this solitude, if you don’t love it, you won’t achieve real contemplative prayer. If you are able to do so but nevertheless do not withdraw in order to enjoy intimacy with God, the fundamental element of the relationship with the All‑Powerful is lacking: love. And without love no revelation is possible.” (Carretto, Carlo. Letters from the Desert. Trans. Rose Mary Hancock. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1972, p. 73-74.)

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