We were in Big Bear on a retreat when I first got introduced to the spiritual discipline called Lectio Divina, which means Divine Reading in Latin. The reliable online information source Wikipedia gives this very helpful description:
Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.
Amen to that! How could we not want to try it out if it promotes communion with God and helps to increase our knowledge of the Scriptures?
So we were given a passage to read, and when you read through it a few times slowly, you are supposed to ask God if he has a word or phrase for you within that passage. Once you have the word or phrase, you sit with it with God and ask him why he wanted you to focus on that. I can’t remember the passage, but I remember it “working”, and I was completely blessed by the experience and by hearing others' testimonies of it “working” for them also. The fruit of this discipline was that it grew my faith and strengthened my relationship with God as I had a tangible experience of God interacting with me. It also increased my hunger for studying the scriptures.
Spiritual disciplines are just tools. Just like a hammer and nails help you build a house, the spiritual disciplines are tools that help us create space to commune with God, hear from him, allow him to bring healing and transformation, and get to know him. Ultimately they are the means that make relationship with God possible. We can talk about relationship with God until we are blue in the face, but until we actually engage in a spiritual discipline, it will stay theoretical.
A helpful metaphor that I described a few weeks ago is that the disciplines are like putting up the sail on the sailboat. The disciplines are like putting up the sail, it is where we put in the effort. But we cannot control the wind. If we don’t put up the sail, if we don't create the space to commune with God and allow him to work, there is no chance for the wind to move us where we want to go. Our role is to put up the sail and create the space.
This is a key point, the disciplines themselves don’t transform us, but what they do is create space for us to commune with Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit and they allow them to move, speak, and transform us.
Now, if you struggle with the label "Spiritual Discipline", try a new label. Spiritual practices. Spiritual rhythms. Don't let the label keep you from using these tools that will help you commune with God, grow in your intimacy with him, and allow him to bring transformation in your heart and soul.
I thought it might be helpful to give you a few of the disciplines that have been helpful for me and explain why. I would encourage you to experiment with many disciplines. I have found that there are some I do consistently, some I do from time to time, and some were very helpful in a certain season. Here are some that have been helpful for me:
I described it above, but Lectio Divina is a way of reading the Bible. It has some helpful guidelines to follow, and it is also a very helpful way to practice hearing from God. Not only does this practice give you a fresh way to read the scriptures, it also is helpful in learning the texture of God’s voice. This discipline really helped me learn the value of soaking and meditating on a portion of the Bible as opposed to only reading it. It also really brought to the life the truth that the Scriptures are “living and active.”
Silence and solitude are hard to come by. If you’re like me, it can be frustrating because as soon as you finally make the time to be silent, your mind is just racing which leads to discouragement and leaves you wondering if it’s worth it. Centering prayer has been so helpful for me because it is just 20 minutes. The goal is just to spend time with God and it gives you some helpful guidelines to deal with your racing thoughts. In essence, you ask God to give you a word or phrase as you begin to commune with him. As you spend time with him, as other thoughts come up, you gently say the word or phrase and let the thought go, which helps you re-center yourself to spend time with God. I’ve also heard that a helpful picture is to put the thought on a conveyer belt and let it taken away. So because of the length and the helpful guidelines, it has made solitude and silence much less intimidating, more reachable, and something I can realistically fit into my week. This discipline has been very impactful in helping me actually spend time with God.
This practice is awesome! I’ve had seasons when I did it consistently and writing this makes me want to put it back in place in my life. This is a great practice to bring awareness and also recognize God’s presence with you in the day to day. The way it works is at the end of the day you do a brief review with God. One of the best metaphors I’ve heard is it’s like watching a movie of your day and you give God the remote to pause it on anything he wants to highlight. What you’re looking for are the places where you really sensed God’s presence and peace, the times when you didn’t, and searching to figure out why you did or did not. So not only does it build your faith to realize God is with you as you reflect on your days, it also builds an anticipation for the next day in which you can walk with him some more. This also helps to brings awareness of what is robbing your peace and joy. It might be a thief or a robber that is feeding you lies, or it might be something internal that God wants to bring from the darkness/unawareness to the light/awareness.
Because I enjoyed doing the Examen so much and saw so much fruit from it, I decided to try it in the morning, just reverse, so thinking through my entire day and imagining Jesus going with me before it happened. From driving in the car, to appointments, to meetings, etc. In Christian circles we talk and pray a lot about God being “with us”. This discipline has helped to really grow that belief, which has caused me to anticipate Jesus walking with me, which has resulted in me experiencing his presence. This has helped me bring more peace to my days and experience more fully the promise of the “peace that passes all understanding.”
Just like the Examen, writing about this makes me want to write up another morning prayer. In essence, what I realized is that there were things I wanted to believe but didn’t, and I felt like I needed a daily reminder to grow those beliefs. The first example was when God gave me the new tape of “Known, Loved, Significant, and Free” that I discussed a couple of weeks ago. My tape of “Do, Achieve, Succeed, Win” was so ingrained in me, that I felt like I needed to remind myself of this new tape each day and affirm the truth of it. Just like Paul discusses putting “off the old” and putting “on the new”, I needed the practice of daily and weekly putting on the new tape. Another example was when I decided to meditate and memorize the seven “I Am’s” of Jesus in the book of John. I got to the first one where Jesus proclaims that he is the “Bread of Life”, and it says that if you believe and trust in him you will never hunger or thirst. That hit me like a two by four across the forehead because I hunger and thirst for so much. It helped me to realize that I wasn’t letting Jesus satisfy or meet a need deep inside of me that he wanted to meet. So I put that passage in my morning prayer with some statements affirming the truth of it. It took me a few months before I could even move to the next “I Am”.
So those are a few of the Spiritual Disciplines that have been helpful for me. They have been helpful to:
Grow my intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Give space to interact with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Grow my beliefs in different truths I learned from the scriptures or from words given to me by God.
Allow God to move and bring transformation, healing, and wholeness.
Experiment for this week:
Look up online one of the spiritual disciplines that a describe above and try it out a couple of times.
Or, buy this incredible resource, the Spiritual Discipline Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. I was shocked when I looked at the table of contents and saw that it described 66 different spiritual disciplines. Before this book, I could probably have named 5 or 6, but this book has 66 and the format if very helpful and practical. If you buy it, start experimenting!