Spiritual Disciplines for Today
by Heather A. Goodman
After graduating from seminary, I hung my degree on a shingle and opened for business. Four years of all-nighters, Greek and Hebrew translations, and theological games of "Luther says," and I was ready to exegete Ephesians with the best of them and shepherd God's people. God wasn't ready to use me. He needed to teach me first to be still and know Him.
Musicians know that you can't play Rachmaninoff without practicing scales every day. A spiritual connection with God that feeds you so that you can feed others starts with everyday life. The resurgence of the spiritual disciplines gives us tools for this connection, but often we don't know how to use them or teach them in a practical way to the women in our church who have demanding bosses and even more demanding kids. What is the secret to practicing scales in our spiritual lives?
Turn your inner monologue into dialogue. I'm not talking schizophrenia here. I'm talking "pray[ing] without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17 KJV). Talk to God in the car, in the grocery store, or during your Pilates class. God-direct those frustrating thoughts during a staff meeting, or petition God for friends you know are hurting during a traffic jam. It doesn't have to be a deep theological prayer, only a dialogue that keeps you aware of the presence of God.
Find creative ways to get into the Word every day. David says, "In my heart, I store up your words, so I might not sin against you" (Psa. 119:11, NET). Living in the United States, we have a plethora of opportunities to read through the Bible: accessing daily devotionals during a lunch break, or listening to the Bible during a commute or while cleaning the bathtub.
My husband and I currently do The Message Remix, which arranges the Bible with Old and New Testament portions every day, breaking it up with options to read through the Scripture in a year, two years, or four years. If you choose this route, two tips: (1) don't beat yourself up for missing a day. You'll make it up. Get back into it the next day. (2) Don't worry about understanding every nuance and meaning. There are times to dig deep, and there are times to let the fresh water God offers wash over us.
As studiers and teachers, we have a tendency to want to pull out commentaries and lexicons, but sometimes it's refreshing to focus on the bigger picture of holiness in Leviticus, for example, rather than to understand the significance of each practice. Reading through the Bible in a year doesn't have to begin in January. Start on your birthday or next Monday, and have a Godcelebration when you finish with a special meal, a prayer time, and a list of three things you learned through the process.
Another path is daily devotionals, such as Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest or The High Calling's online devotional (www.thehighcalling.org). These tend to be shorter and ideal for busy lives. They can be read at meal times or while you relax in the bath in the evenings (although always watch out for computers near open bodies of water!).
Make it family time. While your children may fight you over the loss of video-game time after dinner, it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate to them your priority of God and the chance to draw your family closer to Him.
Currently my favorite way to access the Bible is through audio. Several ministries have downloadable MP3 files that you can listen to through your computer, from a CD in the car, or on your iPod while folding laundry (for those of you who take that extra step of folding your clothes rather than wearing them directly from the dryer, which is my favorite method).
Schedule a one-meal fast periodically. Fasting is perhaps one of the most confusing of the spiritual disciplines. While it can be misused as a manipulative deal-making tool, it can also serve as a time of sacrifice in order to delight in God and seek His will. We find numerous examples in the Bible of God's people seeking His will through fasting (1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting is coupled with prayer and often with serving the Lord.
Because of lunch meetings and kids' expectations, fasting can be tricky. Schedule time in advance, blocking time in your day for meeting with God. Don't overwhelm yourself with a large commitment at first. Fast one meal instead of the whole day most attempt. Use that hour to pray when you would be eating. Don't worry about what you will pray. If you run out of things to talk about with God, put on some music or find your favorite Psalm. As the afternoon goes by and your stomach growls, use that as small reminders of Christ's sacrifice for us, breaking His body and spilling His blood, and of the hope we have in the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Instead of meal fasting, you may choose to give up a certain item for a set time. A friend decided to give up Kettle Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper Krinkle Cut Chips because she found that when she felt hopeless, she turned to the bag of chips for comfort and security rather than to God. I'm still trying to convince myself to give up TV for a month (if only I could find a month that doesn't have any shows on that I like).
Be willing to sacrifice. While the above represent measures toward commitment to God through spiritual disciplines that can be maintained in everyday life, remember: God calls us out of our comfort to serve Him. You may need to sacrifice something in your life, whether blog time, a TV show, or even attending every church and community function. My husband and I set our alarm clock earlier than we would prefer in order to spend daily time reading the Bible and praying, because evenings for us go haywire.
Often in our fast-forward and niche-scheduling society, we forget that we are called to sacrifice, and we forget to teach sacrifice to our women who are looking for quick answers.
For me, finding time to practice piano every day requires discipline, but creativity alleviates the stress. If I can't devote myself for hours or even one hour to the piano, I dedicate five minutes, perhaps while waiting for the spaghetti water to boil, to run through scales and exercises. Our spiritual life calls for the same type of thought. We may not have hours every day or every week, but we can dig out time to focus on Christ if we desire.