“Where are we going? How do we get there?” – October 2013

If we, as the church, have one goal for the year ahead that is practical and tangible, what is it?

What spiritual disciplines do we have that help us to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?

These are the two questions our Bishop and District Superintendent are asking us to answer at our annual Charge Conference this year (to be held at Bourne on November 18). Both are good questions, and the two go well together. But the second question actually comes first, in my view, since only with regular practice of spiritual disciplines are we able to know what God is calling us to focus on, now and in the year ahead.

When we first began talking about these questions at recent church council meetings, we had  some discussions about what exactly is meant by “spiritual disciplines?” Good question –  since even a quick review of some of the many books written on this topic – (scanning Google Books under ‘spiritual disciplines’) quickly shows a wide range of practices. The longer lists of spiritual disciplines include more than a dozen practices, including: Prayer, Fasting, Study,  Slowing, Meditation, Solitude, Sabbath, Simplicity, Submission, Service, Worship, Confession, Guidance, Celebration – all named in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path of Spiritual Growth and/or in The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, by John Ortberg, to cite just two particularly well-regarded books in a crowded field).

I confess I have problems with long lists, even when I agree with everything on the list. Mostly because I just haven’t got a good record at doing many things at once, nor even doing many things in sequence. So while my first inclination might be to suggest we all read one or both of these books and discuss them – my next thought is that (again, recognizing I don’t have a good record on following up with long lists) my first task is to simplify and focus.

I’ve read good books on spiritual practices, which have helped. And I recommend the practice of reading and praying about all the spiritual disciplines listed above – and with our Methodist forefather John Wesley, I’d add others, especially what Wesley calls Christian Counsel (talking prayerfully with others in faith about faith), Giving Generously (remembering Jesus saying “where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also), and Singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (see Colossians 3:12-17).

Yet as my list gets longer… so also my need for focus becomes even greater.

So I’m trying to focus on just one practice – prayer – praying God will make all the other practices be included – as I pray to let God make everything I do a prayer and an appropriate spiritual practice. (Not that I have achieved this, as Paul says somewhere in Philippians 3 – but I press on to make this a happening thing…)

Prayer seems to be the one spiritual discipline with the potential to cover all else… As long as we don’t define prayer too narrowly.

Brother Lawrence of the resurrection tells us the goal of prayer is in fact to be in constant loving communication with God. In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, he tells us it took him ten years of prayer to get it – but then once he did, he was able to pray with deep peace and joy all the time…. Washing dishes, making shoes, gardening, whatever – he kept up the conversation with God… and God was able to use him to help many thousands of others learn to pray, learn to practice the presence of God.

When we pray and study, our study becomes a prayer – our study becomes much deeper than just learning facts, theories, and knowledge. With prayer, our study of the bible especially (other devotional readings also) becomes a prayer that includes and blesses others. When we pray and serve others our service becomes a prayer much deeper than words. When we pray and rest our Sabbath time becomes contagious and brings rest to others. When we pray and walk our body and mind and soul are all exercised together and others are blessed as are we… When we pray and sing our prayers touch many in ways that exceed even the most beautiful words and melodies…

May we pray and encourage each other to pray every day for at least five minutes – thanking God for His blessings in our church – and asking what God is calling us to focus most on now and in the year ahead.

And every day my prayer for each of you and all of us together is – May the grace and peace of our gracious and living God  be with you in abundance through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pastor Tim