In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1:21-25, The Message)
In my early years as a Jesus follower, I tended to focus mostly on what I thought or believed about God. After all, “ What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (A. W. Tozer)
I had so many false beliefs about God, lies that infected my God view, there was plenty to keep me busy just learning about God.
But before too long, I found myself in great danger of being merely a hearer of God’s Word, rather than actually living differently because of Him. It is a danger I face to this day. In American Christian culture it is so easy, if not encouraged, to let the whole of our lives with God be defined by where we are on Sunday mornings and what we say we believe about God, rather than actually living out of truth.
I want to run far away from “letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.” I want to live this call in James 1 to let God landscape me with truth like a good gardener. I want to act on what I hear, stick with the truth until it bears the fruit of delight and affirmation.
Over the years, I’ve tried different spiritual activities and habits that make space in my life for Jesus to landscape and shape my heart. Sometimes these things are called “disciplines”, but I am too much of an achiever to think of them as spiritual disciplines. “Discipline” leads me too easily to focus on myself and my accomplishments. Thinking of them instead as spiritual practices is helpful to me. What habits can I build into my daily and weekly life to make room for truth about God to work its way into my life? Through different seasons and trying out different practices, the things I’ve found helpful center around…
- Being in the Word, not just to study and learn but devotionally, to listen and be shaped by God’s values
- Prayer, both speaking openly with God and also listening to Him
- Silence and solitude: I find I too easily feel others’ feelings and carry others’ burdens. I need silence and solitude to make space to be with God alone.
I find these three elements necessary to my soul. But how I accomplish and regularly practice these things varies over time and from season to season.
Here are 6 spiritual practices giving me life right now
#1 Lighting a candle
This makes me feel a little “woo woo”, but I have always valued a designated place and time for my spiritual practices. I get so much more out of whatever spiritual practices I’m doing, if I do them in roughly the same place and at the same time (morning is my time, but I don’t think there’s anything extra spiritual about morning. It’s just what works for me.) So I guess it isn’t surprising that I find it helpful to light a candle as a reminder that this is a sacred, special place and time.
#2 Reciting the Great Commandment daily
I have had the opportunity to teach Jesus’ greatest commandment a couple of times over the past year or so: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. In the course of preparing to teach, I read that faithful Jews recited the first part of this prayer routinely throughout their days, as a reminder of the God to whom they belonged. I was struck by this, and decided to open my time of spiritual practice by reciting Jesus’ Great Commandment every day. I’d like to begin saying it before bed as well, but I haven’t been able to make a habit of that yet.
#3 Praying the Lord’s Prayer regularly
I was taught to pray spontaneously. Though I don’ think anyone ever said this out right, I believed praying my own words was the more spiritual form of prayer, if not the only acceptable one. I have prayed Scripture over the years, but never made a practice of praying formal written prayers. But a few years ago when I taught the sermon on the mount, including the Lord’s Prayer, I decided to experiment with praying the prayer Jesus taught as part of my daily practice. It felt weird and Catholic to me for a while, but it has become very life giving and meaningful, especially as I studied and learned the deep truth in this prayer. I am amazed at how much this prayer says and asks, and how every single situation in my life is covered in this prayer.
It’s not like I’ve tried to do spiritual practices without breathing, obviously breathing has always been a part of this and everything else I do. But lately I’ve been beginning any spiritual practices by taking a few deep breaths and being conscious of my breathing and body. As I’ve prayed the Great Commandment and the Lord’s prayer, I’ve paired the phrases with my breathing, slowing them down and causing me to focus and concentrate much more on the words. It has made a much bigger difference than I ever expected, considering I’ve been breathing my entire life.
#5 Using the Psalms as a Prayer Book
This is another practice of faithful Hebrews that I’ve adopted as an experiment. Last year I read a recommendation from Eugene Peterson about making a practice of praying a Psalm a day (as the Jewish nation did), as a way of learning to pray and being shaped by the prayers of God’s people. He recommends it as an exercise in learning to pray beyond yourself – since what I pray for is determined not by how I feel or my own needs, but by the Psalm of the day. When the words don’t apply to my current situation, I follow Peterson’s advice and think of believers or others in the world to whom the Psalm does apply, and I pray it for them. This has me regularly praying for the misunderstood and the oppressed, but I’ve also been shocked at how often the Psalms speak expressly to the needs of my day. Frequently I’ve come to the psalm of the day with a hurting heart, and found a prayer that so eloquently speaks my thoughts and asks for what I need. I am 70+ Psalms into my first time through praying the psalms, and am finding it beautiful and life giving and so good.
#6 Spiritual community
This has been a constant in my life, but my experience in community is especially rich at the moment. I have found it so helpful, if not urgently necessary, to have a place to process what I’m learning. Sitting and listening to a pastor is lovely (and my pastor is particularly wise and gifted), but I find I need more. I need a place where I can ask and answer questions, where I can be exposed to truth, but also to the hard things in my life and others’ lives that make it hard to believe those truths. The Bible study I’m in that provides this for me is about to pause for the summer, so I’m thinking of how I can continue this life-giving practice in other ways until we start back up in September.
Do you have some tried and true spiritual habits, or new things you’re experimenting with, that are giving you live these days? I’d love to hear about them!