You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. – 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
Every once in a while I’ll write a post as a direct response to a reader’s question. Usually when I do this – and today is no exception – it’s because I believe the answer has the potential to be helpful for everyone.
Great post about the importance of time and priorities. This post really got me thinking about keeping the main things, the main things. I really feel as though your writings are a breath of fresh air to many tired souls. I was wondering what are some of the spiritual practices that you engage in? Such as sermons and devotionals that have been life-giving for you? Thank you for all that you do.
I appreciate it, Aaron – and that’s a great question. This post is for you, but everyone is more than welcome to listen in.
My Answer about “Spiritual Practices” –
My spiritual life is – at its heart – very simple. It’s based on the idea that I need to respond to God in accordance with the foundational reason behind our creation as human beings. We were created, Genesis tells us, to experience community – both with the Godhead and with one another. We were created for relationship; for me it makes sense that my spiritual life is nurtured in that context.
My spiritual practices, then, are designed to facilitate and to deepen:
- My relationship with and knowledge of God
- My relationships with other people
- My understanding of God’s image in and through others
My discipleship (if I was making a distinction between spiritual practices and discipleship) would be about living out these relationships in ways that advance God’s Kingdom.
I’ll steal an idea from my wife that turns out to be a critical element that helps tie all this together. Here it is: “I try to stay awake!” She used it when a pastoral search team asked how she prepared sermons. “I try to stay awake!” she said. She meant awake in the same way Jesus used the words “listen!” and “see…”
“Don’t you people ever have your listening ears on?” Jesus often said. And, “Open your eyes already!” And, “It’s only those of my followers with eyes to see and those with ears to hear who even begin to have a clue!”
So I try my best to stay awake, and I constantly pray for a discerning spirit so that the scales maybe lifted from my eyes now and then. After that, I simply try to understand – and to pass on – what I see, what I hear.
Hanging Out With Jesus:
Another important element of my spiritual practice is what Paul describes as simply hanging out with Jesus – standing with uncovered faces in the presence of God, being transformed into his likeness by the sheer glory of spending time with Jesus:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit… – 2 Corinthians 3:13-18
So I try to spend time with Jesus, I try to stay awake to what God is up to, and then I routinely process all this in the context of intentional Christian community.
By “intentional Christmas community” I mean church. And – on a deeper level – my covenant group of men, where we do life together and struggle to understand how to be better disciples. Not like-minded so much as Christ minded (we don’t have to agree on everything, just share this commitment to follow Jesus).
Not only my men’s group but also my Sunday-morning class – both men and women – where we enjoy a similar level of honesty and openness in the context of learning together.
So much of this comes together in The Lord’s Supper. Taking communion with my church family is – for me – possibly the most meaningful spiritual practice, something that always fills me up to overflowing.
You asked about sermons and devotional material…. I read the Bible Gateway “verse of the day” first thing every morning, and then my wife and I share devotions at breakfast. I think it’s critically important for spiritual growth to share prayer and devotions with my immediate family. It certainly helps to keep our relationship rooted in faith. Currently, we’re reading the Oswald Chambers classic My Utmost for His Highest.
My devotional life is not haphazard, but deliberate and designed to set each new day off on the correct trajectory. God then works a kind of improv around the discipline that anchors our relationship.
For sermons, I am always the most inspired in the context of my home church. I’m sure there are lots of great preachers available on tv and the Internet, but in my experience preaching works best when the preacher knows and loves the congregation. Live preaching is like live music – always superior, definitely more relevant, one-hundred percent more worshipful, and infinitely more relational (you can tell that’s a key word for me, spiritually) than anything that is canned. Rebekah reaches all the way into my soul when she preaches; that’s not accidental, it’s because she is so deeply in love with Jesus, so completely genuine, and believes with such passion. The authenticity just flows out, and it connects the entire congregation to God.
That’s more than enough for one post. I could talk about the other spiritual disciplines like study (books that help me), service, prayer, etc. But that can be another post.
However we approach the task of nurturing our spiritual life, the practice must be intentional, and ongoing, and humble – always with a wide-open spirit, with love, and with a genuine commitment to learn…
(you can read more about how I approach spiritual life in any of the following books)