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Practicing With

Have we been partly missing the main point? Aiming at the ring just outside the bulls-eye?

Our culture doesn't like the term spiritual disciplines today, so we are experimenting with other terms: soul training exercises, spiritual habits, spiritual practices, etc. All those terms are meant to portray the same idea: these are practices that we engage with to train us. They transform us into people who better reflect the life of Christ inside us.

For sure God wants our transformation: spiritual maturity brings peace, joy, and contentment. Others who witness our transformation get to see the power of God to change lives. It brings hope. This is all very, very good. There is a reason why spiritual disciplines have been looked at as a means of personal transformation: they are effective to that end. Those looking at them for that purpose are not wrong.

But is it the main thing? Is it what God wants most for us? Like any good Father, God wants the very best thing for us. And He is the very best thing. We were created to live in relationship with Him. But even at creation when Adam had this, He said it isn't good for man to be alone. Apparently, even though God Himself is the very best thing, He is not all that we need. We need love from others, and we need others to love. So God created Eve and commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, rule it. They have all of the fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds for food, for themselves and for every creeping thing, and it is more than enough!

It seems the main thing God wanted was to expand His family. The main thing is relationships. He makes that point repeatedly in Scripture and added the exclamation point with Jesus Christ. "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus called that the greatest commandment of all (well, the top two commandments). So we may have been been practicing the right things but with the wrong primary motive. What if these practices are relational in nature? What if these practices are really practicing the art of being with God, and being with God together with those He loves (people)? I think we are meant to practice being "with". I think transformation is a byproduct of being with God, and with God together with those He loves.

Those who view the practices as tools for transformation would also agree that relationship is the primary purpose of the with-God life. I am simply suggesting that we view the practices that way. We practice the art of being with: God, and God together with those He loves. The Holy Spirit will work on our transformation as we practice "with". That is not to say that there aren't certain practices that are beneficial for specific areas of transformation. There are. Just that is the secondary purpose.

Some practices are done alone with God. Solitude is one such example. It is just us and God. Some practices are done with God together with those He loves. Community and hospitality are two such examples. Many can be either. Scripture, generosity, prayer, fasting, Sabbath and simplicity are examples. Whatever the practice, it is meant to be practicing "with".

I want to thank practicingtheway.org for providing the list of practices that we use here (they have since removed Simplicity and Hospitality, replacing them with Service and Witness. I believe Service is an implied companion in Community, Generosity, and Hospitality. I believe that Witness is included in Hospitality. We live in the kingdom of heaven and we are holding open the door for others, be they Christians not living into the kingdom or not-yet-Christians who have yet to gain access.) Please visit them for more on how to engage with each of these practices. They tackle one practice per season and as I write this not all of the practices are posted yet.

In the following pages I used the categorization from PracticingtheWay.org, but rearranged the topics a little. I started with the practice of simplicity because without this, in our cluttered world where everything cries out for our attention, there is little hope of practicing the others. From there I very generally move from the practice with God alone (solitude), through practices that can be done alone with God, or with God together with those He loves (prayer, fasting, scripture, sabbath), to the practices of God together with those He loves (community, hospitality). You'll notice some of the order isn't obvious: I placed generosity between community and hospitality, for example, because I believe that there needs to be a certain generosity of spirit for wholehearted hospitality, and community can help us get there.

Below are some curated articles, podcasts, what-have-you that do not lend themselves to fitting into these categories, or that cover many categories.

Trailer for Rule of Life podcast: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. I know: "Really, Tim? A trailer for a podcast?" Yes. Because it says succinctly:

We need a rule of life, a structure or system or methodology, by which we can order our lives. All of us have one whether we recognize it or not. This idea is simply to formalize it so that we can thrive, specifically in our relationship with God. If you feel that you have been flailing about, or that your direction in life isn't leading to the kind of life that is best for you and honors God's desire for you, then maybe it is time to change or alter the system that your life is built upon. A rightly oriented system of living with God will result in transformation in our lives.

The Habit Wizard: (General) This link to a BecomeNew.com video by John Ortberg where he hosts an expert on habits Bradley Wright. There is one simple message in this short video that offers the best way to incorporate a habit: start small. It is okay to dream big, but if there is a road ahead to get there, the best way isn't to jump right in exerting maximum effort right off the bat. Start small, establish the habit, and build upon that. In this video, Bradley Wright offers an example of how he started a health habit that he built up in his life.

And here it is on YouTube:

With God Life: (General) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this episode James Bryan Smith defines the kingdom of God as the with God life. It is living in the power, provision, and protection of God. God wants to be intimately involved in every area of our lives and live in ongoing conversational relationship with us. This is a helpful and simple understanding of the kingdom of God.

Spiritual Disciplines with Richard J Foster and Marti Ensign: (General) This link is to episode 1 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. When someone says spiritual disciplines what do you think of? Like a lot of people you may think of some somber drudgery. Maybe sitting alone in a small room with no window and a lit candle as you spend hours in prayer and contemplation. If you go to certain Protestant churches you may think of prayer and Bible reading, but then would be hard pressed to come up with anything more than that. Did you know that there are an unlimited number of them? That they can often be fun exercises? That they aren't meant to be a somber drudgery? They are exercises or practices that we engage in with the purpose of spending intentional time with God. They can last for 2 minutes (or less) or two weeks (or longer) or anywhere in between. Sometimes they are engaged in as a practice to change a behavior: for example fasting from social media for a week if it is taking up too much of your time or focus, and instead spending that time praying or even playing with your child, as long as it is done in an attitude of intentional time with God. Spiritual disciplines are relational in nature. They help us get to know God better. In this episode, Richard Foster and Marti Ensign help to define and destigmatize spiritual disciplines. (On this site we have renamed them "practicing with".)

Practicing the Way Vision Series Episode 1: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. There are several great points in this podcast but one of the main ones to highlight is how he draws a contrast between what it means in our society to be a Christian vs what it means to be a follower of Jesus. While these terms can be used interchangeably, meaning that a follower of Jesus is also a Christian, the term Christian doesn't always mean a follower of Jesus. (Being a follower of Jesus is another term for being a disciple of Jesus.)

 

What you'll find on the Our God Bathed Life website are invitations to become a follower of Jesus, a disciple of His. My hope is that you will choose to be one.

Becoming Like Jesus: Spirit-filled Life: (General) Link to Renovare.org essay by Chris Webb. What is the Spirit-filled life? Perhaps no other stream of Christian expression has been more controversial. But it really shouldn't be. As Christ followers, our "with-God" actions and life is empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is given to each and every believer to empower, guide, lead, teach, comfort, etc. He transforms us to make us more like Jesus. We join with Him in our transformation by practicing with.

The Surprising Power of the Holy Spirit: (General) Link to Renovare.org essay by Chris Hall. Chris Hall, in this article, reminds us that the Holy Spirit does indeed still work today in surprising and supernatural ways. I include this article for a few reasons: encouragement, to agree with Chris Hall, and because this article is beautifully written. A few weeks ago I came across Genesis 1:2 again where we see the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters on the first day of creation and a thought occurred to me: I know of nowhere in the Bible where He ever left, only repeated stories of His presence and activity in His creation all the way through the book of Revelation. It is reasonable to expect the presence and activity of the Spirit amongst us.

Live Life to the Full: (General) Link to Renovare.org article by Dallas Willard. It is worthwhile even if all you get from it are two quotes or ideas: "Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude." And, discussing how to put on the new person, "Appropriate action is key. True, as Jesus said, 'Without me you can do nothing.' (John 15:5) But it is also true that if we do nothing it will be without Him." The article goes on to briefly discuss how we can put on the new man by engaging in spiritual disciplines, which themselves prepare us for right action at the right time. Our faith is an active one, not to earn but to engage (practicing with).

The Goodness of Holiness with Dallas Willard: (General) This link is to episode 165 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Say the word holiness and a lot of people think outward behavior - I was one of them. Dallas Willard, in this talk, puts that to rest. Sure, it results in good outward behavior, but it is not outward behavior. Holiness is about the heart. Dallas says holiness is simply living well (not prosperity gospel) - it is becoming the kind of person who is response-able: people able to respond to a situation in the right way, with the right attitude, at the right time - response-able. He also explains why legalism and perfectionism are enemies of holiness.

Learning to Trust the Slow Work of God: (General) Link to Renovare.org article by Carolyn Arends. I remember somewhere around maybe five or so years ago sitting in the sanctuary of Storehouse Church in Plymouth Meeting, PA, after JR Rushik gave his sermon. The sanctuary was clearing out and I still sat there. I think JR came up to me and I told him, tears running down my face and slobbering, that his part of the sermon where he spoke about learning to accept the pace at which God transforms us really hit me. He indicated that he didn't remember that part of his sermon. (He used to tell us that he would often have that happen - someone comes up to him and tells him what they heard only for him to have no idea what they were talking about. He attributed it to the work of the Holy Spirit translating what he said into what someone else needed to hear.) I thought that I should be a spiritual Gandalf by then, but I felt more like a spiritual adolescent at best. Granted, I hindered the work of the Holy Spirit by allowing my life to be taken over by my career too often over the course of decades. That time could have been put to better use. Today I have learned patience. Both with myself and with God. I am happy with where I am. I am not Gandalf, but neither am I still an adolescent. In this article, Carolyn talks about how pregnancy in humans takes longer than pregnancy in the animal world. But it is good that it is so because a woman's body needs to adjust. She says that if the cycle was conception to birth inside of a day, a woman's body would literally explode. She says, similarly, maybe God grows us slowly so that we don't explode. Peter Scazzaro tells us God grows our soul through grief and loss. Too much of that at one time and we would break. Maybe He goes slowly to keep us from breaking.

The Cross: Self-Denial in the Age of Self-Fulfillment / Practicing the Way Vision Series Episode 9: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. There is one very important over arching point that I want to highlight in this episode:

There is a cost to following Jesus.

 

Our relationship with Jesus will lead to following Jesus. We are called to make disciples, and that assumes that we are disciples ourselves. But to be a disciple, Jesus says that we are to take up our cross and follow Him. Matthew 16:24-25 (NASU)

"Then Jesus said to His disciples 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'"

Consider that in context of this next passage:

Luke 14:27-28 (NASU)

"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?"

Jesus is making it clear that it will cost us to follow Him. It will cost us the life we would have wanted before we met and fell in love with Him. But has anyone noticed that in our society we are getting more of what our fallen selves thought we wanted and it is leading to more anxiety and depression and suicidal ideation than ever? We are trying to be, and are more free to be, what we are calling our "authentic selves" (what we think is our true selves but really is our unredeemed desires). But instead of making us free, it is making us slaves to sin, to a lifestyle opposed to what God calls good and beautiful and true. And we are more miserable than ever  because of it.

 

It turns out there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

But as we grow closer to Jesus, we change. We want different things. We want the things that Jesus wants. We want a different kind of life than we would have wanted before Jesus. Understand, however, that it doesn't mean that there aren't remnants of those fallen desires still lingering in us. It is those lingering desires, the ones that stand opposed to the good and beautiful and true that God wants for us, that we must die to.

Jesus said that He came to give us life, and life to the full; joy, and joy in abundance. His way, the way of the good and beautiful and true, leads to joy. So, yes, we must lay down the remainder of our fallen desires in order to follow Him as fully as we can. But doing so leads to true life, true joy, and true freedom. And John Mark Comer explains this beautifully in this episode.

Here is that sermon in video form on Vimeo:

How to Become the Happiest Person Alive Part 2 / Eating and Drinking Episode 5: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

The points to highlight in this episode probably should fall into his fighting lies with the truth series. There are a few truths here that are very important to understand and put into practice. The alternatives are joy-stealers in our lives.

1) Trust the outcome to God. I fail at this on a regular basis. When I hear it again I say "oh yeah!" but then I forget it again. I have seriously considered, and should, put up index cards in places I would see them regularly, "trust the outcome to God". What does that mean? We do our best with God: pray and ask for guidance, plan with God, take a step in faith with God, actually do the thing with God. And try to do things with excellence, with God. But we do not control the outcome with God. That's not in our control. Nor should we try to control it.

2) What do you fill your mind with? I used to listen to a lot more news than I do now. It didn't help my mindset. I used to listen to depressing music frequently. That just fed my tendency toward melancholy. I used to think about things that happened to me that seemed unfair to me, how I was a victim in those circumstances. It made me angry. But I also read good books and listened to good sermons and read the Bible and prayed. All of which helped, some, providing a little bit of balance. 

Fast forward to today. I listen to far less news and replaced that with podcasts of a religious and uplifting nature, things like you see on this site: John Mark Comer, More to the Story with Andy Miller III, Renovare, etc. I find I am far less anxious. I still listen to some sad music, but far less of it, and have included more uplifting music. My days of a tendency toward melancholy seem like a distant memory and feel foreign to me now. I don't even think about the unfairness of life anymore, in a way that is a given, but so much of life is beautiful if I stop to look. There is so much to be thankful for. Thankfulness has replaced my anger. That is not to say that I never hear disquieting news, or have a down day, or get irritated. I certainly do sometimes. But that is not the governing mindset. Once again, I should have listened earlier to this passage:

Philippians 4:8-9

"Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." And He certainly is.

3) Your body is a part of you. It is not a bad thing. We are not "brains on a stick". Treat it well. I didn't do that for most of my life, either. Now I am working on changing that. Sleeping more, eating better, figuring out what I can do for exercise with my body type and physical limitations, etc.

4) Celebration is a spiritual practice. An important one. It teaches us joy and helps us to remember the good that God provides in our lives. I'm still not good at this one, either. I improved some, but I want to celebrate better.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 joined as one sermon video on Vimeo:

The Secret of the Easy Yoke: (General) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Dallas Willard. I read the book this is from and it is excellent. The secret of the easy yoke isn't really a secret - it is too obvious for that. But it is certainly counter-cultural. It isn't what we want to do. Look at your own life or look around and you'll see this is true. Dallas reminds us that Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, even needed to attend to spiritual practices so that He was of such a character as to meet the demands of His ministry. And if HE needed spiritual practices, then how much more we?

Self-Denial in an Age of Self-Fulfillment / Fighting the World, the Flesh, and the Devil Episode 6: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. What he says in the beginning of this podcast is so true. We live in a culture of self. How many times have we heard that we should be our "authentic selves" and just to "be true to your self". When this is defined in relationship to who we are in Jesus, then this is very good. But the last thing that the shifting winds of culture wants is to define it that way. Instead, our culture tells us to believe these three things, which are all lies:

1) Nobody and nothing should be able to stand in the way of getting what I want

2) If they or it does, it is a form of oppression

3) If I can't get what I want then I can't be happy

This is especially seen in the current debates surrounding issues of sexuality.

But the path to joy, the path to real life, the path to actual fulfillment, is what Jesus said: deny your self, take up your cross, and follow Me. You can either:

Deny your self and follow Jesus

Or

Deny Jesus and follow your self

Denying Jesus and following your self results in anxiety, anger, and frustration. We do not control outcomes. But denying our selves to follow Jesus aligns our desires with His and results in thankfulness and joy, peace from knowing that He is our good shepherd and cares for us.

He makes another great point about how Jesus taught. He taught primarily through making statements about reality. So often we look for commands when He wasn't issuing commands, but was speaking as to the nature of truth. Of course a wise person will live in accordance with what is really true.

This episode is rich with truths the wise will live by.

"The Golden Triangle" of Spiritual Transformation: (General) Link to Renovare.org article by Dallas Willard. How do we become Christlike, to be transformed in our inner person to the point where we naturally do what Jesus would do if He were we? Dallas Willard provides the three "sides of a triangle" of spiritual transformation: faithful acceptance of everyday trials through trust in God, interaction with the Holy Spirit in and around us, and faithful practice of spiritual disciplines. Dallas is, in my opinion, a wonderful thinker and explainer.

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