Everyday Habits of Holiness

The insistent tone of my cell phone’s timer carried through floorboards to our basement schoolroom–another call to prayer unanswered.

I sighed, turned the page, and continued with my sixth-grader in a lesson on fractions.

I had been reading about the historical practice of praying the hours, setting aside intentional moments throughout the day at specific times to stop everything and pray.

Believers long ago listened to the sounding of bells to remind them to pray.

My solution?

Setting a cell phone timer.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a more intentional prayer life..

Why, then, did my timer always seem to sound when I was in the middle of an un-interruptible task?

  • Dinner preparation on a ball game night.
  • A fervent untangling of numerators and denominators.
  • An intense disciplinary moment.

The reminder was impractical for that season, but it was an important step on my journey toward a more mindful use of my minutes in building my relationship with God.

Today I’m joining Sarah Koontz over at Living By Design to share 5 ways I’ve learned to invite holiness into my every day habits. Click on over to join me there, and let’s pause together to consider how these simple strategies may encourage your faith and help you to grow.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

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The Power of a Single Word

Receive . . . Enjoy . . . Let go

Freighted with meanings and memories, associations and reflections far beyond their official definitions, words can be an invitation to pay attention.

Watch . . . Accept . . . Resist

Marilyn McEntyre has chosen fifteen words as the basis for fifteen weeks of daily meditations, as Word by Word, she challenges readers to let the word of the week become a focus for prayer and for biblical meditation.

Allow . . . Be still . . .Follow

There is a delight to discovering that “words may become little fountains of grace,” and Marilyn’s brief daily musings amplify the voice of the Spirit, sending me back to the Source.

Rejoice . . . Ask . . . Dare

For those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, meditation begins, not with an empty brain or a blank slate, but with revealed Truth.  Our use of language is a mark of the image of God, and the words we use are the basis of our communion with ourselves, with one another, and with God in prayer.

Leave . . . Welcome . . . and my favorite:  Listen

Word by Word reminded me again (I’m a slow learner) of the need to listen with humility and openness, to “notice what I notice,” which is sound advice indeed, especially in the pursuit of Spirit-breathed wisdom.

Throughout Scripture, the faithful found that the voice of God often emerged from the silence.  In this season of Advent, I find myself listening in to the four- hundred-year silence between the testaments, the pause that was broken by startling birth announcements and accompanied by angels.  John’s first epistle identifies this “manifestation” as The Word of life, a reminder that God’s ultimate self-expression and His message are so inextricably linked that they have been identified by a single term:  The Word.

Of course, it should be clearly understood that listening is a risky business, because the listener may be required to act upon what she hears.

Those who dare to engage in the counter-cultural practices of listening, pondering, and praying will find that it turns down the volume on this kingdom of noise and clears the deck for a habit of stillness and a continuing practice of listening — really listening — as we read Scripture in the manner in which it was given:  word by word.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”

Till We Have Faces is a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

Sacred Reading – Hands On

Lectio divina, the practice of “sacred reading,” brings to mind images of flickering candles and meditative silences broken only by the turn of a page or the scratch of a pen on paper.  The flickering candle I can manage, but my dining room table “command post” is where just about any kind of reading happens at my house, making it no less sacred, of course, but incorporating more interruptions, perhaps, than would be ideal.  Maybe this is why I found the framework provided in Jan Johnson’s Meeting God in Scripture to be so helpful.  She refers to her guidance as “training wheels” to help readers move toward meaningful meditation upon the truths of Scripture.

Since at least the 5th century, Christians have referred to four traditional steps in lectio divina:  

  1.  Read (lectio)
  2. Reflect (meditatio)
  3. Respond (oratio)
  4. Rest (contemplatio)

Jan has added Relax and Refocus (silencio) to the beginning and appended Trying it On (incarnatio) to the end, and I found her wording to be extremely helpful in clarifying the intention behind the traditional Latin steps.

For serious students of the Bible, these six steps are likely already happening in some form, however haphazardly.  The point of lectio divina is NOT to add another check list to my life, but, rather, to gently invite me to wonder if my reading of Scripture is grounded in careful thinking about the text.

In Jan Johnson’s forty guided meditations based on brief Scripture passages, she demonstrates not only a method of study, but also a manner of questioning and a leisurely and yet purposeful approach to reading with the intent of changing and deepening the way Christians approach the written Word independently:

Relax and Refocus (Silencio) — Often, Jan poses a question to focus the thoughts on the day’s passage.  Distractions are offered, palms up, to the God who is present and who stands ready to speak to the believer through His inspired Word.  This purposeful pause reinforces the conversational aspect of reading a Living Word.

Read (Lectio) — Here is where we so often go wrong (if we’re not careful).  God’s Word is not for skimming, so reading aloud, reading passages repetitively, and reading with a question in mind are all important slow-me-down safeguards. The goal is for the words to “fall on our ear” in such a way that we perceive what is being said.  Text for all forty passages that Jan examines are included in the book along with helpful explanatory notes.

Reflect (Meditatio) — The questions and cues provided invite the use of sanctified imagination in the reading of a narrative passage and also encourage readers to approach discourse passages on a quest for the particular truth that “shimmers” for them.  God’s invitation, whenever we come to His Word, is to enlarge our understanding of Him through careful reflection on the Truth presented.  Jan teaches her readers how to be a “fly on the wall,” observing, for example, likely facial expressions, the probable responses of gathered crowds, and even the physical details of the setting and the clothing that would have been worn.

Respond (Oratio) — This step brings the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer into one truly God-centered interaction in which we respond to God according to what we believe that we have learned from our careful reading of Scripture.  This response may be verbal, musical, or it may take written form as a journal entry or a drawing.  It may involve questioning God about His ways or thanking Him for some aspect of His character that has been revealed.  The underlying question that drives oratio is:  “What do you most need to say to God at this moment?”

Rest (Comtemplatio) — Here in North America, we have already slammed shut the cover of our Bible and bustled off to our next task long before reaching step five, but Jan emphasizes the importance of simply being present to God, absorbing the truth that has been uncovered, and then responding in worship.  It is helpful to ask at this point, “What was God up to in this passage?” or “Based on what you have read, what is God like?”

Try It On (Incarnatio) — Incarnational faith involves action that arises out of truth.  Jan’s suggestions prime the pump for readers to come up with their own ways to express their living out the truth of a passage.

Integrated throughout Meeting God in Scripture are essays that tackle important questions in the practice of lectio divina.  Having taught the Bible for years, I spent a considerable amount of time reading the essay that compares and contrasts meditation and application.  Both ask, “How does this passage intersect with my life?”  However, meditation is an ongoing conversation with God and results in deep and abiding change in character from the inside out.  Application can tend to be more analytical, left-brained, and temporary unless it is supported by solid Scriptural underpinnings.

Among the other important topics that Jan sorts out and ponders are the sanctified imagination, the role of study in lectio divina, and distinguishing the voice of God from my own mental wool-gathering.

A.W. Tozer said it well:

“[The Bible] is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking . . . If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.”

For those who affirm the truth of this, but find that it is just beyond their present experience,  Meeting God in Scripture is a jumping off point — with a little spring in it — to help students of Scripture become airborne, arcing into a passage, slicing past the surface, and then soaking in the depths of its Truth.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Diligence and Focus: Thoughts from the Garden

Since the blossoms are turning into green beans;

Since the tomatoes are crowding each other for a peek of the red-ripening sun;

Since going to the garden feeds my soul as well as my family, I look forward every year to the season of hunkering down between the bean plants.  It’s challenging this year with a summer job, but this is my twenty-seventh garden, so I’ve definitely signed on for the long haul of canning and sticky jam-making on hot July afternoons.

Weeding was terrifying in my early days of gardening.  How can you tell a beet seedling from an imposter when both are tinged with red?  And I truly thought I would perish before finishing our first season of bean canning —  sixty-five shiny new pint jars full of green beans.  Ironically, in 2015, I canned 63 quarts and 55 pints, and never once thought I would perish.

 From my garden, I am learning about diligence. 

The garden yields its treasures to the worker who plants, weeds, picks, prepares, and preserves its bounty.    When I pick veggies, I have learned to use my sense of touch as well as sight.  For example, green peppers blend in so well with their bushy plant that last fall I underestimated their number and carried a small bucket to hold the harvest.  When that was full, I requisitioned a decrepit Tonka truck from the sandbox and loaded it too!

Where had this unexpected bounty come from?

Picking, I had used two hands, holding onto each plant and feeling every inch.

I wish I could say that my devotional habits mirrored my gardening practices. Do I read as if I were working in the garden, ransacking every verse for every morsel of truth to feed my soul?

I’m afraid that sometimes I pick up the Bible as if it were a sales flyer.  “Anything good on sale this week?”  A quick scan for bargains, and then on to the next item in the junk mail pile.

I have friends of the heart who talk to me sadly about their truth-harvesting habits.  As I listen and commiserate, I think of Paradise Lost  by John Milton, the book that sat on my night stand for three years.

I knew I should read it.

I knew that when I did read it I would love it!   (“He also serves who sits and waits,” wrote Milton on his blindness.  Beautiful.  Who wouldn’t want to read more of his writing?)

One thing I know for sure:  when I harvest my green peppers, I’m not thinking about eggplants (as lovely as eggplants are!).

From my garden, I am learning about focus.

When the psalmists wrote about this kind of concentration, they used the Hebrew word hagah, usually translated as “meditate.”  (See Psalm 1:2; 63:6)  In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson connects the dots to Isaiah 31:4 where the prophet uses the same Hebrew word to refer to a lion growling over its prey.  Our St. Bernard, Tucker, concentrates on his bones and chewy toys in the same noisy and focused state of mind.   In Peterson’s opinion, “Meditation is too tame a word.  Isaiah’s lion chewed and swallowed when he meditated.”  I am interested in cultivating this kind of reading — spiritual reading that feeds my soul.

“Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”  Psalm 119:18

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Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.