If you allow God’s inspiration to come to you in its own good time, if you are listening deeply to the “still, small voice”[1 Kings 19] within you, if you then act on what is suggested, you will never violate who you are or do anything wrong or in the wrong timing. Living this way is the evidence of a surrendered life. You will be integrated into one whole person, you will be healed, you will be led into God’s arms and held there no matter what happens.
Spiritual practices are the way to this integration, to leading a God-centered life. The word practice is used just as in learning how to play the piano, one practices for years before one reaches a point of mastery. But playing the notes well is not enough, a fine pianist is putting his or her whole self into the music, offering his own interpretation of the music. A prayer practice or meditation, Bible study or journaling—practice because we do them daily—bring us bit by bit towards the deep relationship with God that Jesus pointed us to. The main learning is how to listen to God, the Indwelling Spirit, speaking to us from within. And the main vehicle for that learning is silence, listening for what God is saying to us.
It takes some time to get to the point where our own thoughts don’t drive us crazy, to where we are comfortable with silence and waiting. And the we must learn to follow God’s suggestions through the layers of stuff that stands between us and God. As we peel through those layers and let them go with God’s help, we begin to enjoy a sense of freedom from what has bound us in the past, to begin to see a broader, truer version of reality. Eventually we will be able to discern our purpose here on earth and begin to live that out. All these movements are prompted by God, once we can really listen to him.
God will even tell us what spiritual practice he wants us to commit to. Recently, I have been writing about a major transition in my life where a lot has been shaken loose and finally now I am feeling more integrated than I ever have. I’ve written about how much I have missed the things that inspire me—the outdoors, music and art, but when I started to attack this lack with my usually determination, I clearly heard this, “No, No, that is not the way.” So I have been waiting for the way to appear. And it has this week on two fronts.
First, I received one of the four daily inspirational emails(three ministers and an artist) I subscribe to, this one from the artist. I read about Carl Jung, the great psychologist’s, Red Bookˆ, an art journal that he kept for more that 10 years in the 20’s and 30’s to access his deeper, unconscious self. The idea resonated with me. So I started about a month ago, keeping an art journal every day, letting the image that I am to draw or paint emerge and then writing on the page what comes to me. Yesterday the image was of a cup running over, the day before a waterfall of God’s grace falling from the highest mountain down into a healing pool where everyone can access its powers.
The second inspiration came, not in the area of music or art or outdoors, but again in the area of spiritual practices; most of my spiritual practices had been interrupted by the three moves. The only constant in my life the last two years has been a gratitude journal that I’ve kept every night for five years and a weekly Bible study. And at the same time I have felt totally held by God in his arms, so I haven’t been anxious about the lack of practices at all. Several months ago I received an email from a friend who is a church formation leader reminding me of praying the hours, a practice of the desert fathers and mothers and of the monasteries and convents since then.
I liked the idea enough to set alarms at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. remembering to acknowledge God’s presence when the alarms went off. Apparently, all that was preparation for the next step that I took on when I was researching something else and ran across mention of Phyllis Tickle’s series of The Divine Hours. She calls herself an evangelical Episcopal and has written widely about Christianity. Again the idea resonated with me and I ordered the Prayers of Summertime from her series to try them out. The book arrived last month and I’ve adjusted my alarm schedule as she suggested in the introduction to the Morning Office upon awakening, Midday around noon, Vespers around 6 pm and Compline upon going to bed. A page of Bible readings, particularly from the Psalms, and prayers are detailed for each one of the hours. The readings seem more formal than I would normally have chosen, but I love it. I absolutely love it.
So I cart this book around with me, so I’ll have it if I am out of the house at one of those times. And I have missed a few especially when I was traveling. Her guide is giving me the structure and practice that I’ve been looking for.
This is how the Holy Spirit brings me each time to the next step in my journey with him deeper into the mind of Christ. And I am ever so grateful for his direction, because what he offers me always serves me in ways I could not have anticipated.
What spiritual practices have you been led by the Holy Spirit to adopt? Mine have evolved over time. For years I sat in God’s presence in silence for an hour every morning and just accepted whatever happened in the silence. That definitely assured that I could hear God’s “still, small voice” described in 1 Kings 19. My experience tells me that there is something that God wants each of us to do to show our love for him and he is more than happy to tell us about it if we will listen. It is not enough to talk to, to pray to God. We have to listen, too. The practices help us listen to God who knows exactly what we need to do to grow into our true, deep selves. Here’s a partial list:
Reading/studying the Bible.
Sitting in Silence before God.
Centering Prayer or other meditative practice.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal.
Daily examen–when we look back on our day and ask how present we were to God, when did we miss his presence, when were we present?
Lectio Divina– a way of reading a Biblical passage several times for the word or phrase that has meaning for us at this time and then meditating on it, asking God what he is saying to us now.
Praying the hours.
These practices followed faithfully lead us into a deeper and deeper relationship with and dependence on the Lord. They pull us into a position with God in which he is the only authority in our lives that we listen to; no longer do our parents, our culture, even our church have any sway over us any more, only God. This reflects two sayings of Jesus about men he called to follow him. [Luke 9:59-62] One wanted to say goodbye to his parents first; the other wanted to help bury his dead father. He is saying that once we commit our whole selves to loving God, there is no other authority.
So with our lives entwined in and with God, integrated by our spiritual practices, we are free of all other constraints. There is only God who leads us and we who follow. Amen.
Questions to ponder over the week: How well do I know the voice, the “still, small voice,” of God within me? How long have I followed it faithfully? If I don’t know it at all among the clamoring voices within, how would I go about identifying it? How do I sort out God’s voice from all the other, louder voices?
Blessing of the week: May we be the people who know the Lord so well his voice is like the balm of Gilead to our ears. May we be the people who follow his lead, who are faithful to his every call, both large and small. May we reap the riches of this life as they are held for us by God.
If you’d like to see more of By the Waters, check these out:
–There’s a new video up on YouTube: “What Jesus said about the kingdom” ”youtube.com/user/patsadams
–Check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams
–Check out the “Shop Now” at the top of this page which links to a CD of guided meditations and a series of booklets on the Life of the Spirit.
If you’d like to read the blog in its entirety, go to bythewaters.net/blog.html. On FB I post a portion of the blog each Monday thru Thursday. On Friday I post questions to ponder over the weekend based on that week’s topic.