Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Prayer as Abiding and Fruit-Bearing (Prayer Summer)


Linda, in Detroit


What do we do when the big event, the big conference, is over? The answer is: Today (= Now), live your life attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

There is an old pear tree in my back yard. Every spring it buds; every fall its fruit is plentiful and delicious. Sometimes branches fall off the tree and we pick them up and burn them. We're not expecting unattached branches to produce fruit. No matter how hard an unattached branch works and strives and labors to produce fruit, it will not because it cannot. All its striving is in vain.

But if the branch is attached to the tree, striving is not needed to be fruit-bearing. Does a pear work hard to become a pear? Not at all. What must it do? Simply: stay connected. If a branch is connected to a pear tree it will produce pears, just as surely as If it rains then the ground gets wet.

When the big event is over, what do I do? The answer is what Linda and I have always been doing for the past 40 years: Dwell. Remain. Abide. Connect with Jesus. Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.... On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (John 14:18, 20)

I may be sitting in a chair alone typing these words but I am not orphaned. Do not make the mistake of equating the now-presence and activity and power of God with exhilarating conferences. God can sometimes show up at a conference. God can also show up in your living room. Actually, I think we'd experience more of God at the conferences if we daily experienced his presence in our living rooms. And, by the way, God's presence - wherever encountered - is awesome and earth-shattering.

If you are a Jesus-follower then the Father, Son, and Spirit have come and made their home in you. (John 14:23) You and I are portable sanctuaries who host the presence of God. When you left the big conference God came with you. How good is this for you now? To begin with, God is God - everlastingly. The omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, everlasting God is here, now. Connect with him and he gives you His peace and His joy. (John 14:27; 15:11) He calls you "friend." (John 15:15) As you abide in Him you can expect to do the kind things Jesus did with the kind of heart by which He did it. Christ, the hope of glory, is in you! (Colossians 1:24-29) So be in awe.

And, you will be fruit-bearing..., now. Jesus did not say "If you attend the conference you will bear much fruit." He did say, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.... If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5-8)

Fruit-bearing. Fruitfulness. That is what the Jesus-life is all about. Trying harder to bear fruit won't work, just as that pear in my back yard is not working hard to achieve pear-ness. Does this mean we do nothing? No. It means what we do comes out of the dwelling-relationship with Christ. We stay tight with Him, we hear His voice, He calls us to take part in The Movement, we obey, and in our obedience we work to the glory of God. Our "doing" comes from our "being" (dwelling). In this way our "doing" is authentic and relevant. All disconnected-doing is inauthentic, irrelevant, and mere striving.

God has much for you today. Right now. Make abiding your constant joy. It's all about The Relationship. Connectedness now is the key to the outpouring of the Spirit.

Howard Thurman on Spiritual Disciplines


Luther Smith writes: “Thurman asserts that living the spiritually disciplined life enables each person to be “alive to life.” (Smith, HETW, 130)

HT relies on spiritual disciplines “to tutor our spiritual discernment so that both the familiar and the strange are understood in light of the desires of God’s heart.” (L. Smith, HETW, 32)
  • Spiritual disciplines “tutor our spiritual discernment.” This brings “understanding.”

Spiritual disciplines “are meant to ‘ready’ the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence… God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey.” (HETW, 45)
  • E.g. – if I played basketball. I engage in “training” so as to compete in the game.
  • The training, the “disciplines,” prepare me for the game.
  • Spiritual disciplines “train” the body and mind and spirit of a person.

In Disciplines of the Spirit HT identifies five spiritual disciplines:
  • Commitment
  • Growth
  • Suffering
  • Prayer
  • Reconciliation

  1. Commitment

Mind and spirit cannot be separated from the body.

“Commitment means that it is possible for a man to yield the nerve center of his consent to a purpose or cause, a movement or an ideal, which may be more important to him than whether he lives or dies. The commitment is a self-conscious act of will by which he affirms his identification with what he is committed to. The character of his commitment is determined by that to which the center or core of his consent is given.” (HETW, 46)
    • In commitment there is a “yielding.” There is a “giving oneself to…”
    •  

“Commitment” is related to “surrender. “Whatever stands in the way of the complete and full surrender, we must search it out and remove it.” (HETW, 48)

“Surrender your inner consent to God.” (HETW, 48)

I think “commitment” and “surrender” are like: jumping out of the plane and trusting the parachute to open. It is a whole-being thing.

Like: “I surrender all…”

  1. Growth

“Growth means development in the life of an organism. It means change manifest in structure.” (HETW, 51)
  • “Change manifest in structure” sounds like: transformation.

“There are many adults who for various reasons have escaped this essential discipline of their spirit. True, in terms of physical and intellectual development they have continued to grow. Their bodies and minds have moved through all the intervening stages to maturity, but they have remained essentially babies in what they expect of life.” (HETW, 52)
  • It’s either deep change or slow death.
  • It’s either maturing or endless baby-hood.
  • It’s either dining on spiritual meat or drinking spiritual milk from the bottle.

One of the real challenges of growth is crisis, and the “real possibility of failure.” “To guard against this and be prepared to deal with it when it occurs is an authentic discipline of the spirit…  And for the religious man, it is to grow not only in grace but also in the knowledge and experience of God.” (HETW, 54)
  • Ongoing engagement in the spiritual disciplines prepares one for crises and failure.
  • Always growing deeper…  the body wastes away but the spirit is being renewed day after day after day…  closer knowing and experiencing of God…


What HT says about “growth” sounds like what I mean by spiritual transformation; the pain of change.


  1. Suffering

“When a man is driven by suffering to make the most fundamental inquiries the meaning of life, he has to assess and re-assess his total experience. It may be that… he has never thought seriously of God. He has taken his life and all of life for granted. Now under the assault of pain he is led to wonder about the mystery of life. Why do men suffer? He asks himself. He sorts out the answers available to him…” (HTEW, 55)

“What would life be like if there were no suffering, no pain? The startling discovery is made that if there were no suffering there would be no freedom. Men could make no mistakes, consciously or unconsciously. The race could make no mistakes. There would be no error. There would be no possibility of choice at any point, or in any sense whatsoever… Freedom therefore cannot be separated from suffering. This, then, may be one of the ways in which suffering pays for its ride…” (HTEW, 55)

“Why do men suffer? They suffer as part of the experience of freedom. They suffer as part of the growth of life itself.” (HTEW, 55)

“Without suffering there is no freedom for man.” (HTEW, 56)

“What hostility may do is to serve as a guide through the wilderness of our suffering until we are brought to the door of the temple.” (HTEW, 56)

“There are many people who would feel cheated if suddenly they were deprived of the ego definition that their suffering gives them.” (HTEW, 56)


Silence

Thurman - “Sometimes the quieting of one’s spirit in prayer exposes the area of sensitiveness to God’s spirit which is submerged by much traffic.” (Meditations of the Heart, 21)

  • Busyness covers up the true self.

Thurman - “The sheer physical necessity [of taking time to go alone to pray] is urgent because the body and the entire nervous system cry out for the healing waters of silence.” (Meditations of the Heart, 27)

Thurman - “The strength of the personal life is often found in the strength and intensity of its isolation. The fight for selfhood is unending.” (A Strange Freedom, 191)

  • The need for a still center.
  • There’s a battle going on for the “self.”


Prayer

Thurman - “Prayer at its best is revealed when a man enjoys God and prays out of sheer love of Him.” (Meditations of the Heart, 26)

  • True prayer is about a relationship. It’s 2-way communication.
  • Love of God compels a person to pray. This is not prayer as ritual.


Thurman - First if all, “prayer… means the method by which the individual makes his way to the temple of quiet within his own spirit and the activity of his spirit within its walls. Prayer is not only the participation in communication with God in the encounter of religious experience, but it is also the “readying” of the spirit for such communication. It is the total process of quieting down and to that extent must not be separated from meditation. Perhaps, as important as prayer itself, is the “readying” of the spirit for the experience.” (HTEW, 57)

  • Thurman: “When one has thus been prepared, a strange thing happens. It is very difficult to put into words. The initiative slips out of one’s hands and into the hands of God, the other Principal in the religious experience. The self moves towards God. Such movement seems to have the quality of innate and fundamental stirring. The self does not see itself as being violated, though it may be challenged, stimulated, inspired, conditioned, but all of this takes place in a frame of reference that is completely permissive. There is another movement which is at once merged with the movement of the self. God touches the spirit and the will and a wholly new character in terms of dimension enters the experience. In this sense prayer may be regarded as an open-end experience.”

    • Cmp. Dallas Willard – “prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.”

·         “Fundamental to the total fact of prayer in the Christian religion is the persuasive affirmation that the God of religious experience is a seeking and a beseeching God.” (HTEW, 57)

·         “I agree most heartily with Rufus Jones when he says that prayer at its best is when the soul enjoys God and prays out of sheer love for him.” (HTEW, 59-60)


Waiting

Waiting/Creating a space

  • Thurman - “In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life – so that when His presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me.” (HTEW, 45)
·         Cf. Nouwen’s distinction between “waiting” as expectation, and “wishing.”

Prayer and the Basic Question of Psalm 23 (Prayer Summer)



Henri Nouwen said that the basic question of the spiritual life is "Who do you belong to?" As my seminary students pray using Psalm 23 God will not let them get past verse 1 before he asks 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How To Hear the Voice of God



Often people ask me the question "How do I hear the voice of God?" A related question is, "How do I know it's God speaking to me and not just myself or some other voice?" In brief, here's my response.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell with God. Spend much time with God. There's simply no substitute for this. For about "Mc-hearing" God. God can't be fast-fooded. Hearing the voice of God is largely an acquired thing. Analogically, I spend much time talking with Linda and listening to her. The result is that I know her heart, and her heart's desires, very well.

2. Saturate yourself in Scripture. The greater one's familiarity with Scripture is, the greater one will be able to know when it's God speaking and not something else. Begin by saturating yourself in Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Try reading these over and over and over, slowly and meditatively, for a year. I did it recently for two years and found it very helpful. Read the 4 Gospels as if you've never read them before. As you read them, when God speaks to you, write it down in a journal.

3. Hang around people who do 1 and 2. Meet with other Jesus-followers who actually pray. Talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you. In this matter it won't do you much good to talk to people who don't spend much time alone with God. They won't have a clue re. what it means to hear the voice of God. Meeting together provides corporate discernment. One can learn a lot about hearing God in such an environment.

Additionally - Don't multi-task the God-relationship. Spend much time with God... alone. Just you and God. Face to face. Heart to heart. If you're unfamiliar with this, my recommendation is: just start doing it. In the process you'll learn what this is about because God so much wants you to know Him experientially and relationally.


One very good book on hearing the voice of God is: Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary - Day 2

PAYNE – SPIRITUAL FORMATION – DAY 2
1.    Psalm 23 exercise
2.    Small group sharing
3.    Large group sharing
4.    Review – my Phenomenology of Spiritual Formation
5.     What is spiritual formation?
o    Dallas Willard - “Spiritual formation can be understood as the process by which true Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being.” (Willard)
§  “Spiritual formation” is “a term for those processes through which people are inwardly transformed in such a way that the personality and deeds of Jesus Christ naturally flow out from them when and wherever they are.” (Willard)
§  "When we talk about spiritual formation we are talking about framing a progression of life in which people come to actually do all things that Jesus taught. So we are obviously going for the heart. We are aiming for change of the inner person, where what we do originates." (Willard)
·         Jeffrey Greenman - "Spiritual formation is our continuing response to the reality of God's grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world."
- Jeffrey Greenman, 
Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective, 24 
o      
·           Michael Battle - “I define spirituality in the African context as the formation of self through communal being or relationality. For me, spirituality means a rite of passage or a way of practicing a better life. This means at the heart of Christian spirituality is prayerful personhood seeking mutuality with God and neighbor.” (Michael Battle, The Black Church in America: African American Christian Spirituality)
·          
·         Henri Nouwen - "Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 152-154) 
o    "Spiritual formation requires taking not only the inward journey to the heart, but also the outward journey from the heart to community and ministry. Christian spirituality is essentially communal. Spiritual formation is formation in community. One’s personal prayer life can never be understood if it is separated from community life. Prayer in the spiritual life leads to community, and community to prayer. In community we learn what it means to confess our weakness and to forgive each other. In community we discover our own woundedness, but also a place of healing. In community we learn true humility. Without community, we become individualistic and egocentric. Therefore, spiritual formation always includes formation to life in community." (Ib., Kindle Locations 309-315)
o     
o     
6.     5 stages – a phenomenology of spiritual formation.
1. The Need – recognition of how needy we are of personal, inner change.

2. The Gap – realization as a revelation of the holiness of Christ, and of the great gap between ourselves and Christ.

3. Recognition of the magnitude of the needed transformation. God wants to metamorph the human heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19; Rom. 12:1-2)

4. Only God can do this – realization that we cannot self-transform by our own striving and will power into Christlikeness.

5 . Therefore, consistently get into the presence of God. Abide in Christ. You cannot consistently dwell in Christ and remain unchanged.


7.     What is “spirit?”
o     
o    “Spirit” Defined"
o     
o    Biblically and systematically, it is appropriate to identify the heart and the spirit of the human being and the will as roughly the same thing. (From Dallas Willard)
o    The spirit is that part of the human being that has the capacity of moving without being moved. (=”free will”]  
o    It is the depth of the human being where freedom really exists. It is that part of us that is self-determined. That's the heart.
o    That's why evil and good come out of the heart, it's because that's the part of us that is really us.
o    It's really ours. And spirit is of that intensely personal nature.
o     
God is spirit. Therefore God is wholly self-determined.
o    We are self-determined only in a very small way. 
o    This part of the human being--the spirit, the will, the heart--is the place where the work of spiritual formation has to be done.
o    Remember the words of Samuel: "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."
o    Functionally the will is the executive center of the self.  [= choice-making; decision-making]
o    When it comes to life in God through the new birth, its task is then the re-formation of the whole self in co-operation with God.
o    Will is not exactly character, but is formed into character as it becomes habitual and automatic.
o     
o    The human will exists in three conditions or dimensions.
o     
o     

8.     Three aspects of the human will (From Dallas Willard)
o    The vital or impulsive will
§  .    “This is a willing that is outwardly directed and moved by and toward things that are simply attractive. You see this in a baby. A little baby very quickly begins to be attracted to things, to reach for them, and move in relationship to them. And that's all there really is to will in the baby.”
§  b.  This is: “I want to,” and “It pleases me.” E.g., “I want to eat ice cream, therefore I will eat ice cream.”
§  c.    You simply choose what you desire.

§   
o    The reflective will
§  The reflective will is oriented toward what is good for the person as a whole, not merely to what is desired. And so we have the conflict that we all know too well, as human beings, between the good and the bad, and the good and the not so good, and the good and the better. This conflict goes on constantly in our lives…”
§  b.    Reflective will is the will oriented toward what is good for the person as a whole, not toward the merely desired.
§  c.    Instead of just doing what you want or desire, you choose for what is good. For Jesus-followers, you choose what God wants.
§  d.    This is the “WWJD” stage.
§   
o    The embodied will
§  Embodied will – this is who you really are.
§  Now watch closely: ”Spiritual formation in Christ transforms your embodied will. It transforms your embodied will so that what comes out of you automatically are the words and deeds of Christ.” (Willard)
§  This is the point where we can stop thinking about our responses.
§  This is the point where we have the mind of Christ.
o    Willard says: “Christian spiritual formation is the process through which the embodied/reflective will takes on the character of Christ's will. It is the process through which (and you know Gal. 4:19) Christ is formed in you and me. Think of Paul's magnificent statement: "The life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Not faith in, but the faith of. I have taken his faith into me. I am now being inwardly the person that Christ has called me to be, and this inward faith has now spread throughout my socially embodied self.”
o    Willard: “Spiritual formation in Christ would, then, ideally result in a person whose reflective will for good, fully informed and possessed by Christ, has settled into their body in its social context to such an extent that their natural responses were always to think and feel and do as Christ himself would. Their epidermal as well as their deliberate responses are then those of Christ.” [Cmp. Nouwen – that the truths of the mind would descend into one’s heart.] 
§  This reverses Romans 7:19. There, Paul writes:  "The things that I would not that I do, and the things that I would, that I do not."     

9.    The locus (place) of spiritual transformation
o   The heart
o   The “embodied will” (Willard)
o   “Spirit”
10. The False Self Gets Stripped Away in the Presence of God
11. Ontological Polarities – The ‘From-To’ Movements of the Spirit
12.  Howard Thurman and Spiritual Formation and Transformation
13.  The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
14.  Humility: The Foundational Attitude of Spiritual Formation and Transformation
15.  In the spiritual life being comes before doing.
16.  Personal transformation results in community transformation.

17.   The Presence-Driven Church – Personal Transformation and Leadership

Prayer and the Descending Fire (Prayer Summer)

Redeemer sanctuary

PRAYER SUMMER FRIENDS:

I'm suggesting that you use Psalm 23 this week during your 30-60 minute times of praying. I'm doing this all week with the 26 seminary students at Payne Theological Seminary

Yesterday I received this e-mail from one of our Prayer Summer friends - Gloria, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She writes:













Hi John and Linda,

I am praying for your time in Wilberforce,
and I know that you are likely busier than
usual, but I wanted to share a couple of 
things with you.

The other day you mentioned that "this one
thing" for you was prayer.  I remembered that
God and I had talked about "this one thing"
a a while back.  I checked and sure enough
on 7/13 God said...

Only I can see the whole of things at 
one time. Man looks on many things. Few
study....center in on me.

I said, So we must find the "this one
thing"?

Yes, he said, what is your one thing?

I hope it is you, Lord

What is your one thing to do for me?
he asked.
Write, I said. Speak. I suppose that one
thing would be words.

Then God said, Of all the things that my
Apostle Paul did, his words were the most
lasting.
So I said, Then set fire to my words, Lord.
As the psalmist said, "I lay out the pieces
(words) of my life on your altar and watch 
for fire to descend." Ps. 5:3  (Message).

In early July, I decided to read a Psalm each day 
and pull out one or two verses to write down. So
tomorrow I will be on Palms 23.  How neat is that?
I will do as you say and spend the whole week with
this precious psalm which I always say each morning 
before I begin my day.

I hope that you two will have a precious time together
while you are away from the everyday things of life.

Love today.  Gloria

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Is Spiritual Formation?

Sculpture of actor, musician, and orator Paul Robeson,
at Central State University,
Wilberforce, Ohio

(I'm teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary this week. Here are some quotes that get at the idea of "spiritual formation.")
What is spiritual formation?
o   “Spiritual formation can be understood as the process by which true Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being.” (Dallas Willard)
o   “Spiritual formation” is “a term for those processes through which people are inwardly transformed in such a way that the personality and deeds of Jesus Christ naturally flow out from them when and wherever they are.” (Willard)
o    "When we talk about spiritual formation we are talking about framing a progression of life in which people come to actually do all things that Jesus taught. So we are obviously going for the heart. We are aiming for change of the inner person, where what we do originates." (Willard)

o   "Spiritual formation is our continuing response to the reality of God's grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world." 

o  “I define spirituality in the African context as the formation of self through communal being or relationality. For me, spirituality means a rite of passage or a way of practicing a better life. This means at the heart of Christian spirituality is prayerful personhood seeking mutuality with God and neighbor.” (Michael Battle, The Black Church in America: African American Christian Spirituality)

o    Henri Nouwen - "Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 152-154) 

"Spiritual formation requires taking not only the inward journey to the heart, but also the outward journey from the heart to community and ministry. Christian spirituality is essentially communal. Spiritual formation is formation in community. One’s personal prayer life can never be understood if it is separated from community life. Prayer in the spiritual life leads to community, and community to prayer. In community we learn what it means to confess our weakness and to forgive each other. In community we discover our own woundedness, but also a place of healing. In community we learn true humility. Without community, we become individualistic and egocentric. Therefore, spiritual formation always includes formation to life in community." (Ib., Kindle Locations 309-315)

Prayer and Psalm 23 - An Invitation (Prayer Summer)



This week I'm teaching my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Here is the Ps. 23 handout I'll be using, as a prayer exercise, with my students.


One Hour with Psalm 23 and God

Take ten minutes to go alone to a quiet place to meet with God. When I dismiss you go quietly -- don't talk with anyone.

Don't take anything with you except for this piece of paper. Do not go to your room or car or office. Do not make a phone call or do any shopping. Do not do any "church work."

When you find your quiet place stay there for 60 minutes. Your purpose: To meet with God. The idea is: You need God in your life. You need God to speak to you, to minister to you, to direct you, to counsel you, to confront you, to empower you.

During this hour keep a spiritual journal. A spiritual journal is a record of God's voice and activity in your life. During this time when God speaks to you or reveals Himself to you, write it down.

Use Psalm 23 for your meditation. Biblically, to meditate is to ponder something. Meditation is repetitive. Like a cow chewing its cud, the food God gives us is more easily assimilated to our heart. Your purpose in this is not to get "sermon material." Your purpose is not to exegete Psalm 23. Instead, be exegeted yourself by the Holy Spirit.

If your mind wanders, write down where it wanders to. Your mind will not wander arbitrarily, but will always go to something like a burden, a hope, or a fear. I feel that one's wandering mind is a barometer of one's true spiritual condition.

After the hour return to our meeting place.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.