Jan Johnson
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Spiritual Disciplines Set

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Introduction
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“Look Inside”

CONNECTING WITH GOD
Through Solitude and Silence

Have you ever wondered how God changes people? Maybe it seems as if old habits never change no matter how hard you try. Maybe you’ve become discouraged with your lack of growth into Christlikeness. You know that you are forgiven through Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and you realize that you are totally accepted by God on that basis.  This is wonderful. And yet your desire to live in a way that pleases God somehow constantly falls short of the mark.

Yet God desires to transform our soul. This occurs as we recognize that God created us to live in an interactive relationship with the Trinity.  Our task is not to transform ourselves, but to stay connected with God in as much of life as possible. As we pay attention to the nudges of the Holy Spirit, we become disciples of Christ and “share in the life of Christ.” Our task is to do the connecting, while God does the perfecting.

As we connect with God, we gradually begin acting more like Christ. We become more likely to weep over our enemies instead of discrediting them. We’re more likely to give up power instead of taking control.  We’re more likely to point out another’s successes rather than grab the credit. Connecting with God changes us on the inside and we slowly become the tenderhearted, conscientious person our families always wished we’d become. This transformation of our soul through the work of the Holy Spirit results in “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

God does in us what we cannot do by trying to be good.  Trying to be good generally makes us obnoxious because it’s so obvious that we’re only trying.  The goodness doesn’t come from within ourselves. When we do succeed at being good, we subtly look down on those who don’t do as well. When we don’t succeed, we beat ourselves up and despair over our lack of spirituality. Either way, we remain focused on self instead of setting our hearts on things above.

Connecting with God, then, is important. But what does connecting with God look like? Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we copy Jesus in behind-the-scenes everyday activities he did to connect with God. As we let these activities become habits, we slowly become “trained” to have the heart of Christ and behave as he did. These activities are spiritual disciplines, also called spiritual exercises or strategies.

How Spiritual Disciplines Work

We connect with God through spiritual disciplines or exercises. Worship and celebration, the topics of this Bible study, are two of them. Other disciplines include solitude, silence, Bible study, Scripture meditation, prayer, listening, service, secrecy, reflection, confession fasting, simplicity, community and submission. These exercises are studied in the other Spiritual Disciplines Bible studies. Still other disciplines can be used, some of which are written about in the classics of the faith and still others of which God will show you. It has been said that a spiritual discipline is anything that helps us practice “how to become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.”

Why do spiritual disciplines (or exercises) help us connect with God?

  • They build our relationship with God as we come to acquaint ourselves with the ways of God. (It’s possible, of course, to do these disciplines in a legalistic way and never bond with Christ.)
  • They build our trust in Christ. Some of these disciplines are uncomfortable. You have to go out on a limb. You try fasting, and you don’t die. You serve someone, and it turns out to be fun and enriching.
  • They force us to make “little decisions” that multiply.  Your little decision to abstain from watching a television show helps you to deny yourself and love others in all sorts of ways.
  • They reorganize our impulses so that obedience is more natural. For example, if you have a spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God, you may learn to automatically pray the breath prayer “Into Thy hands” when someone opposes you. Without your realizing it, your opponent is no longer an adversary, but a person God is dealing with or perhaps even speaking through in some way.
  • They help us eventually behave like Christ -- but under God’s miraculous work, not our direct effort.
  • They teach us to trust that God will do the work in your inner being through the power of the Spirit (Eph. 3:16).  Your spirituality is not about you;  it’s the work of God in you. You get to cooperate in God’s “family business” of transforming the world.

How We Get Spiritual Disciplines Wrong

Spiritual exercises must be done with the goal of connecting, not for any sake of their own or any desire to check them off a list of “to do” items. If you read your Bible just so you can get it done or because you’ve heard this will help you have a better day, you’ll be anxious to complete all your Bible study questions or get to the bottom of the page of today’s reading. But if your goal in Bible reading is to connect with God, you may pause wherever you sense God speaking to you. You’ll stop and meditate on it. You may pray certain phrases back to God, indicating your needs or your wishes or your questions. You may choose to read that passage day after day for a month because God keeps using it to speak to you.

After such a session, you will have a stronger desire to connect with God. That “little choice” you made to connect will leave you slightly different for life.

The exercise or discipline is beneficial because it helps you practice connecting with God. If you want to play the piano well or swing a tennis racket well, you have to practice certain exercises over and over. Good baseball players train behind the scenes by practicing their batting day after day, with no crowds watching. That’s what spiritual disciplines or exercises are about. If you can hear God in fasting and simplicity, you’ll more likely hear God in a board meeting or altercation with a recalcitrant teen where passions are high. In life with God, we get good at connecting on an everyday basis by devoting certain time to the skills needed.

The Disciplines of Solitude and Silence

Solitude and silence are disciplines of abstinence. We abstain from accomplishing the things that make us feel worthwhile (especially, completing that “to do” list) and we rest in the fact that we are of great worth to God, even when we do nothing. We surrender the need to talk, to fill the empty air with clever thoughts. In the absence of all this puzzling and planning, wheeling and dealing, we meet our true selves. Often this is not pretty. Thoughts we never knew we had come to the surface.

To take time for silence and solitude means we assume that God wants to speak to us and relate to us in a personal way. This is such a stretch for those of us accustomed to prayer being an exercise in non-stop talk. Instead, we learn to converse with God and hear God -- first in the solitude, then in all of life.

How Do These Studies Work?

The studies examine examples, methods and results of these disicplines in ourlives.  Each session includes several elements:

Turning Toward God.  presents discussion or reflection questions and exercises to draw us into the topic at hand.

Hearing God through God’s Word  draws us into a study of a related passage of Scripture with questions that connect it to life and invite us to reflect on what God is saying.

Transformation Exercises  are activities or thoughts to experiment with in order to experience the spiritual exercise studied.  At the end of the study, look at these exercises and choose the one that fits you best, according to your personality or your current needs.

Perhaps you’ll read the exercise and think it’s too elementary or too difficult for you. Adapt it as needed.  Or you think you can guess what you’ll experience so you don’t have to do it. The point is to experience it.  Go ahead and try.

May these studies help you move a few steps closer to living life in union with God.

_________________________________________________________

  1. C. S. Lewis Mere Christanity, (New York, NY:  The MacMillan Company,  1970), p. 153.
  2. Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1981), p. 66.
  3. This comparison originated from and is expanded in Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 3.
  4. For instruction on this, see my book, When the Soul Listens  (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1999),

 

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